In Orhan Pamuk’s novel, My Name is Red, a dog takes offence when a religious preacher calls his enemies dogs. “It is common knowledge that hajis, hojas, clerics and preachers despise us dogs,” says Dog who thinks that it is because the Prophet [“peace and blessings be upon him”] once displayed a special affection to a cat by cutting off a piece of his robe on which the cat was sleeping rather than disturb the creature. Says Dog, “By pointing out this affection shown to the cat, which has incidentally been denied to us dogs, and due to our eternal feud with this feline beast, which even the stupidest of men recognizes as an ingrate, people have tried to intimate that the Prophet himself disliked dogs.”
The dog knows that religious likes and dislikes can be shaped as easily as the scriptures can be interpreted variously to suit each one’s taste and motive. The dog is religious too. It is proud of the fact that a dog it was that guarded the seven young men who took refuge in a cave in Sura 18 of the Koran. “Obviously, anyone would be proud to appear in the Koran,” says Dog in Pamuk’s novel. “As a dog, I take pride in this chapter...”
Pamuk’s Dog is bitterly opposed to the preacher mentioned above, however, simply because the latter described the enemies of his religion as dogs. Dog knows that “before the advent of Islam, two of the twelve months of the year were ‘months of the dog.’” Many things become sacred or profane overnight depending on which preacher is on the ascendance.
This preacher, Husret Hoja, who put the enemies of Islam in a kennel with dogs, had just declared coffee houses as profane. “Ah, my devoted believers!” the preacher had just said. “The drinking of coffee is an absolute sin! Our Glorious Prophet did not partake of coffee because he knew it dulled the intellect, caused ulcers, hernia and sterility; he understood that coffee was nothing but the Devil’s ruse. Coffeehouses are places where pleasure-seekers and wealthy gad-abouts sit knee-to-knee, involving themselves in all sorts of vulgar behavior...”
Pamuk’s Dog loves coffeehouses just because his master loves coffee. Dog’s previous master was a thief whom also Dog served faithfully. When the master cut the throats of his victims, Dog would bark as loudly as he could so that the victims’ cries would not be heard by other people. The master rewarded Dog by cutting up the victims, boiling their flesh and feeding it to Dog. “I don’t like raw meat,” declares Dog. “God willing,” he says, “the would-be executioner of that cleric (who likened infidels to dogs) will take this into account so I won’t upset my stomach with that scoundrel’s raw flesh.”
Yesterday’s religious attack in a Turkey nightclub brought Orhan Pamuk and his dog to my mind. Pamuk’s novel is set in that very same country though a few centuries ago. Centuries may have passed but the religious spirit has not. “Allahu Akbar,” the killer shouted as he shot down 39 people in cold blood.
In the darkness of Turkey’s nocturnal wildernesses, a lot of dogs must have snarled out their vengeance with a religious fervour that matched the killer’s.