Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The tragic cost of capitalism

This is the first part of a new series on the influence of capitalism on our daily lives and that of others

The collapse of Rana Plaza, a building in Bangladesh containing five garment-making factories, is only the latest in a long series of such tragedies. This industry, which contributes $20 billion every year to the economy of that country, is notorious for its hazardous workplaces and subsistence-level wages.

Since November, when 122 garment workers died in a fire, there have been 40 other fires in Bangladeshi factories, killing nine more workers, and injuring 400. The number of bodies recovered from this building collapse now stands at 382, with many more seriously injured. Many workers are still unaccounted for.

It is alleged that the first four floors of the building were built without a permit; later four more floors were added and finally, as the last straw, a ninth floor. A lack of proper regulation has led to this and many other tragedies.

The day before the collapse, deep cracks in the concrete outer walls of the building became visible and the police ordered it evacuated. But the factory owners ignored these orders, and forced more than 2,000 people to keep working. Then the building caved in.

There is more than enough blame to go around for these tragedies: the Bangladeshi government; the owners of the buildings, factories, and brands; then there are also the retailers and even consumers, like you and me.

Thus far two owners of the factories, two government engineers, and the building owner, who had been on the run, have been arrested. His wife was arrested first, apparently, to force her husband to turn himself in. People in Bangladesh are now asking for the death penalty for the building owner.

Yet such tragedies are preventable. These tragedies represent part of what I call the tragic cost of capitalism. There are many more costs, as I intend to show in future posts. What is happening in Bangladesh is only the tip of the iceberg, and is not the most egregious example of the damage that capitalism has done.

According to reports, the garment workers are paid as little as $38 a month. Even China cannot compete with such wages, and is shifting work to Bangladesh.

The problem is greed at every level. It illustrates one of the most serious shortcomings of capitalism. This economic system pervades just about aspect of daily life around the globe. It is more than just an economic theory, it determines and shapes much of everyone's life in every country of the world.

Add Bangladesh to the list of countries racing to the bottom

The desire of shoppers to buy affordable clothes has driven retailers further and further afield to find factories to make products at lower and lower prices. Whereas for many years clothes had a "Made in China" label, today "Made in Bangladesh" is increasingly common. China is increasingly losing business to countries that can make goods even cheaper than they can.

In Bangladesh not only are the wages rock bottom, safety standards are ignored, all in the name of greater profits for everyone along the supply chain. Factory owners lease space in substandard buildings so that they can make more money. The owners of the buildings, of course, profit enormously. The owners of the brands outsource their orders to these factories, so that they too can increase their profits. And finally the retailers stock these cheap brands because of consumer demand. The consumers benefit from the low prices.

Greed drives the entire process, from the consumer to the huge multinationals that own the brands and the retailers. The victims are the workers who are desperate for work even at abysmal wages and are willing to endure terrible working conditions in buildings that are firetraps and in danger of imminent collapse.

Cost determines everything. Everyone one wants the lowest price. But the greatest cost, which is ignored by many, is borne by the workers whose lives are threatened and whose families may lose their breadwinners.

Slowly consumers are waking up to this tragic reality. Some are boycotting products manufactured in such factories in Bangladesh, but that does solve the problem, since the workers are the ones who will suffer the most from such a boycott.

A group of Bangladeshi and international unions have recently drawn a nine-page safety proposal that would ditch government inspections. because they can easily be corrupted. Instead, the report has proposed an independent inspectorate to oversee all the 4000 garment factories in Bangladesh. The major retailers, not surprisingly, objected that this proposal would be legally binding and too costly.

Walmart's representative said about this proposal that it was "not financially feasible ... to make such investments." Walmart's only concern seems to be its bottom line: it wants to make money and lots of it.

The problem at its deepest level is money, or better the love of money, as the Bible teaches. The Bible does not condemn wealth as such. Abraham, for example, was a very wealthy man by the standards of his day. Instead, the Bible condemns greed, by which it means people who love money, more than people, in fact, and who will do almost anything for the sake of money.

Greedy people are not hard to find. They are not found only on Wall Street, or in the corner offices of major corporations. They are found on every street, in every city, in every country; in other words, everywhere. Some of us are greedy as well.

Many people shop regularly at Walmart. By doing so, they are complicit in the greed of this company and at the same time display their own greed. They may excuse their shopping there as stewardship, but how many are aware of the enormous cost in term of human misery of the products that Walmart sells?

Walmart is only one example, but it is certainly the most well-known. For many retailers such products are a small part of the merchandise they sell, and they may not even be fully conscious of the conditions in the factories where each of them are made.

Consumer boycotting is not the answer, since poor workers will suffer the most. Yet consumers will need to find ways to put pressure on governments everywhere to better regulate these garment factories. Stricter enforcement of existing regulations is necessary so that the workers in the garment factories can be properly protected. Also they need better wages.

There is a human rights issue here, as well as an ethical one. We cannot eradicate greed, but we can alleviate the situation of those who are suffering the most as a result of the greed of others. There have already been many calls for justice from both inside Bangladesh and outside the country. Riots have occurred daily in Dhaka after the building collapsed and supporters of these workers are springing up everywhere.

If you live in Canada, you will probably be aware by now that many of the workers inside the collapsed building were making clothes for Joe Fresh, a Canadian brand that is owned by Loblaw Companies Ltd. This company sells the clothing at their grocery stores and other retail outlets across the country under many different names -- Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills, Valu-Mart, Independent, and Zehrs Markets.

You can help by signing this petition to tell Joe Fresh and Loblaws that all the factory workers deserve safe workplaces: http://www.publicresponse.ca/blog/lets-tell-joe-fresh-and-loblaws-that-we-demand-better.

Naming and shaming is more effective than a boycott. These companies need to become more responsible for the products they sell, not only by becoming better informed about the working conditions but also by pressuring their suppliers to improve these conditions.

Loblaws has just announced a plan to compensate garment workers' families, as has Primark, a British firm. Both companies are largely owned by the Weston family of Canada. But such compensation does not go far enough; it does not yet address the safety issue.

If you live elsewhere, there are maybe other petitions circulating in your country. All retailers and companies involved in the garment industry should be sent a clear message that such substandard workplaces are not acceptable any longer and that the workers deserve better conditions.

Safe working conditions are an important human rights issue. They are also an ethical issue that no believer of whatever faith must lose sight of. These garment workers are human beings. They are also our neighbors and they deserve our love. The least we can do is promote safer working conditions for them and, while we are at it, help to increase their pitiful wages.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Some thoughts in response to the Boston bombings

Barely a week after the Boston bombings is too early to respond to the Boston bombings in detail. Only time will provide the necessary perspective. There is still much indeed that we need to learn about what happened there, where three people died and more than 250 were injured, yet some things are already becoming clear.

Much has been written about the resilience of the people of Boston. They handled themselves very well not only in the hours immediately after the bombings but also during the lock-down, when the entire city was told to stay at home so the the remaining brother of the two who were suspected of placing the bombs could be captured, after a killing rampage that left the older brother and an MIT policeman dead.

The police also acquitted themselves professionally. After first clearing the bomb site, they surveyed hours of surveillance tapes to find picture of the suspects. These cameras proved very useful this time, thus no one in Boston asked any questions about invasion of privacy. Only now are people beginning to raise such issues.

But the media, especially the cable channels, did not do a very good job in reporting this developing story. In order to fill up airtime, networks found what they thought were the real suspects and broadcast this as hard news, only to be upstaged when the police produced photos of the two brothers. The final drama, which could have come from a TV series, led to the death of the older brother and the capture of the younger one.

There are still many unanswered questions about the two suspects. We know very little about their motives, except that the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, visited Dagestan, where he apparently became radicalized. Later, at the prompting of the Russians, the FBI  investigated him, but then let him go. There are numerous questions now about how thorough that investigation was and what the FBI did discover.

According to reports, the younger brother, Dzhokhar, admitted his role in the bombings even before he was read his Miranda rights. He was also, apparently, unarmed when he was captured. Thus further questions arise: How did he get his injuries? And were the police in any way responsible?

That these brothers are Muslims only feeds the equation of terrorism and Islam that prevails widely in the US and the Islamophobia that is found not only in the US but in many other Western countries as well. Most Muslims emphatically deny any connection between their faith and such terrorism, as they should.

We do Muslims a great disservice when we blame all Muslims for the wrongdoings of a handful who display a distorted understanding of their faith. If you are a Christian, would you want others to blame your faith for what a few so-called Christians have done in the past? No religion is without extremists.

How have many Americans reacted? With patriotic fervor and song, mixed with disbelief that this could have happened in their country. As The Economist philosophizes, "Bad things can happen even to a good country."  Americans also find it very difficult to accept that the Boston bombings were an act of terrorism perpetrated by home-grown people who are residents or even citizens of the US.

Prosecutors at first contemplated not reading his Miranda rights to the younger brother who is a citizen. He has now been read his rights and indicted for many crimes, but the fact that they even thought that they could deny him the rights that every citizen has speaks volumes about the perceived threat that the bombings posed to most Americans. They value liberty above all, yet they seem willing to sacrifice some of these liberties, at least temporarily, for the sake of security. Yet liberty remains their fundamental and paramount value.

This attitude is evident as well in their acceptance of surveillance cameras. In times of crisis, Americans can accept what they ordinarily would not. They might excuse their behavior by explaining that security cameras and the denial of basic rights are intended for other people, and not for them. Their love of freedom, which they understand as personal or individual freedom, remains central.

That love of freedom helps to explain why the American public, which according to polls, supported the new gun-control legislation, allowed the Senate to block the measure. This was due not only to the deceitful role played by the NRA but even more to the desire of Americans to protect a basic freedom that they regard as constitutional instead of opting for the greater security offered through gun-control.

The right of every person to bear arms is indeed enshrined in the Constitution. The US Supreme Court has confirmed that, although mistakenly in my opinion, since that is not what the Founding Fathers intended. They ascribed this right to a militia, not to individuals. But who am I to argue with the Supreme Court justices? Such deeply entrenched individualism is hard to uproot.

Canada faces similar problems, as the revelation of a plot, supposedly engineered by al-Qaeda, to derail a train bound from Toronto to New York City. Yet this similarity should not be exaggerated. There is a basic difference between the US and Canada. The latter does not have the same history of playing policeman for the entire world, which has been widely perceived as arrogance, and not only by Islamist extremists. Many people all over the world agree with this sentiment, but they just won't resort to violence to make their point.

What many Americans often overlook is that violence breeds violence. America is a violent society. This is evident on American streets and, just as important, on TV, where violence is idolized. Martin Luther King Jr. has written sagely: "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it."

American foreign policy is oppressive and tends to generate a negative response. Canadian foreign policy, under the Harper government, largely echoes the American one, but without the same oppressiveness, since that is not part of the Canadian nature. Yet Canada too has in the past declared war on other countries, as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Canada had no business being, except in response to US urging.

I may seem to have digressed from the Boston bombings to gun-control, violence, and US foreign policy, but  they are all connected. There are already indications that the Boston bombers, as I already suspected, were motivated by American foreign policy, specifically the wars the US has waged against Muslim countries. This is home-bred terrorism, since it was caused by men who lived in the US for many years. That makes it even more difficult for the US to protect itself. These were not foreign terrorists who had somehow slipped into the country, but they were boys who had attended American high schools.

In fact, the best way for the US to protect itself is to introduce a new foreign policy that accents peace rather than war and conveys strength in a non-violent way. The US must change its attitude to violence in every aspect of its society. The US has many strengths, but also some significant weaknesses. Both strengths and weaknesses were revealed by the Boston bombings and its aftermath.

Here I offer only a few thoughts that were prompted by the bombings for your perusal and response. Please feel free to comment. I want to conclude by again praising the resilience of the people of Boston and the hope that they express in the name of all Americans.


Friday, April 19, 2013

The "terrorization" of life

Life has become "terrorized," or so it seems. By that I mean that our lives today are increasingly shaped by fear. The Boston bombings completed a circle that began with 9/11, when we became afraid to go to work; intensified with Newtown, when we became afraid to send our children to school; and increased even more in Aurora, Colorado, which made us afraid for a while to go to movie theaters.

All this has now culminated in Boston, where sporting events, which are the ultimate form of relaxation and entertainment, became fearful places. Terror now seemingly reigns everywhere. Yet we should not let that disturb us unduly. We must not let those fears dominate us and rob us of the pleasures of life.

The world changed on 9/11. Perhaps not as dramatically as some pundits claim, but the effects now affect each of us every day, and not only when we fly. I have noticed this change, as you have too, no doubt. Many years ago I enjoyed flying, even with three small children in tow, but no longer. Today flying is a pain in the you know where, and not only because of the smaller seats (I am still about the same size as I was then).

Recently, on my return from Istanbul, I was subjected to four security checks before I was allowed to board the plane. Everyone who has flown since 9/11 is familiar with the routine, but it doesn't get any easier, except that the US now permits knives of a certain maximum length, which to me is a backward step.

Security checks are found everywhere, not only at airports. In the US, government buildings now have metal detectors. In Nigeria, hand wands are increasingly common in many churches. In Istanbul, a church that meets in the Dutch Consulate has the walk-through kind, and requires inspection of all bags and purses. Some businesses in that city now have the complete set-up, including x-ray machines, as at an airport.

The good news at Canadian airports is that the government is changing the software of the machines that do a full body scan. Now only a stick image will appear, instead of the revealing images that many people found to be an invasion of privacy, and even pornographic. Similarly, the American government has ordered new machines that are less intrusive.

Now, after Boston, security checks have been instituted at sporting events. According to reports, it seems that most people accept this new requirement, but I find it troublesome. Where will this stop? If churches, stadiums and arenas have mandated such checks, will that bring about peace of mind? Hardly.

Fear is rampant everywhere. Boston completed the circle by adding an element of fear to even the most relaxing and entertaining events. These would seem to be the last places where people might expect to be attacked. Some people are now increasingly reluctant to get out of bed for fear of what may happen that day. That should not be.

Remnants of pressure cooker bomb in Boston

These security measures may help to reduce our anxiety somewhat, but they do not address fully the fears that all of us have not only when we fly but even when we want to be entertained or to worship God. If hiding is a common reaction to fear, where can we hide today? Nowhere it seems. Even people's beds are no longer safe, as the residents of the town of West, Texas, discovered after a fertilizer plant there exploded.

While I am not suggesting that all these security measures be eliminated entirely, they should be reduced. Additional security measures would not have prevented the Boston bombings. The police had checked the area where the bombs exploded only a few hours before. Security checks alone are not the answer.

We need to eliminate many of the fears we have. Some are incapacitating; others are real and help to protect us. Thus we need to differentiate between different kinds of fear. In Nigeria. I felt that the security measures were perhaps overdone, even if the Islamist threat is constant.

Better than machines is the security that comes from knowing the people around us. Churches by their very nature are communities where people know each other. It should be relatively easy to identify strangers who may have hostile intentions. That would be more useful than metal detectors.

Security was tight at Boston-Buffalo game soon after the bombings

At sporting events that is, admittedly, much more difficult. Yet, as the Boston bombings illustrate, security measures can only go so far. They are always incomplete, unless we want to turn every sporting site into a secure fortress, which is impossible because of the massive numbers of people involved.

We need to learn to live with a certain measure of fear, otherwise we will be unable to get out of bed at all. But the fearfulness created by all the security apparatus that we experience almost daily could be alleviated by reducing the pervasiveness of these machines. However, such apparatus once installed is difficult to remove.

Unfortunately, those who even breathe the word removal are dismissed as being soft on terrorism. Yet I seriously question the ubiquity of these machines. They do not make me, and I suspect others would agree, feel any safer. On the contrary, they tend to raise my blood pressure, especially whenever I walk through the machine and the buzzer still goes off, even though I have removed every metal object I could find.

The two suspects revealed by a video camera
As I am writing this, the revelations about the death of one suspect and a massive manhunt for the other may help reduce the anxiety of the citizens of Boston, although they will all feel much safer when he is captured -- alive, everyone hopes, so that he can explain their motivation. The suspects are reportedly two brothers from Chechnya, who are both legal residents in the US. But it is difficult, if not impossible, for the government to protect everyone from such home-grown terrorists who are intent on creating mayhem.

The two suspects went on a crime spree, which began with a robbery at a convenience store, and quickly snowballed into a deadly rampage that took the life of an MIT campus police officer and left one suspect dead after a Wild West-like shootout in the streets of Watertown, a suburb of Boston. The remaining suspect is apparently on foot; thus the governor ordered all public transportation shut down and taxis off the streets.

Other than such immediate measures, what more can the government do? Additional security apparatus will not help in such cases. Too often such additional measures suggest closing the proverbial barn door after the horse has escaped. That may make people feel safer for a short while, but in the long run it does not provide protection from terrorists such as those allegedly responsible for the Boston bombings.

We should not let these bombings unhinge us and keep us from enjoying life. We must not permit our lives to become terrorized. Thus we must not give in to the fears that others have induced in us. If that happens, the terrorists who plant bombs and attack us in other ways will have won. Then they will have achieved their goal. We must never allow that to happen.

The Bible teaches an important lesson in 1 John 4:18: "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear."  Let us love one another and cast out those fears.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The churches of Turkey: Where are they?

(This post was motivated by my recent trip to Istanbul; it is my reflection on the situation of the
 churches in Turkey since, among other things, they are few in number and often not easy to find)

Christianity has a long history in the region that is today termed Turkey. Antioch, where the followers of Jesus were first called "Christians" is located in Turkey. Turkey was where the "Seven Churches of Revelation" were situated. Many Christian saints were born there, including St. Paul. In the centuries that followed countless churches were established throughout the region and it became extensively Christianized.

The first seven ecumenical councils, which are accepted by many churches, were all held in Turkey, many in or near what is today called Istanbul. Nicaea (modern Iznik), where the first and last councils were held, is about 90 km from Istanbul as the crow flies, but 200 km by road.

Three councils (the second, fifth and sixth) were held in Constantinople (in Hagia Sophia church, it seems). The fourth council met in Chalcedon (modern Kadikoy), which lies across the Bosphorus from the city. Only the third council, which is not as widely recognized by all churches, met further away in Ephesus.

For more than a 1000 years the region was a bastion of Christianity. Later it became an equally strong Islamic fortress. Even as late as 1900, Turkey was still 22% Christian. But by the end of that century the number of Christians had declined to 0.21%. Today Turkey is estimated to be about 97% Muslim.

The transition from one religion to the other has been studied extensively, but the reasons for this requires more space than is available in this blog, and now I can only only highlight a few factors that help to explain the long process of decline.

Centuries of doctrinal disputes, which became codified in the ecumenical councils, had weakened these churches already before the ascent of Islam. As the division between the Eastern and Western churches grew the bitterness between them grew as well.

The Crusades laid a foundation of hatred that drove many in the Eastern church into the arms of Islam after the conquest of Byzantium by the Ottomans in 1453. In the Fourth Crusade the crusaders had ravaged the city (1204). This dastardly deed dealt the death blow to any hope of eventually reconciling the Eastern and Western churches; it also left the city open to attack by the Ottoman Turks.

The Crusades left such a legacy of hatred between Muslims and Christians that to this day the word "crusade" still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Muslims, not only in this region but indeed throughout the Islamic world.

Centuries of warfare with "Christian" Europe drove a further wedge between Muslims and Christians so that conversion to Christianity became tantamount to treason. Even today to be a Turk means to be a Muslim, even if a nominal one.

The disappearance of churches is also due to massive emigration in the case of the Greeks after Turkey became a republic in 1923 and the mass deportation of Armenians after World War I with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The Armenians later charged Turkey with genocide, but this is disputed by the Turks. Similarly, the Assyrian church has been persecuted for a long time, which is yet another factor in the decline.

What is indisputable is the steep decline in the number of Christians over many centuries, culminating in the massive drop during the last century. Not only the bitter legacy of the Crusades but also the association of Christians with the imperialistic policies of the West that lasted for centuries as well as with the more recent perceived moral degradation of Western nations contributed to this.

In spite of the official secularism of the Turkish state, Muslims are given preferred status. Mosques are highly subsidized, while churches, with a few minor exceptions for historical reasons, receive no financial support whatsoever.

Moreover, church buildings are often hard to find, with some notable exceptions. They generally do not stick up into the skyline the way mosques do, but are tucked away on side streets or, if near a main street, are not very well marked and set back from the street.

Some ancient churches have been turned into museums. That is what happened to Hagia Sophia, which was first a church, then a mosque, and is now a museum and major tourist attraction.

One of the most interesting churches is found in Cappadocia. It is built into the rocks, and hence called the "Rock Church." I visited that church a few years ago on a previous visit to Turkey. The ancient sites of the "Seven Churches of Revelation" are especially worth a visit. I visited Ephesus on my first trip to Turkey many decades ago.

One Sunday I had a very hard time finding the Anglican Church in Istanbul, while the previous Sunday I serendipitously discovered Union Church, but only because a temporary sign on the main street. I learned that this international congregation meets in the "Dutch chapel" which is part of the Dutch consulate, thus we had to go through a security check to enter the building.

St. George's Church, which is the home of the Greek Ecumenical Patriarchate, is also not easy to find. My daughter, who is Orthodox, wanted to go there, but we found no one we could talk to while we were there. It was almost impossible to find some of the older churches nearby, in spite of our trudging up and down the hilly streets.

In spite of this official neglect of churches, three patriarchates find their home in Turkey. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch of All the East, located in Antioch on the Orontes, which is a part of Turkey that juts along the coast adjacent to Syria. There is also the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. In spite of losing many members, this is the largest Christian community in Turkey.

There are many other churches in Turkey, including Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant. Various other Orthodox and Catholic churches can also be found there that use different rites, including Byzantine, Armenian, and Syrian. Diversity seems to make up for numbers.

Although the constitution of Turkey recognizes freedom of religion, churches are still attacked occasionally. In 2006 a Protestant church was attacked with Molotov cocktails, and a year later three Protestants were killed in a Bible publishing house. Yet such attacks are sporadic and not part of an organized campaign.

The churches of Turkey have not entirely disappeared, but the numbers of Christians have been greatly diminished. The reasons are many; I have only scratched the surface in explaining the decline of the churches. The Church of Jesus Christ will never disappear entirely, thus I do not worry too much about the fate of the churches in Turkey. They may be hard to find, but they are still there. For that I am grateful.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Istanbul: Where East meets West

(This post is significantly more personal than previously; it also involves my son's wedding in Istanbul)

For two weeks I traveled almost daily from Asia to Europe and back again on the same day. Istanbul is one of the few place in the world where two continents meet near a major city. This amazing city is the third largest in the world with an official population of 14 million, but many Turks claim it is closer to 18 million, if not 19. It makes Toronto, Canada's largest city and the third largest in North America, look puny.

About 35% of the people of this enormous city live on the Asian side. This is where my family and I stayed to be near our son with his new bride, who is Turkish. We were there for the wedding. However, in order to visit many of the tourist attractions, most which are on the European side, we had to cross the Bosphorus by bridge or ferry, most often the latter. That is always a delightful experience.

The population of Turkey is about 80 million, and is officially 99.8% Muslim, mostly Sunni, although this percentage is disputed by many Kurds and some Turks. There only a few Jews and Christians left in Turkey. This is where Paul went first on many of his missionary journeys. Today most churches have disappeared as have many of the Christians. Mosques are visible everywhere, but churches and synagogues are often tucked away and hard to find.

Istanbul is where East meets West. The same is true of Turkey in general, but it is especially true of Istanbul. We have been in Turkey several times and have witnessed remarkable progress every time. Istanbul is a truly European city, with typical small streets, too many cars, and the resultant horrendous traffic, but it is also an Asian city that has a truly oriental flavor. Both can be found on each side of the Bosphorus.

Expensive boutiques and restaurants that can match any in London, Paris or New York compete with the tiny shops that are typical all over Asia. Both types of establishments can be found in or near Taksim, the premiere shopping district of Istanbul. The prices of most items in most stores are equal to the European and North American prices. Fuel or petrol cost twice as much as in Canada.

Istanbul has been tossed to and fro between empires that have eastern or western roots. What we see today is simply the latest expression of several millennia of this. Now this city is the commercial capital of modern Turkey, but until recently it was the political capital as well, as under the Byzantine and Ottoman empires which were many times larger than Turkey is today.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (meaning "Father of the Turks"), the father of modern Turkey, who studied western thinking, was influenced by laicite, the strict separation of church and state practiced in France. He wanted to curtail the influence of religion in the new state. He did manage to eliminate the Caliphate, which posed a competing seat of power that was a legacy from the Ottoman empire.

But Ataturk was not successful in eradicating religion. On the contrary, religion is alive and well in Turkey today as is illustrated by the multitude of mosques. These are subsidized by the state, and for many years the state even provided sermons for the Friday prayers.

Ataturk promoted modern dress for men, but did not legislate it for women. His wife often appeared in public with her head covered in accordance with Islamic tradition. Today the state has tried to eliminate such head coverings, but without success.

On our latest trip to Turkey we have noticed more women with scarves that ever before.  Our son has also noticed this at the universities. We have seen many women in burkahs in every part of the city, not only the parts where conservative Muslims live. Yet most women, particularly the young, dress in western fashion.

The mildly Islamist party that currently rules Turkey may have contributed to this change in dress. Secularism is still the official government policy, but the influence of Islam seems to be growing, unless the mode of dress is only a minor accommodation on the part of the government. As Ataturk discovered, religion is not easily eradicated.

Regardless of how one interprets these changes, they are all signs that eastern and western thoughts and practices have met and continued to meet, sometimes conflicting with one another. Istanbul is one of the primary places where such meetings takes place.

Admittedly, these meetings occur everywhere in the world, at least where peoples from the East and the West live in close proximity, but Istanbul is where they have met for millennia and continue to meet today. There are strong geographic, historical, philosophical, and many other reasons for stressing the role of Istanbul.

This meeting is what gives this city its exotic character. People from every part of the globe readily feel at home and can savor foods that delight the palate but do not add pounds. Obesity seems much less common there than it is in many western countries.

Now we can experience the meeting of East and West in our own family ever since our son, David, was united in marriage to Manolya Anul, whose own heritage is not only Turkish but includes Egyptian as well. We are pleased to welcome her into our family and proud of the way these two parts of the world can meet in this wonderful couple. We pray that God may richly bless their marriage.