Sarin

Well into the English version of Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (Haruki Murakami), we meet Yoshiko Wada, whose husband died of sarin poisoning.

Even the media, they didn’t say a thing about how the victims died in agony. Not a word. There was a little at the time of the Matsumoto incident, but with the gas attack, nothing. Strange. So I’m sure the majority of people out there probably imagine they just keeled over and died “normal” deaths. The same with the newspaper articles. I only learned how painfully my husband died when the prosecutor read me those testimonies. I want more people to know the truth about just how horrible it was… Otherwise, it all becomes somebody else’s problem.

 

 

More than simply being “anti-war” is required of you in order to be a critical thinker.

Eighty-six people died writhing agonising deaths and it amazes me that people with no knowledge whatsoever could pretend to have enough knowledge of the military realities on the ground in Idlib to form an opinion. The worst offenders are those adopting the language of critical thinking without doing any of the legwork, as if every question of geopolitics and massacre could be answered from the vista of their armchair.

They remind me of those cab drivers who start some revelatory story about cold fusion with “I’ve done a lot of research and…” I have yet to meet someone who speaks in that manner who knows what research is. The best sources are books and being there. And if you are unwilling to delve into either you better have a really strong reason.

 

 

 

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The Narrative, Again and Again

After first reading The Black Swan, I read it again.

There the narrative fallacy appears repeatedly. It is a bit hypocritical to say the book is under-read and under-understood, while in this very space using narrative to forward certain perspectives. Even if those perspectives are ‘laudable’ — humanising Syrians, de-mystifying Turkey, what have you — it is still trading in cognitive fallacy. I am not going to resolve this point.

I woke up in Tel Aviv this morning and went for a walk south along the water. Picture evidence (timestamped 1:39pm). I made my way back to the spot where the picture is taken and grabbed some frozen yogurt (2:30pm-3:00pm).

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At that same time, less than 50 meters away, a man from Nablus (according to the Jerusalem Post) was stabbing four people. None were seriously injured (so far as I know) and the man was arrested shortly after. I was blissfully unaware. There seemed to be a lot of sirens and police presence on the beach even as I had walked up and down it in the hour before the attack.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day (I’ve also seen/read it as Holocaust Memorial Day) and I was surprised how many of the shops and restaurants in the neighbourhood were open. Strange, I thought, seems like an ordinary day here. At around six o’clock, once the sun was low enough, I went for a run, north, along the beach.

I ran and ran and I saw many families walking on the beach in orthodox clothing, beside joggers running in short shorts and spandex. My experience of the city through twenty kilometers of waterfront was positively idyllic. I still hadn’t connected to the internet, so I still didn’t know about the nearby attack.

When I returned to the room I had rented, I quickly showered and went to find something to eat. To my surprise everything was closed. I came to a grocery store, the sign flipped to ‘closed’ as I approached. Out of luck and hungry.

Before I had realised this was the state of affairs, the first restaurant I had walked by seemed open. I went back to it. It was 8:05. All the chairs were on the tables but the light was on and the door open. One guy (the owner, turns out) was eating alone at the one table with a chair down. I went in and from the counter saw some guys working in the kitchen. They emerged.

Next I was told the restaurant was closed by about six men, each believing I had not understood the English of the previous one, even though each in succession said the exact same phrase. Really by the time the second was informing me I was asking (with apparently uncommunicative hand gestures), did they know anywhere that was still open?

The sixth, a cook, identified by the others as English fluent, was last to come out of the kitchen to meet me.

Cook: Sorry we are closed.

Me: Yes, I gathered

Cook: Yes, it is the law. Eight o’clock.

Me: Right, do you know anywhere that is open?

Cook: I do not know. But I do know that everywhere else you can go is closed.

Me: I see.

Pause.

I don’t immediately leave because there is nowhere to go. Slight crestfallenness apparent.

[brief conspiratorial discussion among employees happy to be done working]

Cook: We can give you a dish of take out.

Me: That would be amazing. [reaches in pocket] How much is it?

Cook: Nothing, it is a gift.

Me: What really? [or something like this]

Cook: Yes, it is a gift. It is chicken and rice, called Upside Down. It is from Nabulus, this recipe.

Me: Nablus? [I surely mispronounced]

Cook: Yes, a city in Palestine, in the West Bank. Many tourists visit there. It is beautiful, I think you should go if you have time.

Me: Thank you so much, really.

Cook: Nothing to thank for duty.

 

This was obviously la-shukra ala wagib translated to English. But for whatever reason (dimness) I stuck to English instead of saying shukran jazeelan. I will rectify this tomorrow.  We exchanged names, I thanked them a few more times and ate my delicious food in the park nearby.

The police drive up and down the streets, I found out subsequently, to make sure every store is closed. So this was no small favour.

The man from Nabulus really saved me tonight. Narrative, narrative.

Leonard Cohen hearing in Gaziantep

Everyone knows the ship is sinking/ everyone knows the captain lied.

These lyrics were repeated to me last night in wake of the referendum’s results.

Also from the same song;

Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

There is definitely a feeling of decline present in Turkey, in the young, in the educated, in the secular, in the liberal, corners, in which I often find myself. Many Syrians were already resigned here — now crestfallenness has come to the Turks.

It is important not to be a fatalist.

 

 

Pots and pans

As mentioned in yesterday’s post. 

Perfect weather ends in rain

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Turkish Airlines rolls a cart with national and international papers down the aisle — including the international New York Times — and on the flight into Ataturk last night there was an editorial by a senior adviser to the president of Turkey.

As recently as 2015 the A.K.P. was short 20 seats for a majority, resulting in a very unstable Parliament because of extreme disagreements between Turkey’s major political parties.

Unstable for whom? In other places minority governments are called democracy.

That’s something Canadian politicians and media, a parochialism brigade, also get their heads around wrong. But at least Canadian parliamentary deadlocks are not solved by upending the system of government. The page three article was more moderate, I suppose they ran two pieces for balance, but it was also short on precise language.

Describe the nitty of the changes the referendum was deciding, I say, because basically no one knows the details. Was this done anywhere in any media?

The next morning there was a Tulip festival in Istanbul and news from Al Rashideen, Syria. I do not have reason to doubt the reports of cooperation between first responders, of mixed confessions, political opponents, saving those children they could.

And every Syrian I spoke to, in wake of the latest tragedy, had no rush to delineate the confessions of the dead, so as to attach different weights to bodies. Maybe I am predisposed to find myself surrounded by the humane, I hear a cynic arguing. But I don’t always see evidence of this supposed fatigue of the moral instinct.

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I would have never found the tulip festival were it not for my friend, who took me on a Bosphorus tour. We played with some Turkish children on the second half of our trip around. When their mother learned we were Canadian and Syrian, there was no hitch, stutter, or issue. The weather was perfect. How can you not love Istanbul? 20170416_162348(0).jpg

We met up with some Syrians thereafter who were, let’s say, a bit more aggravated with their Turkish experience. I think, despite the truth, these men are aggrieved, there has been a great, long-standing, long-lasting campaign against Turks and Turkish culture. Every culture is maligned and misaligned and everywhere is parochial. The only escape from this is patience and revision through experience.

After dinner the results were confirmed. We took coffee at a young, liberal cafe in a liberal neighbourhood. Everyone there seemed crestfallen.

Less than four years ago, in one of Turkey’s en vogue, extremely gauche, apartment compounds, the Gezi Park protests had spread throughout the country, and at night, the clatter of pots and pans and spoons on aluminium balcony railings harmonised in the hours after dinner. Waking up one could find a broken bowls and spoons fallen from some balcony above. There was some sense of unity against encroachment.

As we walked to the Metrobus, talking of the awful experience of Assad’s political prisoners, the perils of dating (or trying to kiss) Turkish women, and so forth, the same began. It was comedic in a way, the progression of the cacophony — culminating in a burly middle-aged man throwing open his window and thrashing a spoon around inside big cooking pot as hard as he could.

“They still have some rights!” one Syrian yelled smiling, taking out his camera phone.

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He also made the point that a 51% margin, at one stitch in time, to change everything, is a big leap to make. Everyone with experience of the Assad regime would vote hayir, he claimed.

By the time my friend and I got home the perfect weather gave into rain. The enormous ochre moon of the night before was nowhere to be seen. And everywhere, from The Economist to the Toronto Star, people won’t learn everything the Turks voted for, but they’ll know how to feel about it.

Metrobus talk

Nearing midnight in Istanbul, on the metrobus from the airport, a man interrupted me when he heard that I loved Istanbul.

“Excuse me for eavesdropping, but can I ask you, why do you say you love Istanbul?”

I told him when I stay in Galata, I love Istanbul. There there is no public traffic nightmare and you can see all the beauty of this city. I was trying to get at the things Istanbul is great for are independent of today’s politics.

“I lived in this city my whole life, I grew up here, and now I don’t like it,” the young man said. “I go to school in Ankara and when I come back, the people, the feeling, the atmosphere. They are closed. The traffic, I feel closed in.”

“I think the problem is with the people. They are too easily manipulated. They have to change their way of thinking. But I don’t see any hope for this. I think this vote tomorrow will pass. I think bad things will happen. I can feel it coming.”

I asked him what he thought about the newspapers and journalists here.

“I am sorry to say this but they… they are ass lickers.”

He asked me a bit about Canada. Then I said goodnight in Turkish, he replied.

Bonne nuit. Enchante.” 

Your French is better than mine, I half-joked.