I took the photograph that leads this column a little over a year ago, when my summer vacation was turned upside down by a revolution called Taksim Square. It sits near my desk and caught my eye when I was thinking today about the force of nature that is Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, someone I deeply admire even though he hasn’t always been a friend of open discourse. He managed to stir the pot on both sides of the continent in recent days.
My wife and I had come to Istanbul for R&R after a trip she takes each spring with college students, mostly non-Jewish, along with Holocaust survivors, to experience firsthand sites of mass murder, torture, violence, starvation and cremation in Germany and Poland.
But it turned out to be the weekend that Taksim Square erupted in alternating waves of tear-gas suffused violence and placard-wielding protest as students, workers, shop keepers and just-folks joined ranks against the increasingly right-leaning government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and, specifically, his plan to bulldoze one of the last green spaces in the crowded city and put up a shopping mall. Propped against a young woman camping out among the hundreds was her sign, carefully lettered in Turkish and English: Ifade Ozcurlugum Icin Buradayim: I Am Here for My Freedom of Expression.
Writing about Taksim Square, like the other human rights stories I covered during eight years at Bloomberg News, was a humbling counterpoint to my work as a critic and reporter of art forms in which love, loss, risk, sacrifice, even death are generally metaphors and the greatest thing at stake is the cost of a ticket. In Taksim Square I encountered people willing to risk everything for their freedom of expression.