"Turn right at the omelet," said the gas-station attendant. We were standing on the outskirts of Edirne, a small city about two hours north of Istanbul. My Turkish is poor so I turned for help to my Turkish friend.
"Omelet?" I asked.
"He meant outlet," he said, as in outlet mall. On today's Turkish highways, outlet malls are more common than caravanserais or roadside inns once were on the Silk Road. The malls are just one sign of the economic boom that is bringing western consumerism to the masses. Arriving in Istanbul from one of the phlegmatic economies of Europe or even from the United States is a jolt. Drive around western or central Turkey and you'll see new roads, high rises, and construction sites everywhere. Much of it comes from Middle Eastern oil money, much of it reinvested into industries such as automobile manufacture, textile, and food production. A recent trip revealed a Turkey that is wealthier than ever in its modern history.
And yet, the gas jockey had it right. For the average person, Westernization is about as deep as the difference between "omelet" and "outlet." The Turkish government wouldn't have it any other way. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been in power for more than ten years, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in charge for most of them. Their goal is change. They want to make Turkey wealthy and Islamic. They have turned from the vaguely socialist policies of their predecessors to crony capitalism, and from the staunchly secular and pro-western policies established by Ataturk, the Republic's founder, to religious and Muslim-world-centered policies. They have abandoned Ataturk's non-interventionist stance for an active role in Egypt, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and now Syria.