Too Close to Home
By Busra Erkara
Even when you grow up in a metropolis, your hometown is a place that you simply can’t wait to leave. All the possibilities lie on the horizon, beyond your comfort zone, away from your safety net. But once you’ve actually left, there is something soothing about the idea of your hometown staying, more or less, the same.
Earlier this month, an ISIS suicide bomber set himself off in Istanbul, the city I grew up in. He killed five and wounded some 36 people. In that moment, I felt like a younger me, the one who walked past that same corner countless times in peace, died. It's an unapologetically selfish thing to say, considering other innocent people actually lost their lives—and continue to do so in various parts of the world because of terrorism (and not just in more “relatable” Western capitals like Brussels or Paris.)
Between the November 13th attacks in Paris and the March 22nd bombings in Brussels, there were other terrorist attacks that took place. Cities like Istanbul, Ankara, Beirut, Aden, and Grand-Bassam often experienced bigger tolls, but people of the first world talked less about. Moreover, I actually have friends and family back home who have to walk through that street where the bomb exploded to go to work every day. Their Twitter accounts and “last seen”s on WhatsApp were the first corners of the Internet where I sought solace.
The feeling was familiar. Only the Sunday before, another terrorist group called TAK blew up a car laden with explosives in Ankara. It killed 37 people and left 125 others injured. Ankara is, atmospherically and by function, Turkey’s answer to D.C. It’s a place where you feel helplessly safe—or at least you used to. The most frustrating aspect about both attacks—less-discussed in the international media—is that there was intelligence about them. Yet, the Turkish government didn’t warn its own citizens.
On March 11th, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara advised its citizens to pay extra attention to their surroundings and avoid a neighborhood adjacent to where the car blast happened. Similarly, on the two days prior to the latest bomb attack in Istanbul, the German Consulate shut its doors for security reasons, and told their citizens to stay indoors.
Around the same time, the governor’s office in Istanbul was busy making an announcement that asked Turkish people to “kindly not give into the unfounded rumors of impending terrorist attacks”—straight out of Terry Gilliam’s 1985 classic, Brazil. Following the incident, the government prevented people from entering Twitter and Facebook, with the excuse of minimizing the dissemination of disturbing images and misinformation. (Meanwhile, in Belgium, people used Twitter to offer free rooms and transportation to those who were stranded in the chaotic city after the attacks.)
Every time I see an image documenting the Syrian refugee crisis, and the almost five million people displaced, seeking a safe home, I want to know about each refugee’s hometown. Are they still in place? Or like Aleppo, are they run to the ground? If it hurts so much to see your hometown changed, what’s it like to see it melt into air? With each new terrorist attack, it feels like the idea of our hometowns, whether they are San Bernardino, Istanbul, Aden, Brussels, or Lahore, are changed forever. I don’t know how to reclaim them, but I know that radicalization is not the answer— and we are all in this together.