I think I have adapted generally very well. Does the fact that I am a professional translator (Turkish to English, for this newspaper as well as different media outlets in the past) say anything about my love for and desire to integrate into Turkey -- and Turkish -- as much as possible? It should.
Anyway, I offer up all the above as a preface to what I really wanted to write about today, which is a series of articles written by Hürriyet columnist Ayşe Arman, published over the past couple of weeks. The subject of Arman's articles was the headscarf and “mahalle baskısı,” (so-called “neighborhood pressure,” a reference to oppression that some both secular and religious factions in Turkey claim they feel due to their headscarves or lack thereof), though Arman dove into the topic in a manner that I hadn't witnessed before. Her method involved putting on a headscarf (Arman herself does not wear a headscarf; she is fiercely secularist), and even at one point an “abaya,” and went around İstanbul “testing the waters,” to see how people in different spots (from cafes to nightclubs to İzmir waterfront walkways) would react to her. She also wore a miniskirt to one of İstanbul's most conservative districts -- Fatih's Çarşamba neighborhood -- to test their reactions and, should I say, patience.
Now on the face of it, the whole experiment described above is interesting and seemingly harmless. I would be lying if I said I hadn't fantasized myself about different situations involving headscarves; one of my favorites is the idea of buying a home in Kemer Country as a foreigner and then moving in and suddenly veiling my head, just to see the looks on my neighbors' faces.
Nonetheless, what emerged from Arman's series of articles, one of the last of which featured her posing in a series of different styles of headscarf with grim and odd facial expressions was, I felt, a mocking, almost taunting tone. Her real aim, it seemed to me, was to both belittle and insult headscarved women, but under the guise of some weird, extremely shallow sort of “investigative journalism.” Her forays into headscarved realms (such as a hotel somewhere along the Aegean or Mediterranean coastline where men and women enjoyed different bathing areas) were written with the (I believe) faked, breathless wonderment of someone who had just wandered into Turkey from somewhere in Scandinavia, not knowing anything about the very real social aspects and stratifications of this nation. I mean, come on, I have lived in Turkey only for the past decade or so of my life, but I feel like I already have a more nuanced understanding of the way things work here re: headscarves. Again though, I can't help feeling that Arman's expressed “amazement” was really pretty fake -- after all, she grew up here.
But what I really found insulting -- and again, I am not even a Muslim or Turkish for that matter -- was her theory that somehow a headscarf, or any kind of religious wear or symbolism, can be put on or taken off like a Halloween costume! Would we smile accommodatingly if a non-Jewish man put on tassels and a Hassidic hair style for the day, or if a non-Buddhist decided to traipse around in tamarind-colored monk clothing, passing himself of as a holy person? Arman's actions were a mockery, plain and simple, and did not prove anything. What Arman fails to understand is also very revealing though and explains -- at least partially -- why secularism should and must be tied closely to democracy in order for the Turkish way to succeed, because it is the same mentality which drives Arman to view the headscarf as a costume that, to me at least, appears to be behind realities such as the current ban on headscarves in Turkish universities. The idea that young women should -- or even could -- remove their headscarves in order to be allowed to “belong” to the educational arena is fundamentally undemocratic. In fact, it is really the whole idea of these separate “arenas” -- a false reality, at least in the way Arman seems to be trying to portray it -- that I believe is holding Turkish society back. I can socialize with friends who are headscarved on Saturday and have over my agnostic buddies on Sunday, and this is all just a part of the eclectic panorama that is Turkey. It is an eclectic and marvelously varied panorama that neither Arman -- nor I guess Hürriyet -- seem to get.