Friday, October 22, 2010

Touring Turkey a Country of Differences

Turkey is a lovely country of differences not found elsewhere.

For example, it is populated by an almost majority muslim population, but has managed to remain democratic and secular thanks to it's greatest leader, Mustaffa Kamel Attaturk and those who have followed.

Sharia Law hasn't taken over in Turkey as it has elsewhere, much to the detriment of those countries like Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan.

Some areas, particularly in the less advanced, traditional country areas are more Islamic than the more modern parts such as Ankara and Istanbul. There, women wear the typical head scarves and dress more modestly than those in the more enlightened areas. The enlightened population wears Western dress and conducts itself very much as we do, however, I did note that almost everyone smokes. The health message about smoking has obviously not been delivered in Turkish society.

Noted Islamic historian, Daniel Pipes discusses Turkish Islamism and why Turkey is a modern, advanced society (unlike most other muslim countries) in his excellent address at Perth, Australia in August 2010.

Turkey is a geographically large country with a population of around 73 million. Most people seem to live in apartments and very few stand-alone houses were visible during our extensive trip of about 3,000 km. The cities were much cleaner than those in Egypt, Syria, or Jordan, but less clean than most Australian cities.

The food in Turkey was excellent and plentiful and the Turkish beer, Efes, was also nice once I became accustomed to it.

When you live in a "new" Western country like Australia, it's humbling to visit a country with a history as long and complex as Turkey's.

At Cappadocia (see photo one) there are thousands of sandstone mounds which ancient peoples have carved into to make dwellings. Mosques are plentiful, as would be expected and the Blue Mosque at Istanbul is one of the more historic mosques. Christina is seen entering the Blue Mosque in photo two. I had seen enough mosques and didn't want to take my shoes off yet again, so I remained outside to take the photo.

We made some new friends during our tour which included several other Australians, some Americans and Canadians. The photo of me (Robin) with Alec, a police officer from the USA, was taken at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, another excellent historical site that is huge.

Overall, the tour of Turkey was excellent. Our Turkish guide was well organised, very personable and humorous and had an in-depth knowledge of Islam, Turkish society and history. Our coach driver was miraculous being able to zoom between cars, park in spots just a tad bigger than the coach, and remain safe while taking us from place to place.

Of all the places, the Ataturk Memorial at Ankara was my favourite. It's huge with hundreds of artifacts and of beautiful stone construction. It demonstrates the love Turkish people have for their great leader who was obviously not only a leader, but a visionary. We need more people like him today.

We visited Gallipoli while here and remembered all the Australian and NZ men who had died defending the British Empire during the First World War. So many graves. So much wasted potential on both sides. It was a bit sad, but the saddest thing is that we haven't learnt from our mistakes. It seems that we are destined to keep creating the same mistakes over and over ... man's inhumanity to man seems to have no bounds.

Now of course, Australia and most other Western countries have a new enemy, one that works from within and without and must be defeated if we are not to lose our freedom and democracy.

I wonder what historians will have to say about those of us who live in the 20th Century once we have all returned to the dust from whence we came? Sadly, you and I will never know.


Saturday, October 09, 2010

Egypt and the wow! Factor

Everyone has learnt something about Egypt, but it's not until you do the tour that you realise the impact the Egyptians made on this part of the planet. Most of the days we spent here were around 44 degrees Celsius. And it's approaching their winter!

The number of temples and structures devoted to the dozens of gods, is overwhelming. The fact that it's difficult to find a flat surface without heiroglyphs is also overwhelming. It seems that the Egyptians, whoever they were and wherever they came from, did nothing else but build massive stone structures and then write all over them.

Their engineering and mathematics must have been outstanding, but they didn't leave evidence of much else.At one stage it crossed my mind that we had paid a lot of money to see a lot of broken down old rocks. But every cent was worth it. It's something everyone needs to do once.

Our guide, Osama is an Egyptologist who knows his subject inside out and is also very passionate about it. Of course he is, he's Egyptian. How could anyone live here and not be interested in the history? Osama provided extensive overviews of each and every antiquity as well as held the group of about 34 together from a logistical point.

The townships we saw in Egypt are almost identical with other poor muslim Arab countries; run-down, dirty places with rubbish everywhere. Most muslim countries don't seem to work well. Author Ayan Hirsi Ali in her recently released book "Nomad" attributed this to the lack of critical thinking ability and a lack of motivation found in Islam that attributes everything that happens as the "will of god" (Inshállah) and waits for him, her or it to do the heavy lifting. Despite thousands of years, they still don't seem to have learnt that depending on someone else to do things, even Allah, is risky and the result shows in the lack of societal progress.

What I find most remarkable is that the Egyptians were obviously excellent civil engineers but believed so strongly in the supernatural as to spend most of their time, effort and resources building and preparing for an afterlife not founded on rationale or evidence ... humankind's continuing need to find a purpose for being and an explanation for the universe that has perpetuated throughout recorded history and resulted in thousands, if not tens of thousands of religous myths, even by today's enlightened masses.

The question foremost on my mind is why, after the Egyptian civilization crumbled and after the Roman era, why has this great country become a second-rate country? Maybe if I read the book on Egypt that Christina bought, I'll find out, although I feel I already know at least part of the answer.

At the time of writing, we have spent our first day at Istanbul ... an apparently much more civilised, clean and functional place than Egypt.