From 2010 to 2013, my husband, Sankar, and I, were immigrants in Turkey. We could barely speak the language of our new country, and we adhered to a religion followed by only a minuscule number of Turkish citizens.
Having been in that (admittedly temporary) position, I sympathize with immigrants in my own country. I know what it is like to look different, speak differently, and believe different things.
We never experienced any anti-Western or anti-American sentiment in Turkey even though Turks, indeed Muslims in general, have reason to be unhappy with Christians. 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 secret treaty to carve up Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Turkey and Iraq, into French and British spheres of control. A half-century ago, the United States, which many consider a Christian country, replaced the democratically-elected president of Iran with a dictator, leading to decades of unrest. America’s 2004 invasion of Iraq led to massive death and destruction.
These historic facts could have put Sankar and me in danger. A Turkish politician, trying to improve his poll numbers, might have decided to rile people up about the Christian minority living in their midst. Turkish media could have decided to remind people of Christian aggressions visited upon Muslims. Turkish authorities might have determined that, given the history of Christians dominating Islamic countries, Christians should be deported from Turkey.
But that didn’t happen. Instead Sankar and I were humbled by Turkish courtesies that went far above what we normally offer. On a weekend vacation in southwestern Turkey, we got lost and asked a laborer and his wife for directions. They drove forty minutes out of their way to guide us back to the turnoff we’d missed. In Istanbul, one of Sankar’s Muslim colleagues spent several hours hunting down parking for us so we could attend Easter Services. Muslim friends insisted on driving us up to the world’s first Christian church outside Antioch, and waited respectfully as we toured it.
I am disappointed by American’s worsening attitudes toward and treatment of its Muslim citizens. In the three weeks since the 2016 presidential election, there have been more than a hundred anti-Muslim incidents in the U.S. The New York Times has started a series called “This Week in Hate,” to chronicle bigotry of all kinds. It reports that several American mosques have recently received letters stating that Donald Trump will “do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.” An Arab Uber driver in Queens recorded a video of another driver telling him that Trump would deport him. And in New Mexico a shopper wearing a hijab received verbal abuse from another woman.
Last week’s Ohio State attacker happened to be Muslim, but the majority of our previous assailants have been white American males, their religious background never mentioned. Why, then, in the case of someone clearly acting in violation of the Islamic faith, is religion brought to the fore?
Sankar and I saw a lot of dazzling sights in Turkey, but for me, the most remarkable thing was that we were judged as individuals. From the hospitality and kindness we received, Turks clearly were not dwelling on past Christian misdeeds. Why not? Maybe it is because Turkey has a long history of religious bloodshed. Turks know all too well what kind of horrors can occur when people’s prejudices are inflamed.