“Corruption is like a ball of snow, once it’s set a rolling it must increase.”
— Charles Caleb Colton
Unlike corruption or coup attempts, snow is growing rarer in Istanbul, but one day in early 2015, it didn’t seem to interrupt the usual activities of the city’s birds, fish or fishermen. A few dogs seemed on edge, and cat sightings were rarer, but otherwise it was business as usual.
I spent several months in Turkey last year, mostly because I wanted to visit while it was still somewhat hospitable for an American. Numerous people I spoke with in Istanbul mentioned exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and the “parallel state” he was suspected of operating within the country. In fact, the eerily unvarying invocation of this exact phrase had me wondering how manufactured or propagandistic a concept it is.
And now, a failed coup attempt Erdogan is blaming on Fethullah Gulen has apparently gone very badly and prompted a power grab by Erdogan, who has arrested thousands of coup collaborators as well as countless teachers and professors suspected of supporting Gulen. I have no idea how involved the U.S. has actually been in recent Turkish affairs–Erdogan most likely orchestrated parts of it for his own political advantage — but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a U.S. attempt to manipulate a foreign government has created instability, set off an adverse chain of events, and/or hardened the people of other countries against the U.S.
Of course, Turks don’t need much help when it comes to hardening themselves against other people and countries. Consider the findings of a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center (Hurriyet Daily News, Nov. 8, 2014), showing that 73% of Turks dislike both the U.S. and Russia, though Israel is the country Turks hate most, at 86%. 75% dislike Iran; 70% dislike NATO; 66% dislike the EU, though the report also notes that 53% of Turks want Turkey to join it. The country Turks like most, at just 26%, according to the Pew poll, is Saudi Arabia, though over half of those polled also expressed dislike for it. Turkish dislike of others is broadly distributed: 85% of those polled held a negative opinion of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah; 80% disliked Hamas. 53% of Muslims polled (Turkey is 98% Muslim) said “suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are never justified.”
The Pew report included a humorous side note about how their polling confirmed the motto, “the Turk has no friend but the Turk.”
“It is hard to find any country or organization the Turkish people really like, except, of course, Turkey itself,” the report noted. “According to our spring 2012 poll, 78% of Turks said they had a favorable view of their country.”
I spent a lot of my childhood in and around Tulsa, Oklahoma, the conservative Evangelical “buckle of the Bible Belt,” and I suspect you could poll a representative sample of the state’s monotheistic residents and discover similar broadly held negative beliefs about outsiders.
Outside it was snowing, but under the Galata Bridge? Bağlama and simit! (c) 2016 Brian Awehali
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Back to the snow day: Men working as shoeshiners on the Galata Bridge in Istanbul will try to hustle foreigners by acting like they dropped their polishing brush. When you bring their attention to it, they act overwhelmingly grateful and vigorously insist on shining your shoes. They’ll even say it’s free, no charge. But it’s not.
Two things: I like how the guy smiles when he realizes he’s been made. Also, and more significantly, notice the other guy who’s in on it, who looks like he isn’t. He’s in the right of the frame, watching intently, then makes a hasty exit when he realizes I’m filming.