I’ve been yelled at by wild-eyed debaters all my life, so my gut instinct tells me to avoid emotional political discussions. Yet, in wake of all the confusion and horror caused by the Paris Attacks I found myself stuck spectating the very type of discussion I dreaded. A Turkish man, who I just met, was proclaiming that the world was hypocritical about Paris to my American friend.
He said that the world did not care enough to learn about the hundreds who died in the bombings in Beirut, Baghdad and Ankara, but rushed to put up a French Flag filter over its profile picture when tragedy hit a Western country. He felt hurt that the world validated France’s pain as it ignored the sorrow of other nations.
He did have a point. Facing the cold truth can be hard, but the mainstream media, and thus the world, will always care more about the most unexpected news; the gut-wrenching horror in Aleppo is no longer “fresh” enough. And the world simply reacts differently to different cultures and cities. Beirut, Baghdad and Ankara are all vertical cities. They all have long histories and traditions that dig down vertically, yet lack the cultural and political impact that a horizontally influential city like New York has. Paris, as a five thousand year old city that is visited more than any other city on earth, is both vertical and horizontal. It will obviously attract more attention and the world will react more strongly towards it.
But no matter how skewed the press coverage was, he shouldn’t have compared Paris’s pain to the pain he felt towards Ankara. Cultures, just like people, grieve in different ways and intensities. And it is never good or fair to criticize an unfair situation by comparing the pains of two cultures to one another. So I intervened and began telling this to the Turkish man. But my words were shoved into my mouth as my American friend interrupted me with a stern face, pointed straight at both him and me (for reasons I cannot understand) and said in what seemed to me the most sinister fashion possible:
“You terrorists will never get it.”
The words were all too familiar.
They ring in my head every time the TSA “randomly” selects me for further inspection and every time the Turkish government showers me with water cannons or imprisons another journalist I follow. I am simply too Muslim for the West because of my background and not Muslim enough for home because of my secular values. And I am at peace with that. But what I’d like my friend to realize is that we, the democrats of Turkey, are his best allies in the quest for a peaceful Middle East and a safer world.
Most cultural change takes decades to occur, but I have already seen a dramatic change in Turkish society in my short life. We were a country with a tremendous amount of social capital. People wouldn’t turn on their TV-sets for three days just out of respect to their neighbor who was mourning a deceased relative, local restaurants would pack dozens of meals for homeless people and a woman in a mini-skirt coming back from a night of drinking would cordially greet a woman in a burka coming back from her morning prayer in the Istanbul subway.
But today, we are so polarized and full of hate that we cannot even mourn the death of the 95 bombing victims of Ankara. After this ISIS attack that targeted a leftist protest, a faction of our society cheered the death of the protesters that “had it coming for working with the Kurds,” the opposing parties accused the government of deliberately killing the protesters to cause chaos for political gain and the government blamed the rest for “being vandals.” Our prime minister didn’t even bother leaving the Turkish-Dutch soccer game early after being notified that 15 of our soldiers had died, probably because he was too accustomed to the news!
Compared to the French people who unified to protect their way of life after the attacks, what right do we have in demanding a Turkish Flag filter on Facebook while we can’t even come together in what should have been a moment of unbearable sorrow?
So believe me, dear friend, we are not happy either and I assure you that we do “get it.” If peace is ever going to come, it will come through a coalition between you and me. And frankly, calling your own ally a terrorist is not helping.
Our world is in turmoil. Perhaps the bloodiest civil war in history is drawing more and more countries in. A Russian warplane was shot down by a NATO member country for the first time since the 1950s and a mad Russian politician demanded that Putin nuke Istanbul in retaliation. Extremism and terrorism claim hundreds of lives annually in world capitals. There is tremendous regional unrest all over the world and the Pope has marked these events as the beginning of World War III.
We need each other now more than ever.
Contact sarali19 ‘at’ stanford.edu.