Rest in peace

I mentioned the Freedom Flotilla in my last post, before anyone who wasn’t interested in Israel or Palestine or justice was paying much attention to it.  In my last days in Turkey, as I’m sure most people know by now, Israel attacked the Turkish ship in the flotilla and killed nine Turkish activists on board, the youngest of whom was a 19 year old high school student.  Turks, needless to say, were furious, and in a totally different way than my shrill liberal internet community.

On the bus to the beautiful town of Amasra the night before the attack, I read the proud account in a Islamist newspaper of some British guys’ conversion to Islam while aboard the flotilla.  They lingered on the details and his rather inarticulate explanation of his convincement. “Well, I thought a lot about it and it seemed like the thing I wanted to do” (as best I could translate from Turkish) An early victory!

Turks, in my general experience, are terribly fatalistic.   I’ll try to justify that sweepingly general statement in the context of this event.  People were pissed, sure.  People did not see any reason, as a confirmed pacifist such as myself deigned suggest, why the activists on board shouldn’t have tried to kick the shit out of soldiers landing on their boat at 4 in the morning because……why should they? Weren’t they going to get shot at and killed anyway?  Didn’t they realize this was probably, in some ways, the most spectacular outcome they could hope for out of their whole hopeless effort?  Ok, maybe that’s a bit of overkill, but I’m shocked that despite tremendous effort on the part of the activists, and complete tacit approval of their cause in the media, in my conversations with friends, etc. NOBODY seemed to think their efforts nor their horrible deaths would change much.  How depressing.

At some point in the last few months, mom recounted a story of one of the conversations she had had with a Turkish friend. They were talking about death, and the best ways to go.  Mom’s friend suggested that, for a Turk, the best way to go was in a blaze of glory, ideally in violent defeat.  Mom’s look as she recounted the story told me she shared my desire for a quiet, peaceful death after a sense of glorious accomplishment, concluded nonviolently years earlier.   Has this got something to do with Turkey’s cultural connections to Islam, often portrayed as bloodthirsty and harsh?  Maybe our disconnect comes from naive Western optimism that believes results come from a stoic protestant work ethic?  Perhaps it’s about a sense of personal fulfillment and differing cultural myths of sacrifice? Regardless, it is clear in the bloodthirsty, Western-sponsored and USA-protestant-approved actions of Israel on Monday that the real problem is not culture, religion, whatever.  The problem is national pride. Nation is identifying so heavily with a collectively-enforced wrong headed hammer that everything looks like a nail.  Those Turks were killed because Israel didn’t want egg on its face for it’s unjust blockade of Gaza.  Life is so cheap in the borders we build around ourselves.  My only hope is that those folks that died felt they went out in the way they wanted.  May they rest in peace, and may their work not be in vane.


I’m in my last week in Turkey now, returned to Istanbul to pick up my brother on Friday night.  I missed the departure of the Freedom Flotilla, a massive blockade-running project bringing aid to Gaza on ships.  I am not participating in anything massive, though I went down to the Bosphorus today and watched the ships churn by. I sat on an empty bench, undesirable for its place in the blazing sun, and watched old men fish in the ships’ wake.  I’m always amazed how they can cast over and around each other and rarely get their lines tangled.  I felt awfully lazy, knowing that I had nowhere to go and nothing to do and remembering the ball of knotted line I created the last time I fished with these guys.

One man in particular staked out the little platform built over the surf.  He found a sweet spot, where the wake hit a crosscurrent and swirled up and around a rock wall, and pulled in string after string of little writhing bodies.  Their tackle is a long string of decorated hooks with a sinker that each man has a different technique for jerking and and reeling through the surf.  If I didn’t know any better I’d see it as semi-sexual, especially when they yell “You’re on fire!” after particularly good casts with a rod between their legs and a cigarette on their lips.

I spent my last days in Ankara doling out spiritual advice to everyone, trying not to sound overly qualified but also casting about for my own comfort.  I’m want my own flotilla, but I still feel caught watching folks troll the wake without so much as a fish to show for it.  It’s my chronic obsession with doing something grand and notable that’s keeping me from getting my feet wet as a first step to anything.  Perhaps I really need to be appreciating my own peace of mind, warm sunshine and new adventures ahead as a first step to everything.

The fish in question, "İstavrit" from wikipedia