A Not So Turkish Life

Beyond the Pretty

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.

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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.

Love always,

me and boys

This entry was published on 04/25/2013 at 19:40. It’s filed under Externalise, From Me to You, Istanbul, Iznik, Life and Faith and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “Beyond the Pretty

  1. This is a really interesting prospective. I often here expats commenting how soon the headscarf will be allowed in schools. And I wonder to myself why this is such an issue in basically what is a Muslim nation. How can it be a democracy if people are not allowed to wear what they want. I know the fear is that the country goes to far into religion and moves away from its secular roots. But people deserve to have the choice, no matter who you are or your faith. Great article a very thought provoking.

  2. Just as a note before I start writing, this is not meant as an antagonistic comment at all and is fulled by curiosity. I realise that headscaves are an issue surrounded by a lot of debate – it makes it very difficult to ask any questions without seeming as if you are intollerant. I came to Turkey from a small village in the UK, until I went to London, I had never seen anyone Muslim wearing a headscarf – only the nuns and the old ladies in the village did.

    Ok so that said, I am sorry you have to experience such discrimination and incredible rudeness from people. Treating anyone like that (flicking your headscarf etc) shows a lack of humanity and is just so very wrong. I hate that things like that happen.

    So here’s the thing we live in one of the tourist towns, it’s hot. Yesterday I think it was around 35 degrees. I kept seeing women wearing headscarfs, long coats, the full dress. And they were melting. There husbands were next to them in shorts and t-shits. It just seemed so wrong to me. Why is it like that? What is the reason behind wearing a headscarf?

    I don’t feel like this in winter – I’ll put my own scarf over my head if I’m cold and don’t have a hat. It may seem impropable, but I think I am only anti-headscarves when they are weather inapropriate.

    I guess it just doesn’t really make sense to me why a religion would make you do something that is so very uncomfortable?

    I wrote an article for today’s zaman a few years back on a similar theme. This is a link to it incase you are interested http://www.todayszaman.com/news-213382-whats-in-a-headscarf.html

    • Thank you for your questions – not taken as antagonistic at all!

      Qu’ran (24:31) – “And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women..”

      Whetehr or not to cover your entire body around anyone except (direct) family and other muslim women is a Qu’ranic command is a matter of debate – all I know is that I read the above verse as advice and follow it for many reasons.(If you search this site for “hijab” you’ll find numerous posts musing on various aspects of this)
      Living your life by a religion doesn’t always mean living life in the way that’s easiest 🙂 Whether it’s remembering not to taste the soup while you cook the fast breaking meal during Ramadan, waking up early to pray or not joining your friends at a nightclub there are many elements of islam which challenge you to step a little out of your comfort zone and pull your mind into a more focused place while going about day to day life and through this you remind yourself continually of the path you’re choosing to take. For me personally, wearing of hijab is something like this. Having grown up in the west in a liberal environment where (almost) anything went, it is so easy for me to say and do things I immediately regret because they are contrary to the character traits/path of life I (idealistically) aspire to. Wearing a scarf grounds me a little into that path, even when, perhaps especially when it’s hot and my hair sticks to my neck but that doesn’t mean I go out of my way to be hot; quite the opposite! It’s hot here at the moment too, 29 this weekend, and I spend most days outside with the kids babywearing a nine month old – comfort and coolness is important, but instead of that meaning shorts and a t-shirt I wear linen trousers and loose dresses, light weight scarves tied so as to let the air circulate underneath and I honestly don’t feel any hotter than I ever did here before hijab. Extra bonus? Noone can see when my hair is sticking to my neck 😉 As for why some Turkish women choose to wear pardesü (the coat you probably refer to), I guess it’s a mix of fashion and culture – why does anyone choose to dress the way they dress?

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