Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Women in Modern Turkey

For young women in modern-day Turkey, donning the scarf is an act of youthful rebellion. Turkey is a secular country today, and women are not forced to wear the scarf, even in public. But for one young women, the scarf became a symbol - not of who she was but of who she was not.

"Like many young people at a time of religious revival across the Muslim world, [Hawa] Yilmaz is more observant than her parents. Her mother wears a scarf but cannot read the Koran in Arabic. They do not pray five times a day. The habits were typical for their generation - Turks whose families moved from the countryside during industrialization.

While her decision was in some ways a recognizable act of youthful rebellion, in Turkey her personal choices are part of a paradox at the heart of the country's modern identity.

Turkey is run by a party of observant Muslims, but its reigning ideology and law is strictly secular, dating from the authoritarian rule in the 1920s of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a former army general who pushed Turkey toward the West and cut its roots with the Ottoman East.

For some young people today, freedom means the right to practice Islam, and self-expression means covering their hair.

Yilmaz's embrace of her religious identity has thrust her into politics. She campaigned to allow women to wear scarves on college campuses, a movement that prompted emotional, often agonized, debates across Turkey about where Islam fit into an open society. That question has paralyzed politics twice in the past year and a half and has drawn hundreds of thousands into the streets to protest what they said was a growing religiosity in society and in government - though just how observant Turks are remains in dispute.

The girls say that the scarf, contrary to popular belief, was not forced on them by their families. Nor are they paid to wear it. Some women wear it because their mothers did. For others, like Yilmaz, it was a carefully considered choice.

The head scarf debate ended abruptly in June, when Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled that the new law allowing women attending universities to wear scarves was unconstitutional, because it violated the nation's principles of secularism."

Source: The International Herald Tribune

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