Private, Public, veiling, etc.

Emrah Goker eg577 at columbia.edu
Fri Sep 26 09:55:15 MDT 2003


With regard to the notion of "private" in Sunni Islam and the practice of
Sunni veiling, I recommend reading Nilufer Gole's "The Forbidden Modern"
(available in English). Her book is not without problems (actually I tried
to start a polemic in a Turkish social science journal from a socialist
standpoint a few years ago, but she never replied). Yet the text is not
just a "haughty, snobby, academic act": it lays out, through ethnographic
evidence, how this bourgeois-societal distinction "public-private" is
insufficient/wrong-headed to explain the life-worlds of female Muslim
activists. The Sunni distinction between "dar-ul harp" ("the abode of war")
and "dar-ul Islam" ("the abode of Islam") and the concept of "mahrem" ("the
forbidden") do not exactly map onto Western categories.

We ("some Turkish&Kurdish socialists") who are well aware of the fascism
inherrent in the statist, fundamentalist framing of "secularism" in Turkey,
exerting physical and non-physical violence on many Muslim (and other)
groups in the country, have also tried to draw attention to the way the
Sunni "Milli Gorus" [National(ist) Vision] movement undemocratically
monopolized almost all genuine democratic demands coming from Turkey's
Muslim constituencies. Muslim women's voices have oftentimes been
silenced/usurped, before the Kemalist lynching mob arrived, by the alpha
males of the Sunni movement. The situation is no different today during the
Erdogan government's reign.

The problem is: The Left (sometimes with rightful reasons) is suspicious of
any form of political articulation with (and through that, transformation
of) progressive wings of the Sunni movement. And the feeling is mutual on
the side of Sunni activists. All kinds of prejudice in both sides pop up.
Leftists might wrongly believe that "they" have a hidden agenda (of
theocracy, for example), and the Sunni progressives might refrain from
working with "a bunch of atheists" who might betray the cause of
"democratic rights" to the Kemalists.

Personally, I think that more need be done in Turkey in terms of forming
cross-political coalitions and alliances in order to force, in the medium
term, the establishment to fulfill its bourgeois-democratic promises. This
does not mean, of course, the Left should stop organizing/working to
"liquidate" the capitalist-militarist establishment itself. Both levels of
the struggle can be carried out simultaneously, supporting one another, and
without paying only lip-service to the realization of rights and liberties.

emrah


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