After a decade under the predominantly Islamist AKP government, Turkey is at another crossroads again...
...the crossroads of wardrobe...
What do I mean?
Before Twitter, there was Eksi Sözlük. As the most popular Internet forum in Turkey, it is a great place to observe social trends.
There are currently two "trending topics" on Eksi Sözlük related to fashion and sociopolitics.
The first one is the "mini-short fashion" (mini-short is the Turkish name for the short shorts, aka hot pants) Alongside the navy blue pants, they are dominating the Turkish street nowadays (this item of the summer fashion was originated in the U.S., I believe).
Turkish singer Ebru Polat with a mini-short, aka hot pants.
Most Eksi Sözlük users, presumably single men, wrote positively about the subject, while some of them reiterated sarcastically that mini-shorts should be allowed only in Russia, as the typical Turkish girl doesn't have the proper body to dress like that (allegedly, most of them have stocky legs with cellulite). Personally, my feelings are neutral about this subject.
The second trending topic is "the Arab occupation of Istanbul." Indeed, there are a lot of Arab tourists in Istanbul nowadays, especially in certain shopping malls where you can even hear Arabic loudspeaker announcements and read Arabic billboards, as special trips are organized there for Arab tourist groups.
I'm not sure if I had seen so many Arabs even in Doha streets or Damascus bazaars... Like the previous issue, my feelings are neutral about this subject; but there are some racial, if not racist, comments on Eksi Sözlük.
The typical Arab tourist? I don't think so. First of all: Which Arab, which country, which region?
The more interesting fact is that the number of comments that criticize such a xenophobic attitude is a lot more. For example, while criticizing a racial comment about a burqa-clad Arab tourist, an Eksi Sözlük user writes the following words: "Some say that these Arabs hang around like ninjas. So, you're content when a naked ass Russian girl visits Turkey, but react to an Arab with a burqa? You fucking racists..."
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If I try to analyze this contemporary picture in the Turkish street, the flourishing mini-short vs. the "occupying" Arabic burqa, I should firstly point out to the most striking, maybe also overlooked, phenomenon: The mini-short is a very daring clothing in today's Turkey, where even miniskirts are still taboo in several cities.
Thus, the sudden appearance of the mini-short can be read as a symptom of the long-running Islamist domination on a mostly secular urban landscape and the increasingly conservative sociopolitical repression there. After all, when you try to suppress something out-of-the-box, you may trigger an underground current which is even more radical. In the Prohibition Era in the United States, for instance, drugs had taken the place of alcohol.
As a matter of fact, the "native" Turkish reaction against the burqa should be understood in this context. Whether in the form of the mini-short advocacy or the racial critique, the reaction is bold.
Hence, unlike many European countries, it may neither be a reaction against the Other nor an Orientalist arrogance. When these Turks post angry comments against some Arab tourists, their tone is not as determined as the Western European racist/populist, because the Turks are also confused:
The Turkish man who had just written positively about the mini-shorts and Russians, is also subconsciously aware that the real reason that he is angry is not these Arabs with their traditional garment, who bring a lot more money to Turkey comparing to the average Western tourist. Turkish economy is now highly dependent to the hot money flow originated in Arab countries and especially the Gulf states.
Yes, the Turkish man feels that he is anxious not because of these tourists, but because of the government, which has been successful in the last decade in regulating his own lifestyle against his own will. Meanwhile, he is still rational enough to appreciate the fact that these Arab tourists are financing the Turkish economy, which helps maintain his life, but also prolong the AKP rule. A dilemma that can make any dissident anxious...
So, maybe, the mini-short is just a flag, not against the burqa occupation, but against the "foreign attack" of the political Islam against the life-affirming character of traditional Turkish culture. In the end, most Turks are still not racist; they are just slightly driven mad by this government.