how the world sees america

November 2007 Archives

November 1, 2007 12:25 PM

Turkish General Edip Baser: America Must Fight PKK

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ISTANBUL - Retired four-star Turkish General Edip Baser left his joint post as Special Envoy for Counterterrorism in May 2007, frustrated with America for professional reasons: he says the United States "tied Turkey's hands," leaving it more exposed to PKK terrorism. But now this frustration has turned personal.

His twenty-six-year-old son, Sukru, is about to enter Turkey's mandatory fifteen months of military service. Sukru wants to join Turkey's Special Forces in the southeast to help them fight the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK).

General Baser knows the danger his son would face; he used to command Turkey's military across all of Turkey's southern border, and says Sukru and his fellow soldiers deserve all the help they can get. He wants America to step up, but after his experience as Special Envoy, he isn't hopeful.

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November 2, 2007 5:26 PM

Turkey to U.S.: Drop Your Orientalist Lens

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ISTANBUL - Lounging on a yacht in Istanbul’s Atakoy marina, four young Turkish filmmakers say America must see Turkey through their eyes, not through the hackneyed lens of old movies like Midnight Express, about an American imprisoned in an obscene Turkish jail, or the thirty-second bytes of television news.

Western audiences are still trapped in an “orientalist view of Turkey,” they say, replete with seedy bureaucrats, "dirty carpet vendors," and lonely allies. Americans imagine Turkey to be a land torn apart by a “clash of civilizations between East and West.” That’s what sells abroad, they say, but it doesn’t represent the “true Turkey,” the Turkey they want their films to show.

Hollywood movies, Turkish films directed at Western audiences, and the American students they meet here in Istanbul convince these four just how pervasive the negative images are.

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November 6, 2007 10:02 AM

Mixed Reviews for U.S. from Erdogan's Old Home

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ISTANBUL - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan shakes President Bush’s hand on the grainy television screen in Hodja Yashar’s Café on Yumak Street in Kasimpasa, Istanbul, just minutes from the flat Erdogan inhabited as a teenager. The old men light their cigarettes to celebrate.

“Miracles can happen!” says one of them, smiling as the anchorwoman reports that America will increase its support of the Turkish government in its battle against Kurdish guerillas in the southeast.

Another man who sells cleaning cloths to car mechanics is less optimistic: “I don’t expect anything from America.”

And so their banter goes back and forth, from praise for the U.S. to deep suspicion. They settle on neither.

They’re all well over sixty, with deep coughs and creased skin. Kasimpasa as a whole is an aging community of shopkeepers and laborers, many of them living off government checks of little over two hundred U.S. dollars per month. It’s not much, the men say, but they get by.

“When a place grows out of poorness, people help each other get by, and [they] become closer and closer,” explains the café owner Hodja. People on Kasimpasa’s windy, sloped streets know each other’s faces. They know who they can trust and who they cannot.

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November 7, 2007 1:30 PM

Night Out: Hip Hop in Istanbul

Riddim's formidable entrance.

ISTANBUL - Girls with bright red garters grind on tables three stories underground to the suggestive lyrics, "You Can Lick My Lollipop." One thousand sweaty bodies crush together in the dark, battling smoke and heat for fresh air.

It looks like a 50 Cent music video gone wrong. Too much bling, too many bodies. But this is where I meet up with two readers of How the World Sees America over the weekend to unwind, and watch U.S. pop culture in ferocious action.

HTWSA reader Holiday Dmitri emailed me from the U.S. several weeks back, letting me know she’d be coming to Turkey for vacation. She suggested we spend a night out, and we choose the club Riddim. Neither of us knew what we were in for.

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November 8, 2007 4:58 PM

Armenian Genocide? Let Turks Decide

Aris searching old Agos files.

America's "Armenian Genocide Resolution"? Bad idea, says this young Turkish Armenian editor. He wants American Armenians to focus on present day human rights, not old politics.

When Aris Nalci was 19 years old, he asked Hrant Dink, founder of Agos, a well-known Armenian weekly newspaper here, for a part-time job. What he got was a life mission: to engage the mainstream Turkish community in dialogue with their Turkish-Armenian co-inhabitants.

Aris was at Yildiz Technical University studying mechanical engineering at the time. He'd often talk with his classmates about "American Imperialism" after the Gulf War. But it wasn't until Aris devoted himself to the cause of improving relations between Armenian-Turks and the Turkish mainstream that he saw just how much of a nuisance a meddling American presence could be.

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November 9, 2007 4:30 PM

Arriving in Lebanon

Beirut skyline, usually prettier than this.

"What did you say? Have I been in exile?" I ask the heavily-made-up airline ticket agent behind the counter.

She repeats: "Have you been to IS-RA-EL?" slowing down and accentuating her vowels for this confused American.

"Oh, no not ye…No, I haven't."

Just a one-hour flight later, I touch down in Beirut and the customs control agent asks me a more pointed question: "You are a journalist. Is your reporting political?"

"It's about how America is perceived," I reply, and he summons over an army officer who stands at least 6'5".

"Come," the officer says. He leads me into a back room, where a pregnant woman wearing a huge fake Dolce & Gabbana belt looks at him, extremely displeased.

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November 12, 2007 1:00 PM

How Turkey Sees America

Protesting PKK and carrying a massive Turkish flag.

Turkey will turn your preconceptions of how Muslim countries perceive America upside-down.

It's a country whose Islamic political forces are currently aligning themselves more closely with the United States while the staunch secularists turn away. Members of the ruling Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) openly praise the U.S. for allowing free public expression of religion. And they make economic liberalization, entry into the European Union, and improved human rights central parts of their platform.

But the secularist old guard, especially within the military, is suspicious of these Islamic parties. They berate the U.S. for tolerating what they see as the gradual Islamization of Turkey. Retired General Edip Baser says that if a more religious Turkey is "part of Bush's 'Greater Middle East Project' to create Islamic democracies across the region," he wants none of it.

The military, along with most of the Turkish population, also blame the U.S. for letting the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) continue to attack southeast Turkey. The PKK is on America's terrorist list, but I heard repeatedly, "America only cares about its own terrorists.” The day after I arrived, protesters flooded Istanbul's streets chanting, "Curse the PKK, Curse America!"

Meanwhile, minority groups within Turkey have a bit more nuanced view of America, seeing its support as a double-edged sword. Certain activists among the Kurds and Armenians, for example, think America is an ally in their fight for human and cultural rights. But they worry that if they cuddle too close to the U.S., they could become further alienated from mainstream Turks.

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November 13, 2007 4:25 PM

American Studies in Beirut: Learning to Love?

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BEIRUT - Professor Patrick McGreevy is talking about an ugly moment in American history, but his students at the American University of Beirut (AUB) keep trying to tie it to present-day politics.

McGreevy, head of the new Center for American Studies here, teaches an Introduction to American Studies course to twenty-five undergrads. Today’s class is on the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 through which America exerted paternalistic control over many of its Latin American neighbors.

McGreevy projects old American cartoons from the 1800s and early 1900s onto a white screen. Uncle Sam, tall and lean, sits at the head of a classroom schooling infantile pupils named “Cuba” and “Puerto Rico” in the ways of liberty and democracy.

“Americans didn’t like to think of themselves as colonizers,” McGreevy explains, so they called their expansionism a civilizing mission. 'Manifest Destiny' was the term -- the 'City on a Hill’s' divine mission to elevate the rest of the world to its level, justifying the subjugation of foreign publics aplenty, he says.

Maya pipes up: "It's just like Iraq today; with all [Bush's] talk of democracy!"

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November 15, 2007 12:55 PM

Lebanon's Politicians: Avoiding the Assassins

Ahdab at home.

TRIPOLI - Guards with AK-47s patrol the perimeter of Mosbah Ahdab's flat in Tripoli. "I'm effectively a prisoner" he says, in a U.S.-v-Iran proxy war waged on Lebanese soil.

The forty-six-year-old Ahdab is an independent member of the Lebanese Parliament, known for his steadfast opposition to Iranian and Syrian influence here. He consistently opposed the current Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud, whose term expires next week.

Ahdab worries that Syrian-backed assassins are targeting him. The shutters of the flat are all closed. Cameras survey the streets all around. And he travels only in the middle of the night in a long convoy, which he enters through a specially designed tent so snipers or bombers can't tell which car he's in.

Ahdab is convinced he can outlast his assassins. But he worries that U.S. interest in Lebanese democracy might not wait with him. Ahdab wants America and the West to keep a sharp eye on Lebanon, oppose political murders, and support democracy. But he doesn't want the U.S. to engage Lebanon as a proxy battlefield, which is what Iran and Syria, he says, are goading it to do.

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November 16, 2007 12:23 PM

An American Sister & Israeli Bombs

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BEIRUT - The day Zeina's sister Dina returned to Lebanon from the U.S., bombs began raining down on Beirut.

By the time her sister fled Lebanon days later, Zeina found herself torn between loyalty to her Lebanese homeland, and her long-held vision of someday enjoying a peaceful, prosperous life in America.

Zeina, a twenty-three-year-old anthropology masters student at the American University of Beirut, remembers her mixed emotions during the July War of 2006, when Israel launched an aerial offensive in response to the seizing of two Israeli soldiers by the Islamist movement Hezbollah.

Zeina's sister Dina happened to arrive at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri airport on the first day of the war. Israeli planes bombed it the following morning. Dina, a dual U.S.-Lebanese citizen, is a forty-year-old gastroenterologist at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in Ohio. She's lived in the U.S. for thirteen years, and has two American daughters, eight and eleven years old, who came with her on this trip.

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November 20, 2007 8:50 AM

Lebanon's Hip-Hop Struggle

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BEIRUT, Lebanon - "Lebanon's MC's spit the sickest flows," insists Lynn Fattouh, a.k.a. MC Lix, a.k.a. Malikah ("The Queen"). Long after the party has ended, she is sitting on the dance floor of club Black & White on Monot Street. Lynn is one of seven top Arab rappers, hand-picked by MTV Arabiya, a new cable channel that began broadcasting over the weekend.

Hip-hop first caught Lynn’s ear nine years ago. She was twelve, chilling with her big brother Mustapha, bouncing to Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Bone Thugs, Foxy Brown, Da Brat and Left Eye. She got hooked, and began spitting rhymes with friends. At sixteen Lynn hit Beirut’s epic nightlife scene, climbing on stage for the first time.

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November 22, 2007 6:37 AM

An Armenian-American's Quest for Truth

Ten year-old Ruben protesting on capitol hill in 1993.

Guest Post By Ruben Harutunian - I was nine when my family moved to the United States from Armenia -- then still part of the Soviet Union. We came out of curiosity more than anything else, but stayed because of necessity.

Now sixteen years later, I’m as American as any of my neighbors. I went through the same grueling college application process; I am now part of the U.S Foreign Service. But no matter how mainstream my life has become, my identity remains hyphenated -– I am Armenian-American.

To me, this is a point of an American affirmation. We have a unique truth to assert here.

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November 24, 2007 2:33 PM

Hezbollah, Her Protector

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BEIRUT - Last weekend Amena N. took me through her home in Haret Hreik, a predominantly Shia part of town in the southern suburbs of Beirut. With days to go until the presidential elections, she complained that America would rather break Lebanon's fragile democracy in two than respect her political party -- Hezbollah.

"When America calls us terrorists," Amena says, "I lose hope for the U.S….I support Hezbollah, my family does too…but we do not want war."

There is no clear threshold between the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut and the rest of the city. As you drive south, the buildings just move closer together, the piles of rubble stack up, and the wires between apartments grow more densely intertwined.

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November 26, 2007 12:11 PM


Ben-Gurion Airport.

TEL AVIV - It's 130 miles from Beirut to Tel Aviv, about the distance between Washington and Philadelphia. But there's no peace agreement between these two Middle East hubs, so the journey takes a full day by air with a stopover in Amman, Jordan.

But for this American visitor, the real challenge doesn't begin until arriving in Tel Aviv.

The ceilings, walls and walkways of Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport are disconcertingly large. Towering sheets of glass around a long, slanted walkway segment the arrival concourse, making the planeloads of passengers look and feel small.

The walkway opens up to over a dozen passport controllers who ensure that the wait for the inspection is uncommonly brief. It also enables each controller to be thorough.

A woman with large, green eyes reviews my passport, once, twice. She looks up. I smile. She doesn’t. She says I must submit to further questioning in the back.

So I’m led to a waiting room where a Jordanian woman is leaning her head against the beige stone wall, and a Syrian businessman is snapping his briefcase open, closed, open. An Israeli-American student glances up at them as she turns pages in her textbook.

“Bakshi!” a firm female voice calls. “Come with me.”

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November 28, 2007 8:53 AM

Palestinian Pride Before Peace

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JERUSALEM - Every time former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker appeared in Jerusalem, Jawad Siyam says he ended up in an Israeli jail. He'd been in those concrete cells many times before, often for good reason: he and his teenage Palestinian peers made a game of throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers in the late 80s. But jail time courtesy of Baker's visit was different because it was preemptive. It made the U.S. official’s arrival, and America, particularly irksome.

One time stands out for Jawad. He was coming back from a late night out in a café in West Jerusalem. At Dung Gate, separating the historic Old City from the New, Jawad saw more Israeli soldiers than usual, but he didn't know why. Then two soldiers asked where he was coming from.

"They wanted to hear the hospital," or something they thought was permissible, Jawad says. "Just saying 'I was at a café' was not enough."

"I was at a café," Jawad said.

"We've been looking for you," the soldiers replied.

Moments later Jawad found himself in a familiar cell with twenty other teenagers who lived near him on Wadi Hilwah Road. "We were all friends in the jail -- in one small cell, with concrete beds and one stinking pot."

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November 30, 2007 10:06 AM

American-Israeli Settler Holds Out in Hebron

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HEBRON - "Make no mistake. The Americans are enemies," argues David Wilder, the spokesperson for the Hebron Jewish Community. "Under the leadership of Rice and Bush (in that order), the United States has been transformed into one of Israel's most dangerous foes."

Hebron is a heavily contested, Biblical town in the West Bank. Abraham is believed to be buried here, along with Isaac. Now one hundred thousand Arabs live here, and about ten thousand Jewish settlers surround the city in the Kiryat Arba settlement. But smack in the center of the Arab town live David and a group of eight hundred Jewish settlers. In addition, about 500 Israeli soldiers are assigned to guard them round-the-clock -- which is one reason many other Israelis dislike the settlers.

Together, the settlers' and soldiers' presence makes Hebron possibly the most tense city in the West Bank. The settlers have cordoned off the adjacent streets for security, evicting Arab storekeepers and delivering a blow to the local economy. The adjacent streets are empty, save a few Israeli armored vehicles and soldiers with assault rifles. It feels like a ghost town. A few large Hebrew signs curse their Arab neighbors with various epithets for "stealing their land." A bumper sticker on David's front door reads, "Without Arabs, there would be no terrorism."

David's devoted the past two decades of his life to settling Hebron and multiplying as fast as possible, in the hopes of one day "returning Hebron to Israel." But he fears his country of birth, America, will curb his ambitions if he doesn't act fast enough.

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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.