New page on "Sultan" background

Some readers of A Gift for the Sultan have been asking which parts are true, which invented, and how to find out more about Constantinople, the Ottomans and this critical period in world history. For those of you among the curious, I have begun to develop a new web page, Sultan: Background, with some tips to get you started. Please let me know if there's anything else you'd like to see there.


The spectre of democracy

A spectre is haunting the first world — democracy in its hinterlands.

The consumer-capitalist states regard dictatorship in the subject countries as the price for  democracy at home. Dictatorships keep the prices of raw materials down and create captive markets for the metropolitan powers, enabling the latter to afford the shifting mix of police repression and prosperity at home that gives even their less-privileged an apparent stake in the system.  Democracy in those source countries might mean governments using natural resources for their people's needs instead of exporting them cheaply. Which would cut into the profits that enable consumer-capitalism to tolerate dissent and debate, raising the price of everything from gasoline to vegetables and exacerbating class tensions from London to Tokyo and New York and many other places.

That is why those first-world states intervened so quickly to snuff out the threat of democracy in Iran in 1953 (oil), Chile in 1973 (copper), the Congo in 1961 (all kinds of resources), and many other places.

Democracy in a big country like Egypt threatens also to destabilize dictatorships in neighboring countries, by example and possibly even by deed. It's contagious. Once started out there in a new environment such as Islamic North Africa and Western Asia (long thought immune to the disease), democracy could spread until it undermines the whole structure of inequality that allows us in the first world to spend so freely and waste so carelessly and forget about challenging the system. It's a real worry. We could end up living more like the Egyptians. And the Egyptians more like us.

Which explains:

Mideast Allies Press U.S. to Go Slow on Egypt - NYTimes.com


Goodreads giveaway of "A Gift for the Sultan"

I've just set up this giveaway of A Gift for the Sultan for anybody signed in to Goodreads, available to readers in the US, Canada or Spain. I'm making 5 copies available between now and March 15 (the famous Ides). To get one, you click on the entry box, and Goodreads will decide which of the zillion or so of you fanatics are the lucky winners. If you are in the US or Canada, my son will ship you the book from his home in Arizona; if you are in Spain, I'll ship from my home.

So far there are no reviews of the book on Goodreads. I hope that changes. I do have several reviews, all very good, on Amazon, including a new one just posted today. See Amazon reviews of A Gift for the Sultan. If any of you "Goodreaders" have got around to reading it, I hope you will say something about it on the site.



What will matter most in the long run is that the popular rising in Egypt, even more than the earlier one in Tunisia, changes the way we must look at the world. What T. S. Kuhn might have called the paradigm of world events. (You will remember his Structure of Scientific Revolutions.) This shift feels as momentous as the shift from the Ptolemaic to the Copernican way of perceiving the universe.

Yesterday, or last week, people were still willing to believe that East and West were irreconcilable, that principles of democracy were unimaginable in Muslim societies, that the alternative to tight police control of the Muslim population would be a turn to Muslim extremists, sharia law and the rest of it, with mass popular support. There's been plenty of evidence against this view all along, but it was a convenient view to many western politicians blaming Asian or North African immigrants for local woes (France and Holland most notably) or seeking to justify pointless but terribly expensive wars.

Of course there are some people still holding to that view, but it's going to be harder to sustain than in an earlier age when the Church could command Galileo to deny that the earth moved. Thanks to the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians of all ages and classes waging their energetic but peaceful demonstration in Tahrir Square, we know it just isn't so. The "clash of civilizations" is not between East and West, or between Islam and Christianity, but between authoritarianism and free thought, free exploration, free invention. Give the people a chance — no, that's wrong, nobody gives the people anything. Let's say, when the people seize the chance to meet one another, try out new ideas or ideas borrowed from elsewhere but new to them, they can get along. Copts and Muslims and Armenian Orthodox and agnostics and atheists. And they can figure out how to keep order without the “help” of the police, like protecting the archaeological museum, or cleaning the street, or directing traffic, or taking care of their wounded.

Liberating the energies of the Egyptian people will go far to liberating all the peoples of the region. And it will mean the death of Al Qaeda, which is nourished by fear, hate, and the impossibility of other options.

Wouldn't Naguib Mahfouz be proud!

Interviews on "A Gift for the Sultan"

My thanks to Kipp Poe Speicher and his blog, "Closing My Eyes…," for posting this interview of Geoffrey Fox about A Gift for the Sultan and about writing generally. Sharing ideas and writing habits with colleagues can be really useful to writers — not only to pick up some new trick or technique, but so we don't feel quite so alone in our struggles to get the words right.

And here is another intervew (in Spanish) that appeared in our local Carboneras newspaper Campomar, by our friend and very good local journalist Inma Caparrós. Photo at right is from the event she describes: 
Geoffrey Fox presenta su último libro "A gift for the Sultan"