Sunday, February 26, 2012

I met with a friend after school a few days ago, and he suggested I watch this video on Turkish tea.  I suggest everyone reading this watch it. The clip has a short intro in Turkish, but the rest is in English.

Overall, I think the clips paints a very good picture of daily life in Turkey.  However, not all of the details apply to me particularly. For one thing, we don't even drink tea very often at my house; I might have a (tulip shaped) glass one or twice a week.  Also, I try to never click my spoon when stirring.  I find it annoying, and no one else really does it anyway.

One thing that caught my eye (ear?) particularly was the ending of the clip, when Turkey's potential for playing a larger role in peacekeeping in the middle east is discussed.  This is actually something I've been considering writing about for a while now, so bare with me.

It is obvious the middle east has had difficulty staying out of the news.  Whether it's discussion of Iran's nuclear capabilities or coverage of the ongoing riots in Afghanistan,  it's clear that many parts of the middle east have a lot of work to do before they can meet the needs of it's population and comply with international human rights laws.

There is a tendency to blame religion for these shortcomings. Many people in Western countries (Not just the USA) believe, consciously or unconsciously that Islam simply can't coexist with true democracy, equal rights etcetera. However, Turkey is one shining example of how this is possible. It is true that Turkey still has work to do in many areas (what countries don't?). Turkey is still developing, but it should be remembered that women gained full suffrage in Turkey before women in Spain, Canada, or France did (just to name a few examples).

How did Turkey manage this? Let's take a quick glance at histroy.

The Ottoman Empire was first described as the "sick man of Europe" in 1853.  After World War One, a number of Brittish attacks in the middle east eventually led to the Ottoman Empire's collapse. What happened next?

Interestingly enough,  I still have my essay from elementary school on "the sick man of Europe", but I was never taught what happened after the Ottoman Empire collapsed until I came to Turkey.  In my opinion, if we believe history repeats itself, it is a grave oversight that the average American doesn't know the name "Mustafa Kemal", the man commonly credited with single handidly founding the Republic of Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

If we studied Kemal's reforms (as Turkish school children do extensively), would we have a guide of how a country can transform itself without losing it's religious identity? Maybe a rough one, but we wouldn't want to follow it too closely.  The birth of Turkey was fraught with delivery pains; many people, minorites especially, suffered through unspeakable horrors to elevate Turkey to the place it is now.  Many would also argue that much of Turkey's religious and culural identity has also been sacrificied (or replaced) to make way for the Turkey of today.

So if we aren't to use Turkey as a blueprint, what is Turkey's role in reforming the middle east? Well, maybe, if Islam isn't the problem, it could be the solution.  I'm not a political analysist (sound familiar?) , but I wonder if Turkey could act as a mentor to some of it's neighbors, using Islam as common ground to fuel brotherhood and good will. Turkey has already proved how the common bond of Islam can be used between countries for great good. Just take a look at this example in Somalia.

Granted, there are many obstacles to be faced before this idea could become reality.  First of all, the rampant prejudice against "Arabs" and more conservative muslims would have to be addressed.  Also, I believe that Turkey would have to take a more critical view of it's own history before it could try and repeat it in other countries.

What can America and other developed nations do to help? First of all, we can address our own prejudices against the middle east. We could start by realising that we are not fighting a holy war, but attempting to raise up mankind as a whole.  Maybe if Turkey could see the west embracing all people, regardless of race and religion, Turks would be inspired to do the same.  Secondly we can closely scrutize Turkey's history, paying special attention to the construction of the republic, noting both it's successes and failures without bias.  Turkey's history could be very important in reconstructign the middle east. Hopefully, if the truth (or the closest we can come to the truth) of Turkish history became common knowledge in the world, Turkey would embrace both it's successes and downfalls, learn from them, and use them (along with Islam) to create a stabler, more peaceful middle east.

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful Kyla. I can't help but think what a better world this would be if more young people could have the experience you are having. That is one of the advantages I had as a Peace Corps volunteer, the ability to learn about another people and culture first hand and see them as individuals.