In Turkey, Is Tension About Religion? Class Rivalry? Or Both?

February 19, 2008


Source: The New York Times

When two women in Islamic head scarves were spotted in an Italian restaurant in this city's posh new shopping mall this month, Gulbin Simitcioglu did a double take.

Covered women, long seen as backward peasants from the countryside, "have started to be everywhere," said Ms. Simitcioglu, a sales clerk in an Italian clothing store, and it is making women like her more than a little uncomfortable. "We are Turkey's image. They are ruining it."

As Turkey lurches toward a repeal of a ban on head scarves at universities, the country's secular upper middle class is feeling increasingly threatened.

Religious Turks, once the underclass of society here, have become educated and middle class, and are moving into urban spaces that were once the exclusive domain of the elite. Now the repeal of the scarf ban — pressed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, passed by Parliament and now just awaiting an official signature — is again setting the two groups against each other, unleashing fears that have as much to do with class rivalry as with the growing influence of Islam.