Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has called for the banning of Muslims from traveling to America in light of the recent shootings in San Bernardino by two Muslim terrorists. This news coincided with my mother-in-law Feruzan getting her American tourist visa from the American embassy in Istanbul, Turkey.
I thought I would introduce her to put a face on the thousands of average Muslims who come to America annually that Trump and his followers want to ban. I believe she is far more emblematic of Muslims coming to our country than the fanatics who carried out the attacks in California and I felt that her (their) story should be told too.
To begin with, I married Feruzan's daughter Feyza in a civic wedding in London that she and her husband Kemal could not attend. I later flew with great trepidation to their home of Cesme on Turkey's spectacular Mediterranean coast to meet her parents. But I need not have been fearful. When I met Feyza's parents at the airport, her father, Kemal, enveloped me in his arms, lifted me up for all to see, and proudly proclaimed "oghlum!" (my son). Since then I have regularly traveled to their home in a cozy seaside village and been warmly treated like one of the family.
I remember once getting sick in Cesme and having Feruzan break a loaf of bread over my head, say a prayer in Arabic, and throw the bread into the street to fend off the jinns or bad spirits that she felt had infected me. This superstitious tradition, which is emblematic of the peaceful, Sufi-mystical strain of Islam that dominates Turkey and much of the Islamic world, was one of the rare signs of religion I saw her manifest. Feruzan did occasionally say a prayer of protection before we began long journeys, when her mother died last year she had a Muslim funeral, and she kept a nazar glass amulet of glass to ward off the evil eye, but that was about it when it came to outward manifestations of Islam.
Feruzan found the ISIS and Al Qaeda fanatics who she saw on the evening news in Turkey to be repulsive. So much so that she found the long beard I grew last summer to be disturbing because it reminded her of the jihadi terrorists.
If Feruzan outwardly worshipped anything, it was her daughter, my wife, and she missed her terribly. Despite the sorrow of losing Feyza to a husband from a faraway land, Feruzan was excited by the opportunity that her daughter's marriage to an American afforded her to see our great country. She annually visits us in Boston for month-long stints that coincide with Feyza's birthday in June and embraces America and its fascinating culture on her much-anticipated stays. Most notably, she fell in love with our diverse cuisine. Feruzan eagerly waits all year to come to America to eat sushi, constantly nags me to barbecue hamburgers on the grill, loved the blackened gator tail we offered her in Florida during her birthday trip to Miami's South Beach, and eagerly devours everything from burritos served with margaritas to clam chowder when she is here.
When she is not with us in person, Feruzan lives vicariously with us via her Sunday afternoon Skype chats. On these hours-long conversations, she invariably includes her small beloved terrier whom she named with the ultimate un-Muslim name of Barney. Politics rarely come up in these family discussions and neither Feyza nor her mother are overtly political. Although, having said that, when Feyza became an American citizen, Feruzan was thrilled. Among her most prized possession is one of two small American flags given to Feyza during her naturalization ceremony in Boston's Fenway Park.
Two Sundays ago I heard Feyza talking to her mother via Skype. Feruzan had seen on the Turkish news that a leading American politician was talking about banning all Muslims from America. She, like most Turks who heard the news, was stunned that America, the country whose President Kennedy has a popular street named after him in Istanbul, could produce such a politician. Feyza calmed her mother down and assured her that such a man could never get elected president in America, the country that millions of Turks admire and respect for doing everything from defending them from Communism to exporting democracy, iPhones and blockbuster movies like Jurassic Park.
For the sake of Feruzan, and thousands of other peaceful Muslims like her who travel annually to America, I hope my wife's confidence in her adopted homeland is not misplaced.
Professor Brian Glyn Williams is author of Inferno in Chechnya. The Russian Chechen Wars, the Al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombings and The Last Warlord. The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warrior who Led U.S. Special Forces to Overthrow the Taliban Regime.