Turkey will turn your preconceptions of how Muslim countries perceive America upside-down.
It's a country whose Islamic political forces are currently aligning themselves more closely with the United States while the staunch secularists turn away. Members of the ruling IslamicJustice and Development Party (AKP) openly praise the U.S. for allowing free public expression of religion. And they make economic liberalization, entry into the European Union, and improved human rights central parts of their platform.
But the secularist old guard, especially within the military, is suspicious of these Islamic parties. They berate the U.S. for tolerating what they see as the gradual Islamization of Turkey. Retired General Edip Baser says that if a more religious Turkey is "part of Bush's 'Greater Middle East Project' to create Islamic democracies across the region," he wants none of it.Read More
Istanbul - Retired four-star Turkish General Edip Baserleft his joint post as Special Envoy for Counterterrorism in May 2007, frustrated with America for professional reasons: he says the United States "tied Turkey's hands," leaving it more exposed to PKK terrorism. But now this frustration has turned personal.
His twenty-six-year-old son, Sukru, is about to enter Turkey's mandatory fifteen months of military service. Sukru wants to join Turkey's Special Forces in the southeast to help them fight the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK).Read More
Istanbul – In 2002, on the sand of muscle men and taut bikinis, Leo T. unfolded his sajjada on Santa Monica Beach and prayed to Mecca. A drunken homeless man rasped, “‘There is no God, man!’” and waddled away.
Leo, as his American friends call him, just laughed: “At least he knew I was praying and not throwing up . . . America is tolerant of showing your religion in public; in Turkey people would say I was trying to spread Shari'ah if I prayed outside.”
Leo, who grew up here in Istanbul, went to America in early 2001 to figure out his future; he found religion.
Its messengers were followers of the controversial Gulen Movement in Turkey, which claims to “blend Islam with modernity” while resisting secular states’ restrictions on religious expression. Opponents, especially secular Turks within the military, have accused the Gulen Movement of being a cult-like organization secretly plotting to establish an Islamic state by placing its followers within the civil service, police and educational system of Turkey.Read More
Istanbul – “To learn another language, you have to press your tongue against a girl's tongue," Ahmet D. tells me shyly. He's a twenty-four-year-old Kurdish student at Bosphorus University who says what Turkey needs is dialogue, humanism, and a little love. He came to this conclusion through academics, American literature, and four formative months serving pancakes on the Eastern Shore.
Ahmet looks out over the channel below. Ships inch by. Beyond them, layered red roofs and minarets undulate on the Asian side of Istanbul. And next to him, punks, bohemian-sheeks, modest Anatolians, fashionistas, and bedraggled test-takers gossip together. Ahmet stares past it all.Read More