I get a lot of questions about Turkey and the Middle East since I moved to Istanbul and I wanted to answer three of them now.
1. Is Turkey a Muslim country?
The short answer is NO, Turkey is a secular country. The issue, of course, is more complicated. First of all, the notion of a "Muslim Country" is very problematic - please watch this great video below the where the brilliant Reza Aslan explains why.
It could be said that Turkey is 'culturally Muslim' the way that America is 'culturally Christian'. How is America culturally Christian? - you ask. Well, the American Congress is 99% Christian (much more so than the American public btw...*), there is a Bible present in courts of law and everyone gets the Christian Holidays off....see what I mean?
Istanbul is littered with mosques and churches, some of the oldest in the world! The Pope was recently here and I was able to easily see him, as the crowd was relatively small (compared to what it might be in a more Christian nation). Though Islam has no world leader equivalent to the Pope, it is hard to imagine the U.S. accepting such a figures visit with as much warmth, lack of protests and concern for their well being as Turkey did for the Papa.
America is probably more Christian than Turkey is Muslim. Also, in my experience it is more tolerant to other religions than the United States. Where the U.S. seems paralyzed by fear of the unknown, Turkey is seeped in, and indeed formed by, the tumultuous history of Christianity and Islam, two of the worlds oldest religions. Today, I would argue that Turkey is more successfully secular that the U.S.
Recently, I posted this blog to a closed facebook group "Everyone who ever lived in Lombard." Lombard is the town I grew up in, which is just outside of Chicago in the American Mid-West. Here are a few questions I got there:
2. Is Turkey a safe place to visit?
|Link to article|
Security in Turkey is high. Private malls (and there are hundreds), all have private security working a checkpoint upon entry. Military museums and large public art exhibitions will have will have Turkish military filling that role**. Passing thorough a metal detector and having your bag x-rayed are common place. This may seem a little paranoid to a visitor at first, but I got used to it very fast. It's not like the TSA is yelling at you to take your shoes off, just put you phone in the basket and walk through. This bit of security seems to be paying off as Turkey is not listed anywhere on this depressing graph, at right.
And there is nothing like this horrifying article to share with you, where 13 of the United States public, mass killing sprees of 2012 are detailed.
In fact, I cannot find a single reference on a public shooting spree in Turkey, which is not to say it has never happened. But let me say this. When I hear a few loud bangs here, I do not throw myself on the floor, as I would in the Chi, or LA. But don't take my word for it.
Take the word of the United States Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security's:
" If the current population growth continues, Istanbul will be the most crowded city in Europe by 2020. Despite its population of more than 13.5 million people and the mass of visitors, the city is listed as one of the safest in the world. This is quite impressive considering its high dense population. "
3. How are human rights and rights for women in Turkey?
I believe this is what the fb poster was asking me, below. The short answer - women have the same rights as men in Turkey. Though the country does seem to be moving in a more conservative direction, and I believe the U.S. is as well (I will address this in an upcoming post). Turkey has roughly the same makeup as the U.S. with women making up under 19% of the congress/national assembly and has boasted more female heads of state. Here is a link to a just OK wiki article about women in Turkish politics. Women in Turkey were given the right to vote in 1930 only ten years after the US and before France, Italy, Japan and many others.
Going forward I will answer any questions about Turkey to the best of my ability. Please leave them here in the comments or any other way you see fit - thank you!
Here I am, immodestly dressed, on the beach in Turkey. It looks deserted because the beach was closing, but I assure you I wore a bikini for one month straight while traveling the Blue Voyage, and not a single f*ck was given by anyone.
** military service is obligatory for men in Turkey