Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Looking back is great, but look forward too.

One of the things I very much like about the IHT is how it comes back to stories that were big, and sees where we're at.

A good example would be this article below on where a girl, who was at the centre of an epic cultural and political battle in Turkey earlier this year, is now and her views.

My only complaint, is that it's simply too long, focusses too much on the past (which isn't new-s) and doesn't bring enough that is new and forward looking. Clearly there is a need to put this recent interview with her in context, but this much?

To give a sense of this time-line issue, I've put in bold, in the article below, that which is new (to me at least). And it explains why this article, interesting in part as it is, doesn't make the cut for my blog A Place in the Auvergne.

A young woman leads Turkey to examine modernity and devotion
By Sabrina Tavernise
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
ISTANBUL: High school hurt for Havva Yilmaz. She tried out several selves. She ran away. Nothing felt right.
"There was no sincerity," she said. "It was shallow."
So at 16, she did something none of her friends had done: She put on an Islamic head scarf.
In most Muslim countries, that would be a nonevent. In Turkey, it was a rebellion. Turkey has built its modern identity on secularism.
Women on billboards do not wear scarves. The scarves are banned in schools and universities. So Yilmaz had to drop out of school. Her parents were angry. Her classmates stopped calling her.
Like many young people at a time of religious revival across the Muslim world, 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.
"Before I decided to cover, I knew who I was not," Yilmaz said, sitting in a leafy Ottoman-era courtyard. "After I covered, I finally knew who I was."
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.
They are redrawing lines between freedom and devotion, between modernization and tradition, and blurring some prevailing distinctions between East and West.
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.
By dropping out of the education system, she found her way into Turkey's growing, lively culture of young activists.
In the middle of January, the head scarf became the focus of a heated national outpouring, with Yilmaz one of its most eloquent defenders.
The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to pass a law letting women who wear the scarves into college. Staunchly secular Turks opposed broader freedoms for Islam, in part because they did not trust Erdogan, a popular politician who began his career championing a greater role for Islam in politics and who has since moderated his stance.
Turkey remains a democratic experiment unique in the Muslim world.
The Ottomans dabbled in democracy as early as 1876, creating a Constitution and a Parliament. The country was never colonized by Western powers, as Arabs were.
Turkey gradually developed into a democracy. The fact that young people like Yilmaz are protesting in the first place is one of its distinguishing features.
In many ways, Yilmaz's scarf freed her, but for many other women, it is the other way around. In poor, religiously conservative areas in rural Turkey, girls wear scarves from young ages, and many Turks feel strongly that without state regulation, young women would come under more pressure to cover up.
The head scarf bill, in that respect, could lead to less freedom for women, they argued. Even so, for Yilmaz, the angry reaction against the bill was hard to understand.
"It's frustrating when you watch people," she said, sitting in a chair wearing a tunic, jeans, and Timberland-style boots. "You think, what's the big deal?"
She continued: "When you look at it, we have all the reason to be afraid. We were mocked in the streets, we were insulted, we were expelled from universities."
With a microphone and a strong sense of justice, Yilmaz marched into a hotel in central Istanbul and, with two friends, both in scarves, made her best case.
"The pain that we've been through as university doors were harshly shut in our faces taught us one thing," she said, speaking to a group of reporters. "Our real problem is with the mentality of prohibition that thinks it has the right to interfere with people's lives."
Yilmaz's heartfelt speech, written with her friends, drew national attention. They were invited on television talk shows. They gave radio and newspaper interviews. Part of their appeal came from their attempt to go beyond religion to include all groups in Turkish society, like ethnic and sectarian minorities.
By March, the month after Parliament passed the final version of the head scarf proposal, the debate had reached a frenzied pitch.
Yilmaz and some friends - some in scarves, some not - agreed to go on a popular television talk show. The questions from the audience were angry.
One girl stood up and, looking directly at a girl in a scarf, said that she did not want her on campus, said Neslihan Akbulut, a friend of Yilmaz, who had helped to compose the head scarf statement. Another said she felt sorry for them because they were oppressed by men. A third fretted that allowing them into universities would lead to further demands about jobs, resulting in an "invasion."
Yilmaz said later: "I thought, are we living in the same country? No, it's impossible."
They did not give up. They spent the day in a drafty café in central Istanbul, wearing boots and coats and going over their position with journalists, one by one.
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.
Though it is not among the five pillars of Islam - the duties required for every Muslim, including daily prayer - Yilmaz sees it as a Koranic command.
"Physical contact is something special, something private," she said, describing the thinking behind her covering. "Constant contact takes away from the specialness, the privacy of the thing you share."
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.
Yilmaz got the news as a text message from her friend. In her bitter disappointment, she realized how much hope she had held out.
"How can I be a part of a country that does not accept me?" she said.
Still, she has no regrets and is not giving up. "What we did was worth something," she said. "People heard our voices. One day the prohibition is imposed on us. The next day, it could be someone else.
"If we work together, we can fight it."


International Herald Tribune
New York Times

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