For the past few days my intention was to write a follow-up post to my week in Turkey because I wanted to describe the amazing things I saw in Istanbul on my second (sunny, non-snowy) day walking around the city. Of course, since I returned home to Beirut so much has happened, which must be dealt with before moving on to my tourist adventures.
Everyone in the media seems to be all a buzz with the election results in the U.S. While certainly I think that the changes in the House and Senate are a good sign in that they seem to be a vote against Bush, I don’t think that it represents anything hopeful for the part of the world I care most about, the Middle East. The Democrats historically, and currently, have always had a far more Zionist base than the Republicans. While at this particular historical moment there are many Christian Zionists who could be added to the mix making those lines of demarcation a bit muddier, I don’t see any significant signs of hope. What plans do the Democrats have for Iraq? To partition it into three provinces? This is one plan I hear floated and while it makes me hope that at least Kurds might have their own space, instead it seems more like it could offer a future that is still bloody that looks more like India/Kashmir/Pakistan. And while it may give many of us a great deal of pleasure to see Rumsfeld resign from his post in shame, is Robert Gates any better? This is a man who is at least partially responsible for the problems in the region from his days when he was involved in arming Saddam Hussein, the Muhajadeen in Afghanistan, and Iran during the Iran/Contra scandal. But I love the irony and timing of Daniel Ortega being elected President while all of this other stuff is going down!
In other news, back home here, I had the great pleasure of attending yet another CASAR lecture last night. I can’t say it enough: it’s so amazing to be a part of an academic program that brings in interesting scholars every week. Robert Fisk recommended this speaker, who used to live and teach in Iraq and who spoke about U.S. policy in the war on terror, and I had a lovely dinner with these and other interesting scholars from AUB. Fisk’s article in The Independent a couple of weeks ago, by the way is a must read as it seems each week we learn more about the illegal weapons of mass destruction that Israel used on Lebanon last summer. One of the interesting stories Fisk and our lecturer told last night was about Fisk traveling through the South of Lebanon during the war and calling this professor in Baghdad asking what the news was there. She replied that it was very quiet as they were all watching the news of what was going down in Lebanon. Indeed! The same was true in Palestine as well.
Of course, the worst news of the past week that seems to get worse every day since June (and arguably before that as well) is the news from Ghaza. The news of the massacre in Beit Hanoun is just devastating. I cannot believe that the world continues to let this go on and no one does anything about it. Where is the UN Security Council on this? Where are the UN forces protecting people in Ghaza from Israel? Why are they only deployed in Lebanon? Of course, Lebanon continues to witness Israeli aggression at its southern border because Israel still remains firmly ensconced on Lebanese soil–and in Lebanese airspace for that matter. I keep hoping that French and Indian anger (from the UNIFIL forces) will translate into military action against Israel. All of this is set against the backdrop of one of the most extremely fascist leaders of Israeli society who recently joined the government. Avigdor Lieberman–I wonder if he’s any relation to the Zionist *?!@ who just won reelection in Connecticut?–is one of the most extremist people to enter Israeli politics of late; this is a man who openly (as opposed to behind closed doors like the rest of the Knesset) advocate things like ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. I’m not sure how much of this is making it into U.S. news, but each of these items is creating an even scarier picture for this reason–if that is even possible. At least the Palestinian students at AUB held a demonstration against the Beit Hanoun massacre yesterday. They staged a sit in on the front steps of the main student union building during the lunch break. While it wasn’t extremely well attended, it was good to see students doing something. Definitely a change from students (or anyone for that matter) in Jordan when things like this go down in Palestine.
After all this news that’s been consuming me this week I do want to say something about my last day in Turkey. It was great to be able to get a sunny day to walk around the city and see other areas. I headed for Tophane first on the tram, which was yet another fabulous public transportation system that took me from the Aya Sofia/Blue Mosque straight to this neighborhood on land. I did want to take a boat ride up the Bosporus while I was there, but it was just too cold. I went straight to the Istanbul Modern, the main art museum in Turkey and it was unbelievable amazing. Not only was the main exhibition of Turkish painters and sculptors wonderful, but I also happened upon a second exhibit there. The Venice Biennale, which normally is only held in Italy, was held jointly this year with Istanbul so I was able to see this unbelievably brilliant provocative exhibition of art work. The exhibit began with a Guerilla Girls series of posters (from which this piece above was taken). There were other new posters they’ve created since I last saw their work including one that is a take off on the terrorist threat level warnings that was quite funny. There was also a really interesting artist’s exhibit, outside the museum as well, from Pascale Marthine Tayou from Camaroon. He created a piece called “Plastic Bags” that is an environmental commentary on excessive consumption. Inside there was a similarly interesting installation piece called “The Bride” by Joana Vasconcelos; her installation was an enormous chandelier that went from floor to ceiling (in a warehouse space) that was made entirely of OB tampons. There was yet another piece dealing with over-consumption entitled “Breath” which was film media; you walk into a room and Nikos Navridis’ images of a heap of garbage invade the dark room, but only on the floor and you feel dizzy as you walk over a pile of garbage, as it is moving against you. He based the video installation on Samuel Beckett’s play Breath. But out of all these artistic images my favorite was without a doubt Emily Jacir’s video installation “Ramallah/New York”. You sit on a bench watching two television screens next to each other each one showing images that are contextually similar: a travel agency, a hair salon, a shwarma stand, a convenient market, and it forces you to think where each activity is taking place–and let me tell you, it’s difficult! I’d love to see this exhibit tour the U.S. (middle America, that is!) as it was very powerful.
I spent the rest of the day walking along the shore, where there were more sculptures along the shoreline and I eventually reached Dolmabahçe Palace. I guess on some level this space served a similar purpose as the Topkapi Palace, but it was by far inferior to it. I’m sure it’s just an aesthetic preference, but I just don’t go for this ostentatious neo-classical architectural style. It was so ornate and so over the top that it almost felt stifling to be inside. This palace is also newer than the Topkapi Palace as its buildings were completed in 1856. Perhaps it was especially overwhelming to see this gold-laden space after spending time in the sparse yet elegant Istanbul Modern. But the walk around this area was especially lovely on this particular day as there was also a marathon going on and runners completed their finish line very closet to the Dolmabahçe. There is so much more I would have loved to visit in Turkey, especially the eastern part of the country, but that will have to be saved until next time.