Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Gulenists: Part II

An interesting collection of links from The Perimeter Primate.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Gulenists: Part I

(This image comes from The photo was taken in Abant, a popular mountain resort a few hours from Istanbul.)

Two years ago, I wrote an entry about my brief friendship with a Turkish policeman whom I thought was very likely a homosexual. Today as I think back on my experiences with Hakkan, I am reminded of the things Hakkan told me about the Gulenists in the police force in Beyoglu. He had trouble getting along with his colleagues in the station.

"I should have never become a policeman - that was a mistake!" he said. "They all go to the mosque on Friday. They're watching me. They want to know whether I'm going to the mosque too."

I never really understood these references until I began to connect the comments my office-mate Caroline made to those of my poet friend Dan, who now worked at a Gulenist university called Gokhan, with a large campus located about an hour outside of Istanbul. Not only had Caroline worked for the same university before starting at Izmitkasaba at the same time that I did, but she had even changed her research studies based on her time time at Gokhan, where she developed friendships with the women working for the Gulenist newspaper Today's Zaman and with her religious students in the Sociology Department, all of whom wore the headscarf and could have only done so at Gokhan University because at both public and private non-religiously affiliated schools, the government banned female university students from wearing the headscarf on campus.

So Caroline began to interview her students in sociology and the ones at Zaman, and through these women she was referred to other women to interview, all of whom talked about the systemic discrimination they had experienced both in finding a job and in finding a husband. Religious men, they said, did not want to marry educated women because they were looking for wives who would be happy staying home to raise the children and cook the meals.

As an American southerner, I was sensitive to issues of discrimination, but I also felt that the veil's growing pervasiveness was a powerful political symbol and that symbol could not bode well for women's rights or for the country as a whole. I did not believe that feminism could coexist with Islam, and the more that I read about Islam, the more convinced I became that the religion itself went beyond every other monotheistic religion in its assault on free thought. Even if the other two monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity, do no have the most spotless record in this area, to their credit both religions had developed a tradition of exegesis, which had fostered a culture of debate. Those two traditions - that of exegesis and of argument - have helped Christianity and Judaism to build a scholastic tradition that to my mind should be credited with the beginnings of the secular scholastic tradition of inquiry.

In other words, I felt that Caroline's research was misguided because these covered women represented the rise of Islam, and Islam by its very nature could never be compatible with liberty, free thought or free inquiry, the keystones of the academic tradition.

At the same time, my poet friend Dan, who had taught at Izmitkasaba in my position before me, was now working at Gokhan University and would tell me about the diligence, humor, and honesty of his students at Gokhan. They worked hard and prepared well for class, but still had trouble with questioning the text, with critical thinking. They asked for advice on outside reading before papers were due. They pulled all-nighters and then raced to the mosque after class to get in their evening prayers. Dan's students perfectly foiled my students at Izmitkasaba, who consistently lied, shamelessly posted pictures of their drunken escapades or their Prom-like formal balls on Facebook, and rarely did their readings. I developed a distaste for their chronic lying regarding deadlines, absences, and missed assignments, and at the same time, I thought teaching at Gokhan might be a pleasant change from my current teaching situation. I missed the hardworking, middle-class Hope scholarship students I had known at UGA.

In other words, Dan's students at Gokhan were better students than the ones I had at Izmitkasaba, and Gokhan itself had a better reputation as a university than Izmitkasaba, yet I had run into more than one academic who had told me that for a Turkish academic accepting a position at Gokhan University would be akin to career suicide. After working at Gokhan, he would never be able to find a position at any other non-Gulenist, Turkish university. I even met one academic in philosophy who told me he had been unemployed for two years rather than accept the teaching position at Gokhan that he had been offered.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Nature people

I grew up less than a quarter of a mile from the Chattahoochee River. Luckily for us, the zoning commission viewed the area along the Chattahoochee River a flood zone and did not permit building on this land. On those three nearby acres, we spent our time exploring, practiced driving our green Vespa, built forts and bike jumps. After snowstorms, we made snowmen and carved out angels. Eventually, to our dismay, a family of four built a 5000 square foot house on the land, despite the zoning commissions earlier "flood zone" ruling.

I can recall that I was very afraid walking the mile and a half home in the early evening past the undeveloped flood zone. I was never afraid of natural disasters, or the animals who lived among us, but of people, like the flasher who periodically cruised our middle and high school campus with no pants on. I was afraid someone like the man without pants would  cruise up, knock me off my bicycle and push me into his car, never to be heard from again.

The memories etched in my mind are of thunderstorms without power, long-legged wasps nested in deck  corners, pet turtles who ran away, the dank smell of red clay cellars, the conquered fear of racing down the steepest driveway and the neighborhood dogs we knew by name - Gus, Boris, and the like - but never trusted.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Birth Certificate

In April of last year, Obama released his full birth certificate. I was seven months pregnant at the time, and I don't think that I had ever seen a full birth certificate before. Only then did I realize that all such documents have a 'fill in the blank' for the baby's father's name, his birthplace, and his ethnicity. I knew already how Mustafa would like his ethnicity to be written on the birth certificate, but a part of me hoped that he would consider Inez's future and allow me to write his ethnicity as Turkish.

Mustafa claimed that I did not really know him. If I did know him, I would know that he could not deny his ethnicity and that all the sacrifices of his life have been about this very issue -- being acknowledged as a Kurdish Turkish citizen with the same rights as ethnically Turkish citizens.

At the time, Obama's birth certificate made me think of my diluted feelings for Mustafa. Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, agreed to have Barack Obama Sr's child. She even married him when she was three months pregnant. Those were feats, but as to the birth certificate itself, I knew Stanley Ann Dunham had loved Barack Obama Sr. because she had named B.O. Sr. as the father on the birth certificate, and then had even named her son after him. President Obama would eventually use his name to his advantage but in the early 1960s, a distinctly African Muslim name must have been anything but an advantage.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Alevis: Part II

Alevi characteristics
1. humanism
2. love and respect for all people
3. tolerance toward other religions and ethnic groups
4. respect for working people
5. equality of men and women, who pray side by side.

Aleviism passes through the father's blood. My daughter is Alevi, according to Mustafa and according to all the Alevis whom I spoke to. Even if she lives far from Turkey and is not raised as an Alevi, she's still an Alevi child. I hope this means she will be able to play a musical instrument, preferably the saz or the baglama.

Elegantly Dressed Wednesday: Long String of Pearls