Sunday, March 30, 2008

Some Stuff, and a Headscarf Tangent

This time of a rare, silent house with no one demanding my presence is drawing to a close. BE has taken LE off to see his parents, which is a nice arrangement because it means the in-laws (who are suddenly interested in seeing LE all the time now that he does stuff) can lay off of BE for a few days with their endless wheedling about how much they miss the baby and implications about how we never let them see the baby, as though it's a conscious effort on our part to have other things to do besides drive across town sitting in traffic to go sit stiffly in their salon with our legs uncrossed (it's considered rude to cross our legs in front of BE's father) answering the same old questions about what LE eats, the quantity and nature of his feces, if he goes outside (a trick question for me, as I'm never sure if BE's mother thinks going outside is good for the baby or if it will make him sick), if he sleeps, and if he knows his grandma (another dig about how we never let them see the baby). It's also nice because I don't have to go, as in-law visits cause me a disproportionate amount of stress, and aside from wondering about the cleanliness of my house, they're not very interested in me anymore now that I've produced the requisite male heir. This arrangement will only last as long as BE stays with LE at his parents and doesn't sneak off somewhere. I don't trust the in-laws alone with LE, because as soon as one of us isn't watching, they're apt to start feeding him sugary tea, or stop him from sleeping so they can play with him, or give him things like pens and lighters to play with, and once I had to snatch LE away from BE's father because he was trying to give LE some black-pepper encrusted beef jerky and continued doing so even though I asked him not to several times.

So for now I'll enjoy this bit of free time, really the only time I have all week that no one wants me to do anything for them. I've filled out most of my income tax forms, loaded the pictures and movies from the camera into Photobucket (an hours-long process given the very slow Internet), played some time-wasting computer games, caught up on my friends' blogs, had a cup of coffee, and brushed my teeth. I've learned how to fill my free time more wisely, I think.

I need to start taking notes for things to post about. I should allow myself shorter, less planned-out posts. I had all these things I wanted to mention, but I've forgotten them one by one. Probably a lot of it was complaining, so perhaps it's best. LE still doesn't nap, though he's started sleeping if he's on my chest. This works fine if I want a little nap too, or if I feel like reading for an hour or more, but it's not ideal if I have to pee or if I don't want to spend up to three hours a day lying down. Even though I've baby-proofed a large portion of the house so that he's free to scamper around unsupervised (sort of), LE only wants to be next to me, with his hands in whatever I'm doing. All day. So blog posting is needlessly challenging.

On to other things. One of my regular commentors (who I don't know in person but who always has interesting things to add) challenged me to find out why the türban is called that, and why they're tied in the way that they are. So I set off to learn this, bit by bit, in whatever snatches of time I had. Last weekend when BE and LE were off at the in-laws, I searched the Internet the entire two hours looking for an explanation in English (I found a lot of references in Turkish, though most were in language too colloquial for me to understand well). I was interested anyway, because the word türban in Turkish has to be a borrowing (from French, I guess?), and in English 'turban' refers to something completely different, like what Sikhs wear or what I do with my towel after a shower.

So even though I read all kinds of interesting, enlightening, annoying, and downright righteous commentary and information about headscarves in Turkey, headscarves in general, Islamic dress codes, and Islam, I couldn't find much about the history of the türban in Turkey. And I can't remember the web address, but some of the most interesting and cogent discussion about headscarves was on the Turkey thread of a football forum. So I gave up and asked BE. Asking BE about anything to do with religion in Turkey is always a risk because he's in a constant state of nationalist fury about how the Muslims and the Americans are working on destroying his country, and it's sometimes hard to get the information I want without a two-day diatribe about something else.

But he obliged. As it turns out, Hürriyet (a newspaper) had an article on just this topic about a month ago. It's in Turkish, but the story BE told me (and I'm telling it here as he did) is sort of an abridged version. Apparently, the whole style of türban can be attributed to one woman, named Şule Yüksel Şenler. Her brother left the village and got religion while he was away. He came back home and tried to push his family to become more strictly observant as he had, but none of them listened except for Şule. So she decided to start covering her head, but being young, she found the existing style of headscarves ugly. Instead, she went with a more fashionable look based on that of Hollywood film hotties like Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren, so something like this...


...became something like this...

... though I don't think Audrey Hepburn ever looked like a character from Alien Nation in profile.

There's a lot more to be said on Şule and her life, but I'm not going to be the one to say it. Still, the word şulebaş (şule-head) exists in Turkish describing the style of headscarf she helped to popularize.

After telling his story, my husband said, "Guess where Şule is today?"

"Vakko?" I asked.

"Nope," he said, sitting back in his chair with a satisfied smile. "Bakırköy Mental Hospital. She went crazy."

You learn something every day.

11 comments:

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

You're almost there! I'll give you more hints/info: in 1980 'turban' in Turkish meant what it still means in English. How (and by which means) the meaning has shifted is in itself interesting. That people apparently forgot how it happened might also be telling. (Telling what exactly? I dunno. Y'know, this country isn't strange just for 'yabanci's -- the natives are often baffled too. We do tend to compensate, though, by being extra loud and forceful in asserting whatever it is we're trying convince ourselves that we truly understand.)

For example this article is misleading in that the 'turban' that was allowed by Dogramaci and the 'Sulebas' that you have found out about are not the same thing. Now, it is possible that I am getting senile, but I am fairly sure that the 'turban' that was advocated as an alternative to the headscarf was something like this. I can back this up with an eksi sozluk entry from a guy who appears to have the same recollection as I do.

siobhan said...

Brilliant solution to the 'getting more me time and avoiding the inlaws as much as possible' problem. I have actually suggested this kind of arrangement chez nous several times but noone took me up on it.

Are we to assume that Audrey Hepburn is in some way responsible for the headscarf issue?

Bulent, it's so refreshing to hear a Turk with a sense of humour about Turkish traits.

Stranger said...

Bülent, I agree with Siobhan.

My endless searching on the issue mirrors what you say. Both 'turban' and 'türban' turned up similar stuff-- information about Ottoman turbans for men and in the English sense of the word, and stuff about the current headscarf debate. As I think about it, my assumption that the word was borrowed from French is probably way off, and the borrowing must be much older than that, perhaps from Arabic, Farsi, or even Hindi. Somewhere along the Silk Road, anyway...

So I would like to know how the meaning has shifted. I really couldn't find anything on this, not in English and not in Turkish that I could understand anyway. Care to share?

I think it's interesting that I've only seen the turban in your photo on very elegant, classy, cosmopolitan (and probably not religious) ladies in their 80s.

After all my searching, I'm also confused about the headscarf law itself, and when I tried to find out from BE, I think a lot of stuff was lost in translation. Is it just the so-called türban that is banned? I thought all women's religious headcoverings were banned, but I started to gather that a başörtüsü is (or was at one point) allowed? If that's the case, than this whole hullaballo seems to be centered on a very detailed issue of how the scarf is tied, and almost comes down to a matter of fashion rather than religion. I mean, if these women believe they have to cover their hair as a matter of modesty, then what's wrong with a başörtüsü tied under the chin? Or a turban like the one in Bülent's photo with a turtleneck or a scarf around the neck? (I'm not directing these questions at you, Bülent, though I'd be interested in yours or anyone else's comments)

At my former job at the religious (state) university, most girls wore nothing on their heads. Was this protest? A few wore big hats, and a few wore wigs, though those were 2 types-- spoilt rich girls who travelled in packs, and a few very reserved, ultra-religious village girls who, I was told, were on scholarship and prior to university had been home-schooled, and had rarely left their houses let alone their villages before coming to school here (this was the explanation to me as to why they were so unable to function in a classroom. The rich ones couldn't function because they were spoilt and were wating for everything to be handed to them on a platter while they disrupted everything with their 1,000YTL phones and endless gossip). One or two of these village girls even wore their türbans under their wigs for awhile, until I gather they were told to stop, as the school was always under some kind of YÖK scrutiny. All of the covered girls were obvious even without their scarves, though, as they still all covered their necks, arms, and legs, and most of them still wore the raincoat things. I guess I just don't get that, if the modesty issue is so big, why didn't they cover their hair any way they could? I always wanted to ask them this stuff, but I had the feeling I wouldn't get straight answers from them in mixed-gender classrooms and also because I'm foreign...

But perhaps I've completely misunderstood something about the law and about how and why people cover their heads.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Here's the story of the shift in 'turban's meaning as I remember it:

-- Up till 198x 'turban' meant what it means in English.

-- At some point in the early '80s, the government 'discovered,' to its horror, that the girls who were allowed (if not encouraged) to cover their heads in Imam-Hatip schools after [the coup of] 1980, also wished to attend universities. Apart from isolated incidents, and as far as I remember, this was the starting point of the real and somewhat wide-spread problem[1]. Ihsan Dogramaci (the founder and the hed of YOK back then), had a 'solution': basortusu couldn't be allowed but if they used an elegant 'turban' to cover their hair it would be OK. That elegant 'turban' is the 'turban' you saw in that picture. At this point basortusu was basortusu, and what's now called turban was still basortusu but perhaps also went by alternative names like 'oyle baglanmis basortusu' or possibly 'sIkmabas' (which wasn't that derogatarory back then). So to reiterate: the thing that was called turban back then was considered elegant and tolerable, basortusu of any kind was regressive, backward and impermissable.

-- Then some magic happened. Probably out of some political aversion to appearing to be banning 'basortusu,' official mouths started talking about this 'turban' that cannot enter campuses. At this point, and as far as I remember, regular folks didn't call any kind of basortusu 'turban.'

-- and this is where my first hand info stops. I left the country. Fast forward:

-- 200X: everybody is talking about this 'turban' problem and they act as though this new meaning of it existed forever.

I think it's interesting that I've only seen the turban in your photo on very elegant, classy, cosmopolitan (and probably not religious) ladies in their 80s.

Yes, those ladies would be part of the widely despised (in the 'Islamic' press) 'secular elite.'

After all my searching, I'm also confused about the headscarf law itself, and when I tried to find out from BE, I think a lot of stuff was lost in translation. Is it just the so-called türban that is banned?

You might (but shouldn't, by now) be surprised to find out that there is no actual headscarf law. The ban is based on an opinion from the constitutional court.

I thought all women's religious headcoverings were banned, but I started to gather that a başörtüsü is (or was at one point) allowed?

No. I cannot know what goes on on campuses, but I think the understanding is that female students cannot wear any kind of headscarf.

I mean, if these women believe they have to cover their hair as a matter of modesty, then what's wrong with a başörtüsü tied under the chin?

I don't know what their answer to this would be, but mine (and probably yours) would be one based on civil libertarian pinciples[2]. But that's irrelevant, as things stand (pre-constitutional amendment for sure, and possibly now) that style is banned also.

At my former job at the religious (state) university, most girls wore nothing on their heads. Was this protest?

Is it possible that they just don't cover their hair? There should be some poll somewhere showing that 50+% of all females with HS diplomas do not cover their hair. For people just graduating the proportion is likely to be higher. BTW, what's a 'religious' state university? Did you teach at some department of theology?

As for your other observetions, I'll see if I can find someone to ask. I sometimes hang out at the blogs of liberal guys who come from 'cemaat' backgrounds. Their wives might know about these things. (Though the last time I asked about something like this, while the blog owner got a good laugh, the other women there got agressive and started talking about each other's underwear. If your Turkish is up to it, I'd recommend skimming that thread to get a sense of the tension between women themselves.)

[1] I am glossing over a lot. What the coup of 1980 did for organized religion here is an interesting subject that's well worth exploring if you're into such things.

[2] This would be the common view for the US and perhaps other English-speaking countries. The EU is somewhat different, as evidenced by the way the ECHR behaved.

Stranger said...

It's no wonder I couldn't find that story with Internet research-- very 1984 and Newspeak. Like 'We're at war with Afghanistan. We have always been at war with Afghanistan. We're at war with Iraq. We have always been at war with Iraq.' It's never clear how these things just slip into the common consciousness, they just suddenly... are.

Interesting how the 1980s coup created/exacerbated the problem. Will people never learn that movements flower when pushed underground? Also interesting is the shift to the word 'türban' so as to not upset everyone about the poor, innocent (and probably fairly innocuous at that point) başörtüsü.

And VERY interesting that there's no actual headscarf law, just an understanding. I did not know that. I'm not surprised. It's kind of like the songs and dances (I mean that both literally and figuratively) that everyone here knows. When I first came here, I kept asking 'How come everyone in the restaurant knows all the words to all the songs? How do they all know the dance?' and no one could give me a satisfactory answer. This concept applies to a lot of things here, as it turns out. All the foreigners going 'Eh?' and all the Turks going, 'Duh! (as in, how can you not know that?'

So I did indeed get some confusing information about the kids of headcoverings allowed now. Before this last conversation with BE, and before all the Internet research, I'd assumed all types of headscarves were banned as well.

When I talk about the girls at my former place of work, I'm avoiding using the name of the school both to protect my anonymity a little, and also because they're always on the verge of being in trouble with YÖK for 'religious' violations (they were almost shut down around 1999, and their admissions were frozen for awhile, plus their connection with Fetüllah Gülen and his missionary schools in Turkey and around the world is no secret), but whatever can be said about their religious leanings, I really liked my job, and most people there were good, kind, straighforward people not at all guilty of the two-faced-ness Fetüllahcı are always accused of. I think the school does a good job, and they're providing a proper educational opportunity for a lot girls who may otherwise not be allowed to go to univeristy. I don't want to say anything on my blog that could get them in trouble (or jeopardize my chances of good recommendations in the future, heh). But this is the place where upwards of 80% of the girls wore hijab, and I often wondered why so few of the girls covered their heads with anything they could even though they otherwise wore hijab.

From the talk in the media, you get the feeling headscarves are sweeping the nation and the tipping point is not far off. But in reality, the number of headscarves hasn't changed much-- I think they're just more noticeable because of the attention being drawn to them. I've been doing informal surveys while stuck in traffic, meaning I count the covered and uncovered women on the street, plus the number of turbans. With the exception of the area around Fatih, it's usually for about every 20 women, 8 are covered and 2 or 3 wear türbans.

But from the talk in the media, you'd think headscarves and this case against AKP are the only things going on, so I'd say the media are doing a very effective job of drawing everyone's attention away from anything real or important. Just like everywhere else, I suppose.

Thanks for the comments and the blog discussion links-- I'll look at them next time I have a awhile to sit down...

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

OK, let me add a bit more. Please keep in mind that what I say is merely my own recollection and very likely to be biased in some manner.

Interesting how the 1980s coup created/exacerbated the problem. Will people never learn that movements flower when pushed underground?

Actually it is not even that. The coup almost completely demolished the existing legal and underground organizations of the 'left' while leaving religious organizations more or less alone. This can be (and is) seen as tacit support for organized religion. They also made religion classes mandatory. The far left, at the time, blamed much of this on US know-how/direction and viewed it as systemetic support for religiosity as an antidote for Marxism. (If you dig around some, you might even see Brzezinski's 'green belt' approach cited.)

Also interesting is the shift to the word 'türban' so as to not upset everyone about the poor, innocent (and probably fairly innocuous at that point) başörtüsü.

You see this today too, the people who want it to stay banned call it 'turban' while the other side calls it 'basortusu.'

And VERY interesting that there's no actual headscarf law, just an understanding. I did not know that.

You see, if an actual law passed by the parliament existed, it could be rescinded. Let me copy the relevant part from an ECHR document:

There was a legal basis for that interference in Turkish law, as the case-law of the Constitutional Court made it clear that authorising students to “cover the neck and hair with a veil or headscarf for reasons of religious conviction” in universities was contrary to the Constitution. In addition, the Supreme Administrative Court had for many years taken the view that wearing the Islamic headscarf was not compatible with the fundamental principles of the Republic.

So you cannot point to any particular law as the culprit. Regulations do exist (eg civil service dress code) of course. The court ties these opinions to their reading of the secularism principle in the constitution -- and that principle is untouchable.

This concept applies to a lot of things here, as it turns out. All the foreigners going 'Eh?' and all the Turks going, 'Duh!

You can see it in road signs too (it used to be far worse). Much of the time, you cannot see the name of the main road written anywhere -- you're just supposed to know it -- everyone does, duh.

From the talk in the media, you get the feeling headscarves are sweeping the nation and the tipping point is not far off.

Yes, then on the next page they give you the impression that women here run around half-naked and go bar-hopping every night.

But in reality, the number of headscarves hasn't changed much-- I think they're just more noticeable because of the attention being drawn to them.

I think you are right. Though what you see in Istanbul is probably non-representative.

But from the talk in the media, you'd think headscarves and this case against AKP are the only things going on, so I'd say the media are doing a very effective job of drawing everyone's attention away from anything real or important. Just like everywhere else, I suppose.

I think the main difference between the way it is done in the US and here is that ours also lie outright and get away with it. MSM in the US are skilled enough to be manipulative w/o asserting verifiable material falsehoods. Zaman et. al. are like the US media in that regard -- they lie less and make a point of exposing the lies of their ideological competitors while being manipulative themselves.

Remember how the NY Times came out and apologized for their coverage in the period right before the Iraq war and analyzed their offending articles? They did this while they were being equally manipulative about Iran. Not all of this needs to be really consciously done -- though some suspect otherwise -- it might just be a matter of style. It does work, though.

Stranger said...

I'm starting to think I need to get out more. My ultra-nationalist husband isn't a good source of information. Or rather, he's a good source of some kinds of information, but I don't have the background or context to sift through what he tells me. From him, I really did think the coup days were a glorious military crushing of religious forces of evil. That Alevis were persecuted during this time is a footnote he might mention (and one he probably hasn't quite found a place for in his thinking, because it contradicts the infallibility of the military), but I guess he's quick to forgive because it was the wonderful military acting purely in Atatürk's interests. I add that he was born in 1979, so his 'experience' of the early 80s is formed by someone else. He was probably doing what LE does-- throwing his food and getting really excited about bathtime.

However, I'm surprised he doesn't jump on the US influence of allowing religious power to flourish. He's sure quick to blame everything that's happening now on the US. In this theory, the US is trying to make Turkey religious in order to sabotage the country and make it weak, so they can come in and parcel it up like everyone has been wanting to do since WWI. Even I know enough to find this spurious.

It's really interesting in the details how they banned headscarves. Thanks for taking the time to explain all this.

I agree that Istanbul is probably not representative as far as headscarves are concerned, or anything else for that matter. But I think if you started seeing a majority of women covering thier heads here, it would mean they were pretty much all covered elsewhere.

As for lying in the media, BH came home one day all in a dither because he'd read Obama was Catholic like Kennedy. I kept saying I didn't think it was true, and dutifully went off to find him some (true) information to the contrary. Which is where I read that several months ago in the US, Fox News and some others of that ilk publicised first that he was Catholic, and later that he was secretly a fundamentalist Muslim extremist because he'd attended a Muslim school in Indonesia. Of course, other media jumped all over this and showed it all to be false (though I wonder how many Americans still believe one or the other), explaining how the misunderstanding occurred. It made me glad I'm not saturated with US news all the time. My foreigner bubble protects me from Turkish news. And I don't think the Turkish news has ever set the record straight on Obama's religious beliefs.

That 'duh' factor is really funny. I had a friend who couldn't get water delivered because they'd changed the name of her street and number of her building shortly before they moved there, and the water guys didn't know the new names or numbers. Nonetheless, they still cheerfully promised her the water was on the way (that's one thing I'll never figure out-- when people are telling the truth or when they're cheerfully pawning me off because they don't want to be rude by not knowing something, or rudely pawning me off because they're too lazy to do their jobs and trying to send me to the merkez in Bağcılar. My husband, fortunately, generally knows which is which). And once I asked my MIL where I could buy silver polish and she was absolutely baffled what the hell I was talking about, thinking 'Duh, why doesn't she just take it to the gypsies who come around to polish silver?'

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

I'm starting to think I need to get out more.

Or, perhaps, you could use your interest in such matters to improve your Turkish reading skills. (I know I ought to recommend books at this point, but I cannot since I don't know of any. But the Turkish part of the 'net might be helpful.)

From him, I really did think the coup days were a glorious military crushing of religious forces of evil.

He thinks this for the coup of 1980? I wonder how pervasive this line of thinking is among younger people.

... but I guess he's quick to forgive because it was the wonderful military acting purely in Atatürk's interests.

Oh yes, indeed. Of course. So much so that, in 1981, big signs went up saying "Ataturk 100 yasinda." I don't think they made people do this really, but, you know, "n'olur n'olmaz." I don't know in whose interests they did it, but even Kenan Evren now acknowledges that maybe they stressed Ataturk too much. (I saw him say something to this effect in the 12 Eylul documentary, available on google video. That might be an OK way to kill an hour or ten that you don't have. The language is TV Turkish, so it may be easy for you. The content isn't that great but they have enough actual footage to give the viewer a sense about what we saw on the streets back then. I might as well mention another documentary I know about. This one probably has subtitles. I haven't watched it. Here it is. Oh BTW, there's a good summary of popular beliefs about the US inolvement there also.)

In this theory, the US is trying to make Turkey religious in order to sabotage the country and make it weak, so they can come in and parcel it up like everyone has been wanting to do since WWI.

Oh, he's that kind of a nationalist. Well, that particular meme got started long ago, and rightly so at the time. The 'state' has a long memory here even if the populace simply makes things up about what happened even a decade ago. That memory itself isn't really transferred to schoolkids, but certain attitudes arising from it are. If you've been following how various 'resolutions' cause backlashes here, and/or how people tend to overreact, you might find the attitude described in this NYT piece from 1896 somewhat familiar.

And I don't think the Turkish news has ever set the record straight on Obama's religious beliefs.

Oh his middle name is 'Huseyin,' that's good 'nuff for us. (Probably good enough for US talk radio too. I wonder if/when they'll sink low enough to go the Saddam Hussein/Barack Hussein route -- if they haven't already, that is.)

Stranger said...

Again, really nice links, thank you (I looked over all but the google video-- LE keeps trying to bite my leg).

And yeah, I probably should improve my Turkish, and not just reading. I kind of reached a point where I can get along fine and after that I quit working on it. I think how much effort I put into Turkish approximately mirrors my investment in being here. I used to be really into it, both being here and learning the language.

And if there are things BE tells me that seem ignorant or ill-informed, that could be just as much his language limitations and my misunderstanding. There are clear themes to his explanations though (the infallibility of the military and Atatürk, US/CIA conspiracies, the foreigners at the gates waiting to cut Turkey up), and I probably turn off when he starts ranting about one of these things and fill in the blanks myself-- problematic again because of a lack of background and context outside BE's. He tends to frame everything as 'Religious vs. Secularists/Nationalists' so a lot of what's in between gets lost.

IT's not just because of these things I need to get out more though...

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

OK it turns out the "Coup" documentary is available on youtube. It does have English subtitles. I'll give you the link to the fist part (of 16) here. You can search for the rest on that site. I have watched it and it is what it claims to be: an oral history. It might be tough for you to get a clear idea from that film without knowing the events the people they inteviewed. As far as the US involvement and political Islam goes, perhaps the episode where they talk about the time between 1980-1998 would be the one to watch. Here's the link for that.

(insert standard text about grains of salt and all that kind of stuff here).

Stranger said...

Thanks so much for taking the trouble to find all these links, Bülent! I'll take a look first chance I get because I'm really interested. And as far as I know, You Tube access has been restored over here...