Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Which story…

I found it striking, even troubling, that on the weekend I wrote to Ply about my upcoming sabbatical plans- General Assembly, a month in Bosnia-Herzegovina, ten days in and around Istanbul- the latter of those locales ignited international news. I’m sure by now you’ve seen or read about ongoing protests in Turkey’s largest metropolis. I’m scheduled to fly into that city in just over a month. The timing, I’m sure, is coincidence!

Still, it’s concerning, right? Haven’t we seen massive protest movements destabilize multiple Muslim majority countries in recent years? The differences, of course, should be stated. Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, each is ethnically Arab. Turkey? Not so much. Besides, and to me this is critical, those earlier movements challenged decades of autocratic rule. The Turkish government would win no model democracy medals, but it allows greater political freedoms than nearly every neighbor.

And yet…my trip’s suddenly awash in questions. If this continues, will we be safe? Is it prudent to still go? On the flip side, part of me wonders whether the timing’s truly fortuitous. Should something historical take place in that county, I’d possibly see the action first hand. I mean, I wouldn’t throw caution into the Black Sea, rush into the center of upheaval and take pictures! If Gezim Square- where the protests began- remains a flashpoint when I arrive, I’d give the park a wide birth. Take in whatever’s happening via TV. Such have been the myriad of thoughts crowding my brain space these past weeks.

Here’s my prediction- and realize I’m in no way an Istanbul expert. Heck, I’m barely even an amateur; insert massive grain of salt now! Still, from what little I know, I’m guessing that Turkey won’t devolve into another Syria. Civil war against a dictator is a far cry from protesting elected officials. The Turkish Prime Minister has garnered for over a decade unprecedented popular support. He hasn’t dealt with this “crisis” very deftly. But he’s not bombing his people or torturing dissidents.

So I’m hoping that within the month Istanbul won’t suddenly be closed to tourists. The US State Department might produce some “warnings,” but they do that for myriads of countries. When Tabitha lived in Honduras for several months, State claimed it had a reputation for murder and kidnapping. I’m sure that happened, and mourn for the victims, but many visited safely, Tabitha included. As with all things foreign travel, tourists should exercise caution. Guard your passport. Check your sources. Avoid conspicuous behavior and proven hotbeds. But unless the situation devolves dramatically, I’m not ready to throw in the towel. Perhaps that’s rationalizing, given the plane ticket costs. Still, this opportunity arises only so often.

I heard a novelist from Liberia on the radio today counsel people against “single narratives.” What she meant was that it’s often our nature to hear one thing about others, and believe just that. For instance, Western folk long had a “single narrative” about Africans. They were poor, tribal, backward, violent, and that, basically, was that. When she moved to America for college, her roommate was stunned she spoke good English. “It’s Liberia’s national language,” she said. The roommate had no answer. It’s not just Africans we do that to, of course. Immigrants, gays, southerners, shall I go on? And it’s not just Westerners. Many Pakistanis believe a conspiratorial “single narrative” about Americans.

Life, however, is always messier, more complex, richer than one story. It’s true in your life, in mine, for communities, ethnicities, nations. News reports of Turkish protests naturally latch onto the wild and violent. However, what’s also true is YouTube videos of dancing youth, making light of their serious demands, inflecting humor into the narrative. Satire has strong political force, but only if we’re open to listening. So that’s my aim these next weeks- seek as full a picture of what’s happening as possible. And if the multiple narratives, on balance, suggest more danger for me than safety, then I’ll find some other way to use my time, enjoy my rest, pursue my goals. I’m guessing, though, it’ll be alright. The story of peace remains powerful. Pray for me. Pray for Turkey. Pray for love.

Grace and Peace,

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