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January 25, 2013, Friday

Skeletons in the closet

I regularly receive comments from individuals who dislike Turks. Much blood has been shed across this land over the centuries. Those who have lost loved ones naturally struggle to forgive and anyone who has lost land holds a grudge.

In response to my piece, “Social identities” (Jan. 24), a Today's Zaman reader who calls himself Vartan posted the following comment which demonstrates the anger that he feels towards the nation of Turkey. Vartan wrote: “I will tell you who you are! You are the descendants of those Mongolian Turks that came to the Armenian highlands from Altai Mountains of Mongolia and conquered those lands.”

Sadly I had a similar personal experience expressing the same sentiments as Vartan when I visited Beirut a few years ago. I was speaking to a group of Lebanese Christian women. A few of them came up to me after the seminar and asked me how I could ever live in Turkey. When I asked them to explain what they meant, they then expressed themselves similarly to Vartan. All of their families had lost loved ones and had been uprooted from their homes and resettled in Lebanon.

Every nation has an ugly past and skeletons. England and Ireland have fought for years. America struggles with racial problems, beginning with the poor treatment of Native Americans. We could find something about every nation and their past. I would like to teach those reading this piece who are learning the English language and working hard on their language skills an expression that we have in English, “skeletons in the closet.” It means a secret source of shame, potentially ruinous if exposed, which a person or family makes efforts to conceal.

Is it possible to move on from the past and work towards a peaceful existence? As long as recognition of past actions is not dealt with, peace in the world does not seem so easily obtainable. Have you ever wondered why civilizations needed to clash? In the past, because of the desire to expand territories, spread religious ideas and develop trade, wars were held.

In contemporary times, America has acquired many enemies since the invention of the radio and other technology which aids in what some would call “American propaganda.” American culture has had a major impact around the world through television programs, films and music. Some nations resent the Western influence and believe that any change it could bring about would be negative. So many people do not realize that no matter where in the world one is, there is diversity and cultural differences. Just think what a boring world it would be if everyone everywhere was the absolute same.

Having had the opportunity to live and travel abroad, I find that when I go back to America, some Americans who have not traveled outside of the country struggle to understand other cultures. Consequently, this can make it difficult for them to respect other parts of the world. On the other hand, democracy and freedom of cultural expression can be practiced. In England and Canada, similar expressions of freedom are evident.

A number of Today's Zaman readers over the years have made comments that implied that it would be good if Turkey could stop worrying about what others are doing and worry about their own problems. This has not been possible because Turkey perceives threats. However, in the West, the general idea is that unless people are doing harm, they should be left alone like everyone else and should be free to do as they like. Other readers have made comments implying that it would be good if certain people could stop blaming the other side and take responsibility so that both parties could move beyond this point.

Civilizations have clashed but have also influenced one another over the centuries in this part of the world. Every culture has some special features and it is a shame for these to be lost. Tradition can be good but so can change. It is all about finding a balance.

I would like to encourage our Today's Zaman readers to read the article “A world not neatly divided” (Nov. 23, 2001) in The New York Times written by Amartya Sen who suggests that the robbing of our plural identities not only reduces us; it impoverishes the world. According Sen, the “main hope of harmony lies not in any imagined uniformity, but in the plurality of our identities, which cut across each other and work against sharp divisions into impenetrable civilizational camps.” Sen suggests that we need to work to avoid sharp divisions and work towards accepting multiple interpretations and perspectives of identity.

“The people of the world also need to learn to accept and coexist with one another; that with coexistence, our world can become a greater place than anyone could imagine.” -- Blogger Don Doerr on Sen's article.

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