What is at stake for the Turkish
Recent events in Turkey are very disturbing. Postrel comments linking to Sullivan who linked to the original item in the Guardian. Read the whole thing. Excerpts:
After the bombs
Maureen Freely grew up in Istanbul. After Friday's terrorist attacks she caught the first plane back - and found the city bloodied but defiant
Tuesday November 25, 2003
When the bomb exploded outside the synagogue in the old Istanbul neighbourhood of Galata 10 days ago, my brother Brendan was in his flat around the corner. When the bomb went off outside the British consulate five days later, he was on his way to his favourite chicken shop outside the fish market opposite the consulate entrance. If he had left a quarter of an hour earlier, he would no longer be with us.
All the bombs that went off in Istanbul last week were in busy neighbourhoods that hundreds of thousands of people pass through daily. Most of them might be Turkish Muslims, but Istanbul has always been a city of many religions and cultures. A large percentage of the country's Turkish non-Muslims are concentrated in these same areas, as are the city's many thousands of foreign residents and the many hundreds of foreign-owned businesses. The area around the British consulate is teeming with other consulates. There are three churches and a mosque within a few hundred yards. There is no way of targeting foreigners without targeting Turks in these crowded streets and no way of protecting them either. This is presumably why the Foreign Office has advised all British nationals to stay away from the city until further notice, and why almost everyone I know in England thinks I was crazy to fly home on the first plane.
So I was expecting to find the streets empty and most of the city's 10 million residents cowering behind closed doors.
Indeed, there was a great hush in the arrivals lounge. For the first time ever, I did not have to queue for a visa. But once we had left the airport, it was hard to see any sign of a crisis. The streets were clogged with traffic and people shopping for the holiday that begins today. The shores of the Bosphorus were lined with fishermen and a procession of large, slow-moving families enjoying the unusually fine weather. The restaurants and cafes were doing a brisk business, and every few hundred metres there was a florist overflowing on to the pavement to meet the seasonal demand.
This was Istanbul's September 11. They thought they were safe from the war on terror because they thought all Muslims were brothers. Now they know otherwise, and are unified in their condemnation of the terrorists, who cannot be "true Muslims". The fact that the terrorists staged this attack in the last days of Ramadan has added to their outrage. But no one is in any doubt why the city has become a terrorist target. How its residents respond to their new status depends very much on how much support they get (or fail to get) from the allies who dragged them into this. As one shopkeeper put it, "Surely, now that we have suffered this, the EU must open its arms to us." If it doesn't, or if the US gives the impression, as it has sometimes done in the past, that it is taking Turkey's "sacrifice" for granted, the sense of betrayal could be huge.
But right now, everyone's mind is on the present, on trying to survive. By that I do not mean that people are avoiding danger, but that they are quite adamantly refusing to let danger change the way they live. [ed. note -- emphasis mine] And God only knows they have had practice. In the past three years, they have been playing this game so much they have hardly had time to breathe. Begin with the earthquake, in which the official death toll was 18,000 but may well have been twice that. Continue with the crippling recession, which has yet to ease, and the crimewave that has followed in its wake. Even so, this has remained an exemplary city. To visit Istanbul over the past few years has been to see friends look after each other in ways that we in the privatised west have long forgotten. According to the local code of conduct, the most dangerous thing is solitude, the next worst thing is to sit at home behind closed doors. The worse things get, the more important it is to go out with your friends and do whatever you have to do to laugh adversity away.
Istanbul is not another Riyadh, where foreigners jet in for two or three years to service foreign interests, to live in separate compounds. It has been the opposite of Riyadh since the days of Byzantium. There were large and commercially significant European concessions - Venetian, Genoese, British, and French - and many of their descendants remained in the city throughout the Ottoman Empire. There were 100,000 Greeks in the city right up until the Cyprus crisis in 1964. About a third of the girls in my secondary school were Greek, Armenian, and Jewish. The last time I went to my sister's (Catholic) church I heard a service in which children sang Christmas carols in 17 languages.
Bogazici University, where my father still teaches, has been a Turkish institution since the early 1970s, but for a century before that it was an American college for Turks. When we arrived 43 years ago, most of the faculty was still American and more than a few of them had come here because, like my father, they dreamed of a world beyond McCarthy, 50s conformity and cold war paranoia. We did not lock ourselves up in expatriate isolation; we were part of the city and we still are.
The gulf that divides the east from the west is something we think about a great deal but we do not see it reflected in our everyday lives. Istanbul is more cosmopolitan than it has ever been. Millions have either worked in Germany and other parts of Europe and still have families there. Any family that can afford it makes sure that they give their children a chance to spend time studying abroad. Since the earthquake, eased relations with Greece have opened the way to an array of cultural and educational exchange programmes. The economic links between the two countries are also growing, as have the links with countries in the former eastern bloc.
When I was a child, Istanbul was an enchanted but neglected cold war outpost. Over the past decade, I have watched it become the hub for all the regions that surround it, a city neither eastern nor western but both at the same time. It still is, but for how much longer?