Politics vs. What Women Wear or An Argument for Emancipating Women’s Clothing

I was waiting for the metro when I saw a contrast typical of Turkey. A woman with jet black hair was talking on the phone; she wore her bangs straight across her forehead, big red glasses, and a ring through her nose. Under her midi skirt were fishnet stockings, and on her feet black army boots. Her other arm was slung through her friend’s. Her friend was wearing a black headscarf, a very cool black coat and black boots.

I see women in groups and pairs half wearing a headscarf and half not, or one/without and the others with/without all the time. it doesn’t matter. The only people who do care are the staunch secularists or westerners who equate wearing a headscarf with submission. It seems that what matters most is what the headscarf represents to the viewer rather than the wearer.

It’s a political pivot point, as a recent NYT’s article succinctly pointed out, “the headscarf has long been emblematic of the struggle between the country’s secular and religious factions.” The writer uses the headscarf (hijab) and the veil interchangeably, as if they are the same thing never mind that they are two types of clothing worn differently. This prejudice needs to be called out for what it is.

Just as the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, so too it has no business telling women what to wear or what not to wear. The headscarf has been used as an excuse to deny women entry into university. Be it in France, Iran, at home or on the street, it’s used as a symbol of a greater ideology by the powers that be. If a woman wears a headscarf under duress that is a social problem, if she wears it out of choice that’s nobody’s business.

Controlling what women wear whether by fiat, legislation, or pressure is a power game. It’s time that women’s clothing is emancipated from politics.


The New Republicans

Who would’ve thought this time last year that the Republicans would abandon such core principles as free trade and global hegemony? But just 3 weeks into the new presidency these policies are fraying at the edges and will soon lie in tatters at the President’s feet, if he has his way.  Policies years in the making have, in one tweet, dissolved.

Over the last couple of weeks foreign policy pundits and policy makers have been bordering on apoplexy as the Republican President leads the GOP in protectionism and isolationism.  Republican leaning publications such as Foreign Policy and Newsweek will soon be waxing nostalgic for the Obama years.

First to fall was the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, or TPP, effectively removIng the U.S. from a leadership position in a 12 country Pacific trade alliance. Pundits claim the Chinese are rubbing their hands ready to pick up the slack. Next will be NAFTA, which originally Trump threatened to tear up though now it looks as if he’s just aiming for Mexico. The Canadian side will just be ‘tweaked’, whatever that means. Either way, American trade partners are going to have to brace themselves for the unknown.

The cognitive dissonance emanating from Washington over the relationship and natural affinity between Putin and Trump is almost audible. The President may want to get cozy with Putin, but Americans don’t give up their enemies that easily. Though these two leaders may be cut from the same cloth, Putin is much shrewder politically. The U.S. President sees no good reason to freeze out a man he admires and can benefit from; here the instincts of the business man dominate the politician.

Beware Enemies and Allies

The United States has effectively declared it’s closed for business to 7 countries. The trickle down effect of this poorly made decision will be incalculable. Rather than being a net receiver of brain drain the reverse may soon be true with Canada and Mexico being the likely beneficiaries. Mexico is reportedly trying to seduce Silicone Valley and may be more attractive than its colder and wetter neighbor to the north.

The President of the United States seems to think he can run the country as an offshoot of his business, and until recently most Americans agreed with him. This idea now seems to be wearing thin. HIs weaknesses are becoming apparent: a man with an addiction to twitter who gets his news from cable T.V., and according to reports doesn’t like to read, prefers not to attend intelligence briefings, and becomes offended very easily. It’s no wonder rational pundits and politicians are starting to panic.

Be it Mexico, Europe or Australia, no country is safe from a twitter-lashing when the President feels he or his family is slighted, or he perceives something is not in his interest. His lack of political experience and volatile personality leaves him open to the manipulation and biases of his inner circle.

Will the real President stand up?

This would have been a ridiculous question to ask before January 20th 2017, but recent headlines from such magazines as Foreign Policy and Newsweek proclaiming ” President Bannon” is in charge attests to an already developed deep distrust. Now White House advisor, Stephen Bannon,  former Goldman Sachs employee and editor of the online news alt-right forum Breitbart, seems to be calling the shots.  (Alt-right is an umbrella term under which the white supremacists and neo-nazis identify.)

Apparently Bannon is a self-declared Leninist whose raison d’etre is to destroy the Washington status quo through revolution. It looks like he’s well on his way.

America’s Black Swan

The morning after the presidential election people around the world were incredulous that Americans had entrusted their future to a business man and political neophyte  whose campaign brought the neo-right into the mainstream of American politics.

Defying all predictions, even the President-elect looked stunned by his win and a bit afraid, perhaps at the daunting thought of a 16 hour work day. He promised to “keep ‘em guessing”, “drain the swamp” , and “make America great again”; the latter promise undermining the United States’ position in the eyes of world, making it less great just by saying so.

Donald Trump’s election is a great example of a Black Swan, what Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes in his book (of the same name) as that “exceptional and unexpected event which leads to the degradation of predictability dominated by the extreme, the unknown, and the very improbable”. A good description of the administration of United States of America under the 45th President.

Uncertainty and unpredictability in American politics is the new normal. Over the last 70 years the United States has inter-twined itself throughout the workings of the international system using its wealth, influence, and military might to force, influence and threaten; to mold the structure of international financial, political and social institutions into its vision.

In Taleb’s words, “the world in which we live has an increasing number of feedback loops, causing events to be the cause of more events thus generating snowballs and arbitrary and unpredictable planet-wide winner-take-all effects.” This state of anarchy has always existed in international politics, but with chaos at the core of the ‘democracy enforcer’ delivered by its own executive, what will come remains to be seen.

As the American system undergoes the state constructed existential threat to its institutions of governance and their sphere of influence shrinks,  governments around the world will have to figure out how best to extricate themselves from the ‘American Project’* with as little damage as possible.

*See PNAC Project for a New American Century (Republican neo-conservative think tank 1997-2006)

Following the Peace Camp Trail, 1984

Peace camps were common in North America and across Europe in the early to mid 1980’s, and lately I’ve been wondering whether what we did back then would be possible in these times?

Those were the days when Mike Duffy was cool, Reagan and Andropov were facing off, and NATO was deploying short range nuclear missiles (the pershing and cruise) in England, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

In April 18, 1983, staid Ottawa was taken aback when the Peace Camp on Parliament Hill popped up to protest the testing of the cruise guidance system in Cold Lake, Alberta. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau got a kick out of us, a bunch of dedicated No Cruisers, and he let us stay. We would write NO CRUISE in the snow on the lawn of the Hill in big letters so when he looked out of his office window he was reminded. We slept under a tarp that covered a cardboard cruise Greenpeace Bob named Bruce. I wonder whatever happened to Bruce the cruise.  I have tons of stories about those days and the people we met.

My mother and grandmother figured I would benefit from getting away so they offered me a one way ticket to England, their home country. The same day Pierre took his long walk in the blizzard, February 29th, 1984, I flew to England.

Peace camps became my centre of gravity and I traveled to most of them. In England it was the Trident submarine camps and the cruise missile base at Greenham Common, the most famous and longest lasting peace camp.

In the Netherlands I traveled to Woendsdrecht, another cruise missile base. I happened to arrive at the time there was a big weekend action at the base with probably 16,000 people who divided themselves into two groups to camp out at the main gates. It was the first time I witnessed state violence and blood when one afternoon the mounted police charged protestors through the barley fields as if they were playing polo. I felt bad for the farmers.

I was walking alone around the base one day when suddenly a grey van drove up and soldiers dressed in grey with red berets jumped out and surrounded me, I suppose I looked Dutch with my blond braids. The first thing I thought of to say was , “Hi, how’s it going?”. Too funny. They stopped and looked at me, then jumped back in the van and drove away. Bizarre. Maybe they thought I was American and didn’t want a diplomatic incident?

My next stop was Mutlangen (near Schwabish Gmund) in Germany. This peace camp was called the Pressehutte and was in a renovated barn just up the road from a pershing missile base. It was a well organized cell, part of the German resistance against short range deployment and the American military presence generally. They also researched and published material.

The American army regularly took their pershing missiles on practice missions, 8-12 at a time. With or without warheads they neither confirmed nor denied.

One day Ronald Reagan was doing a radio show and during the check unbeknownst to him and the others in the room the mic was hot; he was on the air, “We start bombing in 5 minutes”, he joked. Only no one else knew he was joking.

American Command went on red alert. Nobody knew what to think or do. Afterwards the soldiers told me everybody was absolutely freaked out. Apparently that was the closest we came, at that point in time, to a nuclear exchange since the Bay of Pigs.

From Mutlangen I took a side trip to Comiso, Sicily, where there was another cruise missile base. I wonder now what the target from there was, maybe Libya? What’s interesting about Comiso is that the mafia gained position in the town because they were the contractors who built the American base.

Fortunately for me there were no computers in those days and I got nothing more than a warning letter to stay away from the areas of American military command (and a red flag by my name for a few years, I heard). When I got a second warning from my boyfriend, a soldier whose superior said that I should leave, or else, I called my mum for a ticket home.

After 10 months, there ended my Peace Camp adventures. Would the peace camp movement be allowed to exist today? I suppose the Occupy movement was comparable. Would young people be able to do what we did, to assemble freely, to watch, record and disseminate information about military maneuvers for public knowledge?

Did our presence make a difference? I know it did on a personal level. As far as the bigger picture, a soldier once told me it was like kicking a steel boot.

Welcome to Istanbul, Jan 14th, 2008.

I hadn’t lived in a city for more than 20 years. I’d worked in the clear cuts and forests of two islands in British Columbia: Haida Gwaii (population 2,000, or so), an island due south of Alaska, and Port McNeill on the north end of Vancouver Island (population 2,765, give or take). In 2005, I bid farewell to my Canadian life to work in rural Japan.

So it was that on January 14th, 2008, as the plane circled this sprawling city of 15 million+ and I saw the translucent brown pollution line on the horizon, I started to panic. The sparkling waters of the Marmara Sea, the Bosphorus and the Black Sea helped calm me down, “at least I would be near water”, I thought. ‘I can do this’ , I said to myself, “ it’s only a year.” Famous last words, it’s been 9. My mother told me later she bet I wouldn’t last 6 months.

I had been hired by Berlitz Istanbul to teach English as a Second Language and as is typical in this sector it’s always a leap of faith when you leave your country for a job in another one. Uncertainty is the rule rather than the exception. You’re moving to an unknown country to work for an unknown employer, hoping that everything you were promised will be. I was lucky.

At that point I wasn’t yet hardened to jet lag, so on the bus ride from the airport I was barely able to pry my eyes open from time to time. I caught glimpses of the ancient walls of the city and the seaside monumental trees as the Havas sped by.

When we got to our destination I was welcomed by the cacophony of Taksim square. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Before they built the tunnel, Taksim, one of the main arteries of the city, throbbed with action and movement. Motorbikes weaved in and out of traffic, buses, taxis, people, dogs. It was like a choreographed ballet of chaos. Could it be true? Was I really watching a dog waiting for the light to turn green? I would soon discover this was normal.

When I was a kid I used to look at Istanbul on the map with longing. The only city to bridge two continents, a byway of empires, merchants, and travellers. Turkey was the home of the first peace treaty, the first coins, St. Nicholas (Santa). It was Asia Minor. To go there was a fantasy, now it was my reality!

In my wanderings of the side streets and back roads I stumbled upon Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman relics, semi-ruins and monumental buildings. Your taxi takes a roundabout that has a Roman column as its centrepiece, a mysterious set of stairs takes you through a labyrinth of old workshops and traditional restaurants (lokanta), doorways lead into centuries old Hans turned into workshops or storage areas. People are friendly and you can overdose on tea.

It didn’t take me long to understand that empires and governments may come and they may go, and Istanbul will watch.

Canada: a figment of my imagination?

I’m starting to think Canada is a figment of my imagination. It’s really a land of answering machines and one way emails, and only a cosmic trick that when I call my mother she answers.

Trying to do business or contact the government to get information from overseas is an exercise in frustration. You’re blocked by the automated service that takes you from ‘press 1’ to press 5 and then back to 1 again, or you can leave a message but no one can return a Skype call. For some mysterious reason 1-800 to the government shows an American flag. What’s that all about?

Since I work in Turkey as a communications coach and do cross-cultural communications workshops, I figured I was in a good location to help with pre arrival English language and cultural awareness training for the in-coming Syrian refugees. Ready to fly to Beirut or Jordan to volunteer I emailed the Canadian Embassy in Ankara letting them know I was available. I also asked for a list of organizations they were working with who I could contact to see how I could help. The auto-reply was immediate. I’m still waiting for an answer to the follow-up emails and the message I left on their answering machine. Thinking I should go to the source I sent emails to the responsible Federal ministers. No answer. One would think they would pay someone to answer their emails.

I spend the summer months on the north end of Vancouver island. It takes ages to get even simple business done and sometimes I’m never able. I dread the process. I can spend hours in a day trying to find out information. Leave a message for a return call and maybe you’ll hear back in a week or two. Maybe.

Need to cold call an organization or agency? Forget it. Many Canadian NGO’s don’t supply a phone number on their websites. You can email info@ but they don’t answer either. Maybe if I offered to send money …

Why are Canadians putting up with this wall that has been incrementally built over the last half dozen years or more? Every year I’m amazed by how passively people are putting up with the reduction in services and an automated government. The feds seem to forget that government is a social enterprise, not an experiment in cutting costs. It’s not a business it’s a society.

Applying for a job? Don’t hold your breath because you’ll never hear back. You want to call to get feedback on your resume? Forget it.  Want to cold call to find out about an area of work? Good luck.  We have created a merry-go-round system.

It’s not normal, it’s not progress, it’s regress.

Syrians are coming from communities where you could get things done, get what you needed and if you couldn’t, find someone who would help you. Now they’ve moved to a country where there’s an automated wall between the people and the state. Where basic decency of a response is gone. One would think it was a country of hundreds of millions rather than 33.

Stress (Jan 6th)

I enjoy my work, I love Istanbul city-life; at least once a day I meet random interesting people, regularly see random acts of kindness (my favourite thing to watch), so stress has been a stranger to me for quite awhile. I react to it by drinking too much coffee, smoking to many cigarettes and not eating.

It’s been so long since I felt that monster I’d forgotten the symptoms until I’d going through half of my third pack in a week, was finishing my second pot of strong arabic coffee and my stomach was churning from lack of food.  Oh yeah, I remember this.

The American style attack inside Reina on New Years Eve hit me hard. Not only because I’ve been there, but how could a man armed with a kalishnakov walk into a 500tl ($200) person event and start shooting for 7 minutes? And get away  with the police station 200m up the road? That changed things for me.  My friend lost 2 friends in Reina and his uncle in Syria on that day.

And twitter is poisoned by sickos celebrating it and debating the merits.  UGH!

The other day I was on the ferry and started thinking about all the things I’d left unfinished, stories unwritten, ideas unspoken. I wondered what my death would do to my mother, my daughter;  for my grandkids to vaguely remember their grandma as they grow up. I’ve lost interest in old family arguments and tensions and started thinking about the people who I should get in touch with just in case.

Do people get a feeling before they meet their end or are they just walking down the street when boom. Then I gave my head a shake out of the melancholy.

Hold on a minute – didn’t I want to be a foreign correspondent in my younger days? I”ll never forget Ann Medina reporting from Beirut, the city burning behind her. She was so cool; I wanted to be her.  The excitement of reporting on the front.  I thought of Rick Micinnes Raye’s Dispatches, the gold of CBC radio.  Now I’m here.   Be careful what you wish for it may fall in your lap.

In about half an hour I’ll be taking an alternate route to Osmanbey avoiding the security disaster-in-waiting that is Taksim tunnel.  Tomorrow I cross the Bosphorus Bridge.

And life goes on as normal.  Until next time.