Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tensions Rise in Turkey

As Turkey lurches toward a repeal of a ban on head scarves at universities, the country's secular upper middle class is feeling increasingly threatened.

Religious Turks, once the underclass of society here, have become educated and middle class, and are moving into urban spaces that were once the exclusive domain of the elite. Now the repeal of the scarf ban — pressed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, passed by Parliament and now just awaiting an official signature — is again setting the two groups against each other, unleashing fears that have as much to do with class rivalry as with the growing influence of Islam.

While the public debate here typically revolves around Islam and how much space it should have in Turkish society — a legitimate concern in a country whose population is overwhelmingly Muslim and deeply conservative — the struggle over power is a glaring, if often unspoken, part of the tension between the two groups. Secular women at parties speak disdainfully of covered women and the neighborhoods they populate. Older people shake their heads and cluck their tongues at them. High school boys yell, "go back to Iran."


1 comment:

Annah said...

When I lived in Jordan, I went to school with five wonderful Turkish women who had come to Amman specifically to be able to attend school while wearing the head scarf (this was during the ban on scarves in school settings). They were some of the most intelligent, open-minded, "liberal" Muslim women I have met. They were also very devout Muslims. Their strength came from the ability to choose their faith, and their head covering, I believe, which is why I think the lifting of this ban is an important step for Turkey. We so often equate the covering of a woman's hair as oppression when I find that many women who do wear it (when they are allowed to choose) are often less "oppressed" than the women who take hours to style their hair every day. This isn't true across the board, of course, just a reflection on my observations.

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