The political classes are forever looking for symbols to crystalize their support and distract from the failure of their policies. No symbol has remained more potent, persistent, and maybe ridiculous than the headscarf.
We would dismiss the entire brouhaha, if it wasn’t for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, one of the smartest men to ever rule a country. Kemal started the pot boiling over the Fez, the headscarf, and Habib in general all of the way back in 1920s Turkey.
In the Occident, the scarf is feared as a threat to the core values of an entire civilization (insert the words Al-Qaeda or ISIS into the conversation, and you even get an American’s attention). Put a fragment of cloth on your head, and you can be arrested for disturbing some stranger’s odd notion of peace.
In the Orient, politicians get elected by promising to allow headscarf wearers into public facilities. When they pass the enabling legislation, thousands come out in protest. When the courts overturn the law, thousands come out in protest.
Our position on the controversy is that headscarves–at least the endless variety you find in the streets of Istanbul–or long, shiny, flowing hair both make terrific additions to any photo. And we might be hopelessly naïve, but once you factor out the usual bigotry on both sides, we suspect that ordinary people care no more than we do. It’s just what some people do.
Head-covering in a mosque is an entirely different matter, and we wholeheartedly support this. In fact, we miss the days when tourists were expected to show respect and cover their shoulders, legs, and heads in the great Christian cathedrals of the West. Just try to pray during high season with bubble gum and flash cameras popping in your ears, and you’ll know what we mean.