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Istanbul: Open For Business

By Jason Hart

In Jenny B. Whites chapter, "Bridge Between Europe and Asia," she writes that while Western Christian culture has a tendency to romanticize Byzantine culture, the Moslem Turks have an identical tendency to romanticize the culture of the Ottomans. The Turks find pride in acknowledging that in the age of their empire Istanbul was the religious center of the entire Islamic world. Furthermore, the many monuments and mosques that stand all over the city are living proof of the glory of the past. What is interesting, however, is that unlike many highly religious Islamic countries, the Turk’s sense of Moslem pride in no way denies adoption of Western cultural patterns, styles, or businesses.

            For example, the city of Istanbul is very much a transnational city. Much of this transnationalism seems to be result of the strong youth culture. For example, I noticed the names of American rock bands like Korn and Guns n Roses spray painted in graffiti in alleyways. The bar and fashion district of Taxum is lined with heavy metal bars, discos that play loud rap music and European techno, as well as designer fashion boutiques that sell the latest fashions from Gucci and Diesel. Movie theatres played Hollywood and European films entirely in English, with Turkish subtitles and I even drank a hot chocolate at a packed Starbucks and ate a burger at an even more crowded Burger King.

Istanbul is surely open for transnational business, because the citizens are ready and willing to open their wallets.

            While embracing Western consumer culture, Istanbul has in now way denied its Moslem heritage. I noticed many men praying in the direction of Mecca on prayer mats on sidewalks. Six times a day the call to prayer radiates over loud speakers, called out by the Blue Mosque and answered by the Hagia Sophia. The citizens of Istanbul also surely feel a common brotherhood through Islam with their Middle eastern neighbors. Many times cab drivers or fellow bar goers would ask me what country I was from. When I told them, they would tell me their dislike for President Bush, and their inability to understand the rational for the war in Iraq; however, several were quick to tell me soon afterwards how wonderful Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are. In downtown Taxum, I even saw an Iraqi war protest followed by a police escort. The protestors waved Iraqi flags and held pictures of victims of the conflict.

            All in all, Istanbul is a city of great contrasts. Both the transnational and the vernacular both coexist, side by side, embraced by the general populace. The Turks have found a common ground between the two, whereby they may reaffirm their own national pride securely, while still taking the best of the transnational culture.

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