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But she would get even more annoyed than my father did when she thought that people were invoking God to do their jobs for them—for example, when she saw a bus with a sticker saying “Allah Protect Us.”Both my parents always told me that, in order to be a good person, it was neither necessary nor desirable to believe in God; it was more noble and efficient to do good for disinterested reasons, without thoughts of Heaven. They thought it had been unsustainable for Turkey to repress and deny its religion for so long—that the people had finally spoken out.
Nothing in the milieu where I grew up, in New Jersey in the eighties and early nineties, contradicted the idea I formed of religion as something unnecessary, unscientific, provincial—essentially, uncool. Its charismatic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been the head of state since 2003, after the A. Many spoke warmly of the anthropologist Jenny White, an important scholar of modern Turkey whose book “Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks” characterizes the pro-Atatürk Kemalist culture as one of “militarism, hostility, suspicion, and authoritarianism” rooted in “blood-based Turkish ethnicity.” Muslim nationalism, by contrast, has sought to replace “historically embattled Republican borders” with “more flexible Ottoman imperial boundaries” and to “privilege Muslim identity and culture over race.” In the A. P.-sympathetic world view, the Ottomans, whom Kemalists had blamed for selling Turkey to the British, enjoyed a vogue as models of enlightened Muslim multiculturalism. To me, as to most Americans, it seemed a tiny bit weird that nearly every public building in Turkey had a picture of Atatürk on the wall.
My mother’s family—fair-skinned Ankara professionals who once had a chauffeur and a gardener—clearly fit the “white” profile.
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He granted women the right to vote, to hold property, to become supreme-court justices, and to run for office. A notorious 1925 “Hat Law” outlawed the fez and turban; the only acceptable male headgear was a Western-style hat with a brim.
The Ottoman Arabic script was replaced by a Latin alphabet, and the language itself was “cleansed” of Arabic and Persian elements.
Both were, and continue to be, passionate supporters of Atatürk.
I grew up hearing that if it hadn’t been for Atatürk my grandmother would have been “a covered person” who would have been reliant on a man for her livelihood.
My father grew up in Adana, not far from the Syrian border.