Friday, November 1, 2013

Live & Let Live: On lifting the Headscarf Ban at the Parliament

Author at the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Summer 2013
Finally, Turkish legislature corrected a portion of its long overdue dress-code.  As of today (October 31, 2013) women parliamentarians who choose to wear a headscarf can sit on those fancy orange seats.

More than half the women cover their hair in Turkey (approx. 60-65%). Yet, the very institution that is supposedly  representing "the people", would not allow any of these women to hold a seat at the Parliament.

After their pilgrimage to Mecca this year, 4 women MPs decided that they would like to cover their hair from then on. Hence, they came to the Parliament with their new headgear today, and there was no sign of uncivilized protesting or bullying.

There's only a few months left until the elections. We don't know how much of this sudden surge in religiosity is genuine, and how much of it is political calculation. But we do not have a little gadget to measure people's sincerity. Nor should we try to do so. If anything, it might be wise to use this opportunity to lift other ridiculous bans at the Parliament floor, such as No Drinking Water and No Pants for Women (No, I'm not kidding. You cannot sip water even if you're diabetic. Nor can women wear pants and sit on those fancy orange seats. One MP with a prosthetic leg is compelled to wear a skirt, despite expressing her discomfort to display her artificial limb).

There is a great Turkish saying: "zarfa değil, mazrufa bak". It means: don't pay much attention to the envelope, look at the content. It is our way of saying, don't judge a book by its cover. I'm afraid lately all we look at is the envelope/cover....

As a society we need to :

 1) accept people as they are

 2) learn to NOT judge people by their proverbial cover

 3) appreciate each other's differences as legitimate

 4) NOT perceive all forms of difference as a THREAT

5) nor treat differences as frontiers to conquer, suppress and assimilate

6) respectadvocate for the rights of those who're different from us.

7) consider diversity as an asset, rather than liability

We all have to learn to live with each other. Kurds in Turkey have no other place to go. Neither do the religious folks, nor the uber-secularists. Even the non-Muslims, such as the native Armenian, Assyrian, Greek or Jewish communities don't want to leave Turkey, despite all the abuse they have gone through.

Anyone who knows people living in Turkey would know very well that we are one hard-headed people. Mom used to call me "inatçı keçi!"(stubborn goat), when I would resist her and give her the silent treatment.

We cannot bully each other into submission. Those who believe progress means secularism and modernization a la the West will remain that way. No amount of mosque building, media censuring, indoctrination at schools and alcohol ban would change their conviction.

Likewise, those who think salvation is in religion would not change their ways and endorse Westernization, even if the EU takes Turkey in as a member tomorrow.

Kurds and Alevis, on the other hand, have been mistreated so harshly for so long that there is not a single method of abuse or torture that they have not already been subject to. Yet, they're still here, still trying to be part of the game.

For the last decade or so, the Turkish economy remained in the same ranks (17th-18th largest in the world), while other emerging economies showed steady progress (Brazil moved from 11th to 6th). We have a major urban development problem. 2-3 cities in the country are growing into monstrous metropolises, at the expense of all the other cities and towns. They suck up all the resources and human capital, but their sheer size is making them unmanageable and unlivable. This is not a healthy, sustainable trend. People should be able to have the chance for a decent living (i.e. jobs, education, quality living conditions, etc), in the other 70-some cities in Turkey as well.

But we can't even get to talk about these crucial socio-economic problems. We cannot deliberate on practical, policy issues. Because we get bogged down by identity issues. Frankly, we seem to hate each other lately... A very superficial understanding of who you are (islamist if you cover your head, secularist if you drink!!) dominates the discussion. If you're in a different identity camp, we don't even listen to what have to you say.

Each side seems to be waiting for the weakest moment of its opponent to strike a final blow. The happiest moment seems to be when we become one homogenous entity, devoid of color and flavor... But let me reiterate: we're stubborn. No one will give up the essential components of their identity, no one will give in..

Besides, I don't know a single true democracy where citizens are judged and sorted out by their outfits! In fact, in established democracies, this very act would be 'profiling' and a crime, since it is blatant discrimination!

Let us please learn to appreciate each other as who we are.
Let us learn to live together as who we are.
Let us not look at headgear or mustache style, but look at what's inside that head. What kind of ideas and proposals are inside that brain?
Let us learn to argue over rational, measurable projects and proposals, instead of all this emotional, immature personality attacks.
Let's grow up to be rational, reasonable adults.

We cannot all love each other.
But we have to learn to respect each other as who we are.
Time is running out...
Soon, we'll degenerate into a poor, unhappy, dysfunctional society that is constantly at war with each other.

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