Final celebration

Wow! What an awesome experience this project has been. Your thoughtful comments and questions made my trip so much more meaningful; I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to share my travels and a little bit of knowledge with you.

I had been anticipating this final celebration for months. My good friend and roommate Ray and I left at the terrible hour of 8:00 for ACCESS Academy.  Traffic on 39th and a bunch of deceptive non-entrances to your school made us a few minutes late, so sorry about that! After a friendly escort from the main office, I was greeted with a shockingly exuberant welcome in your classroom. Applause and the Turkish music Ms. Kelly cleverly chose to put on dissolved all my nervousness and made me feel right at home.

It was so much fun to have you all introduce yourselves so I could put faces to all the names. In retrospect, I think I should’ve avoided having you say what your favorite breakfast was, since doing so brought up the contentious issue bacon yet again. But it also reinforced something that I’ve admired about you this whole time: your mature level of comfort with differences and disagreements – that attitude will take you very far!

After you all introduced yourselves, I asked a few trivia questions in exchange for lokum (Turkish delight). Although I’m a little bummed you forgot the founder of Turkey’s name, I’m impressed that – Liam, right? – knew what year the Republic of Turkey was founded. Aferin sana!

To go with the lokum, we prepared you some çay (Turkish tea). Did I tell you that Turks drink more tea than anyone else in the world? I can believe it. I drank anywhere from 5-15 cups of it a day. Drinking it with you all for the first time in months sent me on a trip down memory lane.

While we drank çay and hung out, you guys all offered some great questions and shared interesting stories from your own travels. But it all flew by so quickly – I was hoping to get a class photo, but before I knew it, class was over and I was hurrying to tell everyone goodbye. Then Ray and I picked up the çay mugs, which were all empty! Way to go, guys!

There’s been a whole lot of content in this blog – facts, anecdotes, opinions – from you guys and me, but if you forget everything else, please remember these final words of advice:

The US is only home to 4.44% of the world’s population, so there’s a lot to learn from from foreign places. Be curious, study a foreign language, and never stop asking questions.

Yollarınız açık olsun!

May your path be open!

Disclaimer about the photos: I asked Ray to do more than humanly possible: to make çay, bring it out to all of you, and take photos. Çay was the priority, of course, so we didn’t end up with many great photos.



Interview with middle schoolers

Hey gang! I had a difficult time tracking down middle schoolers to talk to so I could do this final regular post, but at last, I have an interview to share with you.

It’s crazy that this is my last post (before the “final celebration post,” wherein I document the time we ate Turkish delight and listened to Erkin Koray together). We’ve covered lots of topics together and I hope you feel like you’ve learned something valuable from reading this blog. For me, it’s the only way I’ve been documenting my trip, so it’s been a handy way to reflect on my experiences, collect my thoughts, and think about/research single topics. More rewarding than that, though, was the opportunity it gave me to interact with and get to know all of you. My peers (who are doing the same project), teachers, and parents have been consistently blown away by the thoughtfulness of your responses. I’ve written about some complex stuff – issues I can’t pretend to fully understand myself – and you guys have absorbed it shockingly well and responded in ways that challenged me and forced me to consider new angles. Basically, you’re gonna kill it in your upcoming high school and college years.

My plans

This is the last post I’m required to post until we meet. My finals at Boğaziçi end in the middle of January. After that, a friend and I are going to travel through the Balkans to Prague, Czech Republic. I expect a lot of fun adventures in the upcoming couple of months. I’d like to document things for you (maybe just pictures and short blurbs), so check back if you’d like!

Interview with middle schoolers

Approaching Türkan Şoray Middle School

Approaching Türkan Şoray Middle School

At first it was really challenging to find a middle schooler to interview. I was looking for a Turkish friend or acquaintance who had a middle school sibling/friend I could meet with, but I had no luck. In the parlance of MySpace, there were on Turkish middle schoolers in my “extended network” (did you guys use MySpace?).

So I decided just to walk to a nearby Middle School and go through whatever channels necessary to have a conversation with one of their students. The channels were surprisingly few. My friend Ayşegül and I walked straight into the principal’s office and asked if we could interview someone. He rapidly agreed and sent two boys to find an eighth grader. They ran down the hall and came back moments later with not one, but two eighth graders. We did the interview in the library, surrounded by about 10 other kids who were silently very curious about the whole situation. Ayşegül came along in case I needed help with Turkish, but after our conversation with the principal, I managed on my own.

The girls, Elamur and İkra,  had different enough answers that I’ll provide both of their responses here. Some of the answers below come from follow-up answers, but I won’t bore you by writing all of those.

They were cool kids – you’d all hit it off really well.

Elamur answers:

What is your favorite class?

(In English) How is your English?
(laughs) (responds in Turkish) I like English because I want to be an English teacher someday. I also enjoy the class because I love the teacher. I’m interested in different languages, cultures, and stuff like that. I want to learn other languages, like French. I’ll probably study French in high school.

So you know some English? What do you know how to say in English?
I mean, I’ve learned some in classes, but it’s so weird when we try to speak English. When I watch American films, it seems like everyone speaks in a way that seems so cold. They don’t seem very friendly. I want to ask you about that. Like, do you and your mom talk the way they do in American movies?

My response: Americans are typically just as friendly as Turks, but in my opinion, most conversations and expressions in Turkish are a lot more touchy-feely. For example, I watched a Turkish sitcom called Yabancı Damat and it seemed like people were either screaming at each other or talking very affectionately. Americans aren’t that different from Turks, but they express their feelings differently. The more English you learn, the better you’ll understand this.

What are your hobbies?
I used to play guitar, but I realized I had no talent, so then I stopped. I like watching films and listening to music.

Do you prefer Turkish or American music?
I prefer Metallica and stuff – my brain’s corrupted .(laughs)

Who’s your favorite musician?
Metallica and Slipknot.

What films do you like best?
I watch whatever films my friends want to watch. I really liked The Hunger Games.

Do you speak any other languages?

Have you ever left Turkey?

What is your favorite food?
Mantı (Turkish raviolis)

Do you have breakfast before school?
Yeah, my mom normally fixes breakfast. Like tea, eggs, cheese, basic stuff.

Do you like school?
(laughs) I don’t like school. I like my friends, but I don’t like classes. During the 40 minutes of each class, I just want to hang out with my friends.

What do you usually do after school?

I play volleyball. After that, if the study hall is open, I go there, then I go home and use Facebook and stuff (laughs)

What do you do on the weekends?
I go to the study hall. Then I hang out with friends, but if I don’t hang out with friends, I go home and listen to music.

Do you think there are many differences between Turkish and American culture?
It definitely seems that way, but in fact I don’t really know. I want to know more about it. In films and stuff it seems way different, but like I said, Americans don’t seem as friendly as Turks. I don’t know. There’s gotta be though.

Elamur, me, and İkra

Elamur, me, and İkra

İkra’s answers:

What is your favorite class?
Math… and Turkish.

What do you study in Turkish class?
Turkish sentence structures and grammar, but not literature

What are your hobbies?
I like singing – lots of different styles, but all Turkish music. Pop music and stuff, but I don’t like foreign music much

Who’s your favorite musician?
Murat Boz (a famous contemporary Turkish singer)

Do you prefer Turkish or American films?
…Turkish. I prefer drama films. I have lots of favorites.

Do you speak any other languages?
Not really. Just what we learn in school. My English isn’t so great!

Do you play sports?
Not now, but I did karate back in the day.

Have you ever left Turkey?
No, but I’ve traveled around Turkey a little bit.

Are there bullies at this school?
(both of the girls laugh) There are so many bullies you can’t even count them. 

But neither of you are bullies, right?
(nervous laughs) Of course not! 

Are there both boy and girl bullies?
No girl bullies. Just boys. Like Ergen (a boy’s name) (laughs)

What is your favorite food?
I don’t really have a favorite, but maybe broccoli soup.

Do you have breakfast before school?

Do you like school?
Yeah, but I don’t really look forward to it.

What kind of food do they serve at the school?
Homestyle food, hamburgers, döner, et cetera.

What do you usually do after school?
I usually go to the park with some friends, then I go to the study hall

Do you think there are differences between Turkish and American culture?
From what I’ve heard, Turks are more hospitable and generally warmer… but I don’t really know.


What did you think of their responses? Did anything surprise you, or does their middle school life seem pretty similar to yours? Any Metallica fans out there?



Photo of the Week: Belgrade Forest



A friend from the U.S. visited me last week. A gorgeous day of sun and crisp air made us want to get out and see nature. This is a challenge in a gigantic, sprawling city like Istanbul, but a glance at a satellite photo of Istanbul shows that there’s an enormous green patch in the northwestern part of the European side, not terribly far from where I live, actually. The place is called Belgrad Forest. It’s home to many varieties of deciduous trees and some Ottoman dams. The Ottomans used the water in these reservoirs as Istanbul’s main water supply for much of the duration of the Empire. The words on this plaque, written in Ottoman Turkish, are allegedly the names of architects and workers who built the dam.

The bus ride out there was fairly long, so I decided to say hello to a high-school-aged guy standing next to me. He told me his family lived in the forest and offered to show us around. He spent a couple hours walking through the forest and acting as a tour guide, then we had a cup of tea at a shop near the main forest entrance. Not one to weaken the stereotype of Turkish hospitality, he even insisted on paying for the tea.

Photo of the week: Viking graffiti at the Hagia Sophia


This week’s Photo of the Week isn’t very pretty, considering that it comes from the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia was built as a Christian cathedral in 537, under the Byzantine Empire when Istanbul was Constantinople. In the 15th Century, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and changed its name to Istanbul. They were completely blown away by the Hagia Sophia because of its commanding architecture and outstanding artistic features. Its dome is gigantic and the stonework and layout was like nothing before it. Despite the fact that it was built for a different religion, they kept it around because they couldn’t imagine the city without it. However, since the Ottomans were Muslims, they converted it into a mosque.

This conversion required a few things, including:

  • Covering up the mosaics. The Hagia Sophia had mosaics that represented Jesus, Mary, disciples, and other popular figures in Christian art. Although these people appear in the Qur’an also, Islam forbids any art that represents humans. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, even artistic representations of the prophet Mohammed are forbidden.
  • The addition of a mihrab. When Muslims pray, they must face Mecca, a city in Saudia Arabia that hosts the holiest mosque in Islam. All other mosques have a decorative area against or carved into a wall in the mosque, which faces Mecca. This is called a mihrab. Needless to say, the cathedral lacked a mihrab.
  • The addition of minarets. Minarets are the pointy towers around mosques. They act as an elevated place from which imams (Islamic priests) can broadcast the call to prayer. The Hagia Sophia now has some of the tallest minarets in the world.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey decided the Hagia Sophia should no longer be a cathedral or a mosque, but rather a museum. This is the way travelers from around the world see it nowadays.

I encourage you to read more about the Hagia Sophia. Here’s a nice, succinct history of it.

Anyway, while it was still under the Byzantine Empire, the Vikings sacked Constantinople. In the process, some punk Viking named Halvdan scratched his name into the marble of the Hagia Sophia. Normally I’d find something like this shameful, but it fits in nicely with the dynamic history of the Hagia Sophia, which has taken on a little character from every major group of people that’s stumbled upon it.


Turkish pop music

Sorry for the delay this week. I’ve been looking for a Turkish friend with a middle school sibling I can interview and write about on this blog. My original plans fell through, and I had a bunch of tests this week, so it’s taken me a little while. Today is Thanksgiving. I was surprised as anyone to find out that Turks do not, in fact, celebrate the Mayflower’s arrival at the shores of Massachusetts, but in an act of solidarity with my family and friends in America, I’m playing hookey today.

The weather got bitter cold today and the forecast is predicting snow. I’m looking forward to being in a snow-covered Istanbul. I feel like Topkapı Palace will look especially grand in the winter. If it does snow, I’ll make sure to get some pictures for you.

This is nearly my last post! After this one, I’ll be posting about my interview with a middle schooler, and then the next one won’t happen until after we’ve met in person (probably in February).  I’ll be sad to not be in regular contact with all of you, but I’m thrilled for the opportunity to see you all when I return.

On last week’s comments

Reading your comments, I was so gratified to see that my post challenged the way many of you think about headscarves. Since it was relatively recently that I stopped understanding them in an oversimplified way, it is obvious that your comments show that you are thinking in a way that is far beyond your age. There’s a stereotype about Americans being Islamophobic that I often encounter. While it’s an unfortunate and inaccurate way to characterize the huge and diverse population of America, the fact remains that Islamophobia is a big problem in the US. It makes me hopeful to read comments from middle schoolers who are fighting this problem by simply not making negative assumptions about people based on their religion.

Ms. Kelly added a lot to the conversation in her comment last week. I added bold to some sentences that especially stood out to me:

In 2010 Oregon lifted its ban on teachers wearing religious clothing at school. In 2013, Quebec bans public sector workers from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols in public. Are you aware that some Orthodox Christians also wear scarves, long sleeves and long skirts for the purpose of modesty. Islam does not make Afghanistan more oppressive; the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam in Afghanistan makes the country more so.

What I really love about teaching is the different cultures that are represented in the public schools. I have taught several female Muslim students who wear their headscarves, because they follow the principles of Islam, and also have fathers who want them to be engineers and astronauts. I have three friends who converted to Islam, who choose to wear their headscarves. They are strong females who husbands treat them as equals. This is a complicated issue.

The preserving of individuals freedoms, should be what is first and foremost. I hope that people understand this: Every woman who wears a hijab is not persecuted; and not every woman who wears a hijab is free.

I found it interesting that many of you thought America was doing a poor job of preserving freedom of religious expression. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I wonder what sorts of events or policies have given you that impression.

I had never heard of the book Molly mentioned, Does my Head Look Big in This?, but it looks like an interesting first-hand account of what it’s like to be a teenager wearing a headscarf in a predominantly non-Muslim society.

Turkish pop music

I haven’t talked much, if at all, about pop culture in Turkey. In today’s post, I’d like to show you a little bit about modern music in Turkey.

American pop music seems to be popular all over the world, so my trip to Turkey hasn’t provided an escape from Taylor Swift, Robin Thicke, or Lady Gaga. However, the music scene in Istanbul offers a great deal more than just DJs or cover bands playing American music, though those are around too.

The music I hear most often in Turkey is Turkish Top 40 – a collection of the most popular Turkish pop music. Though I’m not well-versed in these artists or songs, I can’t leave my house without hearing the same familiar tunes.

Aşk Yok Olmaktır is the number one song in Turkey right now. I’ve never chosen to listen to it, but it’s often stuck in my head because I hear it everywhere. When you listen to it, you’ll notice the tune and singing style is different than American music, but it still fits into the modern pop genre. Turkey has a long heritage of combining elements of Turkish folk music with European and American rock/pop music. One of the oldest examples of this is a genre called “Anatolian rock,” an unmistakable style which was born in the 1960s.

Erkin Koray is the so-called king of Anatolian Rock. His music is equally inspired by psychedelic rock of the time (from the US and UK) and Turkish folk music. Many young people still listen to music by Erkin Koray and other Anatolian Rock artists of the time. There are lots of bars around Taksim dedicated to this kind of music, but they still consider it “oldies,” the same way we’d regard The Beatles or the Beach Boys. I think Erkin Koray’s pretty neat.

Like all pop music, most of the themes in Turkish pop music revolve around love or dancing or partying, but some music takes more political angles. During the Taksim protests, more music was written that reflected the ideals of the young activists: more personal liberties, less religion in government, and more involvement from the citizens in the political process. A Turkish rock band, Duman (meaning ‘smoke’), recorded a song that became the unofficial anthem of the Taksim protests. The lyrics are written as a sarcastic “cheers” or expression of thanks to the Turkish government and police, who attacked protesters with pepper gas, batons, and other forms of brutality. The title of the song, Eyvallah, means ‘thank you.’ The translation below isn’t totally accurate, but the words still reflect a popular sentiment among many Turkish citizens during the protests.

There’s a whole lot of music that’s completely free of modern or European/American influences that, surprisingly for me, is extremely popular among young people. Around Taksim, which is a haven for people in their late teens and twenties, there is a strong presence of especially Turkish, Balkan, Kurdish, and Gypsy folk music. Upon my first visit to İstiklal Avenue at night, I was struck by how connected young people were to centuries-old music of their different heritages. It seems Turks in our generations are just as likely to learn how to play bağlama (a plucked string istrument), clarinet, kemançe (a type of Turkish/Persian violin)or tulum (Turkish bagpipes) as they are to learn how to play guitar. Here’s a group of young people performing Turkish folk music on authentic instruments on İstiklal. The quality of the video isn’t great, but this is something you can see on İstiklal any night of the week: young people playing folk music while passersby sing along, do folk dances, and maybe toss a couple liras in an open instrument case.

It made me think of young people in America. What are our folk traditions? How do we connect to our past, or do we even do this through music?

For me, these are hard questions to answer. Sometime in the more recent part of my 22 years of existence, I’ve noticed young people becoming increasingly interested in bluegrass and other forms of traditional American music, but I feel like it’s a larger part of the youth experience in Turkey.


animals-Turkey-thesuiteworldIn response to my first post, some of you asked about why English would use the same word for two things as seemingly unrelated as Turkey and a turkey. I figured there’s no better time than just before Thanksgiving to answer that question. Let’s talk a little bit about the etymology of the words ‘turkey’ and ‘Turkey.’ Etymology is the study of words’ origins and the way their meanings change over time.

The word ‘Turkey’ ultimately comes from the word Turk’ which is the name of an ethnic and linguistic group, and has been for a very long time. Turks have historically been associated with Anatolia because they have been the largest ethnic group there.


Here’s the etymological explanation for ‘turkey,’ paraphrased from the Online Etymology Dictionary.

There’s a type of bird called the guinea fowl, which comes from Africa. Back in the day (in the 16th Century), traders would bring guinea fowls from Madagascar up through north Africa, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. Because of their trade route (and maybe because they were ethnic Turks), Englishmen called them ‘turkey merchants.’ Eventually, the name ‘turkey’ ended up being used for the guinea fowl.

The actual bird we know as a turkey was from the Americas, not Africa. When English speakers first saw a real turkey, they misidentified it as guinea fowl, aka ‘turkey.’

So, although there’s no real-world connection whatsoever between turkey and Turkey, we use the same word.

The Turkish word for ‘turkey’ is hindi, which basically means ‘Indian.’ They called it that because the bird came from North America, which most people at the time thought was basically an extension of India. This misconception is also the reason that ‘Indian’ is synonymous with ‘Native American’ in English.

There’s a moral to all of this. Humans make lots of mistakes. Language is created, modified, and shared by humans, so it reflects these mistakes. I find it all pretty charming.



The headscarf and women’s rights


On last week’s comments

(Spam and bacon aside,) Your comments on last week’s post were very thoughtful. Many of you asked about the traditional division between East and West, wondering how it can be explained geographically. The answer is: it can’t. The cardinal directions – North, South, East, and West – are helpful for knowing where we are and how to get to the next place. However, the Earth is round; when we divide it up vertically, we have to choose what goes where. That is to say, the Prime Meridian is made up (but the Equator is real because it’s the exact halfway point between the Poles), but even the Prime Meridian places the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere and Germany in the Eastern Hemisphere. The Prime Meridian, then, does not help us understand these old definitions.

Consider Australia, whose population is mostly white, English-speaking, and Christian. Australia is considered to be a Western country despite the fact that most of its landmass is directly south of China, which is a classically Eastern country. I hope this helps illustrate that these labels are culturally-determined and have little, perhaps nothing to do with geography.

You also had a lot of comments about Turkey’s attempts to join the EU. Most of you supported Turkey’s membership because you felt that the EU’s reasons for rejecting Turkey were invalid. For the most part, I happen to feel the same way, but there’s a complex web of (mainly economic) factors in this decision that I can’t pretend to understand thoroughly, so I didn’t include them in last week’s post. This is a good time for a reminder that I am no expert on these matters.

The headscarf

Today’s post topic gives us an opportunity to combine a lot of things we’ve learned about Turkey’s history, culture, politics, and religion. It’s also a relevant way to introduce the topic of gender equality in Turkey, something you’ve asked about in comments.

First, I’d like to clarify what the headscarf is exactly. The simple answer is that it’s a garment commonly worn by Muslim women. In the Qur’an, Mohammed asks women and men to be highly modest in the way they dress and behave. Though he does not actually command women to wear a headscarf (or similar piece of clothing), he stresses the importance of hijab which literally means “barrier” or “partition.” This word has since taken on a broader meaning; Muslims use the term hijab to refer to a general way of being modest. It is interpreted differently in different parts of the world.

A few types of headscarves (note: the names vary depending on region and language)


Not all Muslim women believe the headscarf is a necessary part of Qur’anic modesty. A recent study showed that about 62% of Turkish women wear a headscarf, but as we know, Turkey’s population is much more than 62% Muslim. Of course, there are a lot of reasons why women wear – or don’t wear – the headscarf. It should come as no surprise that Turkey’s dramatic political history has influenced the wearing of headscarves.

The headscarf and women’s rights

Shortly after the Republic was founded, women were discouraged from wearing the headscarf. In fact, they were prohibited from wearing it while working in public positions as lawyers, teachers, or members of government. Apart from this, women could wear headscarves in public, though the new Republic’s spirit of secularism made it so they sometimes faced discrimination; for example, some employers were less likely to hire “headscarf women.” Many argue this still happens today.

The wolf prohibits the headscarfed Little Red Riding Hood from entering his forst.

The wolf prohibits Little Red Riding Hood from entering his forest because she is wearing a headscarf.

The reason headscarves were banned at all is that Atatürk believed religion shouldn’t play a role in public life. He thought that, if women wore Islamic attire in governmental positions, it would represent a dangerous integration of religion into political affairs or public education.

In the 1980s, the government passed a more restrictive ban on the headscarf, which prohibited university students from wearing headscarves. This ban wasn’t consistently enforced though; sometimes women were able to wear headscarves to class, sometimes not. Women were able to get away with wearing a headscarf, but they often had to hide it in ridiculous ways or simply enroll in a more headscarf-tolerant university. Here’s how the Turkish Review explains it:

The actual implementation of the ban was left to the discretion of the universities themselves, resulting in the emergence of various ways to get around the ban on the part of the students, including transferring to a different university, wearing an obvious wig on top of the headscarf (or more simply, wearing a hat) and taking examinations without coming to school.

My own university, Boğaziçi, has alternated between allowing and prohibiting the headscarf. In 2008, a time when there was no official ban on the headscarf, Boğaziçi’s director of the department of education (where students study to become teachers) imposed the ban on his own students, saying “I’m the boss here . . . If you’re going to come to class wearing a headscarf, then change departments!” Many female students, both headscarf-wearing and non-headscarf-wearing, organized protests against this policy. Now, there is no ban against headscarves at Boğaziçi.

When I asked some of my female classmates about their opinions on headscarves, I found out they are generally opposed to any sort of ban. My friend Elif is very liberal and a non-Muslim. She argues that the headscarf ban is oppressive not only to Muslims, but to women in general. She and many other Turkish women feel that the decision of whether to wear a headscarf should be a personal matter, not a political one. Although women and men are officially considered equal by Turkish law, many Turkish feminists believe that the problem with headscarf bans is that they represent authority of men over women.

Although she doesn’t wear a headscarf, Elif also mentioned that some non-Muslim feminists have donned headscarves as a protest against headscarf bans. This came as a huge surprise to me. It reminded me of the way I used to think about headscarf-wearing women when I was younger. I thought the headscarf was a symbol of oppression against Muslim women. It didn’t even occur to me that they might prefer to wear it, and I certainly would’ve never thought of it as a statement for women’s rights. But when she told this, all of a sudden it made a lot of sense. As a non-Muslim and non-female (or male, for short), I will probably never understand all of the reasons why a woman would prefer to wear headscarf. Clearly my old assumptions about it were wrong, and I’m sure I still don’t understand what goes into the decision of whether to wear a headscarf, so it would be wrong of me to judge them.

On the other side of the spectrum from Turkey are countries like Afghanistan, where women are (unofficially) required to wear the burqa (see the slideshow above for an illustration), a type of hijab that covers the entire face and body. While this clearly oppresses women’s rights, I’m sure that even if Afghanistan imposed a ban against head coverings, some Afghan women would still prefer to wear the burqa. Because of this, I would argue that any type of law targeting headscarves creates a problem for individual rights and gender equality.

Female politicians wearing headscarves in the Turkish Parliament for the first time in many decades

Female politicians wearing headscarves in the Turkish Parliament for the first time in many decades

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (remember, last name: EHR-doh-wahn) repealed the law against women wearing headscarves in public offices just a few weeks ago. This infuriated some of the nation’s secularists, who feel that this is the next step in Erdoğan’s plot to undo make Turkey an Islamic state. But many Turks feel like this is a step toward improved gender equality, even if it the decision was inspired by Erdoğan’s Islamic leanings. News headlines did a nice job of illustrating different ways to interpret this event:

Turks applaud Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s easing of headscarf ban (Financial Times)

Turkey’s headscarf ban lifted in assault on the secular state (The Times)

The headscarf issue is no doubt a complicated one, especially for people like us who aren’t very accustomed to Islamic culture. However, I believe it’s also part of a more relatable issue of individual rights, freedom of religious expression, and gender equality. What do you think? What has your reaction been when you see women wearing different types hijab? Do you believe America is doing a good job of preserving individual rights?