This past Tuesday, 23rd April, is celebrated every year as ” Çocuk Bayramı”(Children’s Holiday). This year, we celebrated the work-free day with a lake-side picnic with newly found friends. It was a lovely afternoon, with an atmosphere throughout the town fitting of a day celebrating and recognising our children as a blessing and benefit to the country – an idea I would love to see replicated worldwide. Unlike the UK where children can often feel pushed aside by society, where teenagers fall through the cracks of valued age-brackets and the adage “seen and not heard” is still required by most restaurants, this day recognising children have much to give as well as to learn is invaluable for nurturing a sense of belonging and place.
Yet despite the ice-cream (lemon! luscious!) I felt the celebrations of the day wearing rather heavy on my heart. Çocuk Bayramı originates from remembrance of the opening of the Grand National Assembly, or in layman’s terms, the Turkish parliament and with it, democracy. As a headscarf wearing woman living in Turkey, I find it hypocritical to celebrate something which for me doesn’t exist.
One of my biggest worries of raising my children in Turkey is of them witnessing a society which discriminates – blatantly, legally, subtly; socially, and democratically, against their mother, and through her, their father: I worry more that the example I’ll give them is that this is acceptable, inevitable, and through silence I do nothing to question it. There have been many times I’ve (kinda) wished I’d grown up in America – quilt making as a pre-requisite home-learnt lesson, pancakes and maple syrup, round-the-clock movie cinemas et al circa ’90’s Saved By The Bell – but in the wake of events such as the Boston marathon bombings, I am always extremely thankful that I didn’t and ask for strength, courage and patience for my American friends, muslim and non-muslim, because it seems that when our white privilege – and that’s what being in a position to participate or support a marathon boils ultimately down to – when that privilege is threatened, condemnation and unpatriotic discrimination of anyone outside that bracket becomes par for the course, conveniently neglecting the reality that many of those philanthropic participants are themselves squarely outside of this bracket also.
It’s not just in the US that muslims, or any other minority, may feel threatened by societies which subscribe to the same racism (NB: Did you know islamophobia is now classed as a racist crime? I can’t help feeling that though necessary to ensure appropriate legal consequence such classification inadvertently fuels the notion of religious practise and ethnic identity as intrinsically linked, perpetuating itself problems many muslims face… digression) I’m thankful, though Islamophobia is evident, violence or animosity for my faith has not come my way. Unlike many of my visibly muslim friends in the US – ie. hijab wearing women, shalwar/bearded males – save one incident with teeny bopper punks regurgitating tabloid fed insults, I’ve never felt discriminated against, fearful for myself of my family and certainly never on a backfoot for receiving legal rights: Ironic, and sad then that in Turkey, a secular country 90%+ populated by Muslims, the practise of Islam and the loss of basic rights are accepted as going hand-in-hand.
As of today, 2013, it is still statutorily prohibited for me to attend university wearing hijab.
As of this year, a practising lawyer was ejected from a courtroom and prevented from representing her client simply for wearing her scarf.
As of 2013, well-heeled women residing on Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands will find it acceptable to physically flick my scarf with their fingers as they ask if I wear “this” in the UK as well; restaurants on these islands, and in many areas of Istanbul will – though technically illegal – bar entry to women with a scarf on their head.
As of 2013, well-educated, globally travelled, socially upstanding Turkish citizens, will find no irony in informing me that “I’m making life hard for myself” and in turn it’s this type of attitude, that you’re unnecessarily forcing your religion “out there” that means a former employer will offer me a job teaching children only to immediately, apologetically, withdraw the offer once they learn I now wear hijab, because they know the parents who can afford the fees for their schools will not see past the cloth on my head: Here, in Turkey, my qualifications, experience, and indeed person are irrelevant. That this applies so decisively to the higher quality schools with certified native speaking teachers is a scary indication of the attitudes represented by (many of) the people dominating Turkey’s forward-striding class; one which, were I not letting the side down with the whole out there muslim thing, my foreign status, coupled with the qualifications I’m now told are worthless, would allow me a foothold right into their midst. Ah irony, you bite me in the ass again.
Iznik lake is itself a delightful feature and a focal point for leisurely walks,dainty picnics and family fun, but it’s also the surrounding valleys, overflowing with greens and purples from heather and trees which add a quality to the area making it the perfect British-Turkish blend for countryside living. All this beauty provides a fantastic backdrop for simple canvassed photos of our children as they adventure in exploring their days; but again, as behind the kaleidoscope of head-height colour as you follow the crowds through Istanbul’s bustling busy streets at weekends, what you don’t see here is hidden behind the lens.
You don’t see how everyday before I let the boys loose at the water’s edge I scour the shores for broken glass from disguarded bottles, empty plastic containers from those everyday picnics and general leftover waste, nor do you see M’s thumb pouring with blood from a piece of glass I’d missed that day. Thankfully, the cut wasn’t that deep, the glass was (it seems, inshAllah) relatively sterile and his finger, like my pride, quickly heals.
M & T,
If you’re reading and understanding these words you’ll already have heard much of what’s here said, though I pray by the time you’re old enough to understand there’ll be little of this to experience. Nonetheless, no matter how the political landscape may change or what the views of society reflect, you need to understand that life is rarely the picture it seems – it’s up to us, darling boys, to tint the lens for our frames. Just don’t forget that though we look for beauty in this world, it’s just as important now and then to look beyond the pretty.