Thursday, April 26, 2007

Today, I would like to engage in a practice that seems to be quite prevalent in U.S. journalism: take the opinion of one person from a certain country and pretend that it is representative of an entire nation. Ok? Ok.

Yesterday I ended up on a train next to a guy who had just stepped off a direct flight from Istanbul to the United States. Despite a warning from the conductor that we were on the "quiet car", I still managed to talk to the man somewhat, and here are my sweeping conclusions about Turks, Turkey, and the rest of the region based on this one conversation:

1. Secular Turks are very cognizant of the fact that their republic faces danger from at least two sides: one is from the Americans and their interference in the region, second is the from the Islamists whose own rise can be explained as a result of the former.

2. It is common knowledge that Orhun Pamuk won the Nobel prize in literature for political reasons and as an attempt to take a dig at Turkey. According to my interlocuter, he got this prize only after Pamuk began critiquing Turkey in terms that echo those of the western establishment. So naturally, most people think there is some kind of conspiracy.

At this point, I assured him that there was indeed, some kind of a conspiracy. Some of Iran's best fiction writers, I noted, have been lured out of Iran with handsome prizes and fellowships at great universities (I am not talking about those who were forced into exile, by the way). And once they are here, they are pushed into participating in the kind of discourses whose rewards are too great to ignore. Of course, once they do that, they--like this fellow Pamuk--end up having to stay out of their own countries. It's a real shame, no matter which angle you look at it.

3. Things are going to get very ugly between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan. Very ugly, and very soon.

4. On why Turkey has friendly relations with Israel: "Israel is the son of America. If we want to be friends with the father, we have to be nice to the son."

If you ask me, this friendship is not going to last a whole lot longer. But I guess that all depends on what the U.S. will do when the Turks invade northern Iraq.

5. I dare say that Iran is the only country in the region where you can still run into a fair number of young, educated people who are totally oblivious about the implications of foreign interference in their country's internal affairs. The blame for this falls squarely on the shoulder's of the Iranian government, but of course the propaganda of state sponsored media such as Voice of America and Radio Farda have played no small role.

6. It is essential for Iranians to learn Turkish and Arabic in school. If I were the Minister of Education, I would decree it to be so. I know they teach Arabic now, but in a religious context that doesn't produce any viable Arabic speakers. I mean really teach Arabic and Turkish language and literature.

It's a shame that someone in Jordan or Turkey or Iran knows more about the U.S. than about their neighbors. When you don't know the language of your neighbors, someone from the outside can easily come in and convince you that you have been enemies all along. When you know the language of your five closest neighbors, you can form unions like the EU does instead of worrying about being cut apart into weak little ethnic enclaves.

If the late former dictator of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ever got one thing right, it came in the form of his warning not to let Iran become Iranistan.

His warnings are more applicable today then they were at the time they were spoken. Those Iranians who still have their heads in the sand better get with it before it is too late.