Suzanne Fields

ISTANBUL -- A young American man with black hair and dark brown eyes checked into a small hotel in Cappadocia, where visitors to Turkey flock to see the famous lava formations carved into the landscape.

"Are you Muslim," the clerk asked, acknowledging his Semitic features.

"No, I'm Jewish," the young man replied, smiling and assuming the question was asked in good faith and good humor.

"Oh," the clerk replied, disappointment in his voice. "This is not a good time for Jews in Turkey."

A general observation rather than a personal one, but it was true enough. This is not a good time for Jews in Turkey. The bond between Israel and Turkey, once strong, is now frayed and weak. The closeness of the two modern countries was forged in their dedication to democratic secularism, with strong trade, military ties and unifying attitudes toward economic growth binding them together. Turkey was the first country with a Muslim majority to recognize the state of Israel.

The idea that modern Turks stood securely with the West was clear not only by their close connection to Israel, but in their adherence to separation of church and state, and the Latin alphabet. Fashions have told the tale, too. After enactment of the Hat Law of 1925, the fez was diminished to a trinket for tourists, replaced first by the straw Panama and then the felt fedora.

Today, most men in the cities, like most men in the West, go bare-headed. Turbans, associated with the sultans in the celebrated tales of the "Arabian Nights," are worn by doormen at cafes, mostly for visitors in search of picturesque photo-ops. Veils for women are gone, too, along with the harem of Topkapi, now the famous museum.

Western dress is associated with Western ideas, and the ideas but not the dress seem to be disappearing. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has turned away sharply from the West.

Israel is the canary in the coalmine, the first to breathe the toxic fumes of political change, as the Turks seek to win Islamist friends. The government expelled the Israeli ambassador and cut military ties with Israel after the Israelis refused to apologize for the deaths of nine Turkish "activists" on a ship in a Turkish-based flotilla attempting to break the Israeli embargo to Gaza. Israel has expressed "regret for the loss of life," and a United Nations investigation concluded that the Israeli blockade was legal and the Israeli commandos acted only in the face of "organized and violent resistance."

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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