Mark Twain once said that travel is the cure to racism
An acquaintance of mine heard I was planning to tour Istanbul during my twelve-hour layover en route to Rwanda this past July.
“I think you should stay at the airport. The Muslim Brotherhood runs Turkey and there’s a good chance you’ll be kidnapped. You know that happens to tourists there. You can’t be safe there as a Jew.”
I didn’t need an unsolicited text to know that Turkey’s seven-year-long president, Tayyip Erdoğan, has been slowly turning Turkey into a more extreme country. I knew he had imprisoned secular professors and military personnel. That he appointed religious extremists to courts. All but ended his country’s friendship with Israel. And that he provides lavish homes and financial support to Hamas and other terrorist groups. Trust me, I’m no fan.
But while I’m not vacationing in Tehran as a Jew anytime soon, I still believe most of the world’s citizens, you know the ones who don’t make the daily headlines, aren’t up to evil. While I oppose many leaders like Erdoğan, I didn’t see a good enough reason to avoid the sights, sounds and people of Turkey.
So at 8:00 a.m. that Friday morning, an hour after I landed, I hopped in a cab and headed to the center of Istanbul.
We get so wrapped up in deplorable politicians, perpetrators of violence, and extremists that we often forget to view the rest of people who are different than ourselves as just people.
Istanbul was nothing less than amazing.
The complex history and architecture from the Romans, the Ottomans and others showed everywhere I went. I visited Hagia Sophia, a mosaic-filled Byzantine era church, turned mosque, turned museum, turned mosque again. Then, across Sultanahmet Park, I visited the Blue Mosque, one of the most iconic mosques in the world for its six minarets and ornate interior lighting and blue-tile design. Constructed in 1616. Then on to the Topkapı Palace, a historic Ottoman-era palace.
My favorite stop was of course to the Grand Bazaar where I loaded up on saffron, tea, Turkish apricots, Turkish coffee, and other local delights.