A few words from Donna
Donna Landry, Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Kent reflects on Evliya as a Renaissance man.
Evliya Çelebi’s culture – Islamic, Ottoman, cosmopolitan – still pulses within our own in the UK today. There is always a danger of cultural forgetting. Maslaha and the British Council’s ‘Evliya Çelebi – Book of Travels’ allows audiences to experience virtually a world of greater intimacy between Muslims and non-Muslims, East and West, than they can have imagined.
Frantz Fanon once diagnosed European imperialism as the means by which Europe was able to colonise Africa so that Africans built Europe. As a powerful Islamic empire, the Ottomans, by contrast, first encountered the British and other Europeans from a position of superior civilisation, wealth, and splendour. Even during the 1600s, despite intermittent wars, there were important East-West exchanges in medicine, music, philosophy, art, politics, and material culture as the exhibition shows. We may not be aware of it, but the West owes a great and unacknowledged debt to the East.
Evliya’s day was also a time of turmoil and fundamental questioning within his own society. The European Enlightenment may not be entirely European. It is worth remembering this history in the context of global politics today. Now is the time to explore neglected Ottoman and Muslim legacies such as Evliya’s. Evliya Çelebi can stand as a figure for a new Enlightenment that was as Eastern as it was Western. His example reveals possibilities for new Muslim identities, a new Turkey, and a new Europe.