by Uzra Khan
Every time I set foot in a new place, I immediately try to ‘figure it out’. What are the people’s attitudes to a variety of topics, what are people talking about in conversation, what is important to people, what are the typical modes and walks of life.
Several people sum up Turkey in a few words–something I saw in pre-trip research. Turkey is a bridge. A geographical bridge connecting the East to the West and the borders of Europe to the borders of the Middle East. And as we discussed in several pre-trip meetings, it is an ideological bridge; one that walks the tightrope of European and Arabic identity, and one that combines the ideals of Islam and the West.
But is there a tightrope to be walked?
Being on the ground, meeting with university officials, commentators on conservatism and conservative politics, and local people, has given the group a different sense of these issues; a sense of nuance that is at the core of these reporting trips. We now are thinking before we attribute our usual positive and negative labels to terms like ‘conservative’, ‘secular’, ‘liberal’ and ‘moderate’. As a professor at Bahcasehir University put it, 65-70% of Turkish people are conservative, but at the same time 90% are secular. This is a line I find myself constantly using as a point of reference, reminding myself every time I am about to sift terms into black-and-white categories.
Just a few days in, I see it much more clearly–Turkey is not just a bridge, but also, and more importantly, a point of homogenization of these two seemingly conflicting branches of ideology. Where exactly the point of confluence lies is something we are trying to figure out, and we’re just at the tip of the iceberg of ‘figuring it out’. We hope to have more insight by the end of this trip–after our upcoming visit to Urfa (in Anatolia, much closer to Middle Eastern borders) and will have more space for analysis in our Fall issue on Turkey.