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Our Image in the Eye of Westerners
1.       kadersokak
0 posts
 12 May 2006 Fri 12:47 am

Our Image in the Eye of Westerners

By Elif Safak

“Please be more careful when giving interviews to Western reporters. They are already prejudiced towards us, at least let our intellectuals not defame our country in view of the Westerners…” wrote a reader from Germany. “Tell them positive things!”

Our image in the eye of the Westerners is our deepest and most irrecoverable wound as a nation. We are not bothered by our defects, but rather by these imperfections being seen by others. “Privacy should be kept private,” we were taught. Even if we have faults, we want them to be kept inside. It is for this very reason that we frequently have to stop and refresh our make-up in our relationships with the West. If somebody happens to spoil that make-up, we immediately label him a “traitor” and subject his patriotism to suspicion. There is almost a preconception that “the one who loves his country would not condemn it.” We are face to face with an imposition telling us “You must robotically defend your country, though you must never criticize it.”

Every individual going abroad has to face the possibility of being viewed as a “walking nation.” This is essentially an issue of “representation.” What matters is not your personality or individuality, but to which collectivity you belong, namely the nationality you are responsible for representing. What is essential is “belonging.” Your customs, your everyday life codes, and your taste in food ...even the most ordinary thing can suddenly turn into the etiquette of a nation in the eye of others. Let us suppose you enjoy eating spicy food, your personal taste becomes the generalization “Turks eat spicy food,” in the eyes of those observing you. As the examples get more unpleasant, their burden gets bigger in your mind. Maybe foreigners from all nations face such generalizations, but the idea of “representing the state” seems to be a chronic condition in only a very few of them.

Turks living abroad have turned into emissaries doing all they can in order to “repair our image.” Neighborhood relationships, friendships, and their daily manners towards those they meet... Being a foreigner is foremost a matter of “image” for us. Checking how we look from outside has become a reflex in our society. Being a Turk means continuously looking at oneself from the outside and tidying up our appearance. However, tidying up is not the same as correcting. The desire to represent the nation has nothing to do with transforming oneself from a critical point of view. No matter how good the intention is, the final result is just cosmetic; applying tons and tons of make-up to our individual appearance in order to cover Turkey’s wrinkles in the international arena.

Unfortunately democracy, namely a real democracy, is connected to structure not the surface. No matter how much you cover it with powder, it serves no purpose if it lacks a base. We should be interested in structures, not in surfaces. Our concerns should be the mentalities, not the images. What is interesting is that as soon as we can get rid of our concerns about “images,” as soon as we focus on the process of democratization and reforms accelerated with the EU process, not only the contents but also the appearance of the political system will automatically recover.

2.       kazpol
99 posts
 12 May 2006 Fri 02:22 pm

im impressed!

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