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21 Eylül 2011 Çarşamba

The Forbidden Modern: Civilization and Veiling, Book Review

There is no doubt that Nilüfer Göle’s book The Forbidden Modern: Civilization and Veiling, has greatly analyzed the Turkish Modernization which started from the early 19th century to the onwards, from the perspective of ‘women’ by taking the policies, tendencies, movements that have affected the woman to the basis. I consider her work as a feministic one and in my opinion it is the most useful method on issue of “veiling”. At the first glance Göle seems to be primarily studying the veiling issue in her work, however, when we look at her method of studying it, we see that she is actually making an experiment on two several things like: the nature and the aim of veiling in Turkey, the relationship between ‘veiling status of women’ (veiled or not) and level of modernization (high or low) –this greatly shows her idea that the women is the representation of civilization and modernization in modern era – , also the how the Islamist demand on the image of veiling has changed etc. In her work she puts “the kinds of women” in Turkey in two categories which are simultaneously affecting each other: women in imaginations (the expectations of ideologies on women’s lifestyle) and women in reality.

The modernist ideology in westernizer sense, Kemalism in particular, discourses a model of women as highly-educated, socialized and secular (should attend to social life, should see no sex difference between men and women, should be fulfilling the ‘needs’ of westernism and ) , working, unveiled etc. The modernist ideology in conservative Islamist sense, on the other hand, demands for just the opposite model of women, a kind of traditional style. Although we observe these models in contemporary Turkish society, we cannot conclude that these are the only models of women in Turkey. In fact, there is one model of women in Turkey that practices a kind of a hybrid style and they represent what Göle calls The Forbidden Modern, which is the re-interpretation of Islamism in Modern era. They wear hijab, fulfill the needs of their religion, also they go to university, work and appear in the social life.

Then, the concepts of forbidden and modern women have changed with this hybrid style, because it was partially opposing but partially practicing the both of the models at a time, in other words what is forbidden Islamist ideology is different than this group’s practice as what is modern for Westernizer ideology is different for them, because of this they are refused from both ideologies.

The biggest problem of modernity is the understanding of “if one thing is x, -x can’t be the x” which is in this case: “if modern women are unveiled, then the veiled women are not modern per se.” or “if we want to be modern and civilized then there is no place for veiling”. Göle denies such idea and she shows us the concrete examples of the possibility: Hijab wearing students who are critical, radical, political, researcher, active in social life and go to university. According to her participant observatory work with hijab-wearing university students; the veiling has many meanings for them, (1) it has both political and theological side (2) the forbidden modern is mainly occurred with urbanization (3) they regret and criticize the “traditional women” and many traditions that create traditional women.

Veiling with hijab has more than one aim, as she found out it is political and theological. The theological aim of veiling is as clear as the water: And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, their brothers' sons, their sisters' sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers that you might succeed.” (An-Noor: 31) The private parts of the women body must be covered to not attract the men. The political aim of veiling, on the other hand, is not same as the left-conservatives’ (Kemalists) view: “They wear hijab because of the political party says it so, they are wearing it because of the patriarchy, by force and oppression”. Hijab, in contrast, is political because of being an indicator of one’s political ideology that is Islamism (Not in the traditional sense, but in the sense that the Islamism as they live – AKP kind of represents that)

It is occurred with the urbanization, especially after big emigrations in Turkey, because the concept and the way of veiling in rural areas in Anatolia are different than in metropolises. Mostly, Anatolian women have never lived Islam in the radical ways, they do cover their heads with different type of cloth and in different way (what portion of the head is covered), moreover, these types (not its patterns, but the length) and ways are differing according to the culture of region. Therefore, their veiling is much related to religiosity then religion, the hijab, then again, in terms of its type and way is universal. The other evident why hijab is related to urbanization is that, we have not seen any debate on hijab until the mid and late-80’s Turkey; it is the time when urbanization has started to increase greater than before, the headscarf ban had issued at this decade as well. Besides all of these a girl who attended to Göle’s research reports that: I was in Imam Hatip when I was going to secondary school, I was covering my head at school, but at home I was not covering it even if there is a man… But I didn’t cover my head in Eskişehir. I came to Istanbul for high school, and then in University I started to wear hijab and jilbāb.” (Göle 2010: 123)

As Göle argued and I support, hijab wearing university students are extremely criticizing, denying and refusing the traditional women. The hijab wearing university students sees them as back warded and illiterate, because of not questioning and researching the religion by going deep into the roots (Quran, Hadiths, and Fiqh etc.) Their religiosity is considered by them as superficial, hearsay and somehow “cultural”. They both damage the image of women and religious women being and doing so. They only stay in the house, have only primary education (even lack of education), do what their husband says and grow their children. The hijab wearing students are also critical of some “traditional” ideas such as; polygamy, ‘women shouldn’t attend too much in social life’, ‘housewifery is the best work for a women’ etc. These are of course not in Islam, they say, they are just the patriarchal misinterpretations of it. In my opinion, this ideology has greatly grown in Turkey that even the right-conservative Islamist parties are today supporting it.

Briefly, Göle shows us that Islam and Islamic life is not an obstacle on the way to modernism. A country and its members can be modern and the members can practice their religion –or tradition– with no big interruptions to their modernity. Further, such kind of life style has come up with the birth of modernization of Turkey; it is actually the product of it. For instance; urbanization is modern, political view of the hijab shows the modernization, the investigator characteristic of hijab wearing students also shows their rational and positivist worldview of these women. In short, Göle tells us that; the modernism is not only exists in the appearance, but it exists also in the minds, which I strongly agree. The other interesting point in the book is that, she shows us that something that is attributed to women is always debated, subjected and tried to be controlled mostly by man, even from those who supported the westernizer modernism – I think this is significantly showing the other fail of Kemalist modernism-. Also I find her method of taking her work to the reality –applied study and participant observation technique- really well, because the sociology is not only working with theories from the table. But, I think she should put the fact of “interest” in the book because since the modern world is functioning as rational the calculability and the economic interest has become important, and to me, all these debates going on around veiling is caused by the fear of one group losing their interest. If the new minds with different ideologies would get the means of power thanks to their self-entrepreneurship, knowledge and talents, the other group of people will lose their power and interest. Because of this they always make a big deal from veiling: the hijab is just the representation of the one power in deed.


1. Göle, N. (2010). Modern Mahrem: Medeniyet ve Örtünme. Istanbul: Metis. (Original work published 1991)

2. The Qur'an: English Translation with Parallel Arabic Text. (2010). London: Oxford University Press. 24:31 verse.


India has always been the country of ‘dreams’, hard-to-achieve goals, even sometimes impossibilities, and of course romantic loves. She is also the country of inequalities, “complex” and “unjust” stratification systems, and lack of social mobility. Arundhati Roy’s book The God of Small Things shows all the characteristics of India that I attributed in one place. One may think that “What a novel can show besides long ‘artificial’ stories?” yet, when we go deeper in the characters and the events the reliability of my argument will be achieved.

The stratification system of India, according to our book, is not only consisting of two groups of people, namely; touchables and untouchables. It is far more complex that this simplistic dichotomy. The ones who oppresses or who are superior varies, for instance; according to nationality & race, sex, social class, education, occupation and “destiny”.

Firstly, the English in my opinion is the highest stratum in the story, because India was a colony of Britain and it is representing the West (as a target to achieve) for the family. The English is so noble that they wouldn’t even have an interest in “poor” Indians; Pappachi would not believe her story–not because he thought well of her husband, but simply because he didn’t believe that an Englishman, any Englishman, would covet another man’s wife.” (Roy 1997; 19), their language is must be spoken properly: “She had made them practice an English car song for the way back. They had to form the words properly, and be particularly careful about their pronunciation.”(Roy 1997; 16),their movies are the most desired ones to watch (even for many times), in addition to these, Estha’s family’s having connection with England took Orangedrink Lemondrink Man’s attention.

Secondly, within the Indians there is the “touchibility” issue. If you are in the “wrong” position within the caste system, there is no way out of it, neither your talents & education nor your money helps. At best, they can only take you to a ‘privileged’ location as they did Velhuta. His story has reminded me of the essay Some Principles of Stratification by Davis and Moore, for his talents and ‘uniqueness’ in his environment, he got rewarded well. Because he did disturb the major societal means function, the religion and the culture, he ended up with dramatic end.(Davis & Moore 1944) The story is simple: He was talented on carpentry and he had enough education, he was the one who fixed all of the tools in Paradise Pickles & Preserves, he was “the worker” in the factory as well. However, the society’s stratification system’s mobility was closed and he was a paravan, and a paravan should be untouched! He couldn’t enter Mammachi’s house, he had a “particular” smelling, he killed Sophie Mol, and he should be out of the Marxist Party because the touchable comrades don’t want to touch him! He was killed because he was not Ammu’s family’s kind of people; he was not in the same status group with them. Ammu’s and Velhuta’s “sin” was violating the border which is determined by the history, and he must have been killed, so he was. But who killed Velhuta? The policemen, baby Kochamma, the system, Ammu, Velhuta himself, the twins, Sophie Mol, and Mammachi did it all together with a cooperation, with a contract with the intention of keeping the system at work.

Roy seems to be giving you the answer of the classic debate with the story of Velhuta: “social class…is it the only thing that determines your position?” “No, it is not!” However, there is one important point there: Comrade Pillai who was one of the masterminds of Marxist Party was actually “comrade” Pillai! In my opinion, he is representing a “travesty” form of Marxists. The classless societies that he goes for is the classless society that belongs to touchable Indian comrades, not to the society as a whole. But Pillai is not alone in deed; it seems to me that all the Marxists in the book except Velhuta can be categorized just as Pillai. Chacko for instance, on one hand he is the one who tells everyone that the company belongs to him, even though Mammachi does all the job, he enjoys the benefactions of being Modalali and being a “Marxist” by satisfying his ‘needs’ with the workers.

Thirdly the age and gender issue is greatly represented by Roy; I knew that the women were oppressed in India, they had no rights, they are exposed to violence very often but they have one day when they can take “revenge” from their husbands. But the story of the family members is showing us a kind of ambiguity on gender issue. Mammachi, Baby Kochamma, Ammu and Rachel are all female but they were receiving a different kind of social response.

Ammu for instance: “…Though Ammu did as much work in the factory as Chacko, whenever he was dealing with food inspectors or sanitary engineers, he always referred to it as my Factory, my pineapples, my pickles. Legally this was the case, because Ammu, as a daughter, had no claim to the property.”(Roy 1997; 26) Though Mammachi was sharing the same gender with Ammu, she was considered as “head of the family” not only by the family members but by the other people around them. In my opinion, the difference between them is caused by several things, such as; age, marital status (they were both widower, but Ammu’s case was caused by separation), ownership, amount of people that they had authority among etc. Those are the most important reasons of it and all of them can be summed up in one title: Prestige. I came to that conclusion because of Baby Kochamma, in the novel what she does and makes us to believe that she was an evil is her effort to take back and stabilize her prestige on family members, especially on twins. Rachel by the way is a representation of the lowest stratum member within touchables; she is a child, a girl, has no prestige, and no authority on anyone. She can’t legitimize her acts because of her current situation, to be honest, she never could.

It is interesting to see the fact that, the legitimization of the acts is equally increasing according to the stratum of a one in the novel. Chacko’s ‘need’, again, was the need of having a sexual intercourse; the ones who he had an intercourse with were the female workers in the factory (the touchables of course) some of them were even married and they were having children, which is socially disapproved. However, Mammachi showed that as a natural human need, even she supplied him a ‘special entrance’ for that. One may consider this as normal because he was belonging to higher stratum than others, by being so he could legitimize that easily, this is the way the strata are. Then what happened to all these norms and laws that the societies build on them? The answer will be given in the following paragraph.

The other point is about the apprehension of the time in Roy’s India. Drawing on the stratification system, we can say that we apprehend two different India that exists at the same time, in the same place but standing on two different locations: the modern India and the pre-modern one. As we all know the inequalities were considered as “natural” in the pre-modern epoch, you deserved belonging to the lower stratum because of the “nature”, because God wanted to put you there so. The effort of yours in the life was not counted in, ‘what you do’ was trivial because ‘Who you are’ was initially important. “Past is past because there is a present”, said Trouillot. And in Roy’s India there is one past, which is still remaining in the present as Caste system. The ‘present’ in contrast is the time line that touchables are living in, its modern and ‘what you do’ is maybe much more important and its key for the successes. Is it? Of course not! The efforts for successes in fact serve to Modalalis. If it wasn’t so then Roy would not put Marxists in her novel, the REAL Marxists I mean, the ones who were in the demonstration, the ones who were paid two rupees fifty paisa and one rupee twenty-five paisa, and the ones who were singing: “Inquilab Zindabad! Thozhilali Ekta Zindabad! ”. But the Inquilab can be done only in the modern time, only in one time, and only when the all people are together. In short the ones with the class consciousness. (Edgell; 1993)

Last but not least, I want to touch upon the History House and Heart of Darkness. The History House is important because the way that it makes people to think is done in a specific way that it creates a community and this community is mainly remembers and practices the stratification system which is connected to their nature. It’s not just a house for that community; it became a communal discourse after the disease. If it was not like that, then it would join to the boutique hotels in the Heart of Darkness and serve for tourism. We see there the power of the West over the India again with the hotels in Heart of Darkness, the Indian is again humiliated, enslaved, humbled by the British. Not through the means of Imperialism this time, but this time via tourism. People of India re-learn how to do what the westerners says while the westerners are enjoying their bohemian life-style and drawing their next-spot visiting sights meanwhile they do make click-clicks on anything that they consider as “interesting”, they do not skip mentioning about the old power of England. The History House watches them and records them as it had watched and recorded the dramatic story of Velhuta.


Davis, K., & Moore, W. E. (1944). Some Principles of Stratification. American Sociological Review, 10(2), pp. 242-249.

Edgell, S. (1993). Classical Theories of Class: Marx and Weber. Class (pp. 1-14). London: Routledge.

Roy, A. (1997). The god of small things . New York: Random House

Clash of Diversities and Domination of One: On the Clash of Civilizations and Cultural Imperialism

In 21th century the world re-give greater importance to religion and culture, this “greater importance” ultimately embodied with conflict and violence especially in international level. Thanks to natural characteristics of Islam and Christianity –missionary, universal, offering teleological solutions– the battle ground for the civilizations on which they would fight was “recreated’. Besides the traditional characteristics of the religions, we humans learnt how to be modern in earlier decades and suddenly we have created “us” and made “other” the others. Then we started to make crucial things upon politics of “us” to others like naming them as enemies. Huntington said that, the world is in the process of re-ordering its structure in the form of “civilizational blocs”, and these civilizational blocs will have greater clashes with each other. Weller, in his article says that, there is no possibility of “civilizational blocs”, mainly because of the deep differences even among the states having similar or same ideologies -like communism or socialism-, rather there is possibility of “spheres” which are more complex and contested. Because the borders between and within these groupings have blurred. Moreover, he points out that the religion itself will give a response to the clash characterized by modesty, integrity, realism and distinctiveness and would avoid this clash.

The clash of civilizations theory is the most influential work of conflict school, in inter and cross national levels. However, the order of the world, for some theoreticians and politicians, is always develops through consensus. We see today, there are various world-wide organizations that work for one interests –maybe in different ways– without procreating any conflicts. As Weller mentioned in his article, Alliance of Civilizations is one of these organizations. The main aim of UNAOC is to avoid misunderstanding, fear, biases from both Islamic and Christian civilizations; they want to do it by suppressing extremism and developing dialogue between the civilizations.

In my opinion, the clash of civilizations theory and all other counter-theses are just manipulating something really important. That is the economic & cultural & informational domination of one civilization, namely the American. For reasonable reasons, I see the future of this world from a pessimistic view. Firstly, the notion of “us” has started to change its character since we started to wear blue-jeans, eat McDonald’s and drink Coca-Cola and use Wikipedia. The actual war, although it has serious damages, can be healed by the time. However, the type of domination that I am talking about will destroy our varieties, and will abolish the creativity. Because, the means of imagination that helps us to create the notion of “us” will be same in whole world, for instance, the language, I speak English as 2nd language and I use it for 9 hours a day, most of my e-library is filled with books written in English and it reflects to my mother tongue a lot. A similar thing can be observed in celebrations; New Year has much more meaning than Aid al-Adha today in Turkey. Or many of us trust world-wide brands than the local brands. Above all, we have seen that the clash of civilizations is evitable, the economic & cultural & informational domination of one civilization, on the other hand, is not and it will risk the humanity more than anything that we see today mainly cause of the identity crises.