The Ominous Hijab Part II

I ventured into this topic a few months ago here, when I visited my boyfriend’s homeland of Turkey, for 2 months.  In that time, my boyfriend became my fiance, hosts became family and, well, the entire trip was pleasantly hijacked.

In the weeks that ensued however, I did manage to do what I set out to do: spend time in Turkey’s capital, drive along the coastal towns, and reaching as far south as the city of Izmir, and ending of my whirlwind tour in Istanbul.  What I found pertaining to the hijab was little short of disappointing.

I still haven’t been able to engage with much of the pro-hijab audience, only with my peers who seem adamant that it not only comes from an archaic mindset, but that it is very much anti-Turkish.  This harmless piece of cloth seems a strong point of contention not only from a feminist perspective, but from a political one as well.  And since being an outsider, I could only go on the sometimes biased opinions of my guides, I had to maintain a polite distance from adopting these beliefs.

However even in my own observations, it was hard to deny that within the intellectual and middle to upper class world, the hijab was truly found few and far between.  Through my exploration of the countryside, stopping in villages to get gas, food etc., I did notice that something as seemingly harmless as knee-length shorts and sleeveless tank tops did gather me stares.  I am not sure if they were simple suspicion or judgement, but when they came from women covered head to toe in 40 degree celsius weather, I couldn’t help feeling guilty of something.

At one point, visiting the market and bazaars of Izmir, a city strongly loyal to the old rule under Ataturk, there was a strong air of modernism and progression.  Muslims were very proud to be Turkish, and were very clear to highlight that the two were not the same.

My personal views on the hijab still have not been swayed, only moreso affirmed, so I am not left with much to say, but I took some photos while I was in the Izmir bazaar.  It shows two clothing stores, side by side.  One is selling current demure clothing for the muslim woman who chooses to cover herself, and the other sells beautiful and vibrant traditional Turkish dress hailing from yesteryear.

I think they describe the state of flux that the hijab has created in Turkey, far better than I ever could.

Modern vs. Traditional attire

Contrasting storefronts in an Izmir bazaar

The Ominous Hijab

I’m in Turkey for 7 weeks.

Among many new cultural experiences, I’ve been curious to witness first-hand the role in society of the ominous hijab.  I’ll be spending time in the capital Ankara, in Istanbul the largest city, and throughout the countryside and smaller villages, as we journey south to the Aegean coast.

There is no official religion here, although 96% of the population is Muslim, it’s a secular state.  Compared to most of their Arab neighbours to the east, they’re more like Islam-Lite.

I have to say though, in the short time I’ve already spent here, I’m pretty disappointed to find maybe… 5 women in a hijab.  There were two in niqabs in the grocery store and that got me pretty excited, but for the most part, I’ve been walking around the city and seeing girls in shorts shorter than mine, and couples making out like pimply teenagers in local pubs.  Damn.  No islamic rigidity here.  Actually most of them seem to be terrible muslims, like my boyfriend, who drinks like a fish, doesn’t know when Ramadan is, and hasn’t been inside a mosque since Allah knows when.  I’m hoping he doesn’t go up in flames when he takes me to Hagia Sofia.

Ask him his opinion of the hijab, and he’ll tell you it’s downright stupid. “Nothing in the Qur’an says you have to wear one, and it’s a stupid tradition perpetuated by idiot men who want to keep women docile.”

“Well what about women who choose to wear it freely of their own accord?”

“Well then they’re stupid too. Why would you want to cover yourself like that? It is hot as shit outside.”

Image

My grandmother was Muslim, though she never wore a hijab, and I don’t really remember ever seeing anything too Islam-y in their home. She married a Christian, and I’m sure somewhere, someone probably thinks that means she’ll roast in hell and won’t get to heaven to receive her 40 virgins (wait… so do women get 40 virgins too in Islamic heaven? Talk about short-changed), but mostly all I remember of her, was that she was a sweet but firm woman, and the most wonderful hugger.  Hijab or no, she was respected and valued all the same.

I’ve never had the opportunity to speak with a fundamentalist or a Shi’ite to understand sharia law or why a woman would choose to veil her identity from an ever-growing visual world.

Western women complain about being objectified all the same, and judged for their looks before anything else, yet here in twisted irony we view the obscurity of the Islamic female face as part of that same distress.

I still haven’t gotten down to the bottom of why the hijab is such a thorn in people’s sides, but I’m hoping my remaining time here will lend me some insight.  At the end of the day though, I feel like women should be able to do and wear whatever the fuck they want, but the hijab to me, feels more like a visual statement of religion in your presence — and that, is something I have an entirely different opinion about.

More soon.

The invisible character

Over the weekend my mom went to a friend’s graduation at Brooklyn College.  She was very proud of the fact the her friend, father Anthony, –one of the priests in her church– was now a college graduate. Somehow she got to the part about who was in the audience, and she mentioned Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad. Now that was a story I wanted to hear. Mom somehow always buries the lead, I think she wanted to test if I was listening. And hearing the names of my favorite tv parents, took me back to Saturday summer afternoons in Madrid. When we watched episodes of The Cosby Show –lounging on the red couch, eating lentejas, and drinking Fanta–in front of the black and white tv set after spending all day at the public pool.

Television programs back in the 80s were not very diverse in Spain, outside of El Barrio Sesamo, there were no shows for children. But when we did watch tv, our options were very small. On the one hand there were the Tarzan movies, where the Africans seemed to be always running away and in fear of the animals, while he managed not only to communicate with them, but also train them. Second option was The A-Team, where the one black character  Mr. T, was more about brute force than intellect.

And then, there was The Cosby Show. A family on television where everyone was black. Both parents worked, the kids went to school, had friends and lived normal lives. These were people who looked like me. Now as an adult , I realize how important it is for children to see people who look like them in positive roles. It teaches you that you too can reach higher heights, you can choose any medium and succeed, that you matter. That the color of your skin does not mean you are less smart, less capable, or less committed to work hard.

After 20 plus years of watching tv in the States (even BET), I’m now working my way through French TV. I can count on one hand how many black news anchors, black actors in positive roles I´ve seen. One of my favorite shows is Scène de Ménages, which focuses on the home life and relationships of four couples. There is the retired married couple who are always bickering, and amuse themselves by playing jokes on others. Then there is the middle-aged married couple with a kid in college, where the husband is very much a kid. There is a young married couple who is adjusting to life with a baby. And then there is the only black character. A business man living with his white girlfriend. They are the only unmarried couple.

I watch the show because it’s funny and many of the scenarios are ridiculous. But if I am an adolescent black or Arab girl interested in acting living in France, what do I take away from this show?