Learn English with English, baby!

Join for FREE!


English Forums

Use our English forums to learn English. The message boards are great for English questions and English answers. The more you contribute, the more all members can practice English!


Life Talk!

Interview with prominent female Turkish scholar about Islam




  photo of nilufer gole interview: nilufer gole 

How do you personally understand the question of Muslim identity, from your own personal experience?

I was invited on French television after the publication of my book on Islamic veiling. The journalist asked me a very simple question, "Are you a Muslim?" I didn't know how to answer the question. I mumbled something. I felt a little bit uneasy about this question, because I said, "I'm here as a sociologist, as a researcher, and then as a woman, as a Turkish. But why question my religion?" I felt almost offended, because I couldn't say just, "Yes, I'm a Muslim." Then I said, "Yes, I am a Muslim, but not an observant," and we continued the interview.


But this question disturbed me a lot; then I started trying to find out what bothered me in this question, why I couldn't say, "Yes, I'm a Muslim," why I couldn't just confirm it in an easy way. Then I started to think about it, to analyze.

The first thing is, I'm coming from this Turkish, republican, modern background, which raised us as citizens, as Turkish modern girls, and we have never thought about our Muslim identity. So it would have been almost a lie to say, "Yes, I'm a Muslim," because we were raised in this new nationalism, which was Turkish nationalism, which didn't integrate Muslim background.

On the other hand, being a Turkish modern girl meant getting away from Muslim traditions. So this was the first thing in relation to my background and the historical background.

Secondly, it was in relation to today's Islamism, today's Islamic movements. If you say you are a Muslim, then there are things which are supposed to be done in conformity with Islamic religion. That means putting on the veil and following some rules of Islamic faith.

Whose rules, though?

Yes, right, but in relation to another Islamic public, I couldn't say in an easy way, in a shortcut, "Yes, I'm a Muslim," because then there are some expectations.

Thirdly, in relation to the Western public, there was a problem as well, because if I have said, "Yes, I'm a Muslim," then it was going to be heard from the Western public - I was scared that because I was invited to the French television to speak about my book on Islam and modernity - this was going to be heard as a book written by someone who has faith; therefore, who is not totally objective.

So the stereotype images, the prejudices of the Western public, the prejudices of the republican, modern Turkey against Islam, and the prejudices also of the Islamic public - all this meant that being Muslim in the modern world is not that easy. There is a kind of uneasiness, because it creates many complexities.

I have returned the question to the journalist. "If I have asked you, for instance, 'Are you a Christian?' he said, 'I would have said 'Yes.'" Then I understood. It is not symmetrical, being a Muslim and being a Christian in the modern world.


She is professor of sociology at Bogazici (Bosphorous) University in Istanbul and a leading authority on the political movement of today's educated, urbanized, religious Muslim women. A prominent Turkish scholar, she is the author of The Forbidden Modern: Civilization and Veiling. Through personal interviews, Gole has developed detailed case studies of young Turkish women who are turning to the tenets of fundamental Islamic gender codes. Her sociological approach also has produced a broader critique of Eurocentrism with regard to emerging Islamic identities at the close of the 20th century. She has explored the specific topic of covering, as well as the complexities of living in a multicultural world. Interview conducted June 2001.

Gole will be addressing the 15th ISA World Congress of Sociology in Brisbane, Australia, in July 2002.

Is that because, as you say, there are more demands on Muslims, more expectations if you're a Muslim to conform to rules?

It's not only that there are demands; it is because all the history of modernization, in the Turkish case but also in other Arabic countries, was written in a way which excluded Muslim culture. So in order to be modern - especially in this Turkey case, this is a very radical example - we had to get away from our Muslim background. There is a kind of abandon[ment], a kind of cutting it off; turning our back to our roots and to our past heritage.

Modernity is ...shaped,  invented by values which were not values of Muslim countries. That is one of the basic reasons of this cleavage, this either/or thing. If you are modern, you can't be a Muslim. Now we are going beyond this</del>-you can be both Muslim and modern.” /> <p>To be modern, almost you are either/or. You are either modern or Muslim. So this was a dilemma for modernity. This was the first thing, the historical background. The second one is in relation to today, Islamic movements who put a demand. So it's a more rigorous definition of being a Muslim. Thirdly, the Western public also have their own prejudices in relation. So it's not easy to say, "Yes, I'm a Muslim."</p>  <img src=

You have, though, since you studied this and it seems that you've been able to identify a confluence of modernity and Islam - that the two are not necessarily separate from one another.

Exactly, because when I felt this difficulty, I understood how all the other Muslims felt, because this difficulty was also in me. I experienced this uneasiness, this difficulty of being a Muslim woman in the modern world. I felt myself not that far away from other Muslims in the world, but they responded in a totally different way. Those who put on the veil had a different answer than mine, right? I became a sociologist; they became more rigorously Islamic.

Does that make them more Muslim than you?

I think so, yes, this makes them more Muslim in the sense that they define themselves more by their faith, by their Islamic culture, or they try to at least redefine their identity through a kind of remaking of this Islamic identity. They don't just take it as it is; they reinterpret, refashion, reconstruct this Islamic identity. Even the way they reinterpret religion is different from the interpretation of their families, for instance, which is not the same thing. So there is a kind of rupture between the new generation of young Islamic population and their family background.

It seems that in Turkey, in the U.S., where girls are starting to cover their hair, and in other places, the whole onus of being Muslim falls on the shoulders - on the heads actually - of women. Is that where the whole identity is? Is it with women, particularly young women?

I think it makes it a more visible Islamic identity. It became a symbol, and I think it is true that we can consider it as a symbol, because it makes it so visibly so. This is the difference between maybe the Western world and today's Islamic world. So the veiling becomes visible, especially in new public spaces. It creates a kind of controversial issue, for instance, on the university campuses, which were considered to be the bastions of modernity.

What are these girls saying with veils? What is it they are trying to communicate?

There are several things. First of all, the fact that they belong to Muslim identity and they follow God's rules and it's their faith. Secondly, I would say there are layers of this. It creates some kind of collective identity. It empowers them. Because many of them do it, there is a kind of uniform. When you take into consideration the Islamic veiling in the traditional world, for instance, it changes from one region to another, from one ethnicity to another, from one national background to another. It almost changes from region to region, the way women cover themselves. The fabric is different, the colors are different.

Today, we can speak almost of a sort of uniform. Although it also shows many varieties, diversities within it, we can speak of a sort of modern Islamic veiling. The fabric is modern. There is a sort of overcoat - it started like this at least - with a head scarf. Now a kind of fashion consciousness also enters into this new mode of veiling. But it is very different from the traditional one - different in the sense that there is a sort of homogenization which goes beyond the nations. It's transnational. The girls in Egypt, the ones in Turkey, and the ones in Iran are not that different. So there is this collective identity which is underlined, I would say, behind this new veiling.

Why do you think veiling makes them more Muslim than you?

They try to assert their difference as a Muslim in public life, whereas I do not. So in that sense it makes it more Muslim. And the way they refashion their self, their body, and even their relationship to new spaces. For instance, some of them can consider segregation of sexes, right? So the Islamic visibility in public space, let's call it, not only in politics. I call it "visibility in public space," because it is wider than politics, right?

For instance, these Muslim girls coming to the universities, or wanting as deputies to enter the parliament with their head scarf, which is a case in Turkey, or wanting to pursue their professional career. All this means a kind of public participation - participation of these women to social and public life. It is not only politics as we understand it; it's larger than that, more cultural. So in that respect, they try to be present in social life, in public life; yet asserting their difference as Muslims. That's why they are different than me.

It does say in Quran, "Bring your shawl up over, cover your bosom," is what I remember reading in the literal translation of it. But what are they trying to do by covering up? In your book, you've referred to a sort of walling off of their sexuality. "This is how much access to me you get."

The veiling is not only just covering the head; it indicates a way of behavior, which is called to be more modest, more pure - Puritan maybe - which means you limit your presence in public life. For instance, the way you look at people. You have to cast down the eyes. The way your body occupies the space in public. That means you shouldn't be too loud - laughing, for instance. So it means a way of behaving, more modest behavior. It comes from hija, meaning being more cautious, being more modest.

So I think it's not only just a kind of dress code, but a dress code which indicates a set of manners, bodily manners, in relation to the other sex, but in relation also to public behavior. Also, culturally, it means a more civilized behavior - civilized in the sense that you are more controlled. It's a kind of self-control in public life.

How do men exhibit that self-control?

Through women. That's the interesting thing. That's why veiling is more important than any other thing. But men also have some kind of behavior in conformity with that: segregation of sexes, not trying to go beyond the licit and illicit.

In other words, men control their sexuality through how women restrain themselves?

Yes, especially, but they also have some codes - dressing codes and so on. But it is basically women who are the markers of this difference and who are the markers of what is to be considered as licit, what is to be considered as illicit; what is private, what is public. So each time I would say it's women's body and it's their cautiousness. It's their way of living in social and public life which marks the boundaries. They are the boundary-setters.

I don't know if it's fair or not, but it can be more stimulating for women sometimes, because for the moment in the Islamist movements, women play a much more central role. So this can be a more subversive role because they are boundary-setters. So that's why we start with veiling.

Today we become conscious of the importance of an Islamic movement through women. So women are actors of this movement. Women are not only those who are followers. They are not only following men's desires or men's power. What really distinguishes the contemporary Islamic movement is this presence of women in these movements, so they are the motor of change in these movements.

It's a kind of feminism?

There is a kind of Islamic feminism, which is becoming more and more explicit in the movement. Although they don't want to mimic totally the Western feminism, they borrow it from Western feminism. And yet they reprocess it through their own experiences and they give voice to that.

How would you distinguish Western feminism from Islamic feminism? What would be the things that Muslim women would reject in terms of Western feminism?

That's a big question, but at least, for instance, the self-exposure in public. As the veiling symbolizes, they would try to keep this privacy more. There is this maybe dilemma. They would follow the idea of equality, but equality of rights, yet being different. So they take different things from feminism, because you have one dimension in Western feminism, which is much more egalitarian, and the other one which is much more identitarian - identity feminism - in Western feminism as well; that is, women as being different, not as being only equal, but also as being different.

So they would follow this difference principle as well, because the Islamic movement, in a way, itself follows the principle of identity movements that we observe in the West. That means as a social movement they don't want to be assimilated to the principles of Western identity, but they want to keep their difference.

This is the basic principle of all new social movements in the West: not to be assimilated, but keeping their difference, yet to be accepted in the system. In that way, Islamism is a movement of identity, a movement of difference. But women within this movement don't give up the principles of equality easily. For instance, they would say, "Why are the streets more dangerous for women than men?" That's a difference, because "street" then becomes an important site for Muslim women to struggle about.

This is a difference, because maybe in Western feminism this was not the basic stakes, this was not an issue, not the basic issue. It was abortion and contraceptive methods, for instance, whereas here it is veiling. It's not abortion, but it's veiling, right? So there are asymmetrical trajectories. The Islamist woman would say, "Why should it be more dangerous? So we have the right to go also on the streets, or pursue our professional career," and that kind of thing.

So the issues are not always the same, but they borrow a lot from Western feminism. They develop a kind of Islamic feminist consciousness today and they debate with Islamic men on issues like religious marriages, or their right for work and all the basic issues.

Do you think that the men in the Muslim movements give them the respect that they are expecting?

Sometimes respect can be very binding, and can generate some kind of dependence, as well. Islamic men would say, "We respect you so much that we have to preserve you at home as very delicate flowers." That's one of the kind of classic rhetorics. "Respect" is a tricky word, especially in the Oriental world, I would say.

So there's got to be, then, tension between the men and the women, all of whom wish to see greater presence of Islam, greater establishment of Islam. The men perhaps don't want to see the women as public as they are becoming?

Exactly. You are very right putting the question that way, which means that women participated in the Islamic movement and gave some kind of new visibility to the Islamic movement. They attracted attention to it. And yet, with the same movement, they became publicly visible and their lives changed. They started publishing women's magazines. They started going to meetings with other women for the sake of the Islamic movement. Then they want to pursue their professional careers after having achieved university degrees.

So there is a kind of upward social mobility, first of all, through education and through politics. And now they have new opportunities for their professional career. But what happens is that each time these Muslim girls - or women, now - go to public life, pursue their professional career, for instance, they go from home to outside, from private to public life. Each time there is a tension within the movement and, therefore, there is a kind of debate among Islamic women who want to go even more public and Islamic men who remind them that, first of all, they have to be wives and mothers - their sacred roles.

So there is a kind of individuation within the Islamic movement which is triggered by Muslim women's participation to public life. They are very conscious about it and they make it very explicit. This debate is becoming more and more a public debate.

Do you see that internationally, as well as here in Turkey?

Internationally as well, exactly.

But here in Turkey there are additional problems, which is that the women who choose to cover apparently are excommunicated (for lack of a better word). They are denied opportunities to go to universities. They are denied opportunities for certain professional roles.

Yes. One couldn't imagine it from abroad, but Turkey cannot be considered, I would say, as a country which defines herself as a Muslim country. It is a secular country. This is written in the constitution as well. Secularism in Turkey meant also a kind of secular behavior in public spaces. So it was outlawed, all symbols of Islamic faith, including veiling. So it is banned. The students do not have the right to have their Islamic dress codes coming to the universities. The same for the parliament. They can't be public servants.

So it is true that although we are in a country where the majority of the population is Muslim, nevertheless we define the republic as a secular republic. And secularism meant this neutral space where you are not allowed to bring your religious, ethnic, particularistic identities. So there is this debate now ongoing to what extent we are going to enlarge democratic rights to include this kind of new demands of difference.

Is the debate that's going on about whether girls should be allowed to cover and whether men should be allowed to grow beards really just because there's a law on the books? Or is there some other fear that the state has about that expression of Islam?

There is a debate among secularists and Islamists in Turkey - the degree to which we are going to include, let's put it that way, the new demands of Islam in political/cultural life. It's not only the state, but the secular-minded elites, but also non-governmental organizations that sometimes are scared of these demands of Islam.

What are the demands that they're scared of?

They're scared of being like Iran. This is, of course, the first reason for being scared. That means all these reforms which shaped the Turkish republic since Ataturk, since 1923, could have been taken back by Islamists. That's the main fear. So they are scared that these demands will create a kind of escalation, and it won't just be these innocent demands, confined to the university students, but it will be the whole range of society - Islamization of the mode of government, constitution, law, way of life, even science and everything - which is not, of course, totally wrong, ungrounded, because this was the real project of Islam since the end of the 1970s and the 1980s.

What we call "radical Islam," which shaped maybe the Iranian revolution, was the basic idea of Islamization of the whole society, this utopia, this ideal to Islamicize different spheres of life, starting from your inner world but going to the mode of government - Sharia, the Islamic state. So this is the main fear of secularists.

But in my point of view, especially in the Turkish case, secularism is a value which is shared by many. It is quite interiorized and institutionalized. Therefore, it's a strong value which cannot be undermined so easily. There is a kind of participatory process in Turkey of Muslims and development of secularism. They are going all together since the 1950s in Turkey, since the transition to democratic political pluralism.

So I think we should be more self-confident and more inclusionary. But that's my point of view. So this debate is between republicans and democrats, in the more European sense. So "republicans" means more statist. They are scared. They want to confine these rights of fundamentalism, let's say. They don't want to give in, in their own words. Whereas the "democrats," those who are more democrat, would say, "Let's not fear. More inclusionary politics is, on the contrary, the best thing to avoid terrorism and radical politics." So these are two different points of view.

... I think this is the first thing any researcher does. That means going towards the other, understanding the other, because the Muslim population was almost like "the other." So there was a kind of wall between me and the others, between secularists, modern, Western-oriented social groups, elites - and Muslims. There was a kind of hidden wall. We couldn't shake hands. We couldn't share the same spaces. That's why I'm speaking about "space."

So sharing the same space, looking to each other, being in face-to-face relationship - for instance, during the research even, it was almost like breaking a taboo, crossing the borders between secularism and Islam. I think this is what social science is about. That means understanding "the other" and going out from your own social boundaries and social class origins, or even social taste, or anything - going beyond that. But the cleavage between the two social groups are very deep, historically grounded and culturally felt.

You're telling some of the values that dig that ditch between the two.

One of the reasons for that is our conception of modernity everywhere in the world. Modernity is constructed, shaped, produced, invented by values which were not values of Muslim countries. That is one of the basic reasons of this cleavage, I would say. This was this either/or thing. If you are modern, you can't be a Muslim.

Now we are going beyond this either/or and you can be both Muslim and modern. This is the title of the French book, Moderne et Musulmane. You can be both Muslim and modern. So how to cope with it? Because we are always in this rationality of choosing - choosing one for the other. So how you can be both, keeping these different social/cultural resources - I think this is one of the basic stakes that we face today.

And that will certainly, if it works, help pull the society together.

I do agree with you, because there is no other way. If these two cannot work together, there will be always authoritarianism, either coming from secularism or modernity. Secularism or modernity will be imposed from above and by authoritarian means, or from any fundamentalist movement, religious or ethnic, seemingly opposing itself to that, but also imposing another kind of authority.

So there must be a kind of give-and-take, a kind of borrowing between two different cultural values, between two different sets of values. I think today Islam addresses questions which are very interesting to modernity, very interesting questions.

For instance, the concept of individualism that we have developed here - I say "we" as a Western person, in a way - that means we understood individualism through emancipation, through getting rid of our traditional tie. That means progress always in the sense of getting away from traditions, from religiosity, from community, and becoming self, fulfillment of self being so close to our own real self, true self.

So [there is] this correspondence between the two, whereas the Islamic understanding of self is also more limited. This is self-limitation, like I have tried to illustrate through veiling - how you limit yourself. It's not through emancipation; it is through choices, as well. But it's a question of self-discipline.

And it's not an emancipatory project, totally. You become also through your relationship to others. So the morality is something which you do not think about in relation to your own consciousness, but you also relate to your community. Let's say there's an arbitrage of the community on morality, whereas in the Western concept of individualism, it is much more your self-conscience.

If you're doing this self-discipline and you're looking out for your community instead of yourself, what is the benefit to the Muslim to be that way?

I don't think it's just the benefit to the Muslims; it's also a question that is more generally addressed to us as moderns, because maybe we have reached also the limits of individualism, limits of this private/public thing. Maybe we need some intermediate layers. I'm just saying that these questions can be very - although it is seemingly based on cleavages and very conflictual, I think there is a kind of creative tension as an unfolding process.

These tensions are not only tensions which lead to the breakdown of societies, like in Algeria, or to a kind of more silent society, at least in the first years of the revolution in Iran, but a kind of creative tension, if we know how to select, how to borrow from each other, create a kind of métissage, a kind of hybridization. I think these questions are also raised to modernity, which can enrich modernity. This is one of the main advantages of modernity, to be a self-correcting process.

As modernity appears to perhaps reach its limits, also with the rampant individual expression, et cetera, over the last 20 years, there has also been this resurgence in interest in Islam. Why now? What is that?

Because when you look carefully to Islamist movements today, they speak more to modernity than to traditional religious rules. That's the interesting thing. The majority of these people who take place in Islamic movements, so many people would reproach them, criticize them, for not knowing enough Islam, because they are not, I would say, religiously defined. They have maybe less knowledge of religion, but they have a lot of knowledge on what's going on in modern society. They are more social science students than coming from schools of religion. They have both references, I would say - both religion and secular knowledge. But they are more in dialogue with modernity.

Why today? Because, I think, it's almost the end-result of modernization in these countries. That means more and more social groups are getting into the areas, into the sites of modernity, like education, market, politics, mass media. So they are being included.

So the question is, the moment you are included into the system, what is your reaction? Either you want to be more assimilated, as we have seen in the first wave of even feminism, because the first wave of feminism was a feminism of assimilation, right? We wanted to be like men, equal to men. Then the second wave said, "No, why should I take an example and be a second-class man? First of all, I'll just be myself as a woman, different, and let them accept me through my difference; and let me enrich the society through the values which was the real reason of my stigmatization, like emotionality, irrationality, or other things - privacy, intimacy."

So I think it's like this feminist mode of behavior, I would say. Islamists, the moment they are included into the system, instead of choosing to be assimilated to modernity, or to people like me or you, they say, "No, first of all, we want to reconstruct our identity through our difference and the reasons for our stigmatization, like Islamic faith, the dress code. We make it the forefront of our battle." That's an interesting thing.

So they take the real reasons of their stigmatization, the real reasons of their exclusion, instead of leaving it behind themselves when they enter into modernity, when they enter into university campuses. That's what we expected from them, if they have arrived from villages, from small towns of Anatolia, to my university campus. That is a theory of modernity.

Why don't they leave behind their Islamic codes, because they have succeeded? So why not to succeed one step further and just be like me and the others? Well, they have said, "No, we want to be even more Muslim than what you expect." There is this kind of exaggeration of this Islamic identity that we see today, which even disturbs their families, because their families were happy that their children were succeeding.

So why do they make it so radical, so visible? I think this is because, instead of assimilation, that's something which I would say is very common in all new social movements. In that respect, Islamism today, or the Muslim movement, is not different from other social movements like feminism, like migrants in Europe, the second-generation migrants saying, "We want to be accepted through our difference."

It goes back to identity?

It goes back to identity politics, yes, exactly. This can be an enriching process as well. That's what I'm saying. If we know how to select and be in dialogue, if there is a kind of debate which is not purely political but more cultural, and we become aware of the questions which are raised by these new Islamic figures, movements - questions which concern not only Muslims, but all societies - that's my point. I think there is something to be enriched through that.

Where do you think that would lead? Where do you think this is going?

You mean in the Turkish context?

First, let's try a broader context.

The broader context is that I think Islam is the real dialogue with modernity today. It is not a clash of civilizations, as [Samuel] Huntington would put it, but on the contrary. In a way, Islam makes us aware of different aspects of modernity. So that is this intertwining process which interests me. I'm not working just on Islam being separate, but to what extent this dialogue, or this intertwining process - although, as with all intertwining process, there is a lot of cleavage, lots of conflict underlying it. ...

I think it makes us aware of different problems, like feminism, different aspects of feminism; feminism seen from the Western angle, but now from Islam's. They bring almost a new horizon to Western feminism as well, I would say, reminding boundaries, reminding more ties among women, and so on. There are different ways now of seeing and constructing feminisms.

Because Islam is working with modernity, it's almost raising a mirror up to it and saying, "Look at yourself?"

Yes, exactly. We are used to reading modernity from the West, from the centers of the Western countries, right? Now we understand that modernity is not only under the monopoly of Europe already, neither only in the United States - but it spreads out. Through colonization it started, but also through voluntary modernization like in Turkey.

But now it is becoming more and more indigenous. That's something very important. We have adopted voluntarily modernization in Turkey, but without criticism. We thought we have to take it, and without processing it, in a way, without criticism.

But one of the basic aspects of modernity is this capacity of self-criticism, I would say. In a paradoxical way, I would say that Islam indicates another stage of indigenization of modernity, through criticism; because the only way to process modernity and to make it more indigenous is to criticize it, to take it through a kind of filtration. That's what is happening.

Touch on the changes in the Islamic revival that you've seen take place in the last 20 or 30 years. How do you see this revival having changed over the last 20 years?

What changed most during these 20 years - because now we have observed the development of Islamist movements for the last 20 years, since the Iranian revolution, which gave a lot of legitimacy and which shaped the image of Islam in our minds - was shaped by state power.

I think we can divide historically into two decades; the first decade being more political, being more driven by this rhetoric of Islamic society and Islamic state; and the second decade giving rise to micro-practices that we have to observe more closely. Because when I say that these people are becoming more public, visibly public, and occupying spaces which were totally foreign to them, they were excluded from certain spaces like university classes, parliament, mass media, public debate, concert halls, urban cultural galleries. In all these spheres, we were not used to seeing Muslim population in the sense of self-asserting Muslims, like through beards and veiling.

So now what we see is that, on the contrary, they are becoming more visible. They are investing. They are carving a space for their own leisure. That means restaurants where alcohol is not served, beaches where you can have your vacation in conformity with Islamic faith, which means segregation of beaches for men and women, and even in conformity with Islamic swimming dress codes of swimming bath[ing] suits. So leisure, vacation, but also publishing houses.

They created a kind of literature market - novels, Islamic films, which became very important with Iranian Islamic films. So we see that Islam is not just a totality, not only a religion, but it is reshaped by these new practices. I would call them just new social practices, or performances - a kind of performance that we see on the stage, if you take the stage as a society or urban stage. We see these people reshaping these spaces. We haven't thought of beaches, for instance, or opera houses, which were really the sites of modernity for Turks - sites of Western modernity. But now we see Muslims also trying to put another agenda on these sites.

So there is a series of micro-practices that we have to follow when we speak about Islam. It is not Islam-as-religion; it is Islam-as-a-political movement, but Islam entering into our daily life, into the spaces which were totally familiar to us, but unfamiliar to them. So the question of sharing is there.

This is the relation with democracy. Are we going to be able to share these spaces with the newcomers? Or are we going to exclude them? But they are already there. All these micro-practices, I think, when we start observing from a different angle, and not always thinking of Islam through Kalashnikov terrorism, but seeing through these new daily practices, ranging from activities of leisure, the way of becoming urban in an urban setting, restaurants … but also publishing houses, mass media.

There is one comparison maybe which would make it clear. We were discussing with another colleague of mine in France about Islamist movements and their future. He was Gilles Capelle. He was comparing it with Communism and I was comparing Islam with feminism. He said, "After Communism, nothing is left. And today the Islamic movement is no longer important politically." That is one of the pieces of all the political scientists, which is true. Politically, they don't have the same capacity to mobilize masses and to create a second revolution. That is the idea.

My idea is to compare it with feminism, because feminism maybe doesn't have any longer this capacity to mobilize. It is not this collective movement, this political force, but it is already in our daily lives. It changed us totally from down to top, from below to top.

What we observe is feminist studies in institutions, in our daily lives, our self-fashioning, our relationship in our private lives to other men, to a kind of reference point which afterwards spread out and fashioned a series of micro-practices and new institutions. That's how I see Islam getting much more spread in our cultural life and it's in total, continuous self-change as well.

What we're witnessing is a revival of Islamic civilization. If that is the case, what are the key things that differentiate it from dominant Western civilization?

If we observe a kind of revival of Islamic civilization, how I would put it, Western modernity meant for us, coming for those at the edge of Western modernity - like in Turkey, meant to be civilized, you have to be Westernized. This was the formula. In order to be civilized, you have to be Westernized in your clothes, in your mind, in your education, in your habitation, the way you organize your interior space, nuclear family, even the posture with a man, how you walk in the streets with a man.

So this meant this project of modernity. Project of modernity is not only nation-building, parliament, constitution. Of course, that; but it goes down to something which really restructures, refashions our own self - bodily practices, spatial practices, and gender relations. So this was the formula: Civilized means Westernized.

I would say Islam challenges this formula today. Islam wants to be modern, but civilized - not in the Western way - but Islam. So they are trying to tell us, like "Black is beautiful" formula, Islam is beautiful and trying to be a reference point in different sets of civilizations. You take it, you don't take it. You can be critical or not, as I am too, but they are trying to give a reference to a different source of being civilized in the modern world, with a lot of complexities.

Can you describe some specifics of what those civilized…

The first thing is this veiling issue. It's a way of being in public in an Islamic way. And the mode of address changes among each other. It's much more self-disciplined, as I'm saying. It's reminding the boundaries of life and death also. That's what religion is about; not only this-worldly, but reminding the boundaries of this-worldly ethics in life. So I would say it's a boundary-setter, reminder of always the other boundary. When you are in public, it reminds the private, it reminds the illicit.

But it's also a different mode of address, mode of behavior. In that sense, there is a set of values which differentiate mode of behavior and also space organization between private and public, and gender behavior, like the segregation of sexes. These might be seen formalistic, but I think it goes beyond the forms. It reminds us visibly, because all this is not discursive, but much more visible. All these values are transmitted by images, by visible, so it is almost embodied. It is transmitted by our bodily practices.

We use the word "modernity" a lot. I wonder how you would define "modernity?"

Science and technology and, on the other hand, I would call it individual emancipation, which meant getting away from traditions and religiosity - these two things, emancipation and progress. Today, these two principles of Western modernity were challenged from within already by Western societies, because "progress" we question through environmental movements.

All developments in science and technology don't mean progress. We don't believe that much in individual emancipation either; there are limits. But nevertheless, this is what is called the classical stage of Western modernity, shaped by the experiences of these countries.

Although there are many differences among Germans, French, British, and then American, yet we can still speak about something common, especially seen from outside. We can speak of "Western modernity," seen from outside, seen from maybe even Latin America - maybe less - but from the Middle East, from other parts of the world. They can all speak easily among each other, as we do; Turks and Chinese, for instance.

We know what we mean by "Western modernity," although Westerners wouldn't know that much, what does that mean. Today what is happening - especially maybe the discourse on globalization - it is getting spread out and almost losing its most rigorous definitions. We speak now more about "multiple modernities." There are ways of appropriating modernity outside the West which look alike, but not totally. But can we name them still as modern, or are we going to have a different name? We are out of words, I would say, but this appropriation of modernity - it's not only by imposition, but by different populations - I think opens up new questions to social sciences and to our own societies, how we define ourselves, if not modern.

I think you said that the Turks and the Chinese know what they mean by "Western modernity," but the Westerners don't. What do you mean?

For instance, seen from here, Western modernity, in my mind, meant this relation to confessionalism and democracy. Telling about your true self is very much related with Western individualism. We can read almost the whole story of Western modern life today through confessionalism - from the talk shows to what's going on, even what has been shaped through the Clinton case.

With other cultures, they wouldn't maybe insist so much on telling the truth, but they would be even more ashamed telling the truth in public, right? So what matters is not telling the truth in public, but what you have done. And if the public knows it, if the community knows it, it's even more shameful. Whereas I would say, in the West, being your true self (if I put it well enough) is very important, and it has driven Western societies and Western democracies.

For instance, the gay culture. It doesn't mean that we have less gay culture in the Mediterranean area, or in the Middle East, in Turkey; but being outspoken about it, making it explicit in public, is a Western behavior. This is confessionalism - just confessing your most private feelings in public, so as to be in conformity between your true self and your public self, like novels.

I think this is what, for instance, for me, Western individualism, which also in a way shaped Western democracies. Feminism is the same - speaking about their own experiences, the most hidden experience, the most shameful experiences, but in public, and saying me - "I had an abortion" - in public. That's how feminism became so important publicly in France.

So this kind of consciousness and this kind of linkage between private and public is a modern phenomenon. Maybe living in the Western world, people are not aware of it, because it's so natural. But seen from a distance, this is very important. For instance, for Islam it's very difficult, because there the morality is much more guided by the community. It is not my own experience which should be more public. The self and the public doesn't have the same meaning. So we are becoming more and more aware today all these aspects of modernity.

With all of this talk about imposing ways from the top and authoritarianism and covering up and gender segregation and you can't swim in a bathing suit - it sounds to me like Islam is no fun.

[Laughs] That's a very good point. Islam is no fun, that's for sure. I would say two competing projects in the Turkish urban life I have observed. One is Arabist and the other one is Islam. I'm sorry, it's getting too much into the local politics, but that's very important, because Islam, it's true - I'll give you a better example. The last marriage of the head of the Islamic party - his daughter has been married—this is a big debate on it, because the marriage was almost mimicking the Western marriage in ways. For instance, the father came with his daughter taking his arm. This is a very Western posture, so he was criticized. Then what happened is that some people just gossiping around it. Those who were invited to the wedding said, "We didn't have fun. We couldn't have any belly dancing, any Turkish music, we couldn't dance, so it was not even Anatolian people having fun."

Turks have a lot of fun. But Islam is related with a kind of Puritan culture, this self-disciplining kind of thing. You're very right, this desire for having fun, getting out of control, is observed more in the Mediterranean or Middle Eastern countries, without any control. You can see it on the boats, in everyday life. That's right, it's almost a kind of overreaction to having fun, either coming from the local traditions or from this global trendy nightlife.

That's why secularism has been defended as a way of life. Among the spokespersons sometimes in public debates, we have observed top models. Again, this is this awkwardness in a non-Western setting. Why a top model girl would be included in a public debate on secularism? Exactly because of the reasons you were saying, because they want to have the right to be on the podiums, to be on fashion shows, to use their bodies as they want, to choose their lifestyles.

And so nightlife, or a kind of having fun, either in terms of Anatolian setting or Western setting, Islamic people don't seem to have that fun. I think that will be the next issue in the movement. [Laughs] ... There is seduction, there's a flirtatious mood. It's something out of control: laughter, noise. That's why I put the emphasis on self-disciplining, a way of behavior, a mode of address, which reminds the boundaries. But I do agree, it's not fun. It is like Western Puritanism. I don't think it has been fun. It's a kind of Puritan control of public life and private life. But it's difficult to maintain that control.

home · portraits of ordinary muslims · introduction · major themes · interviews · faqs
readings & links · discussion · teacher's guide
producer chat · tapes & transcripts · press · credits · privacy
FRONTLINE · wgbh · pbsi

web site copyright 1995-2005 wgbh educational foundation


09:29 AM Jun 07 2009 |

The iTEP® test

  • Schedule an iTEP® test and take the official English Practice Test.

    Take Now >




Sorry, but I wasn't able to delete my little bit messy looking thread. Now it's even doubled. Embarassed

I can only recommend you this link.




09:36 AM Jun 07 2009 |




however we saw several islamic countries got far from that,like turkey,and doesn't mean they left,...

i thınk,not several counties.all of muslım countries…no states,peoples get far from religion…..

11:06 AM Jun 07 2009 |




So it would have been almost a lie to say, "Yes, I'm a Muslim," because we were raised in this new nationalism, which was Turkish nationalism, which didn't integrate Muslim background.


These sentences are %99 true… I mostly agree with her..


1.ly i want to tell about Nilüfer Göle, a little bit.. she is a really successfull women who works in the BEST UNIVERSTY in Turkey, Istanbul.


Her father is a Kurdish from East of Turkey, Mezapotamia.. and he interests in politics before..


In Turkey, most of ppl annoy when they were told about their great ISlamic history..


They dont want to be called with this Islamic power..

For exam: Most  of them critize Ottoman Empire's Sultans..Becoz  > They did not create an empire with supporting TUrkish nation.. they supported ISLAM.


Ottomans liked called ''Islamic Empire'' with a lot of nations.

But Turkish ppl would like to called '' Turkish Empire''


So it is a really big dififrence..



They dont want to use a reliigion's name near Turkish..

Turkish is a nation….AND these ppl should only call them TURKISH


Call themself ISLAMic, means being ARAB for them.. and they dont like show themself diffirent than their culture., their Turkishism :))



Now you can think and say.. ''Sibel you are not a completely muslim. Close ur hairs or… some sentences like it''


but there is a bigggggggggggg diffirence between me and Turkish ppl.


1. My understanding of Islam does not support close my hairs now.. when it changes , then i can close it so freely..


2. But if Turkish women dont want to close their hairs, it is Becoz They think ''scarf'' is a part of Arabic culture. And they dont like looking like Arabic women..


It is the diffirence between me and others..


I never think like TUrkishes about scarf..

It is an Arabic culture, or turkish, or persian or malaysian. it is not important for me.. If my understanding of Islam support closeing my hairs, i will do it without thinking about looking like others..



And i really agree Nilüfer Göle… she is perfect..

11:25 AM Jun 07 2009 |




for me:

If my body is Kurdish,,, My soul is ISLAm..

11:37 AM Jun 07 2009 |




@ Sibel and Hamid


Thanks for sharing your ideas.  Nilüfer Göle makes a great job. This interview gives me a really enriching insight about Islam by aknowledging her kind of view. It's not easy to understand for somebody who is already used to her own "western" kind of thinking like me. It demands a great deal of somebody like this. But it's perhaps the same to any extreme conservative muslim.


We have to learn about our prejudice, differences and similarities.


In Germany I sometimes see women covering their whole body with a niqab all in black.They seem to be very shy and close. For a westerner like me this look has something weird. She looks to me like a ghost but in black instead of white. Particularly if you can just see her eyes. But now I think it's ok if she chooses to wear a niqab. But it will be very difficult for me to trust somebody new in a talk who covers her face, anyway. I need the mimic to get a better impression.


On the other hand there are many muslim girls in Germany who wear colorful head scarfs and are very busy in things like fashion and make up. They have vivid gestures and mimic when talking without beeing offensive like most of people in Germany. Talking with them hasn't any communication barrier to me referring to the dress code.


And there are also muslim girls and women who don't care about any dress code.


Most of these women and girls seem to me to be good people. And the opinion of other non-muslims and either muslims seem to be similar. 


I can only recommend to everybody to open his mind to recover old and new possibilites to live a life in peace and tolerance together.


01:20 PM Jun 07 2009 |





I really read all ur sentences with a big proud.. it is sooo nice to hear some sentences from a foreign about my religion…

U have a nice understanding and respecfully about religions and about choices of ppl like muslim women…


Really thanks.. it is a proud of me to read ur sentences..


It is the best thing i had today :)

01:36 PM Jun 07 2009 |






You are always welcome.

I'm happy to give you one nice moment today.



02:03 PM Jun 07 2009 |





nothing new to me in her interview, and all her answers are only her opinion about Islam but not facts!


Almost all of our threads here are opinions. I take a lot of them serious, anyway.


from her clear defenition of modernity you can easily know her intention which is getting far from God's rules and islam! and as I always say all of us has a free will to follow these rules or not!


No, I don't. Because I don't know anything for sure about God's rules in Islam. I have to read and to read again and again because Islam is not a part of my daily way of life like in your life. I just see her searching for a definition and tries to describe the situation.


Islam never clash with science!


Therefore there are quite many differences between scientis and non-scientists about faith and science. The discussion about creationism vs. evolution is just a single one.

03:45 PM Jun 07 2009 |





Nice….great to read… 

The speaker not just represents muslims, but all Asian.  There is an inherent confusion of what is modern and not… 

It is quite tough for people in Asia to decide what modernity is. 

Apeing the west cannot be considered modern. 

03:59 PM Jun 07 2009 |