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The choice of fear in a city targeted by terrorists

Decorated Marine veteran and writer Elliot Ackerman lives with his family in Istanbul -- the site of four suicide bombings this year alone. Finding himself confronted by violence again, Ackerman reflects on living in a place targeted by terrorists.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now back to terror in Turkey.

    The attack on a pedestrian street in Istanbul on Sunday, the fourth suicide bombing in Turkey this year, was, according to President Erdogan, one of the biggest and bloodiest terrorist waves in its history.

    We take an intimate look now at the violence, and how it shapes daily life.

    Decorated Marine veteran Elliot Ackerman served in Iraq and Afghanistan. His debut novel, "Green on Blue," is a war story told from the perspective of an Afghan boy. Ackerman now lives with his family in Istanbul.

    ELLIOT ACKERMAN, Author, "Green on Blue": On an unseasonably warm morning the past January in Istanbul, an Islamic State suicide bomber detonated himself in a Sultanahmet, a central sightseeing district.

    He killed eleven tourists, 10 of them Germans. At the moment of the blast, I was sitting in an outside cafe nearby. Almost immediately, my phone lit up with concerned calls from friends and family back home in the U.S.

    This was the third Islamic State bombing in Turkey since June. I had moved to Istanbul two years before with my family to work on a book. But I had also moved here to give my children the experience of living abroad.

    What better place to expand their world view than Istanbul? It's a city defined by its divisions, by Bosphorus Strait that splits Europe from Asia and by its religious history, having once been the seat of power for both Christian and Islamic empires.

    One of my fondest memories is of the spring we moved here. That's when the tulips are in bloom. They blossom everywhere, in long rows along the streets, in planters tucked into the city squares, even sprouting up through the broken sidewalks.

    I spent those months watching my children explore this ancient city among its new flowers. The night after the bombing, I went out to dinner with a few Turkish friends. Among them a well-known journalist. Weeks before, the authorities had imprisoned two of his colleagues for spying and revealing state secrets after they printed a story about government collusion with Islamic fighters inside of Syria.

    When the topic of the bombing came up, he said that he was far more afraid of Turkey's more increasingly toxic politics around the issue of terrorism than of terrorism itself. Politics, he said, can be defined as the acquisition or maintenance of power. You can do this in two ways, by either dividing people or uniting them.

    Uniting people is very difficult, he explained. But dividing them is far easier. When I asked how you divide people, his answer was a single word: fear.

    We then speculated about why the bombing had taken place in Sultanahmet, close to the famous Blue Mosque. The bomber could have killed far more people if he had attacked a subway station at rush hour or a shopping mall. Consensus was that the Islamic State wanted to harm the tourist industry.

    When I remembered all of the concerned phone calls I had received from home, it seemed likely that fewer and fewer Westerners would be planning their vacations to the city.

    Then the man at the table next interrupted us. He owned a hotel in Sultanahmet, and told us that a wonderful and surprising thing had happened after the bombing. In a small act of defiance and solidarity, German vacationers had booked his hotel to capacity. They had chosen not to be afraid.

    Much of current U.S. politics is defined by the rhetoric of fear. Whether the topic is terrorism, gun control or immigration, our fears are manipulated. We are encouraged to be divided.

    The longer I stay in Istanbul, the more I realize that the education I'm giving my children is not so much as cultural, but moral. It's about teaching them to live without fear. And that is a choice, but not an easy one.

    I have a photo from that first spring in Istanbul. It's of my daughter. She stands in a bed of yellow tulips in the shadow of the ancient Blue Mosque. She wears a little pink coat. And she's looking at the flowers. She's not even 4 years old.

    When I look at it, I feel that sweet ache in my heart, the one any father recognizes when he looks at his daughter. I also feel such joy for all she is experiencing so young.

    But two years after this picture was taken, looking at it also presents with me a choice. I can see something different in it if I choose. You see, this photograph was taken exactly where the bomb went off.

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