Putting a human face on terror

History professor Brian Glyn Williams wrote this article about the human cost behind terror, published in the Standard Times of New Bedford.

CESME, Turkey -- My hands are still shaking slightly as I write this and, to be frank, my thoughts are not that organized at the moment, but I suppose that is to be expected if you have just heard a bomb go off down the street. 

Just about an hour ago, I was sitting on the balcony at my in-laws' house in this cozy seaside resort best known for its Ottoman castle and tourist-filled cobblestone streets, when I heard a loud boom. As the echo of what sounded suspiciously like an explosion passed up the valley surrounding the resort, my wife and mother-in-law rushed out of the house to see what had happened. 

"Was that a bomb?" my wife asked as she looked out over the town, which was suddenly filled with the sound of sirens. I looked at her with no answer but instinctively assured her that it was not, for we both knew that her brother and father were working below in the heart of the town. But my wife insisted. "That sounded like a bomb ... maybe we should check on baba (father), just to make sure." 

While I tried to soothe her, she dialed up her father on her mobile phone with quivering hands. 

Her expression of concern became one of panic when no one responded and ambulances began to rush past our house to the town square. 

Giving up all pretense of calm, we both rushed out of the house toward her father's shop to see if they were OK. As we ran breathlessly down the street, my wife asked one of our neighbors what had happened. My heart sank when one replied, "A bomb has gone off in the square and people are injured. It's best not to go there for now." 

But there was no stopping my wife as she rushed through the crowds and past the ambulances toward the village square. As we approached the square, blissfully her phone rang. It was with a grin on her face that she informed me that her father and brother were just fine. 

With visible relief, we stopped by the scene of the bombing and smelled the sickly odor of smoke in the air. 

To me, the smoke smelled a lot like the smoke bombs and fireworks I remembered from past Fourths of July, but the similarity ended there. Approaching the square, I prayed that no one had been killed, and I felt slightly guilty for being so secure in the knowledge that our loved ones were safe. 

But this fleeting sense of happiness disappeared in an instant as we looked across the square that we knew so well. The mundane sights we knew all too well were now slightly askew. A broken window here, a tourist stall blown over there, and in the center of it all was something that made my heart sink. For right next to the blackened spot on the town square rested the all-too-familiar golden shoeshine box owned by the town's well-known shoe shiner. 

I do not actually know his name, but as we passed his small, traditional Ottoman-style stand every day, he always made a point of saying in broken English, "Hello, my friend. Have a very nice day." He became known to my wife and myself as the "Hello my friend" shoeshine guy and was as symbolic of the gentle nature of the people in this town as the laughing children on the street or the warm smell of shish kebabs wafting from the restaurants. 

Tomorrow, the headlines in Turkey (but probably not distant America) will describe how 19 people were injured in an unexplained bombing in Cesme. 

But what will be missing from these sterile headlines is something that is absent in most reports about terrorist bombings from London and New York to tiny Cesme, and that is a human face. 

Staring at the beautifully crafted shoeshine stand, looking so lonely among all the policemen and inspectors gathered around, I am told that one of the victims has a face. It is the square's shoeshiner and he has just died. 

Somewhere, those responsible for killing or maiming this simple soul are no doubt celebrating the success of their "glorious" strike against God knows what. But on the square in Cesme, all they have done is shatter an honest man's life. 

Another victory for the terrorists and another loss for humanity. 

-Brian Glyn Williams is a history professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He is on holiday in Cesme, Turkey. 

-This story appeared on Page A13 of The Standard-Times on July 13, 2005.

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