Adventures in Understanding the Other

Toronto —

There is a barbershop with Arabic signage that only takes cash in my sister’s neighbourhood. As I waited on the couch for my turn — is that Turkish I hear? —

Mehmet the barber turns out to be an old man from Konya. And after I butchered some Turkish — his eyes wide enough to ask me twice where I was actually from  — he was quick to get into the nitty gritty of my experiences in Gaziantep.

And of course the question came up — the question every Erdogan supporter asks every suspected non-Erdogan supporter — “What do you think of Erdogan?” I think this was around the time I was baring my throat.

I mulled — some might say hesitated — “But completely openly! Really be honest.” His insistence on this was earnest.

“I think he is  dangerous man,” I said. “Anyone with so much power in one country is dangerous. Maybe he was different when he was mayor of Istanbul, but now he has maybe changed.”

“Was that the wrong answer?” I smiled. The length of the ensuing pause told me it was.

“No! It was the right answer,” Mehmet grinned. “Because it was your right answer.”

I felt my next line was relatively incontrovertible — “You know they have locked up a number of journalists and closed many press outlets?”

“Well if they got arrested, they were not doing a good job in those cases.”

It was from there — after he said something I could not have disagreed with more —  we found common ground.

When an attack happens in Turkey, it is a spectacle — and when it is in London it hits home.

And “when the event suits their story, they are there with their cameras every day,” Mehmet said in reference to the Gezi Park protests.

That was a political movement a few years ago that had absolutely nothing to do with his political sensibilities — he came to Canada in 1994, the year many protesters would have been born.

He brought up the London attacks, how they have dominated the coverage ceaselessly. Meanwhile the US has destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq. And everyone in the west is getting a pass on both. These are all linked phenomena that inform his worldview (and it would be a fantasy effort to try to disentangle them).

And so I left — çok teşekkürler efendim baba thinking this is how these people get alienated. It is not just a disservice to the dead when Kurdish children in Gaziantep get killed by a Daesh suicide bomb that their photos don’t appear on BBC or CNN’s 24 hour fear watch —  like those poor concert-goers in Manchester — it is a very effective way to reinforce the distrust of the thinking people on the other side. Most people never even heard of the Gaziantep suicide bomb.

Mehmet’s reasons for supporting Erdogan has a lot to do with death and the destruction of Syria, of Iraq, of Afghanistan and his worries about Turkey. We spoke about the coup attempt of course. And you can argue that is misplaced (congratulations). But he has reasons — that is what is not meditated upon, most anti-Erdogan thinkers would leap to see him as someone who is politically manipulable, nothing more.

Outside of Iraq and Syria, Daesh has arguably done its worst in Turkey the past two years. The under-service of this reinforces the sort of division these same western media outlets present as a factual description of the world — that those like Mehmet are reactionaries who favour strongmen because they are somehow backwards.

The truth is those outside the western periphery are more likely to view every dead child as having equal value. If for the simple reason they remember the rocket attack down the street and they see coverage of Paris and Brussels on the news. The reverse isn’t true.

One thought on “Adventures in Understanding the Other”

  1. I think that’s absolutely correct, and I don’t know why it is an attitude so resistant to change in the U.S. (among elderly people, it may have something to do with the perception of Vietnam, but I think that every generation in the U.S. is somehow less politically informed about the outside than the previous one. If you don’t come from an immigrant family that moved here from outside the West then the odds sink that you are aware of anything that happens o/s the West.)

    Liked by 1 person

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