Is that because, as you say, there are more demands on Muslims, more
expectations if you're a Muslim to conform to rules?
It's not only that there are demands; it is because all the history of
modernization, in the Turkish case but also in other Arabic countries, was
written in a way which excluded Muslim culture. So in order to be modern --
especially in this Turkey case, this is a very radical example -- we had to get
away from our Muslim background. There is a kind of abandon[ment], a kind of
cutting it off; turning our back to our roots and to our past heritage.
To be modern, almost you are either/or. You are either modern or Muslim. So
this was a dilemma for modernity. This was the first thing, the historical
background. The second one is in relation to today, Islamic movements who put a
demand. So it's a more rigorous definition of being a Muslim. Thirdly, the
Western public also have their own prejudices in relation. So it's not easy to
say, "Yes, I'm a Muslim."
You have, though, since you studied this and it seems that you've been able
to identify a confluence of modernity and Islam -- that the two are not
necessarily separate from one another.
Exactly, because when I felt this difficulty, I understood how all the other
Muslims felt, because this difficulty was also in me. I experienced this
uneasiness, this difficulty of being a Muslim woman in the modern world. I felt
myself not that far away from other Muslims in the world, but they responded in
a totally different way. Those who put on the veil had a different answer than
mine, right? I became a sociologist; they became more rigorously Islamic.
Does that make them more Muslim than you?
I think so, yes, this makes them more Muslim in the sense that they define
themselves more by their faith, by their Islamic culture, or they try to at
least redefine their identity through a kind of remaking of this Islamic
identity. They don't just take it as it is; they reinterpret, refashion,
reconstruct this Islamic identity. Even the way they reinterpret religion is
different from the interpretation of their families, for instance, which is not
the same thing. So there is a kind of rupture between the new generation of
young Islamic population and their family background.
It seems that in Turkey, in the U.S., where girls are starting to cover
their hair, and in other places, the whole onus of being Muslim falls on the
shoulders -- on the heads actually -- of women. Is that where the whole
identity is? Is it with women, particularly young women?
I think it makes it a more visible Islamic identity. It became a symbol, and I
think it is true that we can consider it as a symbol, because it makes it so
visibly so. This is the difference between maybe the Western world and today's
Islamic world. So the veiling becomes visible, especially in new public spaces.
It creates a kind of controversial issue, for instance, on the university
campuses, which were considered to be the bastions of modernity.
What are these girls saying with veils? What is it they are trying to
There are several things. First of all, the fact that they belong to Muslim
identity and they follow God's rules and it's their faith. Secondly, I would
say there are layers of this. It creates some kind of collective identity. It
empowers them. Because many of them do it, there is a kind of uniform. When you
take into consideration the Islamic veiling in the traditional world, for
instance, it changes from one region to another, from one ethnicity to another,
from one national background to another. It almost changes from region to
region, the way women cover themselves. The fabric is different, the colors are
Today, we can speak almost of a sort of uniform. Although it also shows many
varieties, diversities within it, we can speak of a sort of modern Islamic
veiling. The fabric is modern. There is a sort of overcoat -- it started like
this at least -- with a head scarf. Now a kind of fashion consciousness also
enters into this new mode of veiling. But it is very different from the
traditional one -- different in the sense that there is a sort of
homogenization which goes beyond the nations. It's transnational. The girls in
Egypt, the ones in Turkey, and the ones in Iran are not that different. So
there is this collective identity which is underlined, I would say, behind this
Why do you think veiling makes them more Muslim than you?
They try to assert their difference as a Muslim in public life, whereas I do
not. So in that sense it makes it more Muslim. And the way they refashion their
self, their body, and even their relationship to new spaces. For instance, some
of them can consider segregation of sexes, right? So the Islamic visibility in
public space, let's call it, not only in politics. I call it "visibility in
public space," because it is wider than politics, right?
For instance, these Muslim girls coming to the universities, or wanting as
deputies to enter the parliament with their head scarf, which is a case in
Turkey, or wanting to pursue their professional career. All this means a kind
of public participation -- participation of these women to social and public
life. It is not only politics as we understand it; it's larger than that, more
cultural. So in that respect, they try to be present in social life, in public
life; yet asserting their difference as Muslims. That's why they are different
It does say in Quran, "Bring your shawl up over, cover your bosom," is
what I remember reading in the literal translation of it. But what are they
trying to do by covering up? In your book, you've referred to a sort of walling
off of their sexuality. "This is how much access to me you get."
The veiling is not only just covering the head; it indicates a way of behavior,
which is called to be more modest, more pure -- Puritan maybe -- which means
you limit your presence in public life. For instance, the way you look at
people. You have to cast down the eyes. The way your body occupies the space in
public. That means you shouldn't be too loud -- laughing, for instance. So it
means a way of behaving, more modest behavior. It comes from hija, meaning
being more cautious, being more modest.
So I think it's not only just a kind of dress code, but a dress code which
indicates a set of manners, bodily manners, in relation to the other sex, but
in relation also to public behavior. Also, culturally, it means a more
civilized behavior -- civilized in the sense that you are more controlled. It's
a kind of self-control in public life.
How do men exhibit that self-control?
Through women. That's the interesting thing. That's why veiling is more
important than any other thing. But men also have some kind of behavior in
conformity with that: segregation of sexes, not trying to go beyond the licit
In other words, men control their sexuality through how women restrain
Yes, especially, but they also have some codes -- dressing codes and so on. But
it is basically women who are the markers of this difference and who are the
markers of what is to be considered as licit, what is to be considered as
illicit; what is private, what is public. So each time I would say it's women's
body and it's their cautiousness. It's their way of living in social and public
life which marks the boundaries. They are the boundary-setters.
I don't know if it's fair or not, but it can be more stimulating for women
sometimes, because for the moment in the Islamist movements, women play a much
more central role. So this can be a more subversive role because they are
boundary-setters. So that's why we start with veiling.
Today we become conscious of the importance of an Islamic movement through
women. So women are actors of this movement. Women are not only those who are
followers. They are not only following men's desires or men's power. What
really distinguishes the contemporary Islamic movement is this presence of women in
these movements, so they are the motor of change in these movements.
It's a kind of feminism?
There is a kind of Islamic feminism, which is becoming more and more explicit in
the movement. Although they don't want to mimic totally the Western feminism,
they borrow it from Western feminism. And yet they reprocess it through their
own experiences and they give voice to that.
How would you distinguish Western feminism from Islamic feminism? What would
be the things that Muslim women would reject in terms of Western
That's a big question, but at least, for instance, the self-exposure in public.
As the veiling symbolizes, they would try to keep this privacy more. There is
this maybe dilemma. They would follow the idea of equality, but equality of
rights, yet being different. So they take different things from feminism,
because you have one dimension in Western feminism, which is much more
egalitarian, and the other one which is much more identitarian -- identity
feminism -- in Western feminism as well; that is, women as being different, not
as being only equal, but also as being different.
So they would follow this difference principle as well, because the Islamic
movement, in a way, itself follows the principle of identity movements that we
observe in the West. That means as a social movement they don't want to be
assimilated to the principles of Western identity, but they want to keep their
This is the basic principle of all new social movements in the West: not to be
assimilated, but keeping their difference, yet to be accepted in the system. In
that way, Islamism is a movement of identity, a movement of difference. But
women within this movement don't give up the principles of equality easily. For
instance, they would say, "Why are the streets more dangerous for women than
men?" That's a difference, because "street" then becomes an important site for
Muslim women to struggle about.
This is a difference, because maybe in Western feminism this was not the basic
stakes, this was not an issue, not the basic issue. It was abortion and
contraceptive methods, for instance, whereas here it is veiling. It's not
abortion, but it's veiling, right? So there are asymmetrical trajectories. The
Islamist woman would say, "Why should it be more dangerous? So we have the
right to go also on the streets, or pursue our professional career," and that
kind of thing.
So the issues are not always the same, but they borrow a lot from Western
feminism. They develop a kind of Islamic feminist consciousness today and they
debate with Islamic men on issues like religious marriages, or their right for
work and all the basic issues.
Do you think that the men in the Muslim movements give them the respect that
they are expecting?
Sometimes respect can be very binding, and can generate some kind of
dependence, as well. Islamic men would say, "We respect you so much that we
have to preserve you at home as very delicate flowers." That's one of the kind
of classic rhetorics. "Respect" is a tricky word, especially in the Oriental
world, I would say.
So there's got to be, then, tension between the men and the women, all of
whom wish to see greater presence of Islam, greater establishment of Islam. The
men perhaps don't want to see the women as public as they are becoming?
Exactly. You are very right putting the question that way, which means that
women participated in the Islamic movement and gave some kind of new visibility
to the Islamic movement. They attracted attention to it. And yet, with the same
movement, they became publicly visible and their lives changed. They started
publishing women's magazines. They started going to meetings with other women
for the sake of the Islamic movement. Then they want to pursue their
professional careers after having achieved university degrees.
So there is a kind of upward social mobility, first of all, through education
and through politics. And now they have new opportunities for their
professional career. But what happens is that each time these Muslim girls --
or women, now -- go to public life, pursue their professional career, for
instance, they go from home to outside, from private to public life. Each time
there is a tension within the movement and, therefore, there is a kind of
debate among Islamic women who want to go even more public and Islamic men who
remind them that, first of all, they have to be wives and mothers -- their
So there is a kind of individuation within the Islamic movement which is
triggered by Muslim women's participation to public life. They are very
conscious about it and they make it very explicit. This debate is becoming more
and more a public debate.
Do you see that internationally, as well as here in Turkey?
Internationally as well, exactly.
But here in Turkey there are additional problems, which is that the women
who choose to cover apparently are excommunicated (for lack of a better word).
They are denied opportunities to go to universities. They are denied
opportunities for certain professional roles.
Yes. One couldn't imagine it from abroad, but Turkey cannot be considered, I
would say, as a country which defines herself as a Muslim country. It is a
secular country. This is written in the constitution as well. Secularism in
Turkey meant also a kind of secular behavior in public spaces. So it was
outlawed, all symbols of Islamic faith, including veiling. So it is banned. The
students do not have the right to have their Islamic dress codes coming to the
universities. The same for the parliament. They can't be public servants.
So it is true that although we are in a country where the majority of the
population is Muslim, nevertheless we define the republic as a secular
republic. And secularism meant this neutral space where you are not allowed to
bring your religious, ethnic, particularistic identities. So there is this
debate now ongoing to what extent we are going to enlarge democratic rights to
include this kind of new demands of difference.
Is the debate that's going on about whether girls should be allowed to cover
and whether men should be allowed to grow beards really just because there's a
law on the books? Or is there some other fear that the state has about that
expression of Islam?
There is a debate among secularists and Islamists in Turkey -- the degree to
which we are going to include, let's put it that way, the new demands of Islam
in political/cultural life. It's not only the state, but the secular-minded
elites, but also non-governmental organizations that sometimes are scared of these
demands of Islam.
What are the demands that they're scared of?
They're scared of being like Iran. This is, of course, the first reason for
being scared. That means all these reforms which shaped the Turkish republic
since Ataturk, since 1923, could have been taken back by Islamists. That's the
main fear. So they are scared that these demands will create a kind of
escalation, and it won't just be these innocent demands, confined to the
university students, but it will be the whole range of society -- Islamization
of the mode of government, constitution, law, way of life, even science and
everything -- which is not, of course, totally wrong, ungrounded, because this
was the real project of Islam since the end of the 1970s and the 1980s.
What we call "radical Islam," which shaped maybe the Iranian revolution, was
the basic idea of Islamization of the whole society, this utopia, this ideal to
Islamicize different spheres of life, starting from your inner world but going
to the mode of government -- Sharia, the Islamic state. So this is the main
fear of secularists.
But in my point of view, especially in the Turkish case, secularism is a value
which is shared by many. It is quite interiorized and institutionalized.
Therefore, it's a strong value which cannot be undermined so easily. There is a
kind of participatory process in Turkey of Muslims and development of
secularism. They are going all together since the 1950s in Turkey, since the
transition to democratic political pluralism.
So I think we should be more self-confident and more inclusionary. But that's
my point of view. So this debate is between republicans and democrats, in the
more European sense. So "republicans" means more statist. They are scared. They
want to confine these rights of fundamentalism, let's say. They don't want to
give in, in their own words. Whereas the "democrats," those who are more
democrat, would say, "Let's not fear. More inclusionary politics is, on the
contrary, the best thing to avoid terrorism and radical politics." So these are
two different points of view.
... I think this is the first thing any researcher does. That means
going towards the other, understanding the other, because the Muslim population
was almost like "the other." So there was a kind of wall between me and the
others, between secularists, modern, Western-oriented social groups, elites --
and Muslims. There was a kind of hidden wall. We couldn't shake hands. We
couldn't share the same spaces. That's why I'm speaking about "space."
So sharing the same space, looking to each other, being in face-to-face
relationship -- for instance, during the research even, it was almost like
breaking a taboo, crossing the borders between secularism and Islam. I think
this is what social science is about. That means understanding "the other" and
going out from your own social boundaries and social class origins, or even
social taste, or anything -- going beyond that. But the cleavage between the
two social groups are very deep, historically grounded and culturally felt.
You're telling some of the values that dig that ditch between the
One of the reasons for that is our conception of modernity everywhere in the
world. Modernity is constructed, shaped, produced, invented by values which
were not values of Muslim countries. That is one of the basic reasons of this
cleavage, I would say. This was this either/or thing. If you are modern, you
can't be a Muslim.
Now we are going beyond this either/or and you can be both Muslim and modern.
This is the title of the French book, Moderne et Musulmane. You can be
both Muslim and modern. So how to cope with it? Because we are always in this
rationality of choosing -- choosing one for the other. So how you can be both,
keeping these different social/cultural resources -- I think this is one of the
basic stakes that we face today.
And that will certainly, if it works, help pull the society together.
I do agree with you, because there is no other way. If these two cannot work
together, there will be always authoritarianism, either coming from secularism
or modernity. Secularism or modernity will be imposed from above and by
authoritarian means, or from any fundamentalist movement, religious or ethnic,
seemingly opposing itself to that, but also imposing another kind of authority.
So there must be a kind of give-and-take, a kind of borrowing between two
different cultural values, between two different sets of values. I think today
Islam addresses questions which are very interesting to modernity, very
For instance, the concept of individualism that we have developed here -- I say
"we" as a Western person, in a way -- that means we understood individualism
through emancipation, through getting rid of our traditional tie. That means
progress always in the sense of getting away from traditions, from religiosity,
from community, and becoming self, fulfillment of self being so close to our
own real self, true self.
So [there is] this correspondence between the two, whereas the Islamic
understanding of self is also more limited. This is self-limitation, like I
have tried to illustrate through veiling -- how you limit yourself. It's not
through emancipation; it is through choices, as well. But it's a question of
And it's not an emancipatory project, totally. You become also through your
relationship to others. So the morality is something which you do not think
about in relation to your own consciousness, but you also relate to your
community. Let's say there's an arbitrage of the community on morality, whereas
in the Western concept of individualism, it is much more your
If you're doing this self-discipline and you're looking out for your
community instead of yourself, what is the benefit to the Muslim to be that
I don't think it's just the benefit to the Muslims; it's also a question that
is more generally addressed to us as moderns, because maybe we have reached
also the limits of individualism, limits of this private/public thing. Maybe we
need some intermediate layers. I'm just saying that these questions can be
very -- although it is seemingly based on cleavages and very conflictual, I
think there is a kind of creative tension as an unfolding process.
These tensions are not only tensions which lead to the breakdown of societies,
like in Algeria, or to a kind of more silent society, at least in the first
years of the revolution in Iran, but a kind of creative tension, if we know how
to select, how to borrow from each other, create a kind of métissage, a
kind of hybridization. I think these questions are also raised to modernity,
which can enrich modernity. This is one of the main advantages of modernity, to
be a self-correcting process.
As modernity appears to perhaps reach its limits, also with the rampant
individual expression, et cetera, over the last 20 years, there has also been
this resurgence in interest in Islam. Why now? What is that?
Because when you look carefully to Islamist movements today, they speak more to
modernity than to traditional religious rules. That's the interesting thing.
The majority of these people who take place in Islamic movements, so many
people would reproach them, criticize them, for not knowing enough Islam,
because they are not, I would say, religiously defined. They have maybe less
knowledge of religion, but they have a lot of knowledge on what's going on in
modern society. They are more social science students than coming from schools
of religion. They have both references, I would say -- both religion and
secular knowledge. But they are more in dialogue with modernity.
Why today? Because, I think, it's almost the end-result of modernization in
these countries. That means more and more social groups are getting into the
areas, into the sites of modernity, like education, market, politics, mass
media. So they are being included.
So the question is, the moment you are included into the system, what is your
reaction? Either you want to be more assimilated, as we have seen in the first
wave of even feminism, because the first wave of feminism was a feminism of
assimilation, right? We wanted to be like men, equal to men. Then the second
wave said, "No, why should I take an example and be a second-class man? First
of all, I'll just be myself as a woman, different, and let them accept me
through my difference; and let me enrich the society through the values which
was the real reason of my stigmatization, like emotionality, irrationality, or
other things -- privacy, intimacy."
So I think it's like this feminist mode of behavior, I would say. Islamists,
the moment they are included into the system, instead of choosing to be
assimilated to modernity, or to people like me or you, they say, "No, first of
all, we want to reconstruct our identity through our difference and the reasons
for our stigmatization, like Islamic faith, the dress code. We make it the
forefront of our battle." That's an interesting thing.
So they take the real reasons of their stigmatization, the real reasons of
their exclusion, instead of leaving it behind themselves when they enter into
modernity, when they enter into university campuses. That's what we expected
from them, if they have arrived from villages, from small towns of Anatolia, to
my university campus. That is a theory of modernity.
Why don't they leave behind their Islamic codes, because they have succeeded?
So why not to succeed one step further and just be like me and the others?
Well, they have said, "No, we want to be even more Muslim than what you
expect." There is this kind of exaggeration of this Islamic identity that we
see today, which even disturbs their families, because their families were
happy that their children were succeeding.
So why do they make it so radical, so visible? I think this is because, instead
of assimilation, that's something which I would say is very common in all new
social movements. In that respect, Islamism today, or the Muslim movement, is
not different from other social movements like feminism, like migrants in
Europe, the second-generation migrants saying, "We want to be accepted through
It goes back to identity?
It goes back to identity politics, yes, exactly. This can be an enriching
process as well. That's what I'm saying. If we know how to select and be in
dialogue, if there is a kind of debate which is not purely political but more
cultural, and we become aware of the questions which are raised by these new
Islamic figures, movements -- questions which concern not only Muslims, but all
societies -- that's my point. I think there is something to be enriched through
Where do you think that would lead? Where do you think this is going?
You mean in the Turkish context?
First, let's try a broader context.
The broader context is that I think Islam is the real dialogue with modernity
today. It is not a clash of civilizations, as [Samuel] Huntington would put it,
but on the contrary. In a way, Islam makes us aware of different aspects of
modernity. So that is this intertwining process which interests me. I'm not
working just on Islam being separate, but to what extent this dialogue, or this
intertwining process -- although, as with all intertwining process, there is a
lot of cleavage, lots of conflict underlying it. ...
I think it makes us aware of different problems, like feminism, different
aspects of feminism; feminism seen from the Western angle, but now from
Islam's. They bring almost a new horizon to Western feminism as well, I would
say, reminding boundaries, reminding more ties among women, and so on. There
are different ways now of seeing and constructing feminisms.
Because Islam is working with modernity, it's almost raising a mirror up to
it and saying, "Look at yourself?"
Yes, exactly. We are used to reading modernity from the West, from the centers
of the Western countries, right? Now we understand that modernity is not only
under the monopoly of Europe already, neither only in the United States -- but
it spreads out. Through colonization it started, but also through voluntary
modernization like in Turkey.
But now it is becoming more and more indigenous. That's something very
important. We have adopted voluntarily modernization in Turkey, but without
criticism. We thought we have to take it, and without processing it, in a way,
But one of the basic aspects of modernity is this capacity of self-criticism, I
would say. In a paradoxical way, I would say that Islam indicates another stage
of indigenization of modernity, through criticism; because the only way to
process modernity and to make it more indigenous is to criticize it, to take it
through a kind of filtration. That's what is happening.
Touch on the changes in the Islamic revival that you've seen take place in
the last 20 or 30 years. How do you see this revival having changed over the
last 20 years?
What changed most during these 20 years -- because now we have observed the
development of Islamist movements for the last 20 years, since the Iranian
revolution, which gave a lot of legitimacy and which shaped the image of Islam
in our minds -- was shaped by state power.
I think we can divide historically into two decades; the first decade being
more political, being more driven by this rhetoric of Islamic society and
Islamic state; and the second decade giving rise to micro-practices that we
have to observe more closely. Because when I say that these people are becoming
more public, visibly public, and occupying spaces which were totally foreign to
them, they were excluded from certain spaces like university classes,
parliament, mass media, public debate, concert halls, urban cultural galleries.
In all these spheres, we were not used to seeing Muslim population in the sense of
self-asserting Muslims, like through beards and veiling.
So now what we see is that, on the contrary, they are becoming more visible.
They are investing. They are carving a space for their own leisure. That means
restaurants where alcohol is not served, beaches where you can have
your vacation in conformity with Islamic faith, which means segregation of
beaches for men and women, and even in conformity with Islamic swimming dress
codes of swimming bath[ing] suits. So leisure, vacation, but also publishing
They created a kind of literature market -- novels, Islamic films,
which became very important with Iranian Islamic films. So we see that Islam is
not just a totality, not only a religion, but it is reshaped by these new
practices. I would call them just new social practices, or performances -- a
kind of performance that we see on the stage, if you take the stage as a
society or urban stage. We see these people reshaping these spaces. We haven't
thought of beaches, for instance, or opera houses, which were really the sites
of modernity for Turks -- sites of Western modernity. But now we see Muslims
also trying to put another agenda on these sites.
So there is a series of micro-practices that we have to follow when we speak
about Islam. It is not Islam-as-religion; it is Islam-as-a-political movement,
but Islam entering into our daily life, into the spaces which were totally
familiar to us, but unfamiliar to them. So the question of sharing is there.
This is the relation with democracy. Are we going to be able to share these
spaces with the newcomers? Or are we going to exclude them? But they are
already there. All these micro-practices, I think, when we start observing from
a different angle, and not always thinking of Islam through Kalashnikov
terrorism, but seeing through these new daily practices, ranging from
activities of leisure, the way of becoming urban in an urban setting,
restaurants ... but also publishing houses, mass media.
There is one comparison maybe which would make it clear. We were discussing
with another colleague of mine in France about Islamist movements and their
future. He was Gilles Capelle. He was comparing it with Communism and I was
comparing Islam with feminism. He said, "After Communism, nothing is left. And
today the Islamic movement is no longer important politically." That is one of
the pieces of all the political scientists, which is true. Politically, they
don't have the same capacity to mobilize masses and to create a second
revolution. That is the idea.
My idea is to compare it with feminism, because feminism maybe doesn't have any
longer this capacity to mobilize. It is not this collective movement, this
political force, but it is already in our daily lives. It changed us totally
from down to top, from below to top.
What we observe is feminist studies in institutions, in our daily lives, our
self-fashioning, our relationship in our private lives to other men, to a kind
of reference point which afterwards spread out and fashioned a series of
micro-practices and new institutions. That's how I see Islam getting much more
spread in our cultural life and it's in total, continuous self-change as
What we're witnessing is a revival of Islamic civilization. If that is the
case, what are the key things that differentiate it from dominant Western
If we observe a kind of revival of Islamic civilization, how I would put it,
Western modernity meant for us, coming for those at the edge of Western
modernity -- like in Turkey, meant to be civilized, you have to be Westernized.
This was the formula. In order to be civilized, you have to be Westernized in
your clothes, in your mind, in your education, in your habitation, the way you
organize your interior space, nuclear family, even the posture with a man, how
you walk in the streets with a man.
So this meant this project of modernity. Project of modernity is not only
nation-building, parliament, constitution. Of course, that; but it goes down to
something which really restructures, refashions our own self -- bodily
practices, spatial practices, and gender relations. So this was the formula:
Civilized means Westernized.
I would say Islam challenges this formula today. Islam wants to be modern, but
civilized -- not in the Western way -- but Islam. So they are trying to tell
us, like "Black is beautiful" formula, Islam is beautiful and trying to be a
reference point in different sets of civilizations. You take it, you don't take
it. You can be critical or not, as I am too, but they are trying to give a
reference to a different source of being civilized in the modern world, with a
lot of complexities.
Can you describe some specifics of what those civilized...
The first thing is this veiling issue. It's a way of being in public in an
Islamic way. And the mode of address changes among each other. It's much more
self-disciplined, as I'm saying. It's reminding the boundaries of
life and death also. That's what religion is about; not only this-worldly, but
reminding the boundaries of this-worldly ethics in life. So I would say it's a
boundary-setter, reminder of always the other boundary. When you are in public,
it reminds the private, it reminds the illicit.
But it's also a different mode of address, mode of behavior. In that sense,
there is a set of values which differentiate mode of behavior and also space
organization between private and public, and gender behavior, like the
segregation of sexes. These might be seen formalistic, but I think it goes
beyond the forms. It reminds us visibly, because all this is not discursive,
but much more visible. All these values are transmitted by images, by visible,
so it is almost embodied. It is transmitted by our bodily practices.
We use the word "modernity" a lot. I wonder how you would define "modernity?"
Science and technology and, on the other hand, I would call it individual
emancipation, which meant getting away from traditions and religiosity -- these
two things, emancipation and progress. Today, these two principles of Western
modernity were challenged from within already by Western societies, because
"progress" we question through environmental movements.
All developments in science and technology don't mean progress. We don't
believe that much in individual emancipation either; there are limits. But
nevertheless, this is what is called the classical stage of Western modernity,
shaped by the experiences of these countries.
Although there are many differences among Germans, French, British, and then
American, yet we can still speak about something common, especially seen from
outside. We can speak of "Western modernity," seen from outside, seen from
maybe even Latin America -- maybe less -- but from the Middle East, from other
parts of the world. They can all speak easily among each other, as we do; Turks
and Chinese, for instance.
We know what we mean by "Western modernity," although Westerners wouldn't know
that much, what does that mean. Today what is happening -- especially maybe the
discourse on globalization -- it is getting spread out and almost losing its
most rigorous definitions. We speak now more about "multiple modernities."
There are ways of appropriating modernity outside the West which look alike,
but not totally. But can we name them still as modern, or are we going to have
a different name? We are out of words, I would say, but this appropriation of
modernity -- it's not only by imposition, but by different populations -- I
think opens up new questions to social sciences and to our own societies, how
we define ourselves, if not modern.
I think you said that the Turks and the Chinese know what they mean by
"Western modernity," but the Westerners don't. What do you mean?
For instance, seen from here, Western modernity, in my mind, meant this
relation to confessionalism and democracy. Telling about your true self is very
much related with Western individualism. We can read almost the whole story of
Western modern life today through confessionalism -- from the talk shows to
what's going on, even what has been shaped through the Clinton case.
With other cultures, they wouldn't maybe insist so much on telling the truth,
but they would be even more ashamed telling the truth in public, right? So what
matters is not telling the truth in public, but what you have done. And if the
public knows it, if the community knows it, it's even more shameful. Whereas I
would say, in the West, being your true self (if I put it well enough) is very
important, and it has driven Western societies and Western democracies.
For instance, the gay culture. It doesn't mean that we have less gay culture in
the Mediterranean area, or in the Middle East, in Turkey; but being outspoken
about it, making it explicit in public, is a Western behavior. This is
confessionalism -- just confessing your most private feelings in public, so as
to be in conformity between your true self and your public self, like novels.
I think this is what, for instance, for me, Western individualism, which also
in a way shaped Western democracies. Feminism is the same -- speaking about
their own experiences, the most hidden experience, the most shameful
experiences, but in public, and saying me -- "I had an abortion" -- in
public. That's how feminism became so important publicly in France.
So this kind of consciousness and this kind of linkage between private and
public is a modern phenomenon. Maybe living in the Western world, people are
not aware of it, because it's so natural. But seen from a distance, this is
very important. For instance, for Islam it's very difficult, because there the
morality is much more guided by the community. It is not my own experience
which should be more public. The self and the public doesn't have the same
meaning. So we are becoming more and more aware today all these aspects of
With all of this talk about imposing ways from the top and authoritarianism
and covering up and gender segregation and you can't swim in a bathing suit --
it sounds to me like Islam is no fun.
[Laughs] That's a very good point. Islam is no fun, that's for sure. I would
say two competing projects in the Turkish urban life I have observed. One is
Arabist and the other one is Islam. I'm sorry, it's getting too much into the
local politics, but that's very important, because Islam, it's true -- I'll give
you a better example. The last marriage of the head of the Islamic party -- his
daughter has been married -- this is a big debate on it, because the marriage
was almost mimicking the Western marriage in ways. For instance, the father
came with his daughter taking his arm. This is a very Western posture, so he
was criticized. Then what happened is that some people just gossiping around
it. Those who were invited to the wedding said, "We didn't have fun. We
couldn't have any belly dancing, any Turkish music, we couldn't dance, so it
was not even Anatolian people having fun."
Turks have a lot of fun. But Islam is related with a kind of Puritan culture,
this self-disciplining kind of thing. You're very right, this desire for having
fun, getting out of control, is observed more in the Mediterranean or Middle
Eastern countries, without any control. You can see it on the boats, in
everyday life. That's right, it's almost a kind of overreaction to having fun,
either coming from the local traditions or from this global trendy nightlife.
That's why secularism has been defended as a way of life. Among the
spokespersons sometimes in public debates, we have observed top models. Again,
this is this awkwardness in a non-Western setting. Why a top model girl would
be included in a public debate on secularism? Exactly because of the reasons
you were saying, because they want to have the right to be on the podiums, to
be on fashion shows, to use their bodies as they want, to choose their
And so nightlife, or a kind of having fun, either in terms of Anatolian setting
or Western setting, Islamic people don't seem to have that fun. I think that
will be the next issue in the movement. [Laughs] ... There is seduction,
there's a flirtatious mood. It's something out of control: laughter, noise.
That's why I put the emphasis on self-disciplining, a way of behavior, a mode
of address, which reminds the boundaries. But I do agree, it's not fun. It is
like Western Puritanism. I don't think it has been fun. It's a kind of Puritan
control of public life and private life. But it's difficult to maintain that
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