Some of the most articulate minds I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in any school were at the conference, made up of high school students from three Istanbul schools. The subject of the debate: Social Segregation. Some wonderful points were made regarding injustice in societies based on race, religion and beliefs, and even some sociological enquiry into the possible reasons and means of prevention that could be taken were also discussed.
The conference lasted about an hour and half before the bell rang for lunch – but first, as with any event that would fill some space on the school newspaper – a few photos: One with teachers and students, one with just the students, one with the class teachers and the students, and finally, one with just the students and teachers who were not wearing hijab. What was the topic again? Who even cares, I thought.
In school publishing, paraphernalia and brochures ect, the slightest mention cannot be made of our policy that if a girl chooses to wear the hijab after the age of fourteen, then she may do so. It is a logical scheme which, if practised in the rest of Turkey would lead to much less societal division than the current political divisions allowing it represents.
For as with all things in Turkey, society is too far ahead of politicians for them to be entirely comfortable. The fact is, that mixed groups of hijab’d/none-hijab’d women walk the streets without the later feeling pressured into having to conform despite what opposition mantas would have us believe.
There is a kind of anger only familiar to history and sociology students, which originates from a rounded understanding of the complete absurdity of humans in their historical context. In this context for example, knowing that if it wasn’t for the Orientalist persuasions of the European elite of the 19th century, and their way of life being so appealing to a class of disgruntled bourgeoisie officers in the late Ottoman Empire, and those people having never quite lost their tendency to define a strict model of modernisation based on physical appearance (and being able to tell people how to physically appear) in Turkey, then I would not be forced to be complicit in this absurdity which should, after all that time, have been resolved.
If these people could realise that the girls, despite having social segregation ingrained in their very core, still have a greater capacity to make the kind of rational, critical and intellectual points that would make a young Halide Edip go weak at the knees, then maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess.
My frustrations temporarily drifted away. Despite my internal dialogue, for the only thing that seemed worthy of point for the girls leaving the stage was that while we were still taking photos, they got to go to lunch early.