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The Artist of the Beautiful

Adnan Oktar and meMy report on Harun Yahya for Seed magazine just went up. It is a small sketch—a longer discussion with more context is set for the March/April issue of Search magazine, inshallah, etc. This one narrows in on some of the minutiae of meeting Adnan Oktar (the man behind the Yahya name) and his friends, as well as the experience of working through his corpus. It is a kind of tortured relationship. On the one hand, the lousy science and the simplistic scapegoating for all the world’s problems disappoints me. Not to mention all the messy criminal charges, wherever the truth behind them may lie. On the other, Oktar has something beautiful in mind. He has a theory for everything and an incredible, original artistic sensibility to back it up. I am torn.

If this article accomplishes anything, it should be to get past the two kinds of commentary about Yahya that one normally sees in the West: a superficial overview with quotations from “both sides” and a triumphalistic put-down piece. Let me know if I’ve succeeded. Read it here.

23 comments on “The Artist of the Beautiful

  1. Very enjoyable article. The guy certainly likes to put on a good show. Having mentioned the fishing lures, you’ll probably never get another interview. He wore a black Versace t-shirt? Suave guy. With all the glitter he puts into his books, there’s gotta be something of merit in there. But you wrote:

    “Judging the Atlas on its scientific content alone misses the point. Its power, for those who aren’t scientifically literate, lies in its vision of redemption.”

    That’s the problem I have. If his science doesn’t stand up, then even with all the glitter, the bad science detracts from what is essentially a spiritual message.

    All in all, you did a fine job. Well done!

  2. http://209.85.129.132/search?q=cache:nxvCwOkpkc8J:seedmagazine.com/news/2008/12/the_art_of_creationism_1.php “The Art of Creationism”&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1
    WHAT HAPPENED TO THIS ONE?
    The Art of Creationism
    … hypnotic-looking books towards his wider vision of rescuing a troubled world.

    You were clearly praising the artwork of Harun Yahya books in the original article I read. And now it seems that “some” must have put pressure to make the change! But I still find you dishonest to stand for your own views. What happened to your being impressed?

  3. Good catch! The only thing that changed was the title and teaser. The article text is exactly the same. I’m confused that you find me “dishonest to stand for your own views.” Isn’t it honest to stand for one’s own views?

    I am impressed with Yahya’s artistic accomplishment, though not at all with his scientific one. This position is the same in both versions.

    The editors, as I understand it, decided at the last minute for a shift in emphasis of the title and teaser.

  4. Curmudgeon—

    I think your approach is important, and I’m grateful for it, being a deep admirer of good science myself. But I’m also interested in taking the religious imagination seriously as a human phenomenon. As creationism shows again and again, it’s never quite enough to just point out the badness of the science. Something more powerful, for many people, is at work here also. Knowing that there are sharp observers like you keeping an eye on the science, I see it as my role to draw at least some notice to the interesting religiosity.

  5. I read your article on Seed, but I felt that there were a few words missing in the title.
    It should have been “Harun Yahya’s Art Enlightening the Dark”
    Not everyone can stand strong and still against the dark pressure,
    Not eveyone can enter the dark minds of people with a light, and make revolutionary changes,
    Not everyone can illuminate the dark,
    So his works are definitely a gladtiding, a hope, and a bright light to the lost souls of our century… He has been the brightest light for my life. While reading his books, I fill that he washes away all the dirt through my spirit, he finds the dark spots and fills them with joy, hope, purity and brings me under sunlight again. It is a pity that you did not appreciate what he does for the humanity.
    I think what he does is a true art that can nobody achieve in this world. God bless him…

  6. Dear Nathan,
    I have become a follower of your site. So I was able to read the original one and the updated one. I obviously meant “dishonest NOT to stand for your own views.” I think the change in the title and the teaser gave your article a totally different approach. So I cannot agree with you to say it is just a little emphasis. If it reflects your ideas, they should be your words published. But I liked the article though. I was so curious about him, and waiting for the next one.

  7. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the site enough to stick around! The fact is that publishing with a magazine often means coming to a compromise with editors who have concerns of their own. As you can probably imagine, we had some intense and productive discussions about the title, and believe me, I made every effort to stand my ground, just as they did. I stand by both titles. Neither of which, by the way, was my original suggestion. Then again, most of the titles I’ve ever submitted have been replaced by editors. It’s the nature of the business. When I want to say something 100% my own way, that’s what the blog is for. But without doubt, the editorial process did far, far more good than harm with respect to this article, believe me.

    Personally, I interpret the title this way. The teaser speaks of “his vision of a troubled world.” Therefore the “dark arts” of the title means not that Yahya’s methods are somehow evil (this would be going too far, I think) but that there is a darkness in the world that he portrays. For instance, in its inability to appreciate what Darwin called “grandeur in this view of life” of evolution. But maybe I’m stretching it.

  8. When I read about Oktar or when I look at portraits of him, I just see an extremely vain man. I can’t imagine someone having, nor wanting, an “inner circle” of 350 men. It must have been like entering a King’s court, being constantly reminded that Oktar is a very important person. He wears shoes, you were socks, etc.

    i can’t wait for the interview in Seed.

  9. It was like that.

    Note that the upcoming article in Search will not be the full interview either. If anyone would like a copy of the transcript, I’d be happy to provide it upon request. And I think Yahya’s people are planning to post the interview online at some point.

  10. A great article Nathan. Plus, I think you’ve coined a great new term above: “inshallah, etc.”. It’s gold. I like the last sentences of your article. I don’t think the article comes across as being from someone who is torn, though– truth be told. It seems like its author is more disappointed by the bad science than he is pleased by an original and artistic sensibility. It think the bias is reasonable enough, however. I’m sold.

    Keep up the good work.

  11. In my German blog-posting I draw attention to the importance of aesthetics in modern Turkish Islam as opposed to islamism in other regions. An interesting example is Ismail Fenni Ertugrul who wrote first extensive refutation of the theory in Turkish (to my knowledge) in 1928. He also belonged to a group that strove to conserve and defend classical Turkish music when Atatürk wanted the Turks to listen to polyphonic music.

    It is quote an irony that although the reception of the theory of evolution was primarily based on the writings of Büchner and Haeckel, the reception of Haeckel was very superficial. His artistic approach to the world of living played no role in the Turkish debates (click on Kunstformen der Natur).

  12. The page you reprinted from Oktar’s Atlas of Creation sends to this eye a message seemingly at odds with his intent. Color images of violence and hate (Hitler, the Ku Klux Klansman, etc.) contrast with the central black-and-white image of Darwin with his flowing white beard and calm demeanor, appearing as Santa Claus might if he’d spent most of his life in a research library–or a mullah in Western garb. Oktar and his editors will need to find a find an image of Darwin with a little more angry energy if their argument is to carry pictorially.

  13. Thanks for mentioning Ertugrul—I wasn’t aware of him and will certainly explore further.

    And I do believe I’ve seen pictures of Darwin in the Yahya corpus where the images are edited to make him look a lot scarier.

  14. Well, from all I read about this guy, it’s all show and no substance. Pretty clothes for a guy obviously completely lacking all intellectual attractiveness and colorful images for a text only worth re-selling, not reading.
    Personally, I’m into abstract art and religion to me is a mere drug for the masses, with priests and other religious zealots ranging anywhere between a comforting bartender and a drug-dealer. So basically, to me, Oktar is a scribble-pimping drug-dealer who fills the spaces between his infantile doodles with stuff he doesn’t understand to get the junkies hooked.
    What’s up with this fascination for a guy who dresses like a pimp and deals religion to poor people who can’t know any better then to waste their precious little money on his dope?

  15. Intriguing article, Nathan. I can’t imagine what a fascinating experience this must have been for you. I’m really looking forward to the longer published version of the interview in Search.

  16. Fascinating and well-executed article. Your admission of feeling uncertain about Yahya is refreshingly forthright. Just one point that I took issue with: you write that Yahya is “speaking from a Muslim world struggling to regain its religion and culture after colonial domination.” Turkey was never under direct colonial rule, and while the founding fathers of republican Turkey were Europhiles, they were Turks.

    So in understanding the significance of Yahya’s work, I think it’s more helpful to place him in a broader, globalized context of those who oppose the outcomes of a Darwinian, scientific age rather than a post-colonial Muslim world. I’m not familiar with his work…Do any parts of the Atlas speak specifically to a Muslim audience?

  17. Great comments, CP. In crafting that sentence about “colonial domination,” I tried to take care to be speaking of the Muslim world as a whole, not Turkey alone. I’m not sure how much Turks generally feel this, but I get the sense from Yahya that he sees Turkey as having a special guardianship role over the Muslim world, which, after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire (and before), experienced varying degrees of domination. He calls for a return to an Ottoman-like confederation of Muslim countries. And, like Nursi and Gulen, he embraces some Western science while being opposed to what he sees as an atheistic dead-end inscribed in it. So I do think there is some sense of guardianship in his works that is specific to the Muslim world. Though, you’re right, he has at times found common cause with American creationists. Post-colonialist stuff is not the whole story, but I would insist that it is a part.

    The Atlas is among Yahya’s more ecumenical works. It isn’t afraid to quote the Qur’an or to invoke the name of Allah, but most of it would make perfect sense to a creationist Christian (except this particular blend of old-earth creationism doesn’t much lend itself to Genesis). In other books, such as Why Darwinism Is Incompatible with the Qur’an, he speaks more directly to Muslims. Nowhere is he reluctant to proclaim a Muslim identity. He does, however, like to reach out to Christians by talking about the imminent coming of Christ.

    I do agree that it is wrong to label anti-evolutionism as flat-out aligned with post-colonial Islam. In my next article on Yahya, projected for the March issue of Search magazine, I will argue that Muslims are anything but doomed to creationism. I think it is very much an open question, one where there is a lot of room for creativity.

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