An Interview Before the Backdrop of Domestic Terrorism
By: Dalton Bright
Fifty one years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, his hopeful idea of becoming the “beloved community,” one active in opposing racism, poverty, and militarism, is being discussed now more than ever. On Thursday, Sept. 12, nearly 200 people gathered inside First Presbyterian Church of Auburn and shared an open dialogue on exactly what it means to become such a community amidst the countless acts of domestic terrorism seen within the past few months.
Between bites of ethnic food, I scrawled lines inside of my leatherbound notebook. As this was the first journalistic assignment of my undergraduate career, I tried to the best of my abilities to take notice of my surroundings inside the church’s event center. The coloured
balloons tethered to the long community tables; the variety of conversations shared in English, Arabic, Spanish; the embroidered tapestry hanging above the kitchen door reading “JESUS CHRIST: YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND FOREVER.” When I peered up from the page, I met the eyes of a middle aged woman and her young daughter, who was sketching a heart across the paper placemat with a black ink pen. We met each other’s acquaintance, shared small talk about the event, and then I asked her if she would mind answering a few questions for me. She agreed.
Sevgi Kucuktas emigrated from Turkey with her husband 30 years ago. Both pursuing education, Sevgi and her husband ended up at Auburn University — where Sevgi is currently employed in the Risk Management and Safety Department. Now, three decades later, Sevgi
and her husband have started a family and have planted their roots here in the Auburn community. Sevgi and her family are practicing Muslims; she explained to me during our discourse how important the aspect of community is to those practicing Islam. As the room
teemed with people of all different races, nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures, Sevgi and I spoke of issues that remain pertinent to the idea of “becoming the beloved community.
Q: If you could use one word to describe the Turkish community; or one word to describe the Turkish culture, what would it be and why? What word would you use to describe the Muslim culture and community and why?
A: I would use in-person interaction to describe Turkish community. Turkish people enjoy living close to one another, spending time together. I would use diverse and heterogeneous to describe Turkish culture, a mix of cultures derived from the various cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean, Central Asian region and European, and Caucasian traditions. I would use the Oneness of God to describe Muslim culture. Simply Muslims believe in one God. God is the creator of all things, and that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. Community is
Islamic way of life. Muslims practice Islam together and live their faith by performing the Five Pillars of Islam, the commands of God.
Q: What does the life, legacy, and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King JR to you? Is there any other revolutionary people you personally hold near to you?
A: I am all about for nonviolent methods of protest. As a leader in the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King JR advocated civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience. I like that. Dr. King reminds me of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was a Turkish field marshal, revolutionary statesman, author, and founder of the Republic of Turkey. Atatürk initiated a rigorous program
of political, economic, and cultural reforms with the ultimate goal of building a modern, progressive, and secular nation-state. He also introduced the Latin-based Turkish alphabet, replacing the old Ottoman Turkish alphabet.
Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle in the way of total racial reconciliation -- or, in
the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Becoming the Beloved Community?"
A: First of all we all need to acknowledge that we have a problem and then come up with solutions to fix it. It's impossible to rectify what isn't deemed as wrong.
Q: Have you noticed a change in tensions regarding race, ethnicity, and other qualifiers within the past few years? Do you feel these issues have gotten better or worse in this time frame?
A: I feel the tension regarding race, ethnicity, and other qualifiers are increasing within the past few years. I believe that how governments deal with issues has a lot to do with these issues getting worse. I believe current leaders are adding fuel to the fire by handling the issue in a negative way instead of using smart strategies for reducing racial and ethnic prejudice and improving intergroup relations.
Q: How have things such as racism, sexism, and xenophobia affected your life? Have you dealt with these things personally?
A: I believe I have experienced xenophobia more than I have experienced sexism and racism simply because some people think that a person with a hard-to pronounce name is coming from one of those countries that in which everybody is terrorist. I didn’t feel racism so much because I look white and normal to people until I start talking with an accent. Some people just have that prejudice against people from other countries even before they know them. For a while I felt like I needed to prove to those people that I was an OK person. It was a little uncomfortable around new people. I felt like they were watching to see something so they can justify their dislike for
other races, cultures, and ways of life. As a family we just gave them opportunities to get to know us. We dealt with people in a normal way, giving them time to get to know us. We just invited people over to have lunch with us. The prejudice or discrimination based on sex is not something that is happening only this side of the world. Male domination and power is felt even more in other parts of the world, something women deal with in most part of the world. It is a constant battle. I didn’t get the job because I was nor male. I don’t get the same salary for the same job a man gets. It effected a lot of female lives.
Q: Do you find that you were able to assimilate into the Auburn community? If not, how do you think other groups of people could aid others in this?
A: After 30 years of conscious efforts, and the help from other groups of people, I believe my family and I assimilated into the Auburn Community the way we would like to assimilate without losing our religion, Turkish background, Turkish language, and Turkish culture. We are proud to be called Turkish Americans. I personally believe other people should assimilate the same way so they can bring that diversity to America that America is all about.
Q: We have seen a variety of tragic incidents in America within the past few months; even so across the globe in places such as Christchurch, New Zealand. Most of these places have been places of worship or places where large populations of minority groups are found. Do you find yourself being fearful of possible events of domestic terrorism in your own daily life? How has this affected your life?
A: Tragic incidents are happening everywhere all over the world as well as in America. I am fearful and worried but not to the point that I will let the fear rule my life. I am still going to worship and go places I would like to go. I prefer to do something to prevent these events than just be scared and do what they really want me to do which is “be scared”.