I know it like the back of my hand, my Turkish airport, the Istanbul airport. When I pass through a place often enough, when I do so bleary eyed and happy to be there, it becomes my place in the world, as in a dream. I sleep on its floors, in crevices that I find, in between flights to Gaziantep to visit my beleaguered Syrian friends who have I have worked with and loved for so many years. Democrats, refugees, activists, survivors, people of the heart. I crowd into Turkish airport lines, I delight in the many women's headscarves, children trailing like ducklings, scarves so different and varied that suggest different origins from all corners of the world. They are in Turkey for vacation, or for sacred pilgrimages of every kind, Sunni, Shia, secular, all together. I delight in the bands of workers on route to the Middle East from around the world, sleeping in groups, awaiting transfers, working, like me. They work to survive, so poor, I work to save others because I am privileged. And so we sleep together, in different crevices, awaiting our journey and our destiny.
I delight in the waiting area with ubiquitous tea for all, and a series of fascinating dishes on the food line, all fresh, none of which I can identify by name. I eat whatever vegetarian I can find. I don't speak a word of Turkish, but putting my thumb up, smiling, and saying Tamam gets me very far. I delight in the quiet ways of Turkish guards who never bother me, never look at me in disdain or with suspicion. I guess they knew that my ancestors passed through the land of the Hittites 3000 years ago and have consistently lived in Turkey for so many millennia, maybe I don't look so out of place. But I am Jewish, this is Turkey, and there is a war on. Sometimes I think it is a war of all against all, Arab against Arab, Islamist against Christian, Jew against Palestinian, Shia against Sunni, crazy against sane.
So many wars, and I have loved people from all of the confusing sides. I cannot hold a candle to Rumi enshrined in Konya, that unmatched lover of humanity. I do not hold in me a tenth of his constant love, but when I am in airports...airports are sacred to me. In airports like Turkey's I become Rumi, I feel his spirit as I look at all of humanity. Such a mix, all tired, all hopeful, all on an odyssey, all in a liminal space of sacredness, the place of becoming and journey. I delight in looking at all of them, I delight in getting my visa, I delight in the Turkish welcoming hall, a place of living journey. I am lucky to be here, to feel safe, to pass through the land of the Hittites, the Turks, on my way south to visit the Arameans, the Syrians, my brothers and sisters who are hurting so much.
They are all in a cosmic battleground that is the Middle East now. A place where oil, war profiteering, empire competitions, minority brutalities and majority counter-brutalities, all weigh in to create the combustible death that is Da'esh who turned my Turkish airport into a human slaughterhouse on June 29, 2016. I will continue to come to Turkey despite war and despite Da'esh, and I will love my Turkish brothers and sisters, my Kurdish friends and students, my secular colleagues, my colleagues who fast Ramadan and fight for human rights, the Sufis and the musicians, the carpet makers and the scholars.
You do not have to be a Gandhi and a pacifist to come to see that violence and hatred is the enemy, not this group or that group. I have known military men who know this from years of wisdom, and I have known others, armchair warriors who have never taken a life and who know it not. I know those who still incite, who still blame all for the sins of some. Violence and hate are the enemy, and when this becomes clear then all else becomes much simpler, and then we can find each other again in the light of day, and we can also help Turkey find itself again through this year of terrorism.
Then I will return to my Turkish airport. I will feel a little less safe when I pass through again on my way, the young men in uniform will be a little more scared, the walls will cry out a little more from the blood of the victims, I will feel the bewilderment of a people who have hosted guests and victims from all over the region, who have bitter divides among them and cannot understand what happened to their emerging democracy. I will travel there again, I will walk its halls and sleep in its crevices, more on my guard. But I will hold Rumi in my heart as I shed a tear of remembrance.