The dog boasts about the length of his canines, which give him a fearsome look. He explains that for a dog, “nothing is as satisfying as sinking his teeth into a miserable enemy.” He accuses humans of being less rational than dogs and wrongfully assuming that dogs don’t talk. He then begins a story about a “brash” and “boneheaded” cleric called Husret Hoja. The cleric had a powerful speaking style, and was able to both intimidate his audience and move them to tears. Husret Hoja began declaring that all problems, from inflation to military failure, were caused by “forgetting Islam.” He considered any innovation to religious tradition to be sacrilege, and any mode of behavior that did not exist in the Prophet’s time to be unacceptable. He denounced dervishes who sing the Koran to music as “kaffirs” (unbelievers). Husret Hoja also condemned coffee, claiming that coffee causes mental incapacitation such that coffee-drinkers would believe what “dogs and mongrels” say.
It is clear that “Husret Hoja” is supposed to represent the Hoja of Erzurum, whom Black introduced in the previous chapter. While Black describes Erzurum in rather neutral terms, the dog openly mocks and scorns the Hoja and his followers. Furthermore, the context in which this story is presented automatically invites criticism of the Hoja’s claims. Not only is the story being narrated in a coffeehouse—which the Hoja wishes to make illegal—but it is being told through the voice of a dog, an animal the Hoja disdains. Even the fact that the storyteller is using a picture to represent the dog violates conservative interpretations of Islam, which forbid all representational art.
The dog notes that most clerics despise dogs, which may be blamed on a story that suggests that the Prophet favored cats. However, the dog then mentions a chapter of the Koran called “The Cave,” in which Allah puts 7 young people to sleep in a cave for 309 years. When they awaken, the youths are stunned by how much the world has changed. The dog notes that the 18th verse mentions a dog sleeping at the mouth of the cave, and that as a dog he is proud of this chapter. He questions why people have come to think of dogs as impure and “a bad omen.” However, he is even more disturbed by the Hoja’s condemnation of coffeehouses. He admits that there may be some in the audience who distrust the views of a dog whose master is a “picture-hanging storyteller.” Yet he points out that people love coffee and would “die” for coffeehouses.
The dog presents a convincing critique of the Hoja’s orthodoxy, pointing out that there is little evidence that dogs and coffee are actually sinful in the eyes of God. However, the dog doesn’t provide a particularly convincing case that dogs and coffeehouses are virtuous, either. That a dog appears in the Koran or that people love coffeehouses do not necessarily indicate that either of these things have religious value. In this sense, the dog is arguing for a lifestyle that does not revolve around religious teachings—one that embraces earthly pleasures.
The dog tells the audience that the Venetian Doge (senior official) sent the Sultan’s daughter a female dog as a gift. The dog “is so spoiled she has a red silk dress.” It is common in Europe for dogs to wear clothes, to the point that people are horrified to see a “naked dog.” The dog condemns the fact that in Europe, all dogs have owners and are domesticated. The dog concludes by telling a story about his previous master, a “very just man” who was a thief and would cut people’s throats at night. The thief would then boil the flesh of these victims and serve it to the dog. The dog notes that he doesn’t like raw meat, and that he hopes whoever kills the Hoja of Erzurum cooks him first “so I won’t upset my stomach with that scoundrel’s raw flesh.”
As this passage shows, people in Istanbul often evaluate their own morality against the foil (contrast) of European culture. While Istanbul may have its problems, these appear minor in comparison to the scandal of the European treatment of animals. Throughout the book, the characters mention their horror at the fact that European women do not dress in a sufficiently modest way; this passage adds another level of perceived perversity to European notions of modesty with the comment about the “naked dog.”