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Islam is not about war

Cliff Thompson
Jane Rohr and her son Jasper Stone inside The Scarab in Eagle-Vail. She was raised in Turkey and has a different perspective on the war with Iraq.
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Jane Rohr of Eagle-Vail, an American citizen raised in a multicultural home in Istanbul, Turkey, practices Islam and prays regularly.

An articulate and thoughtful mother of two young boys, she owns a business, drives a minivan and engages in candid conversation with an earnest, unwavering gaze.

“I joke that I practice Islam in the Presbyterian Church,” she says. “It’s a place where I feel accepted. I observe it in my own way.”

She says she’s worried the war with Iraq will cause a backlash for a religion from which she draws comfort and strength.

“I follow the basic rules of Islam. You believe in God, you’re kind to other people and you observe the religious request to pray five times a day,” she says. “It’s about love. It’s not about anything else.”

Rohr says she misses the comforting calls to prayer that echo across Istanbul. The longing provides a reminder of the importance of her faith, she says.

It’s not about war

But the war disturbs her, she says, because it is providing a vehicle for misinterpretation of a religions that’s about love, not war.

“What really bugs me about this whole thing is the religious part of it. This is turning into a war of Islam fighting against a foreign invasion of Western people. It has nothing to do with Islam. Islam to me is all about loving God, therefore loving ourselves and others. It has nothing to do with politics.

“To have people willing to kill themselves and others in the name of God is something that puts the fear in me and the people I know,” she says. “It’s out of control and illogical.”

Rohr and her husband, Larry Stone, have owned and operated Scarab, a local gallery of rugs and tribal arts from Turkey, India, China and elsewhere, for 11 years. She attended Cornell College, where she studied art and textiles.

Her oldest son, Jasper, is on spring break this week from kindergarten classes at Red Sandstone Elementary. Like any 6-year old, he’s buzzing about the store and intermittently playing a computer video game.

Rohr says her political views are shaded, perhaps, by her American father, a U.S. Army veteran, who fought in World War II. He helped release people from German concentration camps. She visits her family in Istanbul twice a year while on buying trips.

Rohr says she believes the war the U.S. is waging in Iraq is consistent with what our country has done in the past.

“The U.S. is being authentic about what what they’re doing,” she says. “We’re being consistent with our stance in the world. It’s not surprising to me.”

Too many refugees

Rohr believes she knows why Turkey sent soldiers Friday into northern Iraq, sparking fears of another front on the Iraq war. During the 1991 Gulf War, she says, Turkey was inundated with hundreds of thousands of Kurds fleeing the violence of Iraqis. That was just part of the refugee problem.

Istanbul, in western Turkey, is a huge city of nearly 13 million. It has been nearly overwhelmed, however, by refugees from the former Yugoslavia, from the breakup of the Soviet Union and from previous Middle East conflicts.

“Turkey can’t handle any more refugees,” she says.

As a youth growing up in Turkey, Rohr says, she witnessed the violence of martial law, which has since been lifted.

“Things were bad in Turkey,” she says. “There were terrorists. As a kid, I saw people killed.”

Rohr says she remembers walking past the American Embassy in Istanbul and being comforted by an American flag and Marines standing guard.

“It was a symbol of safety to me as a child,” she says. “It helped me.”

Rohr says she’s worried the war could provide a rallying point for radical Islamic fundamentalists.

“We’re stirring up a hornet’s nest,” she says. “They’re passionate, impressionable, poor and uneducated. Somebody feeding them a story about the U.S. being a devil – they’re ready to believe it.”

She says that fear is also felt in Turkey.

“In 1923, President Ataturk said we were Western and will participate in a way that is nonreligious,” she says. “We keep religion in our hearts and minds. We’re not an Islamic state.”

Rohr says Islamic fundamentalists are working to overturn that separation of church and state in Turkey and elsewhere.

“What happened in Iran (when the Ayatollah Komeini took over) is at the back door,” she adds. “It (Iran) has turned into a dark, covered-up land.”

“Everyone I know in Turkey is just trying to make a living and feed their kids,” she says. “Turkey desperately wants to be a part of the European Union. It is a part of NATO and wants to be part of the West, but they do a lot of commerce with the Middle East.”

Rohr says she’s happy to live in this country. While she abhors war, she says, America’s action in Iraq stirs her.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com.


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