The Muslim World
Published 09-July: 2016
Saddened by and often outraged at current events, I recently became inspired to share some writings and photography I did in Turkey in 2011.
Before the Turkey writings, there are three perspectives I'd like to share on the Muslim world. The first: I've traveled to three Muslim countries, Morocco, Malaysia and Turkey - in the later I've also resided for several months. In the approximately 140 days I've spent in these countries the number of moments in which I felt threatened, even remotely, is exactly zero. I can't even remember an instance of someone being impolite.
Secondly, the terrorist bombings and shootings we hear so much about (unless they are in Iraq or Yemen), no matter how awful, are still isolated and claim few deaths, relatively speaking. The number of people across North America who died last year choking on food was nearly 5,000. People say to me, aren't you glad you aren't in Turkey now. In fact, I'd travel to Istanbul in a heartbeat.
Finally: Again and again, people in the news ask, Why don't the citizens of Muslim countries speak out against the Isis, Al Qaeda or Hamas terrorists? I'm sure many do, though our news does not report it. I would also ask, How many Americans speak out against the 13,286 U.S. citizens killed by firearms in 2015? Or the the approximately 165,000 civilians who died in the Iraqi war?
What I believe above all is that people are people. Everywhere.
. . .
Aimless Wandering in Turkey
I took a passenger ferry from Istanbul to Bursa. I thought I purchased a window seat but what I ended up with was a seat against a wall, below a television monitor and facing the other passengers; the perspective from which I took this photograph. The woman in the center of the photograph was cloaked in a burqa; it was not just her dress but how she held herself that contrasted so greatly with the woman beside her, attired without elegance and slumped in her seat.
Putting aside the complexities and furor of debate about the burqa (which exist everywhere, including or especially in Muslim countries), and how difficult it is to confront from a feminist perspective (my own), in that moment, for that moment, I envied her. What an experience to be invisible to others and thus take up no social mask, as well as be freed from having to engage in small talk.
I studied her as best I could because she impressed me in other ways and my potential to judge or dismiss became instead to inquire: this woman was an individual human being and therefore, as we all are, a mystery comprised of complexities who ultimately thinks like no one else (not even herself). Soon after the ferry embarked the woman opened her Quran and read it for the entire journey. To read something that demands contemplation is itself a form of contemplation, and potentially to be admired.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the secularist founder of modern Turkey, dismissed Islam and once claimed the entire "Turkish nation resembled those who commit the Quran to memory without understanding the meaning of a single word and thus becoming senile."1 Atatürk's view was materialistic in the way Lenin's was (in the way modernity en mass is) and set one wave of history into motion. Removed from historical-political generalizations, I sat in the anecdotal; seat 324 of the Yenikapi-Bursa ferry, and observed the other passengers. The woman in the burqa carried a potency, a high-frequency focus, quite ennobled. Her clothing extended to her hands, the black gloves she turned the pages of her book with.
1. Quote from Atatürk: An Intellectual Biography,
by Sükrü Hanioglu. Pg. 132
I found this grass in the extra time I had before boarding the Istanbul to Bursa Ferry and just after I had walked down Gedik Pasa, a street of astonishing noise, irregular asphalt and disappearing sidewalks. It had been two weeks since I had sat on the ground or seen more than a tree or two at a time and this almost acre of unclaimed grass was suddenly, inexplicably there. I sat down into a lower octave, heard my breath and felt it slow. A magpie also occupied the grass, at the base of a tree. I had been moving since I left my hotel; part of the way by cab, then metro, then by foot, down Gedik Pasa. The magpie was moving. Hopping and then finding food, or something. It is impossible to stop this movement or get off. I felt that way for the magpie, but for a moment thought I was exempt.
I came across this ingenious water-bottle fountain last night, near dusk, on my walk home. It’s strange how things that are blue, even if they are made of plastic, look good with water or seem to become it. Bursa, has fountains upon fountains. Not all are old but nearly all of them are to be used, and people are, continuously. They are places to wash and drink from, some are little more than sink and faucet. Maybe “fountain” isn’t the right word because not all have water streaming from them. They are drinking holes, sites of ablution. The water is good here, very good. Osman Gazi is the one of the founders of Bursa and has at least one statue, a tomb and a fountain named after him. History is geographically-centric and written by victors; and if one grew up in Bursa Osman would be second nature to ones cerebral cortex; I saw a father last night pointing to his statue and his son was mouthing the name Osman with his moist lips.
I have stayed with two of my cat-loving friends in the last few months and they reawakened my cat-loving genes. In Istanbul I became one of the people who stops to pet or feed the legendary homeless cats there, which are also legion. They fall into two camps: the skittish who flee and the unflinching who receive your touch. These latter cats are so hungry for affection or find it so unusual or both that they behave like a sprung mouse-trap: thrust themselves toward you, stare you in the eye, press fast and hard against your hand and forearm. Harder than a cat ever has.