A Letter to Matt, from Istanbul
Just to be clear to you, my mother, and our double-digit readership: I’ve been totally fine out here. It is entirely possible to live here in Istanbul, even fairly close to the center of the protests, and see very little outward sign that anything is going on.
I ventured out into the fray on Saturday night following the destruction of the tent city in Gezi park, not because I am brave or principled but because (like many expatriates here) I am curious and foolhardy. These are important times and we all just want to be there, to see what happens to the country that is our (albeit-temporary) home. For my trouble I was liberally teargassed out in front of a Turkish gay bar; I owe its propreitors eternal gratefulness for sheltering my yabanci friends and I. I would not make to big a deal of it: tear gas is bad, but it won’t kill you. My own worst-case scenario is getting deported. Many of my associates and countless Turks face far worse.
On the political front, Turkey’s Prime Minister and senior leadership seem to have become a bit unbolted. Let me put it this way: if an official from your government releases a statement including a strong disavowal, to the effect that “Turkey is not a banana republic,” this might be a sign that things have become a little banana republican around here. Methinks the lady doth protest too much.
(I cannot resist this further tidbit, from the same release: “[Turkey has] the most charismatic and strongest leader in the world. Should anyone have a problem with this, then I am truly sorry. Only for those who feel overwhelmed, the leadership of Prime Minister Erdogan is a problem.” I, do feel overwhelmed by Erdogan’s imperial majesty, although feelings of being overwhelmed with imperial majesty are a well-know side effect of constant teargassing.)
I know it is somewhat foolish to head out in this insanity, but feel like I have learned a lot about what it means to be a citizen.
When it came to the chief moral question of our era in America, our generation was a failure. We witnessed a president elected by a minority of Americans drive our nation straight into the ground for reasons any sane person knew to be utter bullshit. His policies killed thousands of servicemen and about 100,000 Iraqi civilians, instituted systematic torture, and indefinitely detained hundreds of innocent people in some Cuban shithole for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I won’t go on about it, it was a shameful era, prominent elements of which presist to this day.
And yeah, we complained. We lamented the situation while we drank at bars and we rejoiced in all the crisp Daily Show satire and we argued with our parents and we voted. To their great credit, some of us protested and campaigned. But all this was not enough. The mass protests of the 1960s, which we saw in response to a similar moral situation, never materialised. Probably because few of us faced the prospect of actually having to throw our lives away for nothing. And without that incentive, we were content to go about our lives and watch all that come to pass.
These Turkish citizens may not accomplish everything they want, but at least they have had the common decency to throw themselves on cogs of a corrupt system. I wish them luck.