Wednesday, February 21, 2007

My Muslim Experience

When I was 19 I lived in a small village outside of Adana, Turkey. The village was positioned next to Incirlik Air Base and I did a remote tour of military duty there for one long year of my life.

Shortly after arriving in Turkey I was moved off the base into a small village that boarded the installation. I lived in concrete house with no central heating or air conditioning. Many nights I needed candles for light when the electricity would cut in and out and it was either extremely cold or extremely hot.

I arrived in May and thought I had flown straight into Hell. My plane landed and I was stuck on the tarmac waiting for a bus for only 15 minutes before I came to the conclusion that I had arrived in the hottest place I had ever been - and I was from Arizona. In the summer months the only way to fall asleep was to take the coldest shower you could and then lay in bed with a fan blowing on you. Hopefully you didn't wake up in the night... if you did it was tough to go back to sleep.

Turkey was my first encounter with Muslim culture and I really didn't get what it was all about even though it was "happening" all around me. In this village there was a tall tower with speakers that would blare out calls to prayer at different hours of the day. Turkish soldiers roamed the streets with machine guns and almost everyone was named Mustafa. (The father of modern Turkey was Mustafa Kemal and his reward for leading Turkey into the modern era was to have the majority of male babies born after his death named in his honor.)

The people in this village lived in extreme poverty, and although I lived among them, I was only minutes from entering an American air base where instantly I had all the conveniences of modern society at my disposal. Clean water, good food, medical treatment, entertainment and the military equivalent of Wal-Mart! With these things at my disposal, I was free to think of other things... exercise, education, goals and dreaming of what I would do once my time in the military ended.

At work I did what everyone else on the base did - practice for war. Incirlik Air Base is a strategic location in the Middle East and fighter groups from all over Europe fly in, and fly out, practicing for possible missions. In recent years the various fighter groups that stage out of Incirlik have been running sorties in Iraq.

In the 369 days I lived in Turkey I never met a Muslim extremest, and never felt threatened to be an American living in a Muslim village. How times must have changed in that part of the world. I can hardly believe it's been over 20 years since I arrived and left that place.

One thing that does stick in my mind to this day... the poverty. I wonder how much fuel the extremest mentality garners from the absolute poverty some of these people experience during their formative years. A Pew Research Center Article documents a link between extremism and poverty (and so does a little bit of common sense.)

The answer... in another post.