She is highly educated, lives in a city of the Netherlands and wants her son to wear a turban. What to do?
The Netflix mini series Bir Baskadir (see my post She wears a headscarf, watches trashy television and is smart. What to do? ) reveals the divisions in Turkish society. Between rich and poor. Between religious and secular. Between the rights and privileges that men have as opposed to women. Between the highly educated and the less educated. Between urbanite and rural inhabitant. One critic, reported in the NRC Handesblad (see link below) that despite its valuable contribution and sensitive tone, the series is simplistic because the dividing lines it shows separate black from white and do not get into grey areas. An example is the absence of a woman character who is wealthy, highly educated and religious (read ‘head-scarved’). There are apparently many such women in the Turkey of today and they are supporters of Erdogan. However, the critic adds, Bir Baskadar is a popular and well-made series and not a sociological study. Its success lies in the fact that unlike other Turkish programmes, audiences from every layer of society watch it, and it has sparked much discussion amongst the three million Netflix viewers about serious issues in the country.
That was Turkey, and now to the Netherlands…
The critic’s reference to the absent woman character …the wealthy, highly educated, ‘head scarved-woman’ who is a supporter of Erdogan resonated with me because of a recent experience closer to home.
A couple of months ago, a friend called me up to tell me of her daughter, a European, born and brought up on the continent who had just finished university, while at the same time, was raising her son as a single mother. Because she had converted to Sikhism, she has grown her hair and wore a turban for a while. While on a retreat for Sikhs, she met a Sikh man and was now in a serious relationship with him. He is Indian and wears a turban. Recently, they decided to grow the hair of her son (child from another father) and to bring him up as a Sikh. The child, according to my friend was confused and told her on his visits to her – his grandmother – that he was teased at school for his long hair and patka on his head for being a girl. She was worried about the child, the trauma that she felt he was experiencing at this sudden change in his identity, and for her daughter, who, on the threshold of finding a job insisted on wearing a turban. I offered to talk to the couple…to find out what their motivations could be behind their decisions for the child.
The couple were warm and welcoming, despite the fact that I was the mother’s friend, and the one who they were having difficulties with because they perceived her as interfering in their lives. Sitting with them in their living room, while shabads played in the background and with the altar clearly visible, I told them how my exposure to the Sikh faith as a child had formed me, and how, although I was not a practising Sikh, it has a special place in my life and heart. Why, I wanted to know, was it not possible for them to give their son all the beauty of Sikhism through their daily practice of it, and let him decide, when he came of age whether he would like to grow his hair and wear a turban or not? In the kind of place and time we live in, did they want him to be confronted by the turban on his head everywhere he went?
To which, the child’s mother, a European and converted Sikh, told me that she hears me. However, Sikhism is about courage, about bravery, and that was what they, the couple, embodied and wanted their son to as well. To stand up for his faith, for who he is.
Quite clearly she was also communicating that like my Sikhism, my courage was also there in theory but not in practice.
We talked the whole afternoon until the light faded outside the windows and it was time for me to leave.
But to come back to the question I posed: She is highly educated, lives in a city of the Netherlands and wants her son to wear a turban. What to do?
Invite her into your living room (or get invited to hers), and talk about the things that matter to each of you and tell each other why they matter, over cups of steaming chai and freshly made samosas.
Report in NRC Handesblad about Bir Baskadar and its reception in Turkey.