“Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter” — African Proverb
The recent U.S elections and the presidency of Mr. Trump cannot be thoroughly evaluated without making reference to the U.S foreign policy of the last fifty years.
As a Turkish Smithie (’96), I lived most of my life in Istanbul, and I grew up loving everything American. My teenage room walls were covered with posters of American idols like Madonna, Rob Lowe and the Karate Kid. I listened to the music of Michael Jackson, Prince, and Earth, Wind & Fire. My brother was more into Metallica. My parents, who are both in their early eighties, are from the first generation of Turks who were fascinated by the American culture. My dad has an impressive LP collection of American Jazz, Blues and Soul music. My mom is a graduate of Robert College, the oldest American College outside the U.S (founded in 1863, in Istanbul). Yet, we also loved to listen to Tchaikovsky, read Tolstoy and eat Russian Salad, a popular import into the Turkish Cuisine from generations ago. I remember my parents being puzzled by the sudden name change during the Cold War years; it was now called the American Salad. Could a name change of a popular dish influence the public opinion, and motivate a country to embrace capitalism rather than communism? Then, it sounded comical. Now, I know it’s not enough, but it’s a start.
I did learn about the Cold War during my education at Smith; and about the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the Muslim Brotherhood and the clashes of civilization. Fearing the expansion of communism, the U.S government implemented a set of military and economic rescue programs in Europe and Asia, including Turkey. It opened air force bases (four in Turkey), built radar stations and rocket ramps, sent armaments and held training programs. Turkey received around 60 million U.S Dollars as a grant, along with a generous amount of military equipment. What I didn’t learn was the fact that Turkey had to pay the U.S around 145 million U.S Dollars each year for maintenance and spare military parts. So much for that… This rescue program was more than a new nation on the rise with no capital could handle.
I learned about Karl Marx, and his famous quote “…Religion is the opium of the people.” I learned how Lenin gladly adopted this philosophy during his oppressive regime. What I didn’t learn was the fact that the U.S also adapted the same philosophy to carry out its own agenda for the region. I didn’t learn about the Islamic Green Belt Theory, which was promulgated by Carter’s National Security Council. Green is the color of Islam; most Islamic countries have green on their flags. Instead of supporting the democratic forces, the U.S government used religion as a weapon against communism, and supported Islamic fundamentalism in Muslim countries surrounding the U.S.S.R, to form a “green belt,” a buffer zone to halt Soviet expansion… thus paving the way to the current turmoil in the Middle East and terrorism all over the world. I didn’t know about the CIA’s false flag operations and its ties to the Taliban, Bin Laden, El Kaide and Fetullah Gülen. Gülen is a Turkish religious clerk who has lived in Pennsylvania for the past fifteen years. His movement opened schools in Turkey and all over the world with the false pretense of introducing “moderate Islam,” and recruited its followers to important positions in the Turkish government, military, police force and judiciary branch with the help of AKP, the conservative ruling party, and its leader (now President) Erdogan, once Gulen’s ally.
Over the years, the movement not only gained control of all of these institutions, but also started dominating the academic world and the media, slowly silencing all opposing voices and eradicating all that is secular. Gülen is now accused of being the force behind the attempted coup d’état that took place in June 2016, which led to the expulsion of roughly 76,000 government officials, including 3,500 soldiers. Today, my country’s government is on the verge of becoming an Islamic totalitarian regime. I believe Islamic totalitarianism has caused more damage than communism.
These miscalculations of policy makers and the interventionist attitude of the U.S government backlashed and turned into American hatred within the Muslim world. America has been the self-appointed police of the world, and it has not been welcomed.
How can civilizations clash when the world is full of Sufi westerners and classical music lovers from the East? Civilizations don’t clash; they coexist and cooperate despite their rulers. They inspire and learn from each other. It’s not ideologies that clash either. The world has suffered as much in the hands of corrupt capitalist politicians, as in the hands of ruthless communists. It’s a war between knowledge and ignorance, between good and evil, between fear and love. It is harder to draw the lines, and building walls between countries, or keeping Muslims out are not the solutions. The legacy that President Trump took over is far more complicated than he can imagine. Although I know that freedom and democracy are deeply rooted in American ideology, Trump’s chauvinistic approach is a sign that they will continue not to be a priority when it comes to the U.S foreign policy.
Defne Arsel (’96) worked as a documentary filmmaker in various TV stations and her own production company in Turkey for fourteen years, before shifting her career into art. She now works as a sculptor in the atelier of Yunus Tonkus, a prominent Turkish sculpture.by