A Step Too Far

While the “headscarf problem” is being solved in practice at universities, which will now allow them in classes, no such “opening” has occurred in politics where separate dual receptions have been the norm, one inviting politicians and uncovered wives, and one to which politicians could bring their covered wives, including the wives of the president and prime minister. Sniffing a change in the air, President Gül hosted only one party this year. With predictable consequences.

The annual Oct. 29 reception hosted by President Abdullah Gül to commemorate the establishment of the Republic of Turkey is again causing controversy this year over the ongoing headscarf issue.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, has announced it will not attend the event due to the controversial issue.

In previous years, the president has hosted two separate receptions, so as not to bring together military guests and female guests wearing headscarves. Since First Lady Hayrünnisa Gül wears a headscarf, the two receptions served as a solution for secular guests who refused to attend the same events as her.

By merging the two receptions into one evening event this year, Gül sparked a reaction from the CHP. (click here for the rest of the article)

I can see the line drawn: yes in universities, but not in the civil service or official political events. This refers back to the question I asked in a previous post. After they get their university degrees, what will covered women be able to do with it?

40 Responses to “A Step Too Far”

  1. Turkey still has to find the “middle way” and reconciliate its two halves, but most importantly, Turkish society has to overcome is prejudices towards women in general.

    While the question you pose is very interesting and I echoed it in my blog, there are also prejudices directed towards uncovered women. If remember correctly, in your book “Islamist mobilization in Turkey” there is a passage of your book in which you talked about your experience wearing a headscarf in a dolmus, how people was automatically more respectful. This is because there is also an association between being uncovered and being an “easy” girl.

    Women should be always treated respectfully and enjoy equal opportunities, no matter their beliefs, their clothes or their socio-economic status.

  2. I can see the line drawn: yes in universities, but not in the civil service or official political events.
    CHP appears to be split over this for political events. KK seems to want to go to that reception (I haven’t checked the recent details, but I know the info in the piece you linked to is obsolete). It has been possible to wear a headscarf in civil service for a long time (in municipalities at least) but you cannot be too visible and it is against the rules. So this ruled out advancement. With sufficient political power these rules can and will be changed.
    Since we have democratic control over the judiciary now, I’m sure you have noticed we have a transparent process and a great understanding of the approaches of the new members of the constitutional court (two have been nominated/elected and appointed so far). I don’t know how the new court will act and whether they’ll reverse the precedent they set. I’m also curious if women will get in. (The chief justice when they issued the infamous 367 decision was female.)
    This refers back to the question I asked in a previous post. After they get their university degrees, what will covered women be able to do with it?
    My guess is that that issue will merge into other issues about female employment once CHP settles down. I’m more interested in what’ll go on between covered and uncovered women in the workplace and what’ll happen to girls in primary and secondary education once we get covered teachers in place.

  3. Here’s a link containing hints about the apparent split in CHP over attending that reception: http://www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalDetay&ArticleID=1023895
    Kilicdarogu apparently has not committed himself one way or the other and made that known making this guy [who announced the party wouldn't attend] look bad.

  4. Renata, tienes razon. As far as Jenny White is concerned, the best solution for her would be to convert to Islam and wear a headscarf. Good luck with lots of respect!

  5. This overemphasis on the covered women in the blog of Jenny is really boring and tiresome. Are there no uncovered women in Turkey? Do they not have any problems, concerns, anxieties? Or are their concerns somewhat less important? What really irritates me is that these Western so-called experts like White pretend to write as if they were dispassionate outside observers, yet their self-identification with the supposed “plight” of covered women is so evident, and their silence on the concerns of the uncovered women in the context of the growing conservatism so deafening, that their lines between scholarship and activism get blurred. If Jenny White wants to join the covered women as an activist, she is welcome to do so. But please, stop pretending that you are a scholar.

  6. There are 215 posts under the category of women. Perhaps you should read them.

  7. I did read them! Some are really useful. But you don’t get the point. You post a lot of posts specifically on covered women, many about all women, and nothing on uncovered women. This is why you are biased. You simply don’t believe that the concerns of uncovered women deserve to be addressed.

  8. Here is the solution to the headscarf issue: stop wearing it.

  9. Parviz, it is possible that Jenny’s own approach to problems of women parallels the AKP’s in some ways. I’ve given her some grief at some point myself for her claim that Gulen’s teachings themselves were female-egaliterian. While I couldn’t coax an explanation from her for what appeared to me to be a bizarre claim, a study of Gulen’s approach (over the years) as it can be gleaned from what’s publicly available lead me to thing Jenny’s judgment of and approach to such things may not exactly be what one might expect. (Note that she cuts the PM a lot of slack too, but that’s perhaps because the mainstream press no longer stresses such stuff . EG: For the second time in the past few months, RTE is coming out explicitly against some (dunno which) notion of equality and turning directly against some women’s organizations. These days I end up going to the far left press to get coverage of such things so click here.)

  10. Bulent, what you say only confirms my point: Jenny White is an activist, not a scholar, and this fact has to be exposed.

  11. Parviz, perhaps there are scholarly reasons for whatever approach she’s taking?

  12. Parviz I think her research on why women wear a heardscarf and what is their position inside the AKP is very revealing of how the AKP is creating an “egalitarian” discourse while not applying it to their own reality (thus, a void discourse). This is a controversial topic by which AKP wants to earn more votes, not to solve the issue.

    Maybe this was not Jenny’s purpose when writing her book, but I found it to be a complete critic of the Turkish system, be it republican or islamist, and specially of the latter (like that story of her friend that used to work in the AKP office but had to stop doing so after getting married; that speaks a lot of the kind of men that are into the AKP).

    The true solution for this issue can’t be found within the current framework of Turkish politics.

  13. Secularism in Turkey has failed when it comes to women’s rights, imho. I remember my textbooks when I studied Turkish, although the place I studied in was secularist, you could see that the women were always cooking, cleaning and taking care of children, while men would always come after a hard day of work to have his dinner, read a fairy-tale to children and do nothing else. Never women reading a book or men ironing their shirts.

    That book made pretty obvious what are the roles each gender has to adopt in mainstream Turkish society. This is the problem the Turkish Republic has failed to address. This is my POV.

  14. Renata, I fully agree with you that the republican system failed to completely overhaul gender relations in Turkey. But the same could be said about the situation of women in many countries of the Western Europe, where the equality is by no means guaranteed and implemented. That said, however, the republican Kemalist system at least tried to liberate women, and it in fact achieved a great deal: it is only because of Kemalism that there are relatively many women professionals in Turkey. But the Islamists not only fail to bring about the gender equality, they are opposed to it in principle. That´s why, for all the faults of the Kemalist project, it is the Islamists who have to be sternly indicted on the gender equality score, not Kemalists.

  15. I am totally in agreement with what you said Parviz.

  16. Renata,

    Western countries were preaching the same thing a few decades ago. You have to recognize that Turkey is a few decades behind.

  17. Here is my take on the question of “After they get their university degrees, what will covered women be able to do with it?”

    They will do exactly what others do. They will become part of the typical gender relations in Turkey. They will find a “decent” guy, get married, have kids and visit grandparents over the weekends. Why should we treat them differently? After all, raising kids and taking care of the house if not the household is a full-time job. Is it not what these women want? Is it not what we want? Why all of a sudden we are so worried about covered women let alone educated covered women? In the Turkish culture, the highest degree a woman can achieve seems to be Mrs.

    The educated uncovered women seem to be OK with male submission too. I have not conducted or read any research on this but I have a feeling that large cities in Turkey have a substantial amount of housewives with MA let alone BA degrees. Of course without any proper research, this does not mean anything but I cannot remember the number of highly educated women (I know) quitting their jobs for their family, and I do not recall them complaining about the system hampering their careers. They seem to be content with being housewives. I wonder if this has anything to do with my other unscientific observation that sending daughters to foreign universities has become an indicator of socio-economic status. Since the economic return of education is negligible, a guy with a proper job remains to be the only means to providing dad’s living standards.

    The situation in conservative circles is even worse. They already seem to accept their egalitarian inferiority. Differences in their monthly cycles seem to be a sufficient reason for such submission. I recommend covered women to be friends with Sumeyye. If she becomes influential through her dad’s networks, covered women may have a chance. If she gets married and becomes a housewife, it is the end of their dreams for a professional life if they have any.

    I am making gross generalizations of course. It is simply because I am tired of seeing women behind some kind of a male figure at any capacity, and being content with it. I cannot listen to another Islamic propaganda advocating for the “natural distribution of labor” in which women’s role is characterized as kind, caring, motherly, supportive while men are rational, calm and tough thus such inequality is by design. I also cannot stand “yandas” approaches focusing on particular segments of the society in gender issues. If covered women would like to liberate themselves from submission, in today’s circumstances perhaps they should start with getting rid of the headscarf.

  18. I never claimed otherwise Emre. But my point doesn’t have to with decades or time-travel, it has to do with the point that the govt. of Turkey has been unable to adress gender questions properly and eventually simply left gender roles as they were without questioning them, and the few attempts were hindered by the fact that the problems of wom coming from conservative background were never addressed properly. How can you expect that a woman will take their veil off or start a career abroad by herself if you never tried to change the mindset of her family (especially that of men)?

    There are many women in Turkey that are university professors, entrepreneurs, engineers… but I still have the feeling that those are a minority, and that the education system is failing at making them more willing to engage their life outside the traditional expectations.

    We have similar issues here in Spain, but after 40 years of a conservative dictatorship the country has changed and adopted many progressive policies, to the point that women have become more aware of their place in society after *only* 30 years of democracy in Spain, than women in Turkey after almost a century of secular and modern republic.

    The Turkish governments haven’t been brave enough with this issue, and now that the islamists have their own discourse and are in power, what are the secular elites going to do? This is my question.

  19. Thank you Cingoz, that was my point exactly !!!

  20. Cingoz makes some good points. First there is the expectation that women should get married. Second they must have children. This is true across the board.
    It is difficult for women to hold a job and raise a family at the same time without a helping hand. The conservative insistence on traditional gender roles is the root of the problem. That said, I do not think it helps to bind this to the headscarf issue. One problem at a time, folks!
    Renata, we can not expect a socially conservative government to promote a gender equality. They have already and explicitly rejected that. Their preoccupation is the headscarf issue.

  21. Emre, that is precisely what I said. The made of the headscarf a smokescreen to entertain people while there are real issues that are left undiscussed.

    If the AKP had the will to promote gender equality they have the advantage of understanding the part of the society that is more reluctant to accept it, but it is not so, thus again failure.

    Btw, did you read http://www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalDetay&ArticleID=1024382&Date=19.10.2010&CategoryID=78? :S

  22. Turkish secularism died in 1980, if not earlier. Besides, it is a bit strange to charge secularism with the duty of establishing gender equality.
    Anyway, imho, Turkish issues are getting old fast. A US senatorial candidate just suggested that the US constitution did not stipulate church-state separation. It appears, according to her, the state (i.e., the congress in American parlance) could establish religion. Mind you, she purports to want small government. Imagine the small government that would establish religion. Imagine there were more of her elected for office. What a circus that would be!

  23. And there is this now: http://www.universitekonseyleri.org/kabullenmiyoruz
    There seems to be a whole bunch of signatures in there (I pulled it into emacs and counted 548, from their ‘guncel liste’ link) . No coverage in any of the print dailies that google scans as of now. I don’t know who these people are, but they all seem to have tenure (‘kadro’) and the number doesn’t seem insignificant.

  24. Bulent, they must be among those defenders of status quo that the nation doesn’t listen to anymore. Hence the lack of press coverage.

  25. Also, Spain cannot set a proper example for Turkey. It’s a catholic country, and the Vatican is a pretty nimble institution that just declared Homer and Bart Simpson were catholics, and the faithful could allow their little ones watch their antics.

  26. Nihat, I am astonished by your claim that secularism should not work for the gender equality. Then what is the added value of secularism? Of course, gender equality is part and parcel of secularist politics. Should be, at least. And as to Spain, it is not really “Catholic country” in a sense that Vatican does not rule the lives of the people there. Spain, for example, legalised gay marriage in 2004! But the Catholic church still has a lot of (undeserved) privileges in Spain and powerful supporters among conservative politicians, media, business circles. So the fight for the real secularism is still going on in Spain as well.

  27. Nihat, tsk tsk, why do you hate freedom? Or let’s use the local equivalent, why do you defend Israel? Are you a laikci? Darwinist? Elite? White? Are you not of this nation? (That last bit comes from the latest decree by the glorious hocaefendi in case you missed it.)
    Anyway, when talking about education one should keep in mind that we have a continuing education scheme of sorts that takes place at least every Friday with lectures delivered by our civil servant imams. Diyanet is a huge organization with a budget approaching $2B and I have not seen its effects studied. I have never understood the sense of having one bunch of civil servants tell little girls’ fathers that girls should cover, and then making another bunch of civil servants chase covered girls away from schools.

  28. “But the Catholic church still has a lot of (undeserved) privileges in Spain and powerful supporters among conservative politicians, media, business circles. So the fight for the real secularism is still going on in Spain as well.”

    Completely true.

    @Bulent: The point of diyanet was to finish the power the clergy had in Ottoman times and put them under the rule of the state. The main purpose was to control the religious discourse and prevent fundamentalism and revolts against the state’s authority, but as you’ve said, unfortunately there are no studies about its effects so far (and it would be a great topic for research).

  29. Renata, not that I have researched it but I’m not sure the ‘official’ Sunni clergy (seyhulislam etc.) wasn’t subservient to the state in Ottoman times. It seems the Alevi organizations carried the anti-state activities and got punished, and, after Vaka-i Hayriye, Bektashi ones were likewise hit by the blessing and support of the official Sunni authorites. Much later, during the time of Greek rebellions, the patriarchate acted the same way (and thus the famous hanging of the patriarch). So, yes, perhaps some religious organizations were conduits of dissent, but never the official Sunni one. If this reading is correct, then the founding of Diyanet is hardly an innovation, but is in-line with the tradition of the state. (The growth of its budget in the recent years is well worth looking into. It could be that, intentionally or not, the state is doing its regular thing and exerting its control over the increasingly popular pious practice. This controlling nature and reflex of the state is probably far deeper in its institutional memory and more fundamentally ingrained into its practices than either secularism or nationalism.)
    Once again, let me say that I am making this all up and basing it on very little solid knowledge. Corrections are welcome.

  30. I have a feeling that even AKP will not be able to control this mess. Unlike White, I have confidence in neither the Diyanet nor Gulen for “educating” the masses on the subtleties of the letter and spirit of Islam.

  31. Cingoz, I don’t understand what horrible thing will happen if this is not ‘controlled.’ I am not saying nothing will happen, but I just have not seen an explanation of what I should fear.
    (BTW: this they should study Islam thing reminded me of the stereotypical older (uncovered) Turkish women going ‘bizim guzel dinimizde boyle sey yok, yobazlar uyduruyorlar.’ I have never seen this argument sway the ‘yobaz.’ So the next step is to find some powerful religious authority and get them to get people to do what we want. I suspect, ultimately, this society will have to confront the deep difference between flavors of what’s jokingly called Türk dini and truly organized religious movements based on Islam. One cannot do this unless one’s willing to face one possible outcome that’s scary. Namely that our secularized folk Islam may not be Islam at all.)

  32. “[...] possible outcome that’s scary. Namely that our secularized folk Islam may not be Islam at all.”
    Why is that scary Bulent?

  33. The horrible outcome would be a regime change or at the very least a substantial erosion in the Republican values based on the premise that “the majority of us are Muslims so we should live like Muslims”.And this motto, it seems, is becoming associated, deliberately I must admit, with the extremely popular rhetoric surrounding “public will”. Just like the 1980s, people today are expecting a bang on their doors only to be taken away on charges with a shelf-life of at least two years. But what bothers me the most is that we are creating an extremely polarized generation who will be checking each others’ weak points in the upcoming years to achieve political power and ultimately seek vengeance. “Now it is our time” approach can generate nothing but evil as those in power get uneasy with their timetable. Do you think Turkey can handle another decade of re-match (rovans) if Kemalists or any other group somehow come to power? Also the majority of people in the middle, soon, may find themselves in a situation in which they must pick a side whether or not they like it. So I guess my biggest fear is to live in a polarized society in which its members blame the other side for everything they dislike Some parts of Turkey have become like NYC whereas other parts have become like Riyadh, and I do not think this kind of diversity is healthy for the Turkish society. Of course this process did not start with AKP but what bothers me is that AKP has been exacerbating this trend as opposed to mitigating it with the help of its political power.

  34. Nihat, I’ll give you two main reasons that pop into my mind:
    – People here do like calling themselves Muslim. Letting go of this isn’t easy. (I myself am used to being called a non-Muslim by political Islamists and the like so it doesn’t really bother me, but wouldn’t find it easy to do it myself even if I convinced myself I wasn’t). This is an internal reason.
    – It is good and safe to be a Muslim here (externally). The gov’t cares about this, and other people care also. Despite all the talk about nationalism, note how the non-theistic part of MHP couldn’t turn themselves into a street/political force, but the part that used Islam dominated the party. That may have been fifty years ago but it hasn’t changed (in fact it may have changed in the other direction). The BBP stresses Islam even more.
    All I am saying is this: you can make things up, come up with or follow a folk religion that you call Islam etc. when everybody is more or less ignorant and the religious leaders are too scared of the government to really assert themselves. That particular party probably ends when pious people start getting organized, start reading and studying scripture (it is based on a revealed book after all), and begin asserting themselves politically (and even dominating). Facing the consequences of this head on probably requires one to be ready to face scary or at least uncomfortable possibilities.

  35. “must pick a side”
    That much has already been openly decreed.

  36. Cingoz,
    The horrible outcome would be a regime change or at the very least a substantial erosion in the Republican values based on the premise that “the majority of us are Muslims so we should live like Muslims”.
    For how long (ie would it be stangant) and in what way? That would be my question. People seem to fuss about eventual appearance of headscarved judges but none seem to note that these pious women will be sitting in judgement of men. I mean if that comes to pass I just don’t see how it’ll be a failure for the Republican values as I understand them. (When I first thought this up, I imagined some politically connected ‘Islamic’ organization thief (perhaps a polygamist?) getting convicted to jail time by such a judge with and a tongue lashing as a bonus. Made me giggle.)
    The rest of what you say makes sense to me. Thank you. I was expecting something about headscarves, but I agree with you about the risks in general.

  37. Cingoz, perhaps you’ll enjoy two articles that support your polarization idea, the importance of being ‘a Muslim’ I alluded to, the majoritarianism Jenny talks about, the “public will” rhetoric you mentioned etc.. I’ll excerpt paragraphs that show one difference in POV.
    Here’s one from Yusuf Kaplan:
    Başörtüsü meselesi yine hortladı. Oysa mesele, başörtüsü meselesi değil. Asıl mesele, bu ülkenin gerçek sahiplerinin kim/ler olduğu ve bu ülkenin kaderine kim/ler/in çeki düzen verdiği, verebileceği meselesidir. Başörtüsü, bu gerçeği sembolize ediyor.

    Türkiye’nin asıl meselesi, Osmanlı’nın çökertilme sürecinden itibaren bu ülkenin kaderini azınlıkların belirlemeye başlamasıdır. Türkiye, dünyada, halkın özne olamadığı tek ülkedir. Bu ülkenin kaderine bu ülkenin halkı hükmetmiyor; aksine hem etnik, hem ideolojik, hem de sosyolojik anlamda küçük bir azınlık hükmediyor.
    You probably know where all this is coming from and where it leads to better than I do. The point is that this guy is respected by and is somewhat representative of a substantial crowd. Anyway.
    And here’s Murat Belge:
    [On kids treating him and his friends as foreigners]
    Niye bizi ‘ecnebi’ sanıyorlar? Herhalde öncelikle giyim kuşamdan ötürü. Bunlar toplumsal kodlar; çocuk da olsa, bakar bakmaz anlıyor, bu gelenler onun annesi, babası gibi birileri değil. Başka türden birileri bunlar.
    Onlar bize böyle bakıyorlar. Ne yapsın, eğitimsiz halkımızın cahil çocuğu! Peki, biz onlara nasıl bakıyoruz? Çok benimseyerek mi? Yoo. Ben buradayım, o da iki adım ötemde; ama aramızda gözle görülmez, elle tutulmaz bir duvar var ki, elle tutulan ve gözle görülen şeylerden çok daha katı, çok daha aşılmaz. Bu, öncelikle ‘sınıf farkı’ dediğimiz şey bence. Ama bu, Türkiye’de, Türkiye’nin yaşamış olduğu hayli özel tarih nedeniyle, sınıftan önce bir ‘kültür’ farkı olarak ortaya çıkıyor –neredeyse bir ‘etnik kültür farkı’ olarak. Öyle olmasa, ‘Hello! Gudbay!’ın anlamı kalmazdı.
    Dediğim o özel tarihten ötürü (Batılılaşma vb.), ayrım ‘çifte kavrulmuş’ cinsinden. Aş aşabilirsen.
    Gelgelelim, anlattığım bu ayrımın iki ucunda duran bu insanlardan birinin ‘otantik’, ötekininse ‘yapay’ olduğu kanısında değilim ve çok sık şahit olduğum bu sahneyi çizerken böyle bir şeyi ima etmeye çalışmıyorum. Bu ayrımın kendisi bu toplumun ve tarihinin en otantik ve kendine özgü ürünü. Bu topraklarda yaşayan herkesin yaşantılarının kaynağı bu.

    This is a more realistic take, but I don’t think Westernization is a major factor. I suspect, even among the nominally Turkish Sunni Muslims, this difference existed before the Republic and if there was a difference in degrees of Westernization it was just another manifestation of a deeper and older underlying factor. I don’t know what that factor is, though. It could be something as simple as living in [then] cosmopolitan towns (perhaps port cities? trading hubs?) vs. villages.
    Historic/familial residence data could be gotten out of MERNIS and the present ones from the the current address database perhaps, and checked with the recent voting records or some other proxy for lifestyle/outlook on a neighbourhood basis. I believe MERNIS goes back to the early years of the Republic. I wonder if suitably anonymized records are offered to social scientists?

  38. Bulent, thanks for elaborating.

  39. Just for sake of completeness, here’s another link about identity values etc. that explores what Kaplan and Belge talked about in the links I gave above: http://www.taraf.com.tr/haber/halkimizin-gercek-degerleri.htm

  40. Bulent Murtezaoglu,

    Thank you very much for all the links.

    I agree with Kaplan that the headscarf issue is not the gist of the matter. I criticize its use for entirely different reasons most of which are philosophical. It is an entirely different issue though. One should be able to dress in any way he/she deems. However, all segments of the society should feel that their institutions are theirs and theirs only irrespective of their life style.

    Regarding the issues of cultural differences or the feeling of alienation between the covered and uncovered, I am more aligned with economic approaches. I do not think the feeling of alienation or cultural difference between covered and uncovered population driving Range Rovers are as intense as that between those living in cities and villages of substantially different economic endowments. Economic transactions and integration mitigate at least alienation and to a large extent polarization.

    Class explanations do not make much sense to me either for there is noticeable intra-class fragmentation among the conservative population. In contrast, the modernization literature is even worse. I simply do not understand why the Turkish and foreign academia are so focused on the modernization literature when both conceptualizations were heavily criticized and even dropped after the collapse of the Latin American regimes in the 1960s.

    Of course, I do not want to sound overly deterministic. I do not have a silver bullet explaining or preventing alienation or polarization. I am simply emphasizing that economic explanations in the Turkish context make much more sense. Of course that does not mean that political factors do not matter. Politics in Turkey feeds on this alienation since the Democrat Party era. The day our political representatives realize that they cannot eliminate each other, the Turkish democracy will prosper. Until then, I have a feeling that we will have new Ergenekon and anti-Ergenekon cases, and that is exactly the place I do not want to live.

    In contemporary context, covered judges would simply illustrate an erosion in the Republican principles simply because a substantial portion of the society would deny its legitimacy just like the “other” has been denying the existing judicial system.

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