Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why One Turkish Woman Dons a Scarf

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why One Turkish Woman Dons a Scarf

Article excerpt

SHE says she is a victim of intolerance, bigotry, and closed-mindedness.

"People are very, very prejudiced against {us}," says Esra Karatash, a junior at Istanbul's elite Bosporos University. "There's a Turkish saying they use. They say our 'minds are filled with cobwebs.' "

Her English is flawless, she laughs easily, and she speaks with confidence. Educated in an American-run high school in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, she briefly lived in the US as an infant and has traveled widely in the US, Europe, and the Mideast.

"They assume you to be ignorant ... and that they're very open-minded," says Ms. Karatash, who is studying English language and literature. "When they are the ones who are very, very ignorant."

Her dream is to work for an international organization, possibly the World Bank or UNICEF. But as she speaks, students sprawled near her on the grass eye her warily.

"I started wearing the scarf after the first semester of my freshman year," she says, referring to the white silk scarf covering her hair. "People who knew me before still treat me like a normal person. This doesn't change who I am."

Karatash is one of a handful of female students here who have begun wearing a traditional Muslim scarf to cover their hair -- a lesser version of the full facial veils women are required to wear in some Islamic countries.

Muslim scarfs or veils were barred here until recently. For decades, the strict secularism of the founder of modern Turkey -- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk -- held sway. But as Turkey has fitfully moved away from Ataturk's vision of a secular Turkish society, more veils have appeared, and relations have grown tense.

Karatash says some students openly harassed her when she first began wearing her veil. Now, most simply ignore her.

"Religious people tend to stick together," she says. "It's as though there are two separate worlds."

Karatash, dressed in a white skirt, blouse, and veil, could not look more out of place at the university. Most students dress in blue jeans. Backpacks are slung over shoulders, sweat shirts say "Brandeis" and "Georgetown," and designer sunglasses are everywhere. …

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