Luxury of Being Apolitical
I do not believe that there was ever a time in my life in which I was thoroughly and truly apolitical.
I learnt the word “martyr” quite early in my life, stories I heard as a child were stories of wars and revolutions and oppression. I was not brainwashed, no, not at all; it was simply that I was born into it: I was born into a struggle.
I was born into a family who had to live with the fear of police banging on their door in the middle of night. Police could come in the middle of a night and kidnap my parents and I would never see them again - this was very much a possibility in my childhood. We knew people who experienced these. Torture was not something I had the luxury to learn in a textbook, later in life; no, it was the thing my parents would whisper to each other about regarding a beloved friend or aspired figure. It was the thing the woman, whom my sister was named after, had to endure for weeks. War was not something I would learn by seeing it in the films; it was the reason why those “foreign” kids - children of the refugees - had come to our country and now were staying at a friend’s house until they could find their own place to live.
I never had the luxury of being apolitical. Never.
I was five years old and the local police station was quite close to our house. I still remember distinctly how my heart would race every time we had to walk in front of it with my mother while going out somewhere; if I was alone, I would definitely avoid it and change my route, out of fear.
Surely it was partially a surreal fear; they would not arrest a five years old because her parents were Islamists but I knew children whose parents were arrested. Just a few years later I would also learn that those parents would sometimes be threatened with the rape of their children by police… to make them “talk”. I had all the reason to be afraid then and yet at the same time no reason, maybe? It was complicated. I was afraid.
I can’t help but still feel afraid. Things have changed, they will not arrest me in the street because my parents had books of Shariati or Qutb in our bookcases - it’s not that decade anymore. I can actually state publicly that my parents were and are indeed Islamist - a simple statement that could get them arrested a little over a decade ago, in Turkey. Things have changed but I still feel afraid; the monsters of my childhood may have left my conscious mind but still roam the unconscious… I feel sweat in my palms and my heart still races every time I walk in front of a police station. Regardless of the country I am in.
As I saw photographs of police brutality from around the globe today - Police acting as they always have, the dogs of the Establishment, of the Elite - I realised that most of my friends and colleagues of middle class in North America could not understand the terrifying feeling I get just looking at these photographs. It was horrifying to them too but rather too surreal. It was a passing moment too; they simply moved on freely the next minute. They don’t necessarily feel scared of walking in front of police stations. Some even feel safe. They are not alone either; surely in lesser numbers but I still have met people like them in Turkey, too: the White Turks. The Kemalist Elite.
And… and I do not feel envy towards these people, but I feel despair.
Why? Because I learnt long, long ago that those who have the luxury of being apolitical, those who have the luxury of naively innocent childhoods, those who have the luxury of not being afraid of the state apparatus and “security forces” are, consciously or unconsciously, the arteries that feed and sustain the status quo.
Their serenity is not by grace, but a result of the distress of others.
My fears of the State and its Police and its Army, my inevitably political childhood, my parents’ worry over the survival of their children, my constant fear of being persecuted for my ideas or beliefs or simply the ideas of my parents… I am, the price tag of their serenity, their prosperity, their authority.
And they do not even know it.
They do not even understand it.