Headscarf or headscarf

When you interview a woman with a headscarf, as I noticed these last few days, make sure your translator uses the right Turkish word for ‘headscarf’. There are two, namely ‘başörtüsü’ and ‘turban’. The latter is not appreciated by headscarved women. It’s denigrating, has it’s origin in Arabic (and indeed, the word is not in my Turkish dictionary) and was spread by strict secularists, they say. Başörtüsü is the Turkish word, and yes: baş means ‘head’, örtü means ‘cloth’.

Hilal, headscarved, 25 years old and sociology student at a faculty where wearing the headscarf has always been tolerated, even believes that the use of the word ‘turban’ points to a class struggle rather than a struggle between religious people and strict secularists. The strict secularists, says Hilal, have always had all the power in Turkey. Now a new middle class is rising up, and the women from this new middle class are religious, smart and self-conscious. They threaten the positions of the old elite, even more so when they can educate and develop themselves freely wearing their scarves. A right-minded strict secularist will not openly resist education for women, and so the resistance is aimed at the religiosity of women with a ‘turban’.

Hilal could be right. Look at the compromise that will be daily practice. The constitution will state that nobody can be deprived of a higher education because of the way he or she is dressed, but in the regulations of the Board of Higher Education, the borders of this freedom will be marked. The headscarf can only be tied loosely under the chin. In secular eyes, that’s the traditional Turkish başörtüsü, that has little or nothing to do with religion. The ‘turban’, knotted differently, tied with a pin and also covering the neck, will still be forbidden – and that’s exactly the one that is worn by the self conscious girls that want an academic education. It will be quite a muddle at the university gates. Hilal: “If it wasn’t so sad, you could find it hilarious.”

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