how the world sees america

October 2007 Archives

October 15, 2007 3:00 AM

Debate & Dance, DC to Diyarbakir


It's been two weeks since I met many of you at Gazuza Bar over strawberry hookahs and banana mojitos. To all of you who came -- and especially those of you who stayed out till 4am talking and dancing -- thanks for the sound advice, and the next day’s headache.

Since that night, I've been thinking hard about how to make Part Two of How the World Sees America even better than Part One. Bobbie Neal started it. She's a quiet, strikingly smart reader who's been following this site for the past three months. She's curious about the world, especially after 9/11, and isn't satisfied with headlines that read, "Ahmadinejad-Says-This" or "Bush-says-That.” Poll numbers don't do it for her, either; she wants to do the thinking for herself. She wants to see and hear real people, not more pundits. She wants rich settings and personal stories. She tells me I'm most effective when I get out of the way of the stories I’m telling.

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October 16, 2007 12:00 AM

World to America: Listen to Us


World opinion surveys show Brand America slipping. “So what should America do to improve its image in the world?” a few worried Washingtonians wondered over coffee,

The group fired off their own solutions: Elect Obama. Stabilize Iraq. Expand public diplomacy. Democratize the Middle East. Solve Israel-Palestine. Increase foreign aid…

But none of them mentioned what I’d put first on my list: Listen more closely to the world.

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October 16, 2007 10:45 AM

Love Americans, Hate America?

Forget America. What about Americans?

Over the last three months, I asked scores of people how they see America, and one answer came back to me again and again:

“I love the American people, but hate their government.”

A barber in London, a doctor in New Delhi, and a drag queen in Lahore said those words thousands of miles apart.

Should Americans be comforted by their answer?

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October 18, 2007 10:00 AM

Author Mohsin Hamid: Restrain the American Giant

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Maybe if the whole world could vote for the next President of the United States, people would be a little less anti-American. That's what Pakistani-born author Mohsin Hamid says. He's the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist which was recently nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Check out the video to see him describe America as a friendly giant, good for the world, but in need of occasional checks on its power.

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October 19, 2007 1:04 PM

Taking Off to Turkey

My whole life in a bag.

Three hours to go till Turkey. As long as thunderstorms don't ground the plane, I'm gone.

Here's the final (but flexible) itinerary:

  • -Turkey till November 5.
  • -Lebanon till Nov 20.
  • -Mystery Country till December 5.
  • -Philippines till Dec 25.
  • -South Korea till January 10.
  • -Colombia till Jan 20.
  • -Venezuela till Feb 5.
  • -Mexico till Feb 25.

My editors and I picked these countries because they all have strong, specific ties to the United States, either through their history, foreign policy, or people. They're politically relevant, and different enough from one another (religiously, geographically, politically and culturally) to offer unique angles on America: its Middle East interventions, the effects of labor migrations (Mexico and the Philippines), the impact of the web and pop culture (South Korea and Lebanon), and the critique of American-style capitalism (Venezuela and Mexico). I hope you'll propose many other themes along the way.

Passport primed.

I'm reaching out to the best journalists in each country from across the political spectrum, picking their brains for tighter connections to draw between the U.S. and their country. In Turkey, Soli Ozel brought up some obvious ones like the impact of the Armenian Diaspora in America, U.S. arms sales, support for the Kurds, and the Iraq War. Then a young reporter named Afsin Yurdakul also put me in touch with new filmmakers, underground movements, and rockers to check out.

So I narrowed down to the very different cities of Istanbul, Diyarbarkir and Trabzon to visit, along with small towns nearby. And as soon as I arrive I'm meeting a brain trust of bloggers to give me some sense of the word on the street, nooks and crannies to explore, and people to meet. I develop a long list of contacts, pick the most intriguing places to start, and then hit the road.

On the streets, serendipity takes it. One contact leads to the next; a rhythm builds. And soon I get lost to the world -- that's the thrilling part. I'm looking forward to your company, and your thoughts, as I go.

If you want more on my thoughts behind the project, I talk about it here on video, and have a map for you to browse.

October 22, 2007 9:11 AM

Istanbul Protests: "Curse the PKK, Curse America"

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ISTANBUL - Thousands took to the streets of Istanbul today to protest the deaths of seventeen Turkish soldiers at the hands of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), crying, "Destroy the PKK," and "We are All Turks."

But much of their anger was directed at America: "Close down Incirlik," referring to America's air base in Turkey, "Tell the U.S. to get out now!" and most emphatically, "Curse the PKK, Curse America!"

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October 23, 2007 4:55 PM

Two Kurdish Turks: Waiting for U.S.

The view from Van.

VAN, Eastern Turkey – Zeki M., a language teacher in this predominantly Kurdish city near the Iraq border, was both relieved and disappointed when he heard the news today that Turkish and Iraqi officials will collaborate to take down the PKK. "Strikes against the PKK will not bring peace" unless America promotes the rights of Kurdish Turks, he said.

Kurds here have had a tense history with the Turkish government. "I teach English, but I cannot teach Kurdish to my students," Zeki lamented. "I cannot teach them poetry or show our flag or listen to Kurdish radio."

Zeki sat alongside a local doctor, Nuri A., outside a group of concrete homes built for refugees who say they fled Hakkari in the 1990s at the hands of Turkish Security Forces. We drank Turkish tea with lemon and gazed at jagged hills in the distance. One of the hills, called Taprak Kale, is emblazoned with the huge crescent and star of the Turkish flag. Nuri smirked at it. "It's to remind us we're occupied," he said.

Both Nuri and Zeki believe America will free them. "America will help us - they must. President Bush talks about freedom, human rights, and democracy. Kurds want these things."

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October 24, 2007 6:03 PM

Don't Talk to (American) Strangers

On the outskirts of Van, on 'Big Erkan' Hill.

VAN - "Good, you look Turkish!" my translator says when we meet at the airport in Van, a city in eastern Turkey. "It's an advantage. People are afraid to speak...."

The advantage only lasts so long. I introduce myself to people, say I'm from The Washington Post, and watch eleven potential interviewees on these dusty streets nod politely and say, "I am sorry, no thank you," as if I'm hawking Cutco Knives.

My translator and I move from the city center to the outskirts of Van to talk to the residents there who dwell in houses with concrete shells and plastic roofs. A curious young carpenter approaches us, interested perhaps by the camera. My introduction energizes him; he flashes his blue eyes and starts talking fast: "I moved here from Hakkari. This is my first job in months, but…" But then his colleague cuts him off, like a mother ordering her toddler: "Don't talk to those strangers!"

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October 25, 2007 6:54 PM

Turkish Kurd Praises Ocean City Multiculturalism

Tongue Tied?

ISTANBUL – “To learn another language, you have to press your tongue against a girl's tongue," Ahmet D. tells me shyly. He's a twenty-four-year-old Kurdish student at Bosphorus University who says what Turkey needs is dialogue, humanism, and a little love. He came to this conclusion through academics, American literature, and four formative months serving pancakes on the Eastern Shore.

Ahmet looks out over the channel below. Ships inch by. Beyond them, layered red roofs and minarets undulate on the Asian side of Istanbul. And next to him, punks, bohemian-sheeks, modest Anatolians, fashionistas, and bedraggled test-takers gossip together. Ahmet stares past it all.

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October 27, 2007 8:42 AM

Finding an Islamic Movement on Santa Monica Beach

Muscle men and taut bikinis.

ISTANBUL – In 2002, on the sand of muscle men and taut bikinis, Leo T. unfolded his sajjada on Santa Monica Beach and prayed to Mecca. A drunken homeless man rasped, “‘There is no God, man!’” and waddled away.

Leo, as his American friends call him, just laughed: “At least he knew I was praying and not throwing up . . . America is tolerant of showing your religion in public; in Turkey people would say I was trying to spread Shari'ah if I prayed outside.”

Leo, who grew up here in Istanbul, went to America in early 2001 to figure out his future; he found religion.

Its messengers were followers of the controversial Gulen Movement in Turkey, which claims to “blend Islam with modernity” while resisting secular states’ restrictions on religious expression. Opponents, especially secular Turks within the military, have accused the Gulen Movement of being a cult-like organization secretly plotting to establish an Islamic state by placing its followers within the civil service, police and educational system of Turkey.

A local teacher, Siman, says of the Movement, "The U.S. thinks it's supporting moderate Islam with Gulen, but the Movement is really a Trojan horse that will make Turkey theocratic. America is repeating her mistake...financing short-term friends who will hit them in the end." The Movement's leader, Fethullah Gulen, currently lives in Pennsylvania, fueling rumors here that he's America-backed. He moved there in 1999 for health reasons and to avoid recently-dropped charges of conspiring to undermine the Turkish state; he has 400,000 to 4 million followers worldwide.

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October 29, 2007 6:29 PM

On Turkey's Republic Day, Ataturk Is Everywhere


ISTANBUL - Taksim Square always looks like a protest rally to me, even when people are just lounging. It's packed with shoppers, eaters, smokers and dawdlers. From its cafes, patrons spill out onto the streets like rice from a sack. At night, clubs atop clubs boom with music. And on the wide or winding streets, there’s gossip about everything: from Condoleezza Rice's upcoming visit to the importance of the Turkish Republic.

Today is "Republic Day," October 29. Turkey's founder Kemal Ataturk declared it 84 years ago. Tonight, people are celebrating with torches, fireworks, and flags.

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October 31, 2007 3:06 AM

Metal Storm: Imagining U.S.-Turkey War

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ISTANBUL - Ankara is on fire. U.S. warplanes zoom overhead, blackening the skies. America has just launched "Operation Metal Storm."

So starts one of the most popular books in recent Turkish history, dubbed Metal Storm (or Metal Furtina). This fictional tale of a massive U.S.-Turkey war has sold 600,000 copies across the country since its release in 2004.

Metal Storm starts off, eerily enough, in northern Iraq in 2007. America draws Turkish forces into battle as a pretext to invade the country. The rich uranium, thorium, and borax reserves lure a greedy "evangelical American president" and his cronies, unsparingly named "Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice." It's all part of America's plan for world dominion, the book says.

After reducing Turkey to rubble and capturing its capitol, Ankara, the U.S. threatens to divide the remains among its Armenian and Greek neighbors -- the ultimate insult. But a powerful diplomatic alliance between Russia and the European Union comes to the rescue, stalling the U.S. Meanwhile, a Turkish agent smuggles a suitcase nuke through Mexico's border and detonates it in Washington, D.C.

America falls to its knees. Turkey, the good, prevails. America, the evil, loses.

I met one of the two authors of the book, Burak Turna, in a café off Taksim Square. The thirty-year-old, goateed author-musician spends his days here jotting notes for his next book, and says he owes his rise to fame to his ability to "predict future scenarios" and tap into "the subconscious of Turkey."

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« September 2007 | November 2007 »

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send your comments, questions and suggestions for PostGlobal to Lauren Keane, its editor and producer.