On the “Neighborhood Pressure”: The Review of “Being Different in Turkey: Alienation on the Axis of Religion and Conservatism” by Binnaz Toprak et al. (2008).
On November 22, 2009, I was the discussant of a panel at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) Conference, in which the panelists—Binnaz Toprak, Berna Turam, Metin Heper, and Ayşe Saktanberk—analyzed the recent debates on the “neighborhood pressure” in Turkey, a term coined by Şerif Mardin referring to the negative impact of neighborhood interactions over individual freedoms. The main survey data about this issue were collected by Prof. Toprak and her colleagues and published in Turkish with the title “Being Different in Turkey” (hereafter “the report”). My conversations with Prof. Toprak during and following the MESA panel were very helpful in the course of writing this review.
Ahmet Kuru’s review of the report (which, by the way, was published as a book by Metis in 2009 under the title Türkiye’de Farklı Olmak: Din ve Muhafazakarlık Ekseninde Ötekileştirilenler), is unfortunately typical of criticisms that appeared in the Turkish media immediately after the results of the research were made public. And like many such criticisms, it seems that Dr. Kuru has only cursorily read the report. Although I am weary of answering the same criticisms over and over again, I decided to do so briefly because this Blog apparently is read mostly by Turkish students studying in the US who may not be familiar with the debate that the report stirred here in Turkey. For readers of the Blog who know Turkish and are interested in discussions about the report, I have included a piece that was originally published in Milliyet, and its longer version that was later added as a last chapter to the book. Together, they more thoroughly answers these and similar criticisms.
In 2008, the Open Society Institute, in cooperation with Bogazici University, published “Being Different in Turkey: Alienation on the Axis of Religion and Conservatism.” Professor Binnaz Toprak led the polemical study, which instantly garnered criticism throughout the conservative press. Conducting research in 12 Anatolian towns, Professor Toprak and her colleagues document concrete incidents of “neighborhood pressure,” a concept first discussed by Serif Mardin describing the pressure some people in Anatolia experience because they are different. They might be different because they are Alevi or some other religious minority, speak Kurdish, or because they drink alcohol or wear an earring and have long hair. The reaction to the report’s arguments no doubt stems from their similarity to the argument some secularists/Kemalists make to justify the headscarf ban in universities — that is, if women are allowed to wear the headscarf in universities, other women will feel pressure to do the same lest they be judged as less moral, religious, etc. However, despite the similarity, the report delves deeper, examining the toleration of difference in the 12 Anatolian towns it explores.
Turkey’s aging population outpaces youth growth
The smallest province by population, Bayburt, had a total of 74710 people, having grown even smaller compared to the 75674 people living there in 2008.
After burying alive 16-year-old Medine Memi, her father and grandfather face life in prison for “premeditated homicide with aggravating circumstances, perpetrated with cruelty.” Memi had been missing for over forty days when her body was uncovered in a concrete-covered hole outside the family chicken coop. After complaing to police about severe beatings received at home, it is entirely possible that her father and grandfather killed her out of revenge. However, authorities and media jumped to call the crime an honor killing, claiming the motive for her family’s savagery had to do with Memi spending time/having friendships with boys. In a very provocative post, Jenny White criticizes the media for having jumped to the conclusion that the crime was an honor killing, pointing out that Memi’s father was most likely the source of this information.
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