But she would get even more annoyed than my father did when she thought that people were invoking God to do their jobs for them—for example, when she saw a bus with a sticker saying “Allah Protect Us.”Both my parents always told me that, in order to be a good person, it was neither necessary nor desirable to believe in God; it was more noble and efficient to do good for disinterested reasons, without thoughts of Heaven. They thought it had been unsustainable for Turkey to repress and deny its religion for so long—that the people had finally spoken out.
I knew that, even at the start of the twenty-first century, there still weren’t enough checks on the military, and that women who wore head scarves were subject to discrimination, barred from certain jobs and universities.
Furthermore, when I thought about my own family, something about White’s critique of Kemalism felt familiar: the sense of embattlement and paranoia.
At the same time, I remember being warned as a child that there were anti-Turkish people in the world, people who held old grudges and could cause problems. P., a Kurdish-language channel débuted on Turkish national television; in 2009, Erdoğan went on the air and expressed good wishes in Kurdish.
For a while, Erdoğan really did seem to be trying to counter this kind of adversarial thinking—to open up business and diplomatic relations with Turkey’s neighbors, to lift the taboos on mentioning the “Kurdish issue” and the Armenian genocide. This would have been unthinkable a short time earlier.
In 2010, I moved to Istanbul, where I taught at a university and reported for this magazine for three years.
I found that, much like America, Turkey was polarizing into two camps that were increasingly unable to communicate with each other.There was a new dichotomy I had never heard of before: the “white Turks” (Westernized secular élites in Istanbul and Ankara) versus the “black Turks” (the pious Muslim middle and lower-middle classes of Anatolia).The black Turks were the underdogs, while the white Turks were the racists who despised them.At the time, my grandparents were either very young or not yet born.Only my mother’s father was old enough to remember throwing his fez in the air on the Sultan’s birthday. They met in Turkey’s top medical school, moved to America in the nineteen-seventies, and became researchers and professors.My father grew up in Adana, not far from the Syrian border.