Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Trend Going the Other Way

Turkey’s top education board has proposed its own answer to the long-running headscarf controversy, tacitly allowing covered women to attend classes in what essentially amounts to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” solution. [Hürriyet Daily News, October 4, 2010]
Turkey has always interested me for multiple reasons. Turks were the boogey-men of my childhood—because the Ottomans had occupied Hungary for several centuries, and children growing up in Hungary were not going to be allowed to forget that. The Hungarian language carries traces of the Turkish language. And, later, I was fascinated by Turkey’s secularization, from within, under the leadership of Kemal Atatürk—so far as I can tell the first (and only) Muslim country to go in that direction. Now, of late, I’ve watched in absolute fascination as Turkey is in the process of loosening its embrace of the West in small but significant ways. Atatürk secularized with a vengeance, reaching right down to modes of dress. These strictures are now being eased ever so carefully.

Hürriyet, which is Turkey’s English language daily, reports here that YÖK, the country’s Higher Education Board, is more or less ignoring a 2008 Constitutional Court ruling which held that headscarves of the Islamic kind were not permitted to be worn inside public institutions. The paper opines that YÖK’s decision will prevail if it meets popular support.

From my peculiar point of view—as an amateur student of culture and cycling historical patterns—it is most interesting see this sort of development. It suggests that the hypnotic power of the West is weakening. Its power, after all, more or less triggered secularization in Turkey as a defensive reaction to western encroachment in the wake of World War I; the Republic was established in 1922. But the Muslim culture is younger than the Western, and it would make sense that it would reassert itself as it is able. Is that what’s happening?


  1. Indeed Turks rulled one third of historical Hungary and the distruction of Hungary was great, it's true since then Hungary was not a great power.

    But what is remarkable for Hungarians that they managed to see Turks from 18th century onwards also as friends and not as a foe. Many of the Rákóczi revolution and that of 1848 found safe heaven in Turkey.

    This is not the case for some balkanic nations, like the serbs who see Turks with great hatred even today.

    Of course Hungarians are and will always remember, be proud of their glorious fight against the Ottomans which saved Europe. History made it's way also in Hungarian literature with novels like Egri Csillagok (Stars of Eger) which is still a very popular novel and is available in English with the title "Eclipse of the Crescent Moon".

    We should remember the question of Erasmus
    'Is not the Turk also a man and a brother?'.

  2. Hi, Erik. Happens that my own views of the Turks/Ottomans underwent a change as I read more and more of the historical background. I became convinced, gradually, that the decline and fall of the Ottoman empire was ultimately a sad event with many negative results, and many difficulties in our time are traceable to it.

    On the personal level, one of my cousins, who left Hungary in the wake of the 1956 Revolution, worked in Turkey for some years and married that my family is now blood-linked to that real...

    Thanks for the interesting article you sent. I started it but it will take me some time to read the whole. My reading in Hungarian is very s-l-o-w...