After my visit, Istanbul has stayed with me a bit. Upon landing at O'Hare we were told about the suicide bomber that detonated a bomb in Taksim Square -- 150 feet from the hotel we stayed at. It happened about an hour after we'd left for the airport. This shook me up a little. I'd spent a lot of time in Taksim Square over that 11 days; to me it was the picture of a successful multicultural gathering place -- not unlike Millennium Park here in Chicago -- a place where people from every part of the world congregate peacefully and enjoy themselves. I walked there for a few hours each time, shopping and shooting the shit with the locals. I learned a lot about life watching the visitors to Taksim Square. Mostly I learned about what was possible for a city of wildly divergent populations.
The hideously ironic thing about this particular act of violence is how unpolitical it was -- the bomber was pissed at the cops. This was not an act of Jihad -- or at least not an organized one -- the man, a Kurd, was upset at the treatment he'd received at the hands of the Istanbul police in Taksim Square.
Law and order is dispensed harshly in this city. There is a tenuous peace between religious and political factions and the police watch it carefully and adjudicate it with an iron fist. The order is important in a city of this size and the cops mean to keep it. I was surprised at the civility of a city this big -- and there is a reason for it -- the vigilance of those in power. Civil libertarians here would be appalled at some of the lack of freedoms in Turkey, but Turks have accepted it as the price of maintaining peace and order. There is an active anti-Kurd sentiment, but Turkey did take in the refugees when they had nowhere else to go.
Gypsies are also discriminated against in ways that would disgust us. They're not allowed in the Grand Bazaar, but rule the roost outside of it, being free to earn in the outdoor market. Is it right? No -- but it is what it is and all parties involved have accepted it. There is a system that all factions observe as the natural order of their society. If you are not from there you won't understand it. If you live there this order is of great comfort to you.
There is bad in the good and good in the bad.
The days I spent there did not tip me off to any sense of an upheaval brewing among the populace. Or maybe I am a dense motherfucker.
The style of conversation in Turkey is. . . argument. To the unaccustomed observer, Turks get right to it. It might look hostile, but it isn't. It's just the way it is.
I spent a lot of time over there talking to Muslims. I'd realized that, other than some conversations with cab drivers here in Chicago, I'd never met anyone who was a practicing Muslim. Like in Istanbul, we are tribal here in Chicago -- we hang among our own. One of the reasons I went to Istanbul was to see mosques and figure out what the hell was so scary about Islam. Truth be told, I met a lot of people who were not much different than us. We want the same things they do -- a decent life for our families, a dignified standard of living and to be left the fuck alone to think and do what we wish.
I met remarkable people who were generous of spirit and kind. I was treated very well by people I didn't know well. I was also thoroughly taken with the city. My friend Penn told me that this was the difference between us -- he doesn't much care about places, they don't really speak to him, but he has an immense affection for people. I also like people and like Penn believe that humans are basically decent. Humans at their heart, I think, are good. I also do love places -- and the stories and history that shape those places -- he is right.
Istanbul let me return to my own country with less fear about the unknown -- Islam and Muslims. I feel like I now share some common ground with people our government has demonized at every turn -- that there is a place in this world that I love, as do they, and feel protective of. I feel happy that I have thing in common with Muslims -- a love of Istanbul and its people and places and a hope for our better selves to understand each other.
TONY FITZPATRICK is an artist from Chicago. For his blog, click here.