Bear with me, but I saw a tweet the other day that really stuck with me (I warned you to bear with me) — “Everyone from the center should live in the periphery for a while. It changes your thinking.”
And while Turkey really isn’t the periphery, to a majority of the Western world, particularly in the United States, it might as well be. The country has suffered greatly over the last six months and more, and if I did a reflective blog post after every (major) terror attack that I was here for, this would be my third one. It’s not that I think the Eiffel Tower should light up with the colors of the Turkish flag after every attack; to a degree, I understand that Western countries tend to sympathize more with those whose cultures and common history are shared, whether mythological or in reality.
Rather, what I think is more important to question are the things that can be changed to prevent or at least minimize the kind of violence that happens all too often in the so-called “periphery.” As an international relations student, I find it hard not to view this through the lens of global politics and the never-ending quest for hegemony, or at least regional power among countries. But there is so much more that determines to what extent we sympathize with other countries — culture, religion, language, etc., and a lack of knowledge about each of these things.
I wouldn’t even begin to know how to address current issues in Turkey, and more widely, in Europe and the Middle East, but if I’ve learned anything from my two-plus months here so far, it’s that we as Americans ought to be far more aware of the impact our policies can have, and we also need to be far more aware of other cultures. Not in a superficial way either — but in a way that allows for more than just a dismissal along the lines of “that’s just how it is in that part of the world.” We need to think critically about why it is we feel that way, because it certainly isn’t historically accurate — only within the last century, it was Europe that was, as one of my (European) professors once put it, the “basket case of the world,” a continent wracked with genocides and two world wars.
What I don’t think we need are more Facebook profile picture filters, although they are symbolic and can be of slight comfort if nothing else. There has already been a million think-pieces about the hypocrisy of sympathizing with certain countries and not others, but if there is a silver lining at all to any of the horrors currently taking place around the world, I hope at least that the backlash against selective profile picture changes and the like will spark a greater discussion about why our sympathies are so skewed when it comes to places like Lahore and Paris.
It’s also hard not to feel a bit self-centered thinking about terror attacks when I leave the country in less than two months, and my Turkish friends do not have that option. People I have met from other countries that have recently suffered similar violence, such as Egypt, will also return to places that the American government does not recognize as “safe.” And while, unfortunately, I may be the last USC student here for a while, I hope I can return soon and see all that I originally wanted to see. Istanbul is nothing short of an amazing city — I hope my future posts can spend more time on what makes this place so special. And then maybe, it will cease to be the “periphery,” for someone else, too.