I lived in Turkey between 1993 and 1994, and spent a lot of time in İstanbul, a city that literally unites Europe and Asia. The Turkish people I met there were good and kind, helping me when I couldn’t speak their language, and not laughing too visibly when I tried to. And now terrorists are attacking it – because it’s a nation where 90%+ of the population are muslim, but the laws are secular; because it’s a country which looks both East and West, even though the European Union continually deny it entry. I feel so sad for the people there – for my friends Melih and Minna, Yeşim and Huseyin, Asiye and İpek.
The only trouble I encountered because of my ethnicity (I was going to say religion, but I don’t have one) was in ’93 when I was walking in the old part of the City, furtively taking pictures of a demonstration in support of Bosnians who were being massacred by the Bosnian Serbs. A veiled woman saw me and spat at me; I asked her why. She told me that Turkey had exposed itself to much danger and wrecked its economy by supporting the allies in pushing Iraq out of Kuwait, and now the West was sitting on its hands while muslims were being slaughtered in the heart of Europe. People who know me will tell you that I’m not known for being at a loss for words, but as she handed me a napkin to wipe the spit off my coat, there was nothing I could say. She was right.
The title of this post means “may it soon pass” or “may you recover soon” in Turkish, and I mean it for the Turkish people and the city of İstanbul that Yeşim describes so beautifully.
It’s two years since the terrorist atrocities in the U.S., and what has changed? 6118 civilians dead as a result of the American/ British occupation of Iraq; 3000 dead civilians dead in Afghanistan, yet Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein still broadcast via Al-Jazeera. My friend’s daughter had her hijab torn off her while on a bus and beer poured over her head (“that’s for the world trade centre”); she’s 16 and a British-born muslim. The “allies” say it’s not a war on Islam – but George W.’s calling it a “Crusade”
and the initial designation of the bombing of Afghanistan as “Operation Infinite Justice” would certainly make me sceptical, were I a muslim.
I’m no anti-American; I believe there’s much in the U.S. that we British should import – the almost total seperation of religion and state, the rejection of the monarchy, a written bill of rights and a constitution (minus the absurd right to bear arms) are things that I’d love to see in the U.K. The USA seems to value liberty, equality under the law, the rule of law highly.
But, of course, there is a dirty secret behind it all. Tucked away in Guantanamo Bay are 660 men – three of whom are teenagers. Three are also British. These men are being held indefinitely (Donald
Rumsfeld: “Our interest is in not trying them and letting them out .. Our interest is in – during this global war on terror – keeping them off the streets, and so that’s what’s taking place.”), will be tried in secret with no defence lawyers, and could even be executed. This is America’s shame; their ‘peace’ and ‘security’ depends upon curtailing that of other people; their conduct destroys their moral superiority. The claim to be upholding liberal democracy is hollow when they will not afford their prisoners of war the rights of POWs under the Geneva Convention (or even the rights granted under Magna Carta half a millenium ago).
Have you ever read the very short story by Ursula Le Guin – “The ones who walk away from Omelas”? It describes a rich, happy society – much like America – but this society is somehow founded on the misery of one small child, locked in a basement, sorely abused: “It is so thin there are no calves to its legs; its belly protrudes; it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually.”
They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the
beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery …
Often the young people go home in tears, or in a tearless rage, when they have seen the child and faced this terrible paradox. They may brood over it for weeks or years. But as time goes on they begin to realize that even if the child could be released, it would not get much good of its freedom: a little vague pleasure of warmth and food, no doubt, but little more. It is too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy. It has been afraid too long ever to be free of fear.
Its habits are too uncouth for it to respond to humane treatment. Indeed, after so long it would probably be wretched without walls about it to protect it, and darkness for its eyes, and its own excrement to sit in.
Just like le Guin’s fictional Omelas, America justifies its stamping on the rights of others by stating that those others can’t handle freedom. “They’re muslims, aren’t they – so they’re not interested in democracy and self-determination. They’re communists, thus so brainwashed that they can’t elect a government; we’re doing them a favour by governing them. It’s for world peace and middle-eastern security that we prop up and bankroll a morally repugnant Israeli government which treats some of its own citizens as second-class citizens because of their race, and which has a litany of U.N. resolutions condemning it” is the real Voice of the American government. It even uses its anti-terror laws against its own citizens for non-terrorist crimes. Benjamin Franklin wrote “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Today is also the thirtieth anniversary of the American-sponsored military coup in Chile, which saw Pinochet topple the democratically-elected President Allende.