On May 28, 2019, Dr. Henry P. Williams, an adjunct professor at The Institute of World Politics, presented a lecture discussing his recently-published book entitled Turkey and America: East and West – Where the Twain Meet at IWP.
Dr. Williams began the lecture by discussing his own experience with both Turkey and America. He moved to Macedonia shortly after his marriage in 1971, which spurred his interest in the region. Eventually, he was offered a teaching position in Turkey, where he created a course from scratch that ultimately became the model for his book, with each of the twenty-five lectures becoming twenty-five chapters. The book is a culmination of five years of research, three years of writing, and over forty years of experience. Dr. Williams describes the book as a reflection of “my lifetime’s involvement in two great passions in my life.”
Dr. Williams then referred to the famous Rudyard Kipling quote that “never the twain shall meet,” urging the audience to look at the full quotation beyond just the first line. Kipling, in fact, is trying to say that borders disappear when people meet, which is the perspective that Dr. Williams takes. Even though there are still chasms between the two cultures, the book is trying to create bridges. He said, “There’s something human about all of us that basically defies borders, it defies nationality; it can defy concepts of tribalism, and it could be in as frightening a location as the field of battle.”
The book goes back thousands of years, as Dr. Williams shows that certain perceptions about the East and West date back before Homer’s writing of The Iliad. However, the book attempts to show both sides, for example, the difference between the Christian and Muslim recollections of the Crusades. It then spans all the way to current events as recent as January.
Dr. Williams also explained that the stages through which the two civilizations went were all integrated and necessary for how the West, in particular, developed. Through it all, the cultural exchanges from the East to the West, and then later from the West back to the East, were instrumental in the formation of modern-day America and Turkey.
Dr. Williams proceeded to read excerpts from a few different chapters of the book to give the audience a glimpse of all the different topics covered. One of the chapters that he mentioned covered issues of the freedom of speech in Turkey and America. He drew the comparison that both of the governments have justified the suppression of freedom of speech and the suspension of rule of law, particularly aimed at minorities or those accused of undermining national security. The government surveillance of these groups in both countries continues to threaten their civil liberties. However, he pointed out that a case could be made that they differ in degree.
Dr. Williams ended the lecture by reading from the end of the book. He said, “This book has been written with the intention of telling a story revealed to me over a lifetime of experiences and studies, which have carried me across ages, civilizations, continents, and oceans.”
After finishing his presentation, Dr. Williams took questions from the audience. These questions mostly focused on recent developments in Turkey that have occurred since the publication of the book.
Dr. Williams is currently an adjunct professor at The Institute of World Politics. He has received degrees and diplomas from Culver Military Academy, the Universities of Virginia, Edinburgh, and Florence, and a Ph.D. in International Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School, Tufts University. He has worked in four foreign languages. He has spent more than ten years of his life on the Mediterranean studying and working, including stints in Turkey doing Doctoral Research, Investment Banking, Consulting, and university-level teaching.
He currently teaches a course at IWP called “The Turks and MENA in History and Today,” which will be offered this fall on Wednesday evenings.
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