Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Blogging from Turkey: Headscarves, headscarves, and smoking

A few quick observations from Istanbul.

Smoking is unbelievably rampant here. I feel like I'm in a Mad Men episode (by the way, I haven't seen the season finale - so don't say anything about it).

The traffic is insane and the city is huge (but spectacularly beautiful).

There are several big banners posted across the city asking for help for Pakistan flood-victims.

Facebook may also face a ban and may end up the way of Youtube in Turkey. Though the issue of money may be the big reason behind the Youtube ban (see here for the relevant article - tip from Rainer Bromer)

The issue of headscarves is all the rage in the newspapers. I find this issue a bit strange. I can't see how can a reasonably secular society justify banning a religious symbol any more than imposing a dress-code (religious or non-religious). But this is a big issue here as headscarves are banned at university campuses. The ruling party here is trying to overturn this ban - but then, as expected, they are also playing politics with this issue. Here is Erdogan first reasonably defending headscarves within a secular context:
“No one has the right to exclude ethnic groups. Those who think they own the public, and use their authority for different purposes have damaged the Republic more than anything else. We came to this day by living with prohibitions.”
Erdoğan went on to defend secularism, stating that it also protected those who wear headscarves, because secularism cannot flourish in an environment without freedom of religion.
“We have been ruling the country for eight years. Who have we interfered with? People can wear what they want and do what they want in my country,” said Erdoğan, adding that everyone should have the same freedoms and rights.
But then he also talks about gender inequality (huh?!):
Erdoğan defended recent comments that men and women were actually not equal.
“It baffles me that they say “gender equality” on television. They are right when it comes to rights, but men and women are different by nature,” he said, adding that women who defend gender rights do not support equal rights within their own gender, referring to the headscarf issue.
Read the full article here. So while the case for headscarves looks quite clear-cut, some of the fears regarding Erdogan's intentions also seem justified. But read more about the headscarf debate here, including a statement against the headscarves by University Councils' Association, signed by over 500 professors. Another question to ponder is if such a ban becomes the difference between some women getting educated versus staying at home - and what is the cost of it to the country. Also, see this opinion piece about Turkey's headscarf issue in today's issue of Pakistan's Dawn: Headscarves and Secularism on the Bosporus by Irfan Hussain.

But of course, then you also have the whole issue of Burqa/niqaab ban in several European countries. Again, I think it is hard to justify such a ban in societies that value freedom of expression and religion. Yes, there are fears that there are cases that men are forces women to wear a burqa. Yes, crack-down on those individuals - as it should also be the absolute right of every woman not to wear a burqa/niqaab/hijaab (yes, Saudi Arabia's is a case of imposition - but then hardly anyone looks up to Saudi Arabia for a just society). For a more serious exploration of the topic, check out this article by philosopher, Martha Nussbaum: Veiled Threats? (also see her follow-up article: Beyond the Veil - A response).

Pakistanis like to straddle the line with most issues - so the burqa debate is no exception. No there is are no restrictions one way or the other - at least in major cities like Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad. Peshawar and Quetta may be a different case. Nevertheless, we do have a sense of humor about it. Check out this video of Pakistan's burqa drama, Burqavaganza.

And while we are on the subject, also check out the video of this very heated Doha-Debate on French ban on face veiling. Apart from everything else, it is quite fascinating as this debate took place in Qatar and in front of a Arab and non-Arab audience, hosted by the BBC, and the participants were from England, France and Canada (oh and the French participant is very French :) ). One argument against face veils that I simply fail to understand is that "I feel uncomfortable when I see someone with a veil" or that somehow "women with a veil look-down upon non-veiled women" and hence it should be banned. Now I'm not a fan of burqa/niqab/hijaab - but this is completely nuts. Some people feel uncomfortable with tattoos or nose piercings. Should we ban those also? And one doesn't have to wear a veil to look down upon others - or feel morally superior. How can we draw a line at veiling (or for that matter on headscarves in Turkey)?

In any case, check out the video of Doha-debate here. Also see this oped about the French ban from last July in the NYT: Veiled arguments.

Also see earlier posts:
Blogging from Malaysia: Hijabs, mini-skirts, and some robotics
Face-Veiling, National Identity and Higher Education - Part 1
Face-Veiling, National Identity and Higher Education - Part 2


Anonymous said...

I posted a comment on Thursday on the article posted by Nidhal Guessoum on Hawking's new book, but I cannot see it. Could you please tell me what happened to my comment? I am including it again FYI.

Good morning,

I have just come to read the response that Nidhal Guessoum gave to the Time magazine, and as a muslim I am just shocked to read that God has become a "Metaphysical Principle" in Guessoum's mind. He should go back and read again again "Ayat el Kursi" and ponder about its meaning. He should also review his "A'qida".

I have read the book by Hawking, and I can tell you that any physicist (and I dare not use the word real as Guessoum uses it for scientists) would tell you that is a shallow book meant to raise a buck or two. Moreover, any physicist familiar with the Holographic theories would tell you that M-theory remains a Mystery even for those who are fully immersed on the daily basis trying to find meaning in these "string Theories" that have yet to set a framework that allows tests to be conducted.

I should also point out that gravity IS A SCALAR FIELD, and that Guessoum should get his facts straight before posting some non sense. If his knowledge of M-Theory and String Theories come Scientific American like articles, he should say so before embarking on a ship where he does not belong.

Salman Hameed said...

Sorry for the delay in posting comments. In order to avoid advertisements (spam), comments on posts older than 2 weeks require moderation. Your comment is now posted on the original post by Nidhal.

My two cents on this issue:
Yes, I agree with you that Hawking's book is meant to be provocative, and yes, this kind of topic and proclamations sell books. Nevertheless, I'm more or less on the side of Nidhal as God is indeed a metaphysical principle (I would even say an assumption) - whether one fundamentally believes in it or not. I don't think Hawking is saying any thing that radically different from Laplace's statement from the late 18th century ("God being an unnecessary hypothesis for explaining the formation of the Solar system").

At the same time, I agree with you that we don't - as yet - have strong evidence for various versions of string or brane theories. This does not necessarily mean we won't - but at the present time we don't. After all, Laplace's ideas at the time were quite provocative as well. The jury is still out - but one way or the other, the God question will not have a bearing on that. That is a matter of belief (one way or the other) - and not testability.

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