Wednesday, November 3, 2010

This Is a Consular Advisory!

Suicide Bombers and Business As Usual.

Anyone that has had the opportunity to live in a foreign country might agree that often the experiences one has can change one's outlook on life and alter their perceptions of ideas and notions that they might have previously taken for granted. I count myself fortunate to have had the chance to live in several places outside of America where the things that might have seemed so important to me whilst there were somehow given a new perspective when viewed through the filter of a different culture.

The country where I currently reside is especially remarkable in this regard. A country that considers itself to have drawn culturally from both east and west it is a nation of contradiction. Boasting a strong secular tradition, the country also has an equally strong religious vein that is apparent everywhere one looks. Hundreds of minarets rise up everywhere along the horizon, calling the faithful to their religious duties five times a day. Most amazing and interesting are the people themselves. Walk along any thoroughfare of the city where I live and you will be struck by the almost surreal juxtaposition of cultures that coexist and interact with very little effort.

It is common to see families out for their Sunday stroll with their twenty-something daughter dressed in a short skirt and tight blouse walking along arm-in-arm with her mother who will be wearing the khimar. Further along the street you might encounter a dreadlocked or punked-out musician type offering to help an old lady climb some stairs. Walk through any neighbourhood and one might hear traditional music coming from one building whilst across the street the sounds of angry rock blare out in response. Extremely passionate, the people here take their politics and social issues seriously. Public demonstrations are common and heartfelt. On any given weekend walking through the central squares of the city, demonstrators calling for more anarchy, socialism, religion, political autonomy or gay rights will be out making their voices heard.

Whilst in normal circumstances this city is nowhere near as dangerous as most large American cities, there are some security issues here that most American ex-pats here are aware of. This was brought home to me this past weekend when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in one of the city's central squares, which typically has a prominent police presence, in an attempt to kill as many of them as he could. Fortunately, no-one was killed although dozens were seriously wounded. In the four or so years that I've been here, there have been several bombings around the city, but most of the time these attacks occur well away from the central part of the city where I live and none of them have involved suicide bombers, so this incident is somewhat unique and close to home - my apartment is a five-minute walk from the place where it happened. 

It is at times like this that the American consulate here will send out e-mails to any ex-pats on its e-mail list warning them to be on high alert and advising on the types of places to avoid. These advisories are generally issued any time that their are heightened political tensions in the region that might lead to personal danger to Americans living overseas and are not always sent as a response to an actual attack. For instance, occasionally there might be a surge in hostile sentiment during which entire neighbourhoods will put up angry posters in their windows and drape damning banners over the street. Of course this can sometimes be accompanied by political and media rhetoric that fuels the resentment. Naturally, this can be a time of great anxiety, although in true local fashion, there is usually no display of personal animosity, with people even going out of their way to let you know that there is nothing personal about the sentiments! Still it helps to be a little wary!

Oddly, this sense of anxiety and foreboding are familiar to myself and perhaps even to many others living in America who are of Asian descent. American communities expressing and acting on resentment and hostility towards Asians that is fuelled by media and political rhetoric accurately describes the experience of the Asian minority. If occurring in the country where I currently reside, America labels this type of social intimidation as nationalism or radicalism, with it being clearly recognized that such attitudes can foster acts of violence against the targeted group. This is similar to America where the media routinely presents dehumanizing stereotypes of Asians, politicians foster xenophobia to win votes (as illustrated very recently in political ads for the mid-terms), and violence towards Asians is trivialized, there is a social acceptance and even encouragement of racist behaviour toward Asians. As I outlined here such attitudes are promoted as a method of social engineering that promotes a racial hierarchy seeking to place limitations on the Asian minority.

Clearly, there is very little difference between radical or nationalist promoted hostility in the foreign country where I reside, and media and politically motivated anti-Asianism in  my very own country, America. The effects on the target community are the same in both places; the mainstream are empowered to express their hostility with demeaning behaviour or violence, the target community experiences anxiety and a sense of danger from their neighbours. In extreme cases, it is this type of environmnent that fosters terrorism, the definition and purpose of which is to limit and intimidate a target population. Negative stereotyping and xenophobic rhetoric normalizes and promotes denigrating behaviour toward the Asian minority and models an attitude of exclusion from the mainstream. Of course, anti-Asian media rhetoric in America might not encourage a suicide bomber attack on Chinatown, but it certainly might lead to harrassment of, and violence toward Asian small business owners or schoolchildren for example, not to mention random acts of violence carried out as Asian-Americans try to go about their daily lives.

So, it is with a touch of sadness that I recognize that my dignity and safety as an American are given more credence when I live outside of the country, than when I reside within it. Living as an American ex-pat overseas, my country will do what it can to ensure my safety, as an American-Asian living in my own country, my dignity and safety are flouted. So, kudos to the Consulate for respecting my dignity and safety, now if only the rest of America would follow suit.


  1. I've always wanted to travel to Istanbul. Hope you are safe ans well.

  2. Hey TMM

    Thank you. We are all well, if a little shaken! Like I say, all things considered it is probably safer here than in some American urban centers.