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January 7, 2017

Tolerance and pluralism


January 7, 2017

I have now blissfully forgotten how many times I have visited Istanbul, or why is it I feel so much at home there. It was a sheer joy of being in a Muslim city where women dressed as they wished, with or without an item of modesty, happily in possession of the streets of their homeland without anyone ever bothering them.

Next to them were European visitors, shoulder to shoulder with tourists from across the Arab and Muslim world. You would hear as much Turkish as you did Arabic, Persian, English, French, German, or Russian. That was and remains the real Istanbul.

Before the horrific nightclub attack in the Reina, on the shore of the Bosporus Strait, on the New Year’s Eve is lost into yet another cycle of vicious, mind-numbing violence, which now extends from Orlando to Paris, Berlin, Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, deep into Pakistan and beyond.

Why would an innocent gathering of young people from around the Arab and Muslim world with their Turkish friends be a target of such a vicious attack?

“In continuation of the blessed operations that Islamic State [of Iraq and the Levant] is conducting against the protector of the cross, Turkey,” according to reports, ISIL has assumed responsibility for this cowardly act, further adding: “a heroic soldier of the caliphate struck one of the most famous nightclubs where the Christians celebrate their apostate holiday.”

This is habitually inane gibberish that may or may not be an indication of ISIL having actually perpetrated this crime. But the question is: What is this inanity targeting? What is it, that it is opposing?

The answer lies in the location and timing of this attack: A nightclub where a group of young people from around the world had gathered to celebrate the new year on the Christian calendar.

Whoever was behind it, this attack is on the culture of tolerance, on the factual pluralism of Muslim countries now in many ways represented in Istanbul.

The young people in that club represent a new breed of Turks and their friends from around the (Muslim) world. The term ‘secular’ or ‘Westernised’, which you keep hearing on these occasions, are terribly flawed; deeply misguided. Such clubs, cafes, markets, bookstores, movie theatres or opera houses are all specific insignia of a living, thriving urbanity - the figurative emblem of a deeply rooted cosmopolitanism that is definitive to Istanbul.

It is now habitual to refer to the victims of this pernicious          attack in the Ortakoy neighbourhood as ‘foreigners’. These young men and women may   have come from anywhere, from India to Morocco.

But they were not ‘foreigners’ in Istanbul. They were at home in Istanbul - which is home to any human being with an urbanity of culture and demeanour to her and his character and culture.

Today, Muslims and non-Muslims, in and out of Islamic world, are facing a vicious battle, not of identity, but of alterity - not who they are, but who their nemesis is.

Muslims are not the enemies of Christians or Jews, nor are Christians and Jews the enemy of Muslims.

What we have are, in fact, battles of sovereignty among the ruling states entirely bereft of legitimacy from their respective nations.

As many states have degenerated into pure institutions of violence - very much on the model of ISIL - they inevitably pit against each other the most pernicious common denominators of divisive hatred.

Against all odds, the glorious cosmopolitan urbanity of tolerance and pluralism of Istanbul will triumph against all forces of fanaticism, foreign or domestic to Turkey, and as it was a landmark of our past, it will beacon us all to our future.


This article has been excerpted from: ‘Istanbul was our past, Istanbul is our future’.