Manual Headscarf Politics in Turkey: A Postcolonial Reading

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Headscarf Politics in Turkey: A Postcolonial Reading

General Evren banned the wearing of headscarves for students in through a decree of the National Security Council. We are adamant about that. No one should insist on it. There is no such thing in the religion, anyway. At some universities the ban was harshly enforced while at others it was not applied as strongly. They transferred between universities. Some even changed their majors depending on the leniency of departments with respect to the headscarf.

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Some chose to freeze their education for a year or two while others submitted to the new rules and took off their headscarves. Some wore wigs on top of their headscarves. Some resorted to hats to cover up the headscarf underneath. Some managed by taking external examinations without having to come to school. They created their own vernacular. The Turkish republic entered a new era at this time. This marked the beginning of an active civil society.

The post era in Turkey was a turning point, because the state-induced modernizing movement Westernization , which had started in the mid-nineteenth century and had become institutionalized during the — period, virtually came to an end as the leading political paradigm. With the relative autonomization of economic activities, political groups, and cultural identities, an autonomous societal sphere began to develop, and the focus increasingly shifted from the state to society; consequently the modernizing elites began to lose their power to transform the society from above and were increasingly replaced by more representative elites.

Paradoxically, the latter were mostly technocrats who belonged to the center-right political parties. The former then would transform itself into a Kemalist front to dismantle the latter. To be in office did not necessarily mean to be in power. Nonetheless, he came to be known as the man who opened Turkey to the free market economy in the s. Therefore he wanted to relax the strict code of laiklik. He strove to advance awareness about Islam during his term.

Among the achievements of his epoch one can cite the building of 15, mosques. This was the period when sundry transfers took place in order to avoid the ban. This was the period when most of them learned to be independent, take risks, and leave the nurturing, protected family environment and move to other cities on their own.

During this time, they started igniting internal changes in their own religious communities and distinguishing themselves from the rest. There were four reasons behind that. One had to know what it was before deciding to adopt it or discard it.

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They either condoned or banned them both. Either they espoused different styles of wearing their headscarves depending on the demands of the public or educational institutions or they did not need to make any changes and simply continued to wear their headscarves as before. If the state could introduce some suspicion in the hearts of the public about these women and their agendas, then it could more easily justify its actions against them. Due to various factors—such as the general political atmosphere, occurrence of incendiary incidents pertinent to Islam, international Realpolitik, including the fact that the neighboring Islamic Republic of Iran has been perceived as a threat by the Turkish regime that might Islamize Turkey via a spillover effect—the ban was harshly put into effect.

At times of political turmoil, the universities would reactivate the ban and force students to take their scarves off. While some would submit, others would halt their education and defer a semester or two. After stability was restored, some of the universities would loosen up the restrictions again. These women, as educated members of society, presented a different picture, a picture that the state never intended to create: of women who wanted to reconcile their religious conviction with their citizenship at a personal level. But the state was not able to reconcile their religious appearance with the national identity it bestowed upon itself and upon them.

This presented a quandary for the state for the reason that it challenged the very premise that Turkey would be a role model as a secular, progressive state represented by the dress of its women. In , the debate over the ban took another turn on the number of female students that would be accepted to schools of theology at universities.

However, in reaction to street protests, it agreed to a maximum 6 percent female student admission. A similar method would later be used in against graduates of İmam Hatip schools. By , the political atmosphere reached the climax of irtica warnings. The pro—status quo columnists were bombarding the public about how bad things were and how prevalent irtica was. Evren summoned the National Security Council and enunciated that irtica was a real threat at the end of the meeting.

He also drew attention to the fact that some of them were wearing the same color and same shape of covering, which was interpreted as a sign of a particular ideology. The national government went so far as to suggest that these women were part of an organized illegal group. They held protests at parks, circles, and in front of their school gates.

Some held starvation protests while others held sit-ins. Turban on the other hand does not present such parochial appearance. The media followed suit. Tension quickly escalated, and Evren vetoed the bill.

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Kavakci Islam, Merve .. Headscarf Politics in Turkey: A Postcolonial Reading | eBay

Evren signed the bill but also took the case to appeal at the constitutional court. Even if it was an imperative of religion, no regulation stemming from religion could be valid before the Constitution. Freedoms are circumscribed by the Constitution. Actions that are antithetical to the principle of secularism of the Constitution and the secular educational regulations can not be argued to be rendered democratic rights. You go and wear your student attire and come back. You are not even a human being with that attire.

He argued that whoever wanted to wear a headscarf should wear it, whoever did not want to did not have to wear it and that he was pro-freedom and against all bans. However, at this point they played along with the liberal rhetoric. The court decided that Article 17 was in accordance with the Turkish constitution. That is not to suggest that the problem went away but only to suggest that the headscarf issue was solved for a while, until when the constitutional court brought a new interpretation to Article 17 stating that the permissibility of outfits would not accommodate wearing of the headscarf for religious reasons.


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Laiklik requires the state to become the sole custodian of religion. Within this context, Diyanet, the directorate of religious affairs, serves to oversee religious affairs and education in the name of the state. As a result, while eschewing establishment of a religious state, the republic created a state religion through its involvement in religious affairs as a regulator.

Therefore it is treated as a taboo. The parliament and the elected did not see eye to eye with the judiciary, the appointed. The conf licting decrees one after another divided people into camps and raised frustrations. This proved not to be the case. This segment of the middle class that benefited from the republic proved to be a formidable foe. Some took disciplinary action against women who resisted the ban. The situation in the private schools owned by the religious communities varied.

The teachers, however, were mostly permitted. The biggest challenge for these schools was the inspection period.


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  7. The inspections, however, often took place at unexpected times, which made it difficult for the teachers to prepare. She was the success story of the republic, a prototype of what the state had intended to create for the past seventy years. She represented everything that the state expected in a modern Turkish woman. She was westernized in appearance, well educated, and aff luent. She was a member of the secular elite, not a representative of the Anatolian women. The fact that she came to power at a time when political Islam was very popular under the RP f lag was meaningful as well.

    Due to the fact that she was educated in the United States, many conjectured at the outset that she would be an open-minded leader, accommodating differences and promoting pluralism. Furthermore she would easily change her position on a particular matter. For instance, while she promoted opening up the space for the Kurdish population at the outset of her premiership, later she changed her position and sided with the militarist uncompromising position, clashing with the PKK the Kurdish separatist group that rebels against the Turkish state.

    She was politically avaricious and economically corrupt.