This text originally appeared in Turkish (not that you care): Once upon a time, and a very non-descript time it was, the Sultan of Bosphora was pacing up and down the corridors of his palace (converted later into a museum, and even later into a television studio set).
The Sultan looked troubled. For he had just received news (in a hand-embroidered, golden-velvet scroll, no less) from the Oracle of Ankara, a soothsayer who, between us, was more of a naysayer, and used her skill of prophesising to procure 40 times her quota from the royal granary in Taksim Square – without letting it appear like coercion.
The Oracle would by custom amplify the dictums of the Sultan. So if the Sultan felt that he should take yet another wife, the Oracle would sanction that directive as a divine order. Then she would send word to the Palace in deliberately ambiguous language – with a few holy flourishes thrown in for good measure – where it would be read out loud to the Royal Court. The Sultan, by this logic, would be compelled to agree. And the people would celebrate. It was a system not unlike our own.
But tonight, and a very dark night it was, the Sultan was in two minds. He had just finished reading the Oracle’s prophesy which he had not pre-approved, nor pre-ordained, nor pre-anythinged. Naturally, this angered him. The punishment for this kind of insubordination was death. And yet, death was not the answer (it rarely is). For the Oracle was telling a truth that could not be shaken nor revoked. A truth that was going to take its shape and resonate for centuries later whether the Sultan liked it or not.
It read, in the first part:
“Let the whirling dervish whirl,
“Feel free to give him a twirl.”
Now the Sultan was accustomed to this kind of crappy rhyme. Because more often than not he would author such cryptic messages himself, before sending them off to the Oracle. Over the course of his reign, however, the semantics of this coded language yielded meanings he actually began to understand. And he deciphered it to mean as such. The message made clear that entertainment, in the future, would go way beyond the scandalous relationship between Rumi and Shams and would absorb a much larger cultural galaxy that he could not even begin to fathom. Therefore, by letting the ‘dervish whirl’ he should encourage all kinds of entertainment; and by giving it a ‘twirl’ he should administer policies to allow for greater tolerance in public and private discourse.
It read, in the second part:
“Blend it with virtue, spice it with vice,
“That is the secret to Turkish Delight.”
The prophesy was beginning to sound serious now and the Sultan took pause to summon his wits before proceeding with its implications. The message made clear that “Turkish Delight,” or entertainment, is fundamental to developing ideas. Whether they are sourced from ‘virtue’ or ‘vice,’ ideas must be able to cross-pollinate, cross-reference and crossover in order to create grounds for an ever-present tomorrow. Without entertainment, the mind can shut down. When ideas begin to cease, civilisation begins to degenerate. And when that happens, regressive forces begin to take hold and choke the liberal mindset. And all creation, after all, has come from those who have been at liberty to think freely, capably and generously without fear or reproach.
It read, in the final part:
“Byzantium or Ottoman,
“Stand astride at least two continents.”
It was at this point that the Sultan’s wide eyes moistened with a hue reflected from the blue twilight that canopied his splendorous sultanate. The message made clear that regardless of time or epoch, “Byzantium or Ottoman,” one must heed to his city’s example of creating her own history at the meeting point of “two continents.” When entertainment is allowed to trade, the currency of ideas only strengthens. And the very act of “stand(ing) astride” what may appear to be two opposing worlds, is, in fact, the key to new solutions, new discoveries, and new opportunities. The Sultan reflected on this and regretted how his myopia and autocracy never permitted him to fully appreciate the Oracle’s wisdom.
He demanded the presence of his Chief Vizier and confirmed with the deferential nobleman that it has been studied that more than half of all discoveries were made during a time of entertainment or leisure, when the discoverer himself was enjoying the gains of his spare time, amusement or recreation. To that extent, the Sultan ordered that his Chief Vizier depart immediately; make a personal visit to the Oracle; convey the Sultan’s royal gratitude for her telling prophesy. And then kill that outspoken bitch.