By Noor Adilah (17S06B)
It started with the 2015 Ankara bombing. Then the second bomb came. Today, counting from 2015, there have been a total of 13 major terror attacks that scar Turkey. Search the web right now and you can see horrifying pictures of the victims. Often, they hold their dead children in their arms, surrounded by debris and chunks of rubble, their clothes stained in blood.
Whatever coverage you can find will include clips of some victims crying uncontrollably, powdered by the dust of fallen cities, repeating prayers with rough voices – classic symptoms of raw trauma patients who cannot say anything except for prayer because death surrounds them, spiralling repeatedly in their minds.
Such terrorist attacks can become the sole defining traits of Turkey to the uninitiated. It’s easier to submit to knowing a country for what little of it reaches you. On a similar tangent, perhaps that is why Singapore is known more for our chewing gum ban instead of something that truly represents our national identity – but being known for something as trivial as a ban on gum is much less damaging than being defined, internationally, by a narrative of violence and death. Or worse, not even having your nation’s crises acknowledged by Western mainstream media – having the violence scarring your country overshadowed by a curtain of ignorance and numbness. For example, two terror attacks in Turkey this year were almost completely ignored in the media and unfairly so, as was proven by the disproportionately large amount of media coverage of the the bombings in Brussels that occurred a few days later.
The world suffers losses every time a bomb destroys another home, halts another demonstration. Terror claims hundreds of lives every day, leaving thousands crippled by injury of the mind and body. The people of Turkey may directly carry the burden of its historical and cultural losses – but when hundreds of families are wiped out in split seconds, the whole world loses another piece of itself.
I don’t claim to know much of anything about Turkey, let alone represent the thoughts of its citizens who have lived through this immense amount of pain and grief. Nonetheless, anyone who knows even a fraction of what Turkey is can appreciate it endlessly. It has gone through thousands of years of world history, making cameos in religious texts, such as the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) and in the histories of other major Abrahamic religions, like Islam and Judaism.
Turkey has been ruled by at least three of the greatest empires of the world – the Roman Empire, the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire and the Muslim Ottoman Empire. This means that Turkey today is an intersection of different architectures, cultures and most importantly, religions.
Take, for example, the current structure of the Hagia Sophia, originally an Orthodox Byzantine Church, characterized by walls with painted images of angels, and panels of classical Christian mosaic.
After the Greeks repeatedly seized and lost the church several times throughout history, accompanied by several unfortunate natural disasters, Leo the Isaurian created a new church, ordering for all icons to be removed. Theophilus I furthered this, especially influenced by Muslim architecture. Later, when the Muslim Ottoman Empire invaded, the church was renovated and rebuilt, then converted into a mosque. Today, when you enter, you can see panels of Arabic calligraphy next to paintings of angels. Even the architecture speaks volumes about the mixed origins of the place, with mosaics of haloed Biblical figures under iconic Muslim minarets.
Seeing all of this preserved was fantastic to me, especially since I was learning about the Ottoman Empire in my Comparative Religions module at the time. It was surreal to witness how breathtakingly gorgeous the entire structure is, especially considering the fact that it has served as a central place of worship to several different religious communities over hundreds, even thousands of years. In a way, the Hagia Sophia is a symbol of Turkey as a whole. The country has passed through the hands of so many religious ideologies that the land has become fertile with historical, theological and cultural importance.
To me, this land of such rich historical significance, with its present secular government that stands for democracy and the right to religion, should be protected at all costs.
And yet, Turkey is portrayed in the media solely as yet another country that has become a victim to terror. As I talk to some of my friends, I’ve come to realise that this may be the only thing that they know about the country. The media reduces deep understanding of these countries and their people, their rich histories and their national identities to mere death tolls and attack sites.
One of the reasons why most Singaporeans care less about or are not even aware of these victims of terror, amongst many other reasons, is because we fail to see Turkey as a country instead of a headline.
And despite the media’s disturbing obsession with terrorism, more specifically “Islamic Radical” terrorism, the media often fails to point out that the most recurring victims of terror are usually Muslims. The reality of the situation is much too far away from the narrative painted in the media – extremism disproportionately kills millions of Muslims every day – and yet most media coverage does not account for this majority of victims.
Ask anyone about the 2015 Paris terror attacks or the 2013 Boston bombings and there is immediate recognition, but the world has yet to witness any extensive reporting about attacks in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Sri Lanka and Thailand, which have proven to be the top ten countries with the most fatalities from terror attacks. This list does not even include places like Iraq or Palestine, where daily violence and the constant violation of human rights may not be so easily classified as terrorism. Furthermore, hundreds, if not thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Syria have been killed by “accidental bombings” from the US military. How a technologically-advanced, massive military can “accidentally” miss their supposed target and end up killing innocents is still beyond me.
Terrorism, international politics, the events that the media chooses to cover or ignore – these are all things that we cannot control. But what we can control are our reactions to whatever news that comes our way. We can choose to point fingers and feed off the bigoted, hate-fuelled drivel that surrounds discourse about this topic, or to numb ourselves to the events that happen too far away, and to people who are too foreign for us to relate to.
Or we can educate ourselves, build a more informed, compassionate and proactive version of the truth. The latter is tiring, and often heartbreaking. Immersing yourself into the “deep dark” – as a friend of mine terms it – the pool of information that is more complex and frustrating to constantly read up about, is not easy. Often, forming an informed opinion rarely is. Choosing empathy over ignorance or numbness is sometimes the only thing you can do in the midst of a global problem so much bigger than you are.
Still, I posit that awareness and conviction can be small, honourable things deep inside of ourselves that anchor us to a larger sense of truth and our shared humanity.
All photos are credited to Noor Adilah unless stated otherwise.
The views expressed by this article are not representative of any party other than the author herself.