Confronting our fears

Monday, October 25, 2010 

Up here at the Borderlands Lodge, winter slowly seems to be heading our way. While it's been in the 60s pretty much every day for the past couple of weeks, this week the weather is supposed to turn colder. On the mountains, the snowline has been growing steadily each day.

Meanwhile, the Juan Williams controversy has been heating up the rest of the country, generating lots of chatter and denunciations (Juan Cole weighs in here and here). 

Williams, of course, had said the following while appearing on Fox's O'Reilly show:

"I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
What to make of this?

Ending the headscarf ban in Turkey

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 

As many of you know, a recent directive issued by the director of upper education in Turkey has prohibited professors from throwing students out of their classes on the bases of the student's attire or headgear. With one directive, it seems like the Turkish government has finally cleared the way towards finding an end to the headscarf-in-university controversy that has transfixed some political figures in Turkey for the better part of the last fifteen years or so.

When I started living in Turkey in the early 1990s, individual universities made their own choices regarding the permissibility regarding women wearing headscarves to class. At the university where I worked, Marmara University, women could wear headscarves but some men were told to shave their beards if they got too long and scraggly. The anti-beard rules, apparently, had originally been enforced in opposition to what had been perceived, in earlier years, as a symbol of Marxism. Now it was a symbol of Islam.

Later on, of course, the headscarf would be banned altogether from Turkish universities, just like it was already banned for students (and teachers) at Turkish public schools and in public offices. From this point forward, overturning the headscarf ban emerged as the the front-line "culture war" issue among a populace increasingly divided in Turkey between self-styled "secularists" and supporters of lifting the ban (often called 'Islamists," but really a misleading term). When the AKP successfully passed a constitutional amendment enabling women to wear headscarves to university, the law was overturned by the Constitutional Court and the AKP almost found itself shut down as a result. Anyone wondering why the AKP placed so much emphasis upon gaining a few more sympathetic judges in Turkey's recent referendum needs to start here (look here for my recent discussion of the referendum and what it means).

Fighting for their right to cover up: women protesting headscarf ban in Turkey