A Reflection of My Blog-Writing and Lecture-Going


The Lectures

The guest lecture that stood out to me most was Dr. Soren Larsen’s on “the power of places.” I really liked learning about the Cheslatta and the history of indigenous groups outside of America. I’m so used to hearing the term “Native American,” but it was interesting to learn about what was happening in British Columbia, Canada.

And sad too. Their story of displacement was reminiscent of the Trial of Tears indigenous groups in the U.S. faced in the 1800s. The forced migration is relatable for many refugees today as well, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose your home. Which was kind of Larsen’s point. A lot of this stuff is very hard for us to wrap our heads around, like animalism — the belief that everything (including objects like water) has a spirit and can have communications with spirits. And that makes it difficult for people in power to understand why relocating these people is not just an act of eminent domain, but tears a community a way from their Spirits and prevents them from being able to perform the customs and ceremonies essential to honor their beliefs.

The Cheslatta were eventually granted $7.3 million in a court case. While the relocation and mistreatment from the Alcan company never should have occurred, the Cheslatta are rebuilding. Their inherent connection to the cemeteries of their ancestors brought them back and helped them grieve and begin the process of forging a small but powerful community again! Larsen, who did not grow up with the Cheslatta, said he became “all tangled up” once he arrived in British Columbia and started to learn firsthand about their experience. I thought that was really inspiring too, and another reason why I think his lecture stood out to me.

My Blog

While I was researching Turkey, I realized I really didn’t know anything about Turkey, or most of that region. I think as I was researching — just trying to pull some understanding out of a long, complex nation’s history and current problems — this was probably the most substantial insight that I had: My almost complete lack of any other background research or knowledge to go off of.

I think a lot of people in the West don’t take the time to learn about the geography and history of nations in MENA, or anywhere, for the most part. While Americanization and Westernization remain dominant forces of influences across the globe, we as a developed “superior” nation rarely reach out to learn about other nations’ cultures. And that can make us ignorant, which can cause severe problems of cultural misunderstandings or misconceptions about what is good and bad, right or wrong, oppressive or free — like the misconceptions that sparked the headscarf controversy in “Politics of the Veil.”

My biggest takeaway from this blog was not what I learned about Turkey’s history coming out of the Ottoman Empire or its role in the Syrian refugee crisis or the suspected insincerity in President Erdogan’s motives, but just the simple fact that there was so much for me to learn. This blog has helped me understand so much I didn’t know about Turkey already, and I barely grazed the surface. I think there’s a lot more I can learn, and I hope a lot of others try to learn this stuff too.


The Headscarf Controversy


There is a contrasting perception of headscarves, where many in the West are quick to assume any feature-hiding attire is designed to suffocate identity and stifle women’s rights. This quick judgement led the country of France to ban face-covering in 2010, colloquially called “the burqa ban,” and this law has been heavily criticized and is viewed as widely controversial, with one activist calling it “an attack on freedom.”

This conflict arises from the increased tensions, and mostly just the misunderstandings associated with a clash of different people. With Muslim immigration on the rise, specifically now with the spike of Syrian refugees, immigrants are put in the situation of trying to adjust to a new place without entirely assimilating and losing their culture. But Western people don’t understand their culture, and that scares them. Extremism associated with their culture or religion can spark overgeneralizations, which leads to discrimination. A woman was not given a job at Abercrombie because the company mistook her headscarf for a “fashion statement” and believed it violated the dress code of “no headwear at all.”  The girl sued, and eventually won her case in the Supreme Court, 8-1. Justice Scalia said that “the company’s decision not to hire her was motivated by a desire to avoid accommodating her religious practice.” It was ruled as employment discrimination.

“This [decision] is really easy … Title VII forbids adverse employment decisions made with a forbidden motive, whether this motive derives from actual knowledge, a well-founded suspicion or merely a hunch … An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.” – Justice Antonin Scalia, majority opinion


Caroline Fourest argues intensely against headscarves, seeing them as anti-feminist and a force of misogyny. But as oppressive as it is to tell a woman she has to wear a hijab, it is equivalently oppressive to tell a woman she is not allowed to wear a hijab. Ironically, Fourest founded a French journal called ProChoix (Pro-Choice), but does not support the Muslim women’s right to choose to wear a headscarf or burqa.

On the eve of the French headscarf ban, as illustrated in “Politics of the Veil,” feminist political scientist Janine Mossuz-Lavau wrote an appeal against the law. She said that though she believed the veil designated a woman as a “source of sin” and a “potential whore,” she believed the only way to bring about sexual freedom and liberation was to allow women in headscarves to be educated. According to a study she had done in 2000-2001, Mossuz-Lavau found that the only Muslim women she interviewed that had “transgressed [Islamic’ norms and who had sexual relations before marriage were students and managers with advanced degrees.” Therefore, the crux of her argument calls that education is the key to liberation.

When Muslims immigrate to the West, it’s not like they’re on Rumspringa. Many have been forced out of their homes or driven out by an oppressive and dangerous group like ISIS. Others have beens settled in the West for generations but still treated like outsiders. A mass Islamophobia has formed out of the public fear in the wake of terror, and this is sparked the unfair treatment of and discrimination against innocent persons around the world. For us to truly help women and attempt to disable the patriarchy, as Fourest so desperately yearns for, we must not judge other cultures but try to understand them.


Human Trafficking and the Sex Trade in Turkey

Economically, human trafficking is a big business. Working underground (and not so underground), the perpetrators of this terrible trade have generated anywhere between $32 billion to $150 billion a year, according to the article “Born Free” by Sarah E. Mendelson. In her travels, Mendelson curiously noted an aversion to prioritizing the human trafficking problem from many developmental and aid agencies, writing that “to date, the donor community has not made combating trafficking a priority along the lines of eradicating extreme poverty, decreasing HIV infection rates, or improving maternal health.” In the original UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from the early 2000s, trafficking was not included. However, as of 2014, the language on trafficking is no longer “controversial, and U.S. President Barack Obama has labeled it “one of the great human rights causes of our time.” While an Outcome Document was formatted including explicit reference to human trafficking and putting an end to it; so far, ending slavery has not become a stand-alone post-MDG goal. With a post-2015 vision insight, however, the second-largest form of organized crime —— the buying and selling of humans– may surely be deemed “a goal worth aiming for” (Mendelson).

In the last decade, the country of Turkey has made remarkable progress, becoming a helping haven for the migrants driven out of an ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East. However, it is this influx of migration that may be leading to an increase human trafficking within its borders. With millions of immigrants streaming in, Dr. Stephanie Nawyn of Michigan State University argued that human trafficking is rising in Turkey as these displaced persons are enticed into the trade “with the promise of a new and better life.”

According to an article in the L.A. Times from 2006, the nation of Turkey was accused of being “one of the largest markets in the trafficking of women from nearby former Soviet states who have been forced into prostitution.” The illicit sex trade in Turkey made an estimated $3.6 billion, and the number was growing. Accordingly, the prostitution networks make about $150 per customer, with each woman serving up to 15 clients a day.

“The minute they set foot in Turkey, their passports are taken away and they are raped and beaten,” said Allan Freedman, who coordinates counter-trafficking programs for the Ankara bureau of the International Organization for Migration.

More recently, though, it is important to note that Turkey has made strict anti-trafficking laws to reign in the illegal abduction and sale of women throughout their nation. Article 80 of the Penal Code prohibits trafficking for both sexual exploitation and forced labor, and prescribes penalties of 10 to 15 years imprisonment, according to Wikipedia. In addition to the Article 80 convictions, “the government, in 2007, prosecuted 160 suspects and convicted 121 trafficking offenders, a dramatic increase from the 36 convicted in 2006.” However, there have been concerns within the legal system of misuse of authority and accepting bribes that have facilitated trafficking, including a Court of Appeals Judge who was relieved of his duties by the Government of Turkey after aiding traffickers — a prosecution that is still ongoing.

While the world has started to push back on the horrendous big business of selling and dealing in bodies, our efforts to eradicate the industry still have a long way to go.

The Challenge for Turkey

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has been rapidly progressing in a positive way. In an intricate position at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the nation has been increasingly involved in working with its neighbors in multiple, often violent, struggles. According to a New York Times article, the country has been working better with the United States and pursuing its full membership in the European Union, its largest economic partner. However, the nation has seen significant internal problems with public demonstrations of its own civil unrest since May 2013. The fractured leadership and power struggle between the Prime Minister and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also made it difficult for the nation to address some of its own challenges, according to an article in Today’s Zaman. Turkey’s biggest challenge in 2015, however, remains its economy.

While Turkey’s economy has been expanding, an article in the Hurriyet Daily News, noted a “trio of economic challenges.” The first was a drop in purchasing manager’s index (PMI) that fell below the necessary threshold of 50, which “signal[s] an overall deterioration in business conditions at Turkish manufacturers.” The article also noted that inflation for the month of August had come in higher than expected. Now, I am not an economist, but I know inflation is not a good thing. The unexpected increase in inflation shows the effect the weakening lira is having on prices. While there is still a significant pricing power as one can discern from he August retail confidence index, the article warns that it is only a matter of time before the increased input prices have an effect on output prices, and thus the prices consumers have to pay for their goods.

The article in Today’s Zaman also noted many other economic problems facing Turkey today, including a $76 billion deficit. Unemployment is still high, and the nation’s exports have been decreasing while imports have risen. “Turkey, which was listed as having the world’s 17th-largest economy in 2013, fell two places to 19th this year, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) World Economic League Table (WELT)” (Today’s Zaman). As long as Erdoğan continues to conflict with the rest of the government, the economy will continue to be abused in the political battle.

Turkey still has many problems facing its hope for prosperity today. But the most important challenge comes financially. Once the nation is able to fully take control of the full potential of its economy, Turkey will emerge as an even more powerful player in the global field.

Humans of Turkey

Climate change and human rights are similar in one primary way: They are both global issues. Human rights advocacy and environmental policy can both be considered network goods as well, meaning an individual’s own acceptance and promotion of human rights or environmental change benefits the entire community. In Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey‘s TED Talk (see video above or click here), the explorer discussed her various journeys and the wisdoms that were imparted on to her throughout her life.

She said she had been encouraged to slow down — see time differently,  and to pick her career based on a less trodden path — one her heart and untamed soul yearned for. As an explorer she found herself constantly surrounded by new cultures and new people. Understanding different cultures can only be done by immersing oneself or at least exposing oneself entirely to their beliefs, but that understanding is necessary if there is to be a global unity. Turkey’s past has shown a struggle to accept and empathize with people of different beliefs, with a stubborn societal reliance on Islam and old traditions. This has affected their human rights. As described by the Human Rights Watch, the ruling party in Turkey, the AKP, has “demonstrated a growing intolerance of political opposition, public protest, and critical media.” While Turkey has risen extraordinarily in the past years in prosperity and global influence, the nation still ranks only 149 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2015 Press Freedom Index. Well it is up 5 points from the previous year, Turkey still has a long way to go before the nation will considered a leader in human rights or environmental activism.

“There is only one reality in the world today. Look to the West, Juda!” This quote, taken from the 1959 film Ben Hur, was Farish Noor‘s first example when explaining the concept of eurocentrism. Eurocentrism stems out of the concept of ethnocentrism, which is the tendency of people to view the world from the perspective of their own cultures, beliefs and values. Eurocentrism, then, expresses the “emerging perception within the European culture, historical experiences of European identity as good and all other forms as less good or less advanced” (Noor 51). This establishes a hierarchy of cultures, a level of superiority of one over the other that is reminiscent of the age of empires. This is a system that is, frankly, unfair. Noor acknowledges this and also acknowledges the fear of the many (of “the rest”) in the face of this towering and powerful Western hegemony. He depicts the power struggle. “The world is deadlocked in a struggle for hegemony, with the powerful, more developed nations bent on imposing their cultural values, as well as political, economic, and military dominance on the weaker ones. On the other hand, the economically weaker developing countries cling defensively to their cultural and religious traditions in a last-ditch attempt to salvage some sense of cultural autonomy and control over their identity” (Noor 53). In an article posted days before Turkey’s election in 2011, Richard Falk criticized the American journal The Economist for advising Turks on how to vote. Falk believed this intrusion of Western journalists and Western ideas into Turkey’s politics was a gross attempt to further a Eurocentric socio-political system into the Middle East ,and it undermined the rise of Turkey. By this day in 2011, Turkey had already “emerged as ‘a success story’ in a global setting,” and, “in a world lacking effective and legitimate global leadership, it would be a mistake to overlook the enormous contributions made by Turkish diplomacy over the course of the prior decade” (Falk). This clash of cultures is what impedes the progress of the global rights effort. To surpass this, we must accept that we live in a multicultural world and work together as such. To this end, we need a certain level of authenticity, Noor says. We must “learn to see through the eyes of the other and to see what the main concerns are from the viewpoint” (Noor 54). This is very much an argument for empathy; so, can we be empathetic?

Morality of the Global Green Movement

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” -Aldo Leopold

There will always be a moral obligation to protect the environment, just as there is a moral obligation for a mother to protect her child. For the child’s future depends entirely on the fate of our environment.

A fate which is, frankly, not looking so great.

Watt-Cloutier argued that the environmental crisis is overly politicized. A Canadian Inuit activist, Watt-Cloutier described the wave of environmental degradation—the human-induced climate change—that she saw overtaking the snow-covered land she had been raised to admire and respect. She believes that by moving the argument into the arena of human rights, we, as an international community, can focus on climate change’s consequences on “our children, our families, and our communities.” Only through this moral obligation, then, can we as individuals fight for the conservation of a global welfare and the future of the whole planet’s subsequent generations.

While climate change and environmental degradation are a global issue, the main abusers remain largely in the developed world. Turkey is classified as a developed nation, and with a population of over 81 million inhabitants, the country certainly contributes to the dire environmental crisis of today. According to The Encyclopedia of Earth, Turkey’s major environmental problems include:

  • water pollution from dumping of chemicals and detergents;
  • air pollution, particularly in urban areas;
  • deforestation; and,
  • concern for oil spills from increasing Bosporus ship traffic

In part due to the country’s efforts to join the European Union, Turkey has made substantial progress in addressing it’s environmental impact, specifically with “reductions of air pollution in Istanbul and Ankara.” The nation signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol by 2009 and has also signed international agreements on “Air Pollution, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands.” However, the nation has struggled with weak enforcement and issues of oversight, as was highlighted in 2006 with the discovery of multiple chemical waste sites (Turkey Investment and Business).

Turkey’s Environment Ministry was established in 1991. There are also many environmental activist organizations in the country, including a Turkish branch of Greenpeace. A study conducted in 2008 noted that the number of environmental organizations in Turkey jumped from 136 between 1925 and 1995 to 439 in the 1995-2007 period (Today’s Zaman). Also noted was the increasing role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in raising environmental awareness and activism in the region. The study suggested that the “majority of environmental NGOs in Turkey are interested in areas such as protection of nature, biological diversity, forests, erosion, sea and coasts,” but “are weak in areas such as mining and the nuclear energy debate.” While the study criticized Turkish NGOs for the nation’s delayed response to global climate change, the increasing nature of such organizations and the eventual adoption of the cause suggest that Turkey is making strides towards being a more active actor in the global solution.

Turkish nationalism (and the dangers thereof)

“One nation, under God…”

Nationalism is not a foreign concept nor is it a concept excluded from almost any country in the world. Nationalism is patriotism. It is loyalty and devotion to a nation; specifically, it is “a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.”

And, according to Zakaria, nationalism is dangerous.

Zakaria argues that the rise of nationalism in economically advancing nation-states across the globe leads to a decrease in nations’ willingness to come together and solve collective problems. As nations’ individual powers increase, so grows each’s confidence, and the rise of the rest—a concept also highlighted as well as deterred in Ruchir Sharma’s “Broken BRICs”—is leading to diminishing chances for agreement and common action.

Turkish nationalism often stems from the root of Islam in the nation. Though Ataturk was arguably successful in promoting a secular nationalism during the interwar period, the influence of 98 percent of the population’s religion remained prominent. For example, according to Soner Cagaptay, there is a tension in Turkey between Islam as a religion and Islam as an identity, which is in many ways evident in Turkey’s Kurdish conflict. As a group, Kurds are almost entirely Muslims. The strong Islamic Turkish nationalism, thus, insisted the assimilation of the Kurds into the Turkish nation. However, many of the Kurds resisted this incorporation much to the incomprehension of the Turks. This inequality created conflict through the increasingly aggressive demands of the nation’s religious patriotism forcing the Islamic Kurds’ Turkification.

However, the influence of Islam in Turkey and Turkish nationalism is even more terrible in examination of the Armenian genocide. The rise of the three Pashas, three disgruntled Turkish officers, led to the movement and eventual Christian conspiracy in 1914. Hundreds of Armenian intellectuals were arrested and executed at the hands of Turkish troops, under the command of Mehmet Talaat Pasha. The beginning of the Armenian genocide “marked the beginning of the systematic extermination of the Christian communities of Asia Minor.” Christians were gathered throughout the area and deported across the Syrian Desert into concentration camps, though the majority died during journey. The present Turkish Republic still denies that this genocide was committed and “has legally criminalized—through its overly nationalistic constitution and under the penalty for insulting Turkishness—the argument that the mass extermination of the Ottoman Christian populations (Armenian, Assyrians, Greeks and Turkish Christians) constituted a form of genocide.”