From the way I see it, we’re really going to have to work together. I know that saying something as simple as that may seem clichéd, redundant, and idealistic, but it’s the only thing we can do.
I came out here to Turkey to study, to experience another culture, and to write about religion, ecology, and development. But there was so much more to this experience. It has been fairly intense out here. On a personal level, I have grown immensely, and in regard to that whole career thing I think I found the right path I want to take. I am just not too sure where it is going yet.
This life is funny. When I came out here I expected to be immersed in Islamic culture. I thought the traffic would stop five times a day. By no means did I think I would be living above a Burger King, five minutes from at least 15 bars and see so many construction cranes in one place. But this is Turkey, and Turkey is pretty surprising in a lot of ways.
I tried to paint an objective and descriptive picture of this country for my readers, but I am afraid I barely scratched the surface of how this country really is, and what it needs to do to make sure it remains on the path to environmentally sustainable development. This realization highlights the complexity and difficulty of trying to figure out this whole environmental mess that our world has gotten itself into.
Simply said, there is plenty we can learn from Turkey. Its role as an increasingly developing and emerging economy can be used as a blueprint for others to develop in a sustainable manner. What I also hoped I explained to all of you is this: In order for us to take even the smallest step forward environmentally, we need to take every idea, technological development, organization, and movement, bring them all together, and learn something from each and every one.
So what else did I learn out here in Turkey? I learned that the United Nations may actually be having an impact on the livelihood of millions. I learned that democracy works in mysterious ways and manifests itself differently in every culture, especially one that is predominantly full of Muslims. I learned that Islam and secularism can co-exist.
I know that in many instances people find it easy to depict the UN as a powerless and ineffective organization, and in some ways it probably is. But like I said before: Hating is easy. What we ought to be doing is recognizing the level of importance the UN plays as a platform for discussion and action on some of this world’s most daunting and difficult issues.
I learned that Turkey, the UN, EU and NGOs all, in an unorthodox way, are working together to create and implement policy that actively works towards developing this country in a manner that conforms to international environmental standards. I learned how essential the world of economics is when thinking about the environment. We have seen, over the past couple decades, a hesitation to integrate environmentally safe ideas of growth because of their lack of economic viability. But here, I have witnessed various forms of entrepreneurialism (from small to large-scale) that hope to capitalize on the future of environmentally safe and sustainable business.
The way we Californians have come together throughout the past to start off the social changes that have gone on to change the US and the world is something unique to our political and social culture. But when I started my world-journeying two years ago, I had no idea that I would encounter religion the way I did, especially in relation to the environment. My first stop was the Solomon Islands. The ability of Solomon society to bring religion in as a catalyst to their own sustainable development movement was something unexpected but nonetheless awesome.
It is extremely difficult to simplify and characterize the reality of Turkey, where such intense development and cultural transitions are happening. That is, one cannot relegate the causes of these changes to economics, cultural dynamics, politics, or religion. Every sector of society plays a role (whether primary or secondary) in the direction this country is heading.
But if I can note one definitive aspect of this country’s character it would be this: The undying urge for progress and the hopes that this progress will take Turkey back to the power that the Ottoman Empire once was. What is promising to see is that the Turkish people and government seem to realize that this return to the global stage requires dialogue and interaction internationally. They see that it requires a level of cooperation with protocols for economic, social, and environmental development.
Although Turkey has many issues (internally and externally) that it must deal with, it is still a great example of democracy in action. And we should take note of this because, as secular as the society is, it includes almost 70,000,000 registered Muslims. It is crucial that we pay attention to what is going on in this country, because we can learn much from how Turkey balances its responsibilities to both the Western world and its fellow Islamic neighbors.
I have about three more weeks here in Ankara. Then I will be heading to Eastern Europe doing some WWOOFing and backpacking until I find a job somewhere in this world. (Anyone need a writer?) I must say that this experience was astonishing, and there are so many people that I need to thank who have done something along the way to help me in this endeavor. To the people at EAP UCSB, Paul and Tracee, thank you. To the SB Independent, thank you for editing publishing my column online; it has been an amazing opportunity. Special thanks to Gurel Gurkan who acted as an informative policy analyst, and to Team Awesome for letting me soundboard my ideas for these past five months. Thanks to my family. (Mom, I will be back some time in the next year or so, don’t worry!) To everyone in the U.S. and Turkey who gave me interviews and insight, I appreciate your time. Thank you for reading. I’ll keep writing, and I’ll figure out a way to keep on putting it out there. Peace.