AUTHORNafees Ahmed Nafees Ahmed graduated from Georgetown College in 2012. At the Berkley Center, Nafees was a Research Assistant and Doyle Student Fellow and participated in the Junior Year Abroad Network from Istanbul, Turkey during the spring of 2011.
February 6, 2011
January 30, 2011
May 5, 2011
The Junior Year Abroad Network (JYAN) connects Georgetown students studying abroad in a variety of cultures. Students share reflections on religion, culture, politics, and society in their host countries, commenting on topics ranging from religious freedom and interfaith dialogue to secularization, globalization, democracy, and economics.
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Nafees Ahmed on Turkey's Schizophrenic Identity
May 5, 2011 | 2 COMMENTS
As a student of Kings College School in Cambridge I was required to take French lessons, the once royal language of Great Britain. Traveling to Paris in high school and then university, I fell in love with the city. I admired the Parisian lifestyle centered on family and food, I loved their fashion-forward vogue, and I understood their fierce passion for their locally produced wine and cheese. For the French, their beautiful language represents their rich culture; and as a student of both, I was happy the locals always saw me as more than just a tourist.
I never knew that these life experiences would coincide, but then again, I never knew that I would be studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey. At the local university here, I was apprehensive about taking the compulsory Turkish class since I had heard its structure was completely different from that of the romance languages. I never knew that my background in French and Pashto would help me. Two months into the course and able to carry a very basic conversation, I have noticed that Turkish has many words in common with both Pashto and French. This blend of very different language groups is representative of Turkish society.
In the intricate milieu that is this epic city, I have encountered two poles in matters of religion, fashion, political alignment, and socio-economic status. In attempting to describe these two extremes, I can only make caricatures of these otherwise complex societal groups.
My university is dominated by one extreme. My peers are the secular, Westernized, middle-to-upper class, wildly patriotic Turks. They drink Rakı (Turkish brandy) every weekend, carry huge Louis Vuitton bags, and would protest the present religious regime, were they not politically apathetic. Their lifestyles can be, to a degree, represented by the French imports of the now Turkish words “laik” (secular) and “feminizm” (feminism).
On the end of the spectrum are the Turks who live in the campus town, but could never afford to attend the university. Sarıyer, is a village within Istanbul removed from the urban lifestyle, so it is not uncommon to see a herd of sheep graze by as I look out my dorm room window. The locals of Sarıyer are incredibly friendly even though their English is broken at best. They are religious, the women are mostly in hijab, and they support President Erdoğan. Their dress, beliefs and habits are more representative of what I would expect a person using Turkish words shared with Pashto to be.
While language, is merely one example from a personal perspective, any facet of Turkish society can be studied and the polarity and intricacies of the topic will be bountiful. Istanbul itself holds perplexing mixes such as the Hagia Sofia, a Roman remnant, opposite the beautiful Ottoman built Blue Mosque. It holds Sufi mystique calligraphy stores on the same street as the most lavish nightclubs. Just as it is bizarre to hear girls in mini skirts speaking a language so similar to my sacred Pashto, so is it bizarre to hear women in ‘harem pants’ use words also spoken by the secular, wine-drinking French. To that effect, I have seen women in hijabs smoking cigarettes; and vice verse: a friend of mine, who would vehemently oppose the hijabed girl, once told me that she was a better Muslim than President Erdoğan as stumbled in the room drunk off of a little too much Rakı. Depending on your perspective we can analyze a coinciding or clashing of identities in Istanbul. In my eyes, the city represents both a blend and a rupture between East and West, Islam and secularism, and modernity and tradition.
COMMENT FROM BETH GOLDBERG MAY 12, 2011
Thanks for writing such an interesting blog about Turkey, you reaffirmed my strong desire to visit the country soon myself. As I read your descriptions, I kept finding strong parallels between Turkey's seemingly schizophrenic society and Kenya's own rapidly secularizing state and wanted to offer some of those.
Like Turkey, Kenya too has a dynamic, westernized elite class who, similar to your french-fashioned turks, appear like fast-moving, fast-talking new yorkers, easily distinguished from the rest of the population by their Merdedes, Prada sunglasses, and designer jeans. The majority of Kenyans don't even wear sunglasses or jeans, let alone own cars, opting for loose traditional fabrics and sandals, making the wealth disparity and cultural divisions between westernized elites and the majority of kenyans staggeringly apparent. On Sunday morning, these westernized Kenyans are more likely to be found in a bar watching Manchester United, lighting "fags" and sipping "gins" like good Englishmen, rather than pouring into churches like the fanatically devout Christian masses.
Linguistically, the lingua franca of these masses is Swahili with a dash of broken English, while the elites are likely to have never even learned Swahili, a language taught on the streets, not in schools. Yet, just as you found both the poor townspeople and university elites to be "wildly Patriotic Turks," there was an undeniable wealth of patriotism throughout Kenya. While sectarianism and class differences often caused this patriotism to be displayed differently, it was the most unifying and hopeful sign I spotted in a society so bifurcated by the forces of modernization and secularization.
Perhaps a healthy dose of patriotism is just what is necessary to keep rapidly developing, westernizing societies (like Turkey and Kenya) in one piece as the coinciding/clashing identities of old world and new world continue to redefine the national culture.
COMMENT FROM DEVEN COMEN AUGUST 14, 2011
Thank you both for sharing your perspectives on Turkey and Kenya. While not all of what Nafees finds perplexing about Turkey can be applied to the Indian context, I too was struck by how the Indian city represents both a "blend and a rupture between East and West, Islam and secularism, and modernity and tradition", with Islam being supplemented with Hinduism and Christianity. In Pune, clashes of the modern with the traditional define the struggles and triumphs of its people. New questions about standards of living and the growing divide between the rich and poor make a rapidly changing India hard to categorize. Globalization has increased salaries of senior managers, accountants, lawyers and public-relations personnel working for MNCs or their local competitors. For the IT-literate, plentiful job opportunities go hand-in-hand with opportunities to live and earn abroad. The "digital divide" between the IT haves and have-nots refers to the disparities in access and assimilation of knowledge.
For the English-speaking upper middle-class, access to disposable income seduces Indians into consumer-driven culture. This new and more prosperous class of Indian consumers associates India's progress with the availability of the latest automobile models and consumer goods. One Pune friend argued that poor, rural voters felt left out by the boom and that globalization “only benefits those who are already rich”. Over travel week, I stayed with a modern and wealthy Indian family who preferred Hollywood to Bollywood, flashed around Blackberry’s, and Porsche-brand watches. More access to finance and education by the globalized elite gives them more exposure to the McDonaldization of India—and availability to partake in Western culture if they so desire.
In India, the influence of the West is clear in the urban areas. Western dress and skin baring, music, fast food culture, and attitudes are constantly on displays. Behaviorally, while arranged marriage remains a strong system, modern tools like shaddi.com and increased urban breakup of the traditional joint family show the influence of modern society on Indian values. Dating remains taboo in most places, but attitudes continue to loosen daily. One Pune woman complained that “the youth have no values” and “do whatever they want” because of images in the Western media. Some argue underage drinking and drug use has increased and dangerous risk behaviors continue to rise.
The Facebook culture of America seems to have been fully imported to India. Many teens view social media as a positive tool to stay in touch with their friends, but others believe the constant connectedness to the Internet and SMS “ruins productivity”. One Pune resident explained her disbelief that a neighbor asked if she could chat with her on Facebook. She exclaimed, “I cannot understand why she couldn’t walk to my door and say hello rather than communicate with artificial devices”. In many developing countries, citizens are questioning if the modern erases traditional values and norms. At this point, we can only stay tuned.