Mid-September 2012: Istanbul is as I had expected, bustling with life and a unique example of cultural diversity. We stroll along one of the city’s main streets, the 24/7 Istiklal St., on the first night of our stay in the city.
Singers sing, street dancers dance, and paint-covered entertainers pose for tourists to take photos. Then, the usual sights and sounds are suddenly interrupted. I hear familiar words from the distance and follow in the direction of the sound. People are attracted and stop to watch.
No, it is not a dancer or a singer nor is it any form of entertainment this time. It is a crowd of Turks, and I quickly realize they are protesting against the anti-Islam film recently made in the United States. The group consists mainly of men, with several women in Islamic dress following behind.
I do not understand Turkish. Rasul Allah (Messenger of Allah) and America are the only words I can understand of the slogans they are chanting, while NATO and once again America are the only familiar words of the Turkish phrases written on the placards they are holding.
Yet I do not need to understand much Turkish to comprehend the event.
A passerby says, “What’s the point?” He also asks why they are protesting on this street and not in front of the U.S. Embassy.
Still, I find the demonstration glorious and think it makes sense and am in no hurry to leave.
On a street packed with tourists just looking for places to eat, shop, and be entertained, there are others with much more serious concerns, who seek to defend their religion and the divine religion’s prophet and holy book.
I find it unacceptable that in the 21st century, people in a country like the United States, which claims to be the standard-bearer of democracy and modernism, can get away with producing a film that insults the origins of a religion practiced by over a billion people across the world, and not only because it is my religion that is being targeted. I would feel the same if any other religion was the object of such derision.
Later during my stay in Istanbul, I talk to 22-year-old Alycia, a tourist from the United States travelling across the globe to explore the world.
“It’s a shame that someone in America should make such an extremist video,” she says, adding, “Nobody that I know has anything against Islam or Muslims. It does not represent the average Americans, who do not concern themselves about other people’s choices.”
A 25-year-old Turkish bank employee and M.A. student of economics whom I talk to about the incident I witnessed seems to have a different opinion.
“They were not Turks who were demonstrating,” he tells me, frowning at the protests and trying to distance himself from the demonstrators.
“Of course they were,” I reply. “What are you telling me? Where else could they have come from?”
He sips his beer as he continues to talk about the modern Turkish generation, people like himself who say their daily prayers yet consume alcohol, despite the fact that it is forbidden in Islam.
I pity him and his like. People who think they can be successful and happy by abandoning their values and beliefs and adopting the values of Europeans, who, in their view, are superior to their own people in every way.
I know that a copy can never be as good as the original. That they shall forever remain a copy of the Europeans they so eagerly wish to resemble and shall thus end up losing their own culture and beliefs, which gave them character and inner values. And I wonder about the future that awaits a people who have become empty inside.
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