While slowly adjusting to Turkish culture, I continue to email friends and follow the news back home, and this sometimes means that my thoughts are in the U.S. while the rest of me resides in Istanbul.
But one topic has brought here and there together for me recently, and that is the controversy about the Mosque “at” Ground Zero and the subsequent protests about it and other mosque construction in the United States.
As a 55-year old immigrant who can barely speak the language of her new country, and who adheres to religion followed by only a minuscule number of its citizens, I feel great sympathy toward immigrants in my own country who don’t fit the norm. When I read about what is happening to them, I wonder what it would be like if similar events occurred here.
What if a Turkish TV network, in order to improve its ratings, or a Turkish politician, trying to improve his poll numbers, decided to get the Turkish people riled up about the motives of the Christian minority living in their midst? What if Turkish television programming, magazine articles and speeches were created for the purpose of reminding people of the aggressions visited upon Turks and other Muslims by Christians in recent times?
For several hundred years, in some cases ending only in the 1960’s, Christian nations governed nearly every country in the Middle East. Less than a hundred years ago, Christian powers signed a treaty to carve up Turkey, taking most of its coastline and leaving only the center of the country intact. A half-century ago, the United States, which many are eager to call a Christian country, replaced the democratically-elected president of Turkey’s next door neighbor, installing a dictator and paving the way for decades of unrest. Less than a decade ago, America’s war on another of Turkey’s neighbors caused thousands of deaths, put a halt to Turkish tourism and forced Turkey to open its borders to thousands of refugees.
What should Turks think of Christians?
There is one expatriate Christian church here in Istanbul. It happens to be located on Istiklal Boulevard, the most famous street in the city, close to the heart of old Istanbul. What if Turkish people decided that a Christian church didn’t belong in a Muslim city? What if they decided that the church should be banned entirely, given the history of Christians dominating Islamic countries?
What if disgruntled Christians joined forces in this effort, telling Muslims things we’d rather they not know, for example, that every Christian, even those who haven’t been to church for years, can sing the first bars of “Onward Christian Soldiers?”
Sankar and I depend upon the kindness and tolerance of Muslims here. Every day, Muslims listen patiently while I struggle to come up with words to describe what I need. Muslims haul furniture up to our lovely apartment. Sankar’s Muslim secretary calls nearly every day to ask if she can help me with something. The day before yesterday, a young Muslim who reports to Sankar was so concerned about doing his job well that he asked if Sankar would feel offended if he fasted during Ramadan.
All these helpful people judge us as individuals, not on misdeeds people of our faith have committed.
There is probably nothing I would be able to say or do if opinion turned against us here in Turkey. But actually, I don’t think I have to worry. Turks do not choose to dwell on their past interactions with Christians. Maybe it is because they have a long history and know very well what kind of horrors can occur when people’s prejudices are manipulated.