When I was studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey, the safest I ever felt was at the Ataturk airport. My first time flying out of the city during my nearly six-month stint in Turkey, I noticed how intense the airport’s security was. Before you could even go check into a flight, right as you entered the airport, you had to take off your shoes and coats and belts, place your luggage to be scanned, and walk through a body scanner as well. Of course, once you checked in, there was another round of security to go through to get to your gate. I really don’t think I had ever felt as secure as I did at that airport. Out on the street, at a nightclub, the Christian church I attended there—they all felt a little more precarious. Of course, I never really felt unsafe in the city, because I was a part of an amazing program that took the time to inform me of what was happening in the world, and in Turkey in particular.
But Tuesday night, that security was compromised. There were screams and shots and explosions. There were suicide bombers and guns and blood and terror. There was violence, senseless violence, and yet, as it has a tendency to do, the world keeps moving. American Presidential candidates mention the terror attacks in their speeches, something about how something must be done—and then they go on to tear down their opponent. News coverage updates as the number of fatalities steadily rise, 18, 36, 41. Families sit in their living rooms and shake their heads at the news, worriedly looking towards their children that have to grow up in a world where it seems terror strikes more often than not. Articles are shared on Facebook, prayers ostensibly sent up. But when all of the information has been gathered, when we’ve all heard the story thousands of times, tragedy fades. We forget. There’s no Turkish flag overlay to apply to our Facebook profile pictures, no clever hashtag has emerged. There’s nothing, and as someone who left her heart in Turkey just a year ago, that breaks me.
When the 2015 Paris Terror Attacks struck, the world turned blue, white, and red. Twitter was overcome with #jesuisparis and #prayforparis. Artist Jean Jullien designed the famous Peace for Paris logo. We all wept. And we should have, we still should, even. I don’t want to discount any act of terror, or any disaster at all. But part of me can’t help but think that, as Americans, the further east the tragedy, the less we care. Our world practically stopped for Paris, our Facebook was a sea of the French flag, we were Paris.
As Americans, the further east the tragedy, the less we care.
Our Facebooks were transformed once again in March of this year, when terrorist attacks killed 32 victims at an airport and metro station in Brussels. And yet, when 102 people were killed in a suicide bombing in Ankara, Turkey in October of 2015 our social media remained painfully monochromatic.
The importance of the Facebook flag overlay feature cannot be overlooked. When I scrolled through my Facebook after the Paris attacks, I wept. I wept at the sense of solidarity that had overtaken a social media platform whose main purpose was usually to post pictures of your cats or go on political rants. I wept because I knew that although this was a horrific act of violence, the world came together, even just for a moment. I wept because I could imagine the people of Paris, of France, seeing their Facebook feeds transformed with their country’s flag—pride and hope and love fighting back against the terror and the hate.
And now, when even more lives were taken from such a beautiful country, when loss is all they can think about, besides terror and fear, we can’t give them that gift. And I don’t understand why.
Is it because Turkey is a Muslim country, despite its Christian foundations and secular government? Is Turkey not “European” enough? Too far east? Too “foreign?” Are Turkish people’s lives—the people who made me feel so at home in their country, who smiled and helped me when I was still getting used to the language—not worth as much? Because when we brush this attack off, when we disregard Turkey, saying, “Oh well, that’s in the Middle East, anyways,” (it’s not, actually, please get a globe) we are actively letting hate and Islamophobia win.
The country of Turkey, and Istanbul in particular, has a very interesting history. Istanbul is both a European and Asian city, and its roots trace back to some of the most formative years of Christianity, as well as Islam. The country has more Greek and Roman ruins than Greece and Rome. And today, it continues to be a diverse, historic, beautiful nation. So how can anyone, anyone who is the least bit dynamic, cultured, informed—anyone who has the same traits as Turkey does—let go of this tragedy?
We are all Turkey, and we are all Istanbul
We are all Turkey, and we are all Istanbul. If you are pro-life, you are Turkey. If you are anti-gun, you are Turkey. If you’re black, white, Native American, Indian, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist—you are Turkey. Because those are the people who make up the country of Turkey, the city of Istanbul. The bakery owner who never judged me for how many cookies I bought in a week. The South African pastor of the church that provided me with so much comfort. The man running the street waffle stand I visited way too often, who called me Shakira because of my blonde hair. The owner of the neighborhood cafe I frequented at least once a week. They are Turkey, they are Istanbul. We are all Istanbul.
Photo by Jay Tamboli