‘Well then, eliminate the people, curtail them, force them to be silent. Because the European Enlightenment is more important than people.’
– Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notebooks for The Brothers Karamazov, translated from the Russian by Edward Wasiolek
This is a quotation from a notebook Dostoevsky kept while writing The Brothers Karamazov. The novel explores the origins of the love–hate relationship that people sometimes have with Europe when they – like me – come from countries located at its peripheries that never quite manage to be European. There are many intellectuals living on the fringes of Europe who yearn for European values like democracy, equality, secularism, modernity, freedom and women’s rights, and who would like to see these implemented in their own countries. But most of their countrymen do not share these liberal intellectuals’ enthusiasm for the same values. So in countries like mine, intellectuals in pursuit of a dream of Europe will sometimes try to force the adoption of European values ‘from above’, enlisting the help of armies, tsars, shahs and sultans, or working through the machinery of the state. At times the well-meaning, state-sanctioned imposition of these values is used to justify oppression and cruelty, which can cause the people of these nations around the edges of Europe to repudiate modernisation and Europeanisation altogether. In some cases the public may feel inclined to adopt modernisation and European values, but find that it is the state that resists the change – or vice versa. In Dostoevsky’s novels the people generally scorn Western values urged upon them by the authorities, supported by bureaucrats and intellectuals, and explicitly reject attempts to coerce their acceptance. I used this quotation as an epigraph to my novel Snow, published in 2002, to prepare the reader for the perennial problems caused by the imposition of modernity. The novel was constructed around the story of female university students whom the Turkish state, in its pursuit of ‘secularism’ (that most important and precious of European discoveries), would not allow to attend classes because of the traditional headscarves they wore. In the part of the world where I come from, Europe is not just an ideal and a beautiful dream, it is also a dream that is very difficult to fulfil in harmony with the people.