Turkey: A Muslim Counterpart to the United States?

IMG_1763As my trip was in transition between Latin America and Asia, I had a chance to stop for just a couple of days in Istanbul, Turkey.  This is fitting in the sense that Istanbul is a geographically transitional city – half the city is in Europe and half of it is in Asia.  Turkey is also a transitional country, in that they are trying pretty hard to gain acceptance into the European Union (which is an interesting, complex story).  I’m glad I got to stop there, because a former student at The Purple Door in Seattle is from Turkey, and my parents have spent some good time there, so I wanted to be able to experience a small bit of what they have.

Because I was only on the ground for such a short time, and I was only in the most tourist-y, small section of a huge, huge city (12 million plus people), I’m pretty hesitant to write too much on culture.  Also, I was only in one city of a pretty large country in geographical size and population.  I seriously doubt that I got anything approaching a real read on things.

One question that I would be interested in exploring, though, is “To what degree is Turkey a kind of Muslim version of the United States (as well as other Western, Christian countries)?” I don’t mean to bring offense to anyone by making these comparisons, but here are a very few quick observations that get me ponderous in that direction:

–       There is a large, growing, capitalistic economy in Turkey.  This is a culture of salespeople.  In the tourist areas, foreigners walking the streets, are constantly greeted by shopkeepers to come take a look at their carpets, ceramics, clothing, jewelry, food, etc. This is common in other countries as well, but I noticed the degree to which even people speaking Turkish to one another were engaged in haggling kinds of conversations.  Sales and hustle – sounds like the U.S.

–       Turkey is visibly a highly religious country.  There are mosques everywhere you turn.  The daily calls to prayer are heard throughout the city.  A large percentage of women dress in hijab.  The culture has been heavily shaped by Islam.  This is obviously very much the case in the U.S. as well, where it concerns Christianity.

–       Though quite religious, Turkey is also a highly secular country.  While many women dress in hijab, most do not – they are actually highly fashionable in clothing, hair, and makeup.  There may be a lot mosques around, but I talked to a number of folks who referred to practicing vs. non-practicing Muslims. There may even be certain seasons – like Ramadan in Turkey, or Christmas in the West – where lesser practicing folks become more religiously observant, but on balance, the two are kept separate. It’s a lot like the number of churches you see in the U.S. – many of which are large and active – but in terms of daily life practice, it may be a different story.

–       Related to the items above, there seems to be a cultural polarity when it comes to sexual ethics.  There is a certain prudishness that can be seen in things like the fact that many websites containing “offensive” material are blocked – sites like YouTube.  And yet, surfing the channels on Turkish television gave me an eyeful of music videos and movies with the same kinds of sexually provocative images that you see on U.S. cable networks.

Again, these are just some thoughts that got me going.  I’d love to sit down and talk with someone who’s got some greater depth.

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  1. You are going to have to write a book when you get back home about all these locations 🙂 Loving your updates.

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