Suzy Hansen writes: In an old part of Istanbul, in a district named Fatih for the Muslim conqueror, tucked inside ancient Byzantine walls in a neighborhood known as Karagumruk, there is a narrow barbershop with pistachio green and glittery countertops called Golden Scissors. When I visited one evening in late June, during Ramadan, every chair was occupied. The religious holiday this year required 17 straight hours of daily abstinence from eating, drinking, smoking or having sex, so just before breaking fast, at the sunset hour, a happy madness set in. Out on the street, women rushed by laden with bags; spaghetti-limbed boys, delirious with hunger and hormones, threw balls against the wall, sometimes at people’s heads. Inside Golden Scissors, men visited for a trim or a cut, given by an excitable man of 40 named Murat, who wore the long, straight beard, full-bodied pants and fez-shaped cap often seen on the devout. He was talking about the events of the previous night when Istanbul’s main airport was bombed.
“We’re very sad,” Murat said. “There’s not much else to feel. The terrorists hit the international terminal. It’s not against us.”
One of the barbershop’s windows, painted with a transliteration of the Quran’s opening words — bismillahirrahmanirrahim, “In the name of God, the most Merciful, the most Compassionate” — looked out on to the neighborhood’s main drag, Professor Naci Sensoy Street. It was like all of Karagumruk’s streets: so narrow and intimate that the pastel-colored apartments, ramshackle buildings and storefronts seemed poised to embrace. Fruit and vegetable stands spilled onto the sidewalk with their piles of strawberries, cucumbers and bananas. Men sat in groups outside on footstools, and everyone walked down the middle of the street, where the weight of a thousand eyes produces a strange feeling of both protection and surveillance. Yet Karagumruk is also known as a rough-and-tumble place of nationalistic attitudes, small-time mafias, jittery drug addicts and gunfire in the night.
Karagumruk lies within the larger district of Fatih, an AK Party stronghold, intensely loyal to its leader and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During the recent coup attempt against Erdogan’s government, after the Ministry of Religious Affairs sent texts to imams to issue a special call to prayer, all of Fatih exploded out onto the wide-laned Vatan Avenue, a couple blocks from Karagumruk. Murat put down his newborn child to join the crowd, which included men of all ages, even little boys. When a helicopter began to hover near the AK Party headquarters in Fatih, 10 minutes from Karagumruk, the protesters rushed it, preventing it from landing. As it pulled away, it fired into the crowd, killing at least one protester and injuring others. When I asked Murat why he and his neighbors took to the streets — for Islam? for Erdogan? — he replied, “Erdogan is Islam, and Islam is Erdogan.” [Continue reading…]