01 April, 2010

One nation - under secularism?

One of the things i found so interesting about my Turkish friends back in the states - and hence one of the things that impelled me to choose Turkiye as a destination - i think i've mentioned before. It is the sense of contested identity, of living a contradiction, that comes of a culture on the bridge between two continents, but more importantly, a culture collectively walking the internal tightrope between Islamic and western worldviews.

As you may already know, Turkiye has sought admission into the E.U. for several years, and negotiations continue to unfold. Particularly thorny issues are the trial of authors and journalists for "insulting turkishness"; the absence of freedom of religion; the ongoing occurence of "honor killings" in eastern provinces; and of course, Turkiye's official unwillingness to validate the alleged Armenian genocide of 1915 (an event, it is worth noting, which occurred during the last crumbling years of Ottoman rule, before the founding of the modern Turkish Republic).

Wait, did i just say no freedom of religion? Indeed. Since the abolition of the Caliphate in 1923, the Turkish government has taken some strong measures to limit Islamic expression, for example forbidding headscarves in federal buildings and, at times, schools. In those instances when center or left-leaning parties have allowed identifiable Islamic influence into government, the army has seized control - the last coup took place in 1980. The guiding doctrine of the republic has for nearly nine decades been an evolution of Atatürk's philosophy, known as Kemalism. And this guiding doctrine is as controversial in Turkiye as the statement "one nation, under god" is in America.

It is as though Turks and Americans ask the same fundamental question - where do we draw the line between personal faith and public policy? What, if any, level of religious expression is appropriate in government? That question, it may be noted, is complicated by the fact that neither Islam or Christianity, as they are most often expressed, is truly personal in nature. Religion is a social form inasmuch as it engenders collective purpose; where two or more are gathered together, politics are undeniably present.

A fellow American student, chronicling his travels for the Santa Barbara Independent, dedicated his February 9th column to Turkiye's separation of church and state, and for the trouble he got some quick misinterpretations. Even i balked at the opening paragraph: "Finding overt religion in modern western democracies takes …[an] inquisitive eye. … Never do we mix business with friendship, nor do we allow religion to pervade the spheres of politics or law." One need look no further than inaugural pageant or examine the battle over same-sex marriage to find ample evidence to the contrary.

I suppose what he meant to say is that in the U.S.A., our guiding values emphasize and prescribe separation, though we do not always achieve it. By contrast, such separation is a radical goal Turkiye has nearly achieved in the face of a near-east culture where separation, as a value, is a decidedly foreign concept. It is a tenuous achievement at best. Two articles well worth reading - one by a Turk calling for "Kemalism ...to be disarmed", and another by an Irish columnist attacking Turkiye's EU aspirations - elucidate sentiments from within and without. Too much, or not enough?

As relatively young nations, ours are remarkably similar. They both struggle - perhaps more directly and articulately than other nations - with the same question. Without a history as deeply fraught with church-rule as France or Spain, without their five hundred years of rather brutal decision; without the far east's nondeterminist malleability, we continue to negotiate between those two taboo topics of dinner discussion. Though Turkiye and the U.S.A. begin professing different creeds, in both a ferment of opinion and action frustrate achieving any definable balance. I've been mulling for days over the right way to express this, and all i can come up with is this: Turkiye is as secular a nation as America is a Christian one. Reality is imprecise in such matters.

31 March, 2010

Group woes

Dear readers, i beg your indulgence. This is the first post i've chosen to make that adresses not the grand everyday discoveries of a timid traveler, but the inner battles and frustrations of a flawed human - in hopes that you can lend a certain insight. Please see "comment" below the post...really.

One of the reasons chose to take an Organizational Behavior class was the fact that i commonly find myself in groups, taking a leadership role - but i have few real leadership skills. And somehow the passion and motivation i brought to the group unfailingly fizzles.

In this class' term project - which is a "team" project - i am perhaps the most motivated group member besides the girl who invited me to join. However, my urging the group to invest even the slightest effort into the project seems to be in vain. Take for example the repeated suggestion that a textbook chapter be read before writing interview questions - or attempting to rewrite questions - so that a basic connection can be established between our research agenda and  the theories described in the text. Six weeks later, they have yet to read the chapter.

My motivation stems from a sense of pride in accomplishment. It is the founding motivation i bring to any project, until the force of frustration within a given project - particularly frustration with a lack of collaborative effort - wears it out.

Take for example the great opportunity i had working with an agricultural researcher making videos to document for the public his research on the Weedmaster, a new tool for small farmers. Weeks after we shot the videos, they were mostly edited - the biggest missing piece was a bit of discourse on the data we had gathered, something my professor said he wanted to add, and narration, which we had both agreed would work best if his was the narrating voice. With other priorities on his plate, finding the time to work together, or to procure images of the Weedmaster's inventor which i had requested long before, never happened. Without the material i needed to finish the project, the longer i waited, the less i was motivated. (Eric, if you read this, please note i accept full responsibility for my own failure to follow through; i'm just describing how the perceptual experience of frustration dampens any momentum i started with.)

A similar problem occured when i accompanied another researcher on a trip to Quebec. When i expressed that, as a videographer and editor, what i needed to produce good quality clips of the trip would be focused sound bytes in interview format, she promised to assist me in taking workshop participants aside and interviewing them. When we returned from Quebec, however, 90% of the footage i had was simply of our hosts talking at the group, impossible to tell a story with, useful mainly for archival purposes. Trying to find useful footage, i fell asleep in front of the monitor. The project remained unfinished when i left for Turkiye, and i fear in disappointing these two researchers - professors, employers, and friends - i may have injured a very good and promising working relationship.

I am at a loss with how to work in such situations. Sure, it's easy to say "knuckle down and make the best of it". But in the case of this OB term project, if the group doesn't come to meetings prepared, why should i lose sleep? Though the term project is over thirty percent of the course grade, all that will show up on my UMaine transcript is a pass or fail - and i only need six credits to graduate. I can afford to fail, academically speaking; it won't hurt me a bit. I could back out of the project completely, in fact. The only thing i will lose - and the thing that matters most - is the opportunity to grow through it. Dammit, why do the things that matter most to me always have to be the ones that don't matter on the balance sheet or the transcript?

See, what i really want right now is to explore Turkiye, not to fight personal-growth inner battles that express themselves as disputes with unmotivated classmates.

Once again, readers, i welcome your insight and lemonade recipes.