A Not So Turkish Life

Identity in a multi-life world

Identity is a strange word to define.

I’m human. female. I’m British. Welsh. Muslim. A wife. A graduate. A Mum. An editor. An artist. A babywearer. A hijabi. A breastfeeding wanna-be lactavist. I’m a parent. And a person.

“the fact of being who or what a person or thing is”

Identity – the need to know who that being is – sparked contact with my birth father. Sixteen, in foster care, identity mattered.

Identity – the need to know what – drove me to search for the truth in knowing God, took me to Islam.

Identity – the need to combine these two things – the who, the what, the genes, the nurture – is what keeps me here, typing away.

But this?

“a close similarity or affinity”

does this matter more than the rest?


Identity – your being, your what and who – becomes so much in part defined by whom others see, what others are, that identifying features, symbols, clothes, mannerisms, phrases can all backfire onto us, trap us even within their definition. Identity becomes what others give to you; and you become… who?

As a British non-practicing christian, the hardest question I’d had to face was are you English or Welsh? (for the record? Welsh) As an expat British, soon-to-be-Turk inshAllah, Muslim hijabi, mother of a Turkish-Brit, identity – the who and what – is more complex, more defining.

Here in Turkey, identity matters. Whether you’re Turkish or Kurdish determines your right to certain laws, your level of safety, of freedom, of suspicion, autonomy. Where your Turkish roots come from – village or city, east or west, north or south, Turkic countries nearby – matters. Your religion matters, not what as much as how; do you pray, do you not? Is your identity first Muslim or Turk? Kurdish or Turkish? Western or Eastern? In Turkey, these terms of identity aren’t simply tokens to tick on a form; they are real and defining and so encompass your whole.

Everything you say, your actions, your clothes, your acquaintances, can all matter here. identity is something people need, don’t just want. To differentiate between them. To identify with them.

“a close similarity or affinity”

It’s important to Turks.

Wearing hibab in Turkey, what starts out as a next step inshAllah on the road to Jannah becomes your step in or out of many open doors. Politics, religion, rights and status are intertwined here more than many places in the world. In a country which still remembers military rule, arguably is still stepping out from under such rule, where military means secular in the exclusionary sense and politics meant domination in its most recent past, hijab is a symbol for too much – too much hope, too much hate, too much conflict, indecision, too much fear and ignorance. In a country where even now – in statute of law – it is illegal to wear hijab to university, where you can be imprisoned for free speech and be arrested without charge, what you wear is identity and defines you as such.

I am a woman. I am a mother. I am a sister. A daughter. A friend. I’m a liberator. An expat. A free-thinker. I’m a feminist and a wearer of bras. I’m a Brit. May be a Turk. I’m a baker. And a cook. And a Muslim who chooses how to dress.

Wearing hijab in Turkey defines me, confines me. It restricts me and prohibits me. It bars me from barracks – even to identify a body. Stops me entering cafes, restaurants, bars. Wearing hijab in Turkey tells people something about me: just what, they decide. It makes me a villager. Illiterate. Ignorant. Political. Feminist. Subservient to my husband or his family. A rebel. Stupid. Courageous. A friend. A foe. Someone to show guidance, someone to seek guidance from. Someone to sit next to, someone to move from. Someone you want to know. Someone they don’t want to see.

In Turkey, in hijab, your identity matters not. To them at least.

Identity. What of that?

Once upon a time, in both East and West, we were defined by our closeness to livestock. Did we rear, or poach, eat or sell? Was our choice cattle or sheep? Poultry or game? Now, when livestock is a rare sight and supermarkets rule the roost, our closeness to livestock is defined by where we shop how we cook. Once upon a time, we knew the nature of our food, now we read the packaging and we’re all packaged of sorts, co-erced just like our food to fit the guidelines, hide the rest. Once upon a time we were packaged the same, then someone tweaked us like this and we morphed into that.

What then of identity now? Who and what is our being?

Assimilation is something as an expat many strive for – to be seen as the same, to be one with the native. I’ve never understood this desire. To assimilate means to hide you, to cover the mould which you came from. In college, surrounded by rich kids with titles and houses, I held my own when I talked about home. Home that meant nowhere, but everywhere, and there. In Turkey, I talk openly of my past and my world; in Britain, my religion and my choice. I don’t want to assimilate to a mould, to be confined by mere borders. I want to be me. The identity my life’s built, God’s given me.

Turkish by birth, British by default, my sons will speak two languages with a fluency sure to overtake their father and I, they’ll be free to travel using whichever passport gives them ease and will be aware of two cultures, here and there. But what will that make them, these angel boys of mine? What will they identify as, who will their being be?

My identity will be a frame for them. My husbands’ will be a frame for them. The identity we form as a unit will be their framework to sit inside, safe, sheltered. Slowly, they’ll push out of our frame, take steps to weave their own then. No frame is complete in itself. To grow, to mould into their identity our children need gaps in our frames, they need their lives to be permeated with opinions and ideas and languages and smells and experiences different to those we offer them. Identity is formed as a culmination of all things and we need to give them space to be, to explore that, to find that. Knowing their framework will be topped up with the complexities of this culture and the identities it gives to us makes me angry, makes me sad, makes me hopeful.

Angry they will have to face prejudice on their mothers behalf
Sad my choice will so impact into their world
Hopeful they will see how wrong this is.
Hopeful they’ll be part of the generation who sees a change, who can reflect back to childhood from adulthood and say, “Yes, this is freedom, democracy now.”

No matter how old the child, they look back to the parents, reflect on their pasts, their childhood, those initial seeds of being. I hope mine can find their place here once they’ve grown. I pray they know that you don’t need similarity to find affinity for someone, I hope they know that your what needn’t define your who and I hope they know that no matter where their identity leads them, they’ll be a space in my framework their shape.

I am a woman. a mother. a wife and a friend. I’m a coffee-addict, ice-cream fiend and my being is me. My who is my soul and my what is my why.

Identity is ours to define.

This entry was published on 03/08/2012 at 14:53. It’s filed under Externalise, Life and Faith and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “Identity in a multi-life world

  1. Love this. Beautifully written and perfectly reflective. Identity is fickle I guess, and assimilating is a catch 22. We are who we are but sometimes not seen as the way we wish to be seen.

  2. Ayesha on said:

    Very thoughtful M. I try not to think too much about the changes in my life in Turkey 😦 too painful. Hayal kirikligi….

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