Let me begin with shvitz, a Yiddish term I believe that refers to special baths. When the hotel I was staying at in Istanbul advertised that guests were welcome to enjoy the Turkish Bath in their basement, I took them up on it.
There were two other blondish guys in their birthday suits sweltering in the small room when I got there. They were drinking beer and conversing in a strange language I later identified as Swedish.
I was in town to speak at a session on Internet freedom at the 17th International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA 2011) at Sabanci Center. They were there, as I slowly learned, as engineers loaned out to the America's Westinghouse Corporation to build some nuclear plants in Turkey.
Apparently, the plants were to have been built by the Tokyo Electric company, which experienced its own high-profile nuclear disaster this year at Fukushima, Japan, and was either fired or quit the job in Turkey. Because of fears about safety and ongoing risks, Japan is out; the American nuclear industry is in.
So now these shvitzing Swedes have a new job in a country they don't know much about and also have, as they revealed to me, many prejudices and non-nuclear fears about Turkey.
We batted around the nuclear safety and storage issues raised anew by Fukushima, but they and their Turkish government patrons -- unlike the Germans -- are moving ahead into the cul de sac of nuclear power. The money is there as well as the arrogant certainty that nothing can go wrong.
The Turkish government now has some other hotter-than-hot issues to contend with, so the nuclear issue is on the back burner. The government can no longer be easily categorized as pro-American even if they are members of NATO and big consumers of U.S. imports.
The reason: the popular government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogen, which won 50 percent of the vote in a recent parliamentary election, about double the second largest party, has initiated its own independent foreign policy on behalf of this nation of 70 million.
Bolstered by a strong economy, in fact, one of the fastest growing in the world with an 8.8 percent growth rate, Turkey is spreading its influence throughout the world, including Arab countries that have always been suspicious about Turkey's motives.
Erdogen visited Egypt, Tunisia and Libya last week and received a warm welcome for his economic help, for his political support for change, and as a champion of secular leadership in a Muslim country.
Beyond that, he is one of the most outspoken regional leaders criticizing Israel. According to the polls, his stance is popular in Turkey and the Arab world accordingly.
Turkey and Israel had been close friends and military allies until Israel launched the deadly Operation Cast Lead against Gaza, just as Erdogen was acting as a negotiating go-between for Israel and the Palestinians.
When the Israel government started blowing up Gaza, it also blew up those discussions and embarrassed the Turks and Erdogen.
When a humanitarian group in Turkey, the IHH, sent an a flotilla of aid ships to Gaza, Israeli special forces boarded the lead Turkish Ship, the Mavi Marmara and killed nine people, eight Turks and one Turkish-American.
Not surprisingly. Turkey went ballistic over this massacre in international waters of the Mediterranean Sea. When the Israeli government refused to apologize for the killings, Turkey sent the Israeli ambassador home and broke off military cooperation.
(What's not widely known is that there are many Israelis living in Turkey and many others coming for travel and business. Some Turkish Jews moved to Israel but retained family ties and are frequent visitors.)
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