Today is an important day in Turkey and in the Muslim community in general. It is Ramazan Bayramı, or Şeker Bayramı, or Eid al-Fitr (I can only pronounce 2 out of the 3). Today marks the end of Ramazan (Ramadan), or the Islamic holy month of fasting. I have yet to be in Turkey during Ramazan, and I honestly can’t describe what today’s celebrations must have looked, sounded, tasted or smelled like. Maybe next year.
Over the last few days, I’ve had a heavy heart because of how much misery and conflict is surrounding my loved ones in that part of the world. Turkey has had a whole lot to say (and excuse me, but a lot of what I’ve read is shameful, embarrassing, and not even factual. Come on guys) about the newest chapter of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I am slightly concerned about what will happen to me personally upon my return, because I know that in addition to rising anti-Semitism, people have taken to lashing out on places like the American consulate near my home. It feels like the news gets more and more grim with each passing day, with no hope for peace or a resolution of any kind.
I know my opinions and my experiences are as significant as a speck of dust when compared to people who are *actually* struggling over there, but I can’t help feeling frustrated and confused by the hatred that seems to be spewing like an oil spill.
I’m from New York, which I really do consider to be the capital of the world (sorry, Istanbul). I have friends of pretty much every shape, size, color and creed. If you looked at my Facebook news feed and saw only what my friends share and not what I share, you would have no idea where I stood politically, socially, economically, whatever. I have friends who are very conservative and share Glenn Beck articles — unironically. I have friends who are super duper liberal and probably think I’m backwards and out of touch for believing in Jesus and choosing to change my last name to my fiance’s. I have friends who have shared countless pro-Israel things, and I have friends who have shared heartbreaking news from Palestine. We disagree, sometimes on a lot of things. But we always agree to show each other love and respect. No matter what. Period.
At the risk of sounding naive and self-involved, why the heck can’t the rest of the world do this too?
Fear and ignorance have far too much control over us. I took my niece to get her hair blown out the other day (she’s only 3 but I feel it is my duty to spoil and pamper her, however unnecessary the activity may be). Three women at the salon managed to offend me. One woman was raised by an Egyptian woman and a Lebanese man. Her fiance served 8 years in Iraq as a soldier. Naturally, that makes her an expert on Middle Eastern politics, with an emphasis on whatever the heck is going on in Turkey. When it was already too late for me to run out of the salon, she cornered me to lecture me on how Egypt, Iraq and Turkey are pretty much the same and I actually *should* be covering my head with a scarf out of “respect” for the culture.
The woman who washed my hair was of Egyptian descent, and upon seeing my engagement ring said,”Yeah, Turkish men LOVE to marry women who don’t know anything about Turkish culture. They can take advantage. Is your fiance a MUSLIM?!” So I said,”Well, I’ve lived there for two years and my Turkish is at a conversational level. I held my own for a year without his help, despite a helluva lot of adversity. I think I know a bit about the culture.” (I didn’t answer the religion question because my fiance’s faith is between him and God.)
The other idiot told me I had green hair. Do you have a clear idea of the caliber of individuals I was dealing with?
This is why people need to travel. I know it isn’t always possible, but I believe it is critical to understanding what is happening in the world around us. Before I moved to Turkey, I honestly thought I’d get death threats or something for not being Muslim. I was concerned about having to cover my head. I look back on that and roll my eyes, because I know how silly it is now. If I hadn’t taken the chance and actually EXPERIENCED a different culture and lifestyle, I would probably still be as ignorant as the broad who said my hair was green (just kidding. I couldn’t be that dumb).
If we don’t take the time to experience that which frightens us, we are destined to always fear and hate the “other” at their expense and our own. I wear a crescent and a star pendant around my neck because Turkey is literally and figuratively close to my heart. I will defend Muslims when I hear people making ignorant, hateful generalizations about them. I will defend Jews when I hear people making ignorant, hateful generalizations about them. I have had people question my faith because I show too much “sympathy” towards Muslims. Frankly, that pisses me off.
If people could stop being so ignorant and fearful, they would see that our similarities greatly outnumber our differences. How about joining forces to create positive change, for once?
Let us love. Let us be loved.