Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Headscarf Part I

It's time. I've been wanting to post my online treatise on this topic for ages, and the opportunity has just presented itself. LE's asleep, BE's off doing some business that couldn't possibly have been managed during the day or with a simple phone call, there was no need for me to cook a proper dinner, and I have a half-finished glass of Asma, a typically sub-standard brand of Turkish wine that's available by the liter and is often on sale. Screw top. Don't knock it.

Headscarves are the talk of the town these days, and have been for over a month, ever since our good leaders voted to change the constitution and allow girls to wear them in universities. The ban on headscarves in public buildings still remains, and at present, CHP (the nationalist party who was in power before the religiously conservative AKP won elections by a landslide) is bringing a challenge to this change to the constitutional court, where it seems likely the new amendment will be overturned.

That's the short version, and this explanation may be lacking due to its brevity. I have just quit paying attention altogether because I'm sick of hearing about it. Sick to death. BE has been an absolute fiend for any news or discussion on the topic. He scours the paper newspapers for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings, the goes online to read it all again, cursing colorfully or asking me if I'd like to go out and buy some headscarves now. Many dinners have been spoiled because of some televised discussion that absolutely MUST be watched, wherein some talking heads who have no actual say on the issue spout off their opinions, all at the same time and with increasing volume so even if I could understand the nuance of their Turkish, I still wouldn't be able to understand because no one gets to finish a sentence before everyone starts talking at the same time. It's like Jerry Springer meets Fox News, only without the hair pulling. Inevitably the panels contain one or two women, covered or not, who spend the entire show chirping 'Can I say something? Can I say something?' (this is a common conversational gambit in Turkish, by the way. Another one is 'I'm going to say something' before saying it, as though it's already built into the conversational structure that no one is listening unless you announce first that you're going to say something), and occasionally they are allowed to say something that amounts to an entire sentence or two but they're usually drowned out by three or four men who all start talking at the same time. And so it goes. The 'moderator' (usually a man) also spends the whole program asking if he can say something, but no one listens to him either, especially if his sentence starts with anything like, for example, 'Hacar Hanım (Mrs. Hacar) is going to say something.'

I digress. I do enjoy poking fun at the details. A quick background on this topic (and again, I apologize if I'm off on the specifics) is that when the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923, as one of several initiatives to make Turkey into a secular state Atatürk banned religious and traditional head coverings for men and women. For the men, no more fezzes (a shame, that. Fezzes are cool, and can be seen on ice cream sellers all over the city) or woolly skullcaps, and for women, no more headscarves. Men were encouraged to wear the more European and 'modern' bowler hat. Some biographers claim this ban stemmed in part from Atatürk's humiliation while attending a party in Europe, where people snickered at his outlandish hat. I guess fezzes weren't considered cool back then. In any case, the point of the ban was twofold-- to make the Turkish public (at least appear) secular, and to make Turkey more European. Over time, the fez ban took but the headscarf ban didn't.

Here's where I get a bit foggy on the history and I'm too lazy to look it up, but I gather Turks were getting a bit lax in their secularism as well as their headgear, and the ban was reinforced or perhaps made more specific again in the 1980s, when the military took over. It was at this time that women were forbidden to wear headscarves on university campuses and in public buildings. Specifically, they cannot be covered on campus when they're there as students or teachers, and civil servants cannot be covered on the job. I point this out because I found it interesting that at the university where I used to work (where 80% or 90% of the female students were covered), women visitors often wore headscarves or even full black chadors (noticeable because chadors aren't especially common here), and the students themselves were often covered in the orientation time before classes had officially begun. When students arrived at the threshold of the campus, the scarves came off and when they crossed it again to leave, the scarves went back on. There was even a special room next to security with blacked out windows to give the girls privacy to change.

The current dispute about lifting the headscarf ban is only about universities (I hear that there are a lot of covered women workers in some state-run companies, but no one seems to be doing anything about that. Conversely, the university I referred to was nearly shut down around 2000 because of people getting sloppy about obeying the law), and it is specifically only about what is called türban in Turkish. Women's headgear has its own language here. Many women, particularly older women and women outside of the cities wear a traditional başörtüsü, meaning 'headcovering.' It looks something like this (though it's not always tied around the neck and I've rarely seen them covering the face):
A lot of other (usually older) women wear scarves outside, though loosely and with hair showing, much like my grandmother did on windy days in San Francisco, to keep her hair neat. Many women in başörtüsü aren't especially fierce about keeping their heads covered outside, and will take them off on the bus or wherever to re-tie them or shake out their hair. The başörtüsü says things like 'I am from the village' or 'I work hard cooking and/or cleaning and I don't want my hair in the way getting dirty.' It can even say 'I belong to such-and-such ethnic group.'

The much-disputed türban looks like this:
or this:It is always worn over a cloth swim-cap-like thing that completely covers the hair and smashes is down. The scarf is pinned or tied under the chin and the neck is covered. It is also pinned to the swim-cap thingie to prevent the scarf coming off, and it's usually folded so that the edges come out beyond the edge of the face like horse blinders. I'm not sure whether this is to prevent the woman from giving askance come-hither glances, or to prevent men from from looking at her from the side, but it sure makes the wearers crappy drivers. The türban is usually worn with a raincoat-like garment (thin or thick according to the season) which hides any hint of (to borrow a phrase from the Black Eyed Peas that cracks me up) lovely lady bumps. Unlike the başörtüsü (and whether the wearer likes it or not), the türban is politically charged in Turkey. It says 'I am a devout Muslim and I'm proud of it.' To some people, it also says things like 'I am oppressed' and 'I am modest and you're not.'

So that's the background and some other information. Really, I have more to say on this whole thing than I have time for (it's getting on my bedtime and my thinking is getting thick), so I'll have to post Headscarf Part II another time, where I will attempt to pick apart my (and others') very mixed feelings on this issue.

May it be sooner rather than later.


siobhan said...

You beat me to it! I have a half written draft on this very subject waiting to be finished. As usual you make it much more funny and informative than I would have. Are those turban-clad women from the latest Vakko catalogue by any chance?

Stranger said...

I've been drafting this in my head pretty much since I started the blog. That's probably why it's gotten so long.

Aren't those turban photos hilariously awful? Unless it involved Audrey Hepburn, any attempt to make headscarves look hot is a bit ridiculous. I'm not sure if they're from Vakko-- I just found them on some Flikr page.

It was interesting looking for headscarf photos actually-- the Turkish style is very distinctive and immediately recognizable. I was surprised!

Looking forward to your post....

psikolojik deli said...

"the nationalist party who was in power before the religiously conservative AKP won elections by a landslide"

quite wrong. It was DSP which had been in power before AKP won the elections in 2002. CHP has never been in charge since 1946, with the exception of 1974 coalition which didn`t last long. You should maybe consider not writing about stuff that you don`t know well about. You got a big deal of misinformation about some facts about Turkey and the Turkish language in your previous posts as well.

It`s good to see that you make a distinction between the regular style headscarf and what they call turban, a political symbol, not very different from a swastika batch. It`s disgusting. Isn`t it??? But you have no right to say that. Because it was your government who supported AKP. It`s your government who wants Turkey get Arabized and get rid of the secularism.

Do you remember the demonstrations before the elections last year, and how the American media slagged off the demonstators portraying them as coup supporters? I was disgusted by the article in the Economist. Read it if you can find.

Why don`t you ever ask yourself why America supports AKP so much? Do you know that it was America who backed up Humeyni for the revolution in Iran, and who made al qaida kill thousands of civilians before 9/11.

If you hate Islam so much, why the hell do you want an Islamic regime in this country? It`s so simple, Turkey is in America`s future invasion agenda(not necessarily a ground invasion) , and they need a reason. It`s disgusting that your holy crusader(that`s how he calls himself, not my interpretation) pretends to fight Islamism but supports radical Islam secretly, like he does in Turkey.

Your next post should be about Fetullah Gulen, another (Kurdish/Islamic) terrorist funded by America. Do you even know about him???

Stranger said...

Sorry, everyone. It was the DSP in charge before, not CHP. Shame on me, especially because I didn't happily claim that all my facts may not be straigt

Psikologic deli is absolutely right in his or her cogent argument-- I am American, therefore, it is all my fault and I am personally responsible for Everything Bad That Has Ever Happened In Turkey And The Rest Of The World (I get this a lot here, actually).

I do apologise. Shame on me and all that I have wrought with my immense powers.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Ok here's a link that should settle questions about who was in power when. (The info your eminently sane commenter gave you is wrong.)

Are (non-internet) people really personally giving you grief about being an American? I chatted about this with the Carpetblogger and she seems to have the opposite experience. I wonder if the disparity in the experiences is due to the difference between English-speaking Turks and regular Turks.

Anyway, a few more things you might consider fixing:

Turkey into a secular state Atatürk banned religious and traditional head coverings for men and women.

Nope. Not for women.

For the men, no more fezzes (a shame, that. Fezzes are cool, and can be seen on ice cream sellers all over the city) or woolly skullcaps, and for women, no more headscarves.

No, there was no headscarf ban for women. (Civil service and student dress code is another issue, but at that time women in schools and civil service wouldn't have been much of an issue) It isn't like the fez itself was indigenous here -- it was introduced by gov't edict to civil service in 19th century (should be Muhmut II.). (You're mostly right about the 'hat law' though).

Let's see if you'll manage to get good info on how headscarves tied a particular way got to be called 'turban' for the second part.

BTW, the generic slang name for the kind of fine wine you mention is kopekolduren. (How do you tanslate this? 'Dog poison' isn't it. 'That which kills dogs' is awkward.)

Stranger said...

Bülent, I should point out that, for being American, my experience with the average person on the street is the same as Carpetblogger's. Most people are happy to separate individuals and government, and sometimes it's nice to clear the air quickly with a stranger by saying something nasty about Bush. It's one thing everyone agrees on. The kind of rant in the comment is more what I get from people I know well-- my husband, his friends, even the occasional student when I was working. Being told I've no right to say anything about Turkey because I'm foriegn, or because everything is America's fault, is something I've heard so.many.times. It's started to be like a boring song to me.

Thanks for your clarifications. My information about the original headgear ban at the founding of the republic came from 'Crescent And Star' by Stephen Kinzer, which admittedly I read about 8 years ago, and I probably didn't read it very well because I'm not a very attentive non-fiction reader. What I remember is that initially they wanted to ban all religious headgear, but in the end, decided not to ban headscarves because it would upset everyone too much. But I happily accept my errors.

Hee! 'Dog killer' maybe? I've heard that before-- it's like 'rotgut' in English, or the more colorful 'bum piss' (that's 'tramp piss' for you Brits out there)...