Sunday, January 16, 2011

I am not a spy.

Every time I travel to a new place, I am always interested to see what people think about Americans. I am comfortable enough in my own identity to rarely be roused by the beliefs about my country from others. I think the US is a complex and diverse place and because of this, I can only expect that opinions will be equally diverse.

I lived in France the year after we re-elected Bush. I lived in the Netherlands during the last Presidential election. I was once asked by a particularly rude Aussie, ”Aren’t you ashamed to say you’re from the US?” I think I’m a pretty good person with a pretty understanding outlook, but there are times where I have to take a step back and judge the opinions of others. After all, I’m not freaking Mother Theresa.

A few weeks ago a lunatic reporter thought she had found an interesting story—two Americans had been dropped in sleepy Karabuk, Americans in Karabuk. Why? They must be spies.

The journalist dug a little deeper and discovered that there were not only 2 Americans, but also that they were part of a larger group, a group known as Fulbright. These 54 (!!) Americans had been brought here to masquerade as spies; to gather intel and well, to hmm, plot an American overthrow? Why not, right?

“54 American intelligence officers were brought to Turkey. They were put into posing as English teachers in various universities”—Banu Avar 

This was originally reported to the rest of us when the two women began being told by their students that they had been in the news. They sent out a message containing a link to the article with the heading, “If you want to be amused”, but things quickly spiraled out of control. Only a few days later, students began not attending classes. The governments got involved. The story was then picked up by a national newspaper, Milliet.

The Milliet story ran with a bit more of a positive tilt, with the university president defending the women and the rest of the program. He stated that the suggestion that they are spies is absurd. But this goes to the heart of a pretty interesting situation here.

Turks love conspiracy theories.

Back in the wake of the Mavi Marmara fiasco, an AKP official, Israel constructed the WikiLeaks to embarrass… wait for it… the Turkish government. The director of YÖK or the Turkish Ministry of Higher Education (essentially my boss) offered up his own alarming thoughts on genetic engineering and its potential for the future, "Professor Özcan said in one of his speeches that some are able to play with the genes of tomatoes they export to other countries thus spreading deadly diseases in any country they like. Without mentioning names he pointed to the United States and Israel." This is something that is, without any question, entirely false.

One thing I am always fascinated with is the Turkish fear that the US (or really most countries) want to take over their country. Now, I can’t speak for Iraq, Armenia, Iran, or Syria. Or Greece. Or Cyprus. But, I am pretty damn confident that Americans would highly object to the invasion and subsequent occupation of Turkey. Now, they wouldn’t necessarily object to war, or to the absorption of natural resources, let’s be honest about that. I think the general American opinion is one of, Why?

This is typically more upsetting to the average Turk than if I went around stating that I was a CIA agent who was sent here to plot our overthrow of the government. They are baffled when I offer up the true reason that this is complete hilarity: The average American doesn’t give a hoot about Turkey.

Joe Plumber (yes, a Sarah Palin reference) doesn’t know where Turkey is. All he knows is that it is a delicious meal that he likes to share with his family in late November. He would perhaps remember discussions of Constantinople but never Istanbul. Perhaps when told that the capital is Istanbul not Constantinople, he’d start humming the song. But, really, beyond that, nothing.

This is equally upsetting to me. Not so much because Americans don’t care about Turkish politics but because most have no idea where Turkey is, what language they speak or that some extremely important Christian history is contained in Turkey (yes, the Evangelicals would be surprised to hear that Nicaea—the birthplace of Christian doctrine—is in Turkey, St. Nicholas too did his work here, the Virgin died in Turkey), and on a more cultural level that the beloved Dr. Oz's family is from the conservative stronghold city of Konya.

Americans need to get their heads out of their asses. That’s what I think about Americans. But Turks, well, Turks need to get their heads out of their asses too, they need to push aside their bizarre obsession with conspiracy theories and to wisen up, to think critically, and to realize that no, I’m not an American spy and neither are my friends.

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