The dispute in Turkey reminds us of the importance of allowing 'others' emotional depth.
Just as a flag is not merely a swatch of material – stars, stripes, sickles – a scarf is no longer a piece of silk. Turkey is set to repeal its longstanding scarf ban in university settings – setting off a firestorm of controversy about class conflict, human rights, and the rise of Islam in a country fearful of religious influence.
Secular Turks, outraged that religious Muslim women may soon sport their head scarves in even elite urban schools, have resorted to demeaning their fellow citizens. As Turkish political philosophy professor, Atilla Yayla, told The New York Times, the secular Turks "don't encounter them [the religious Turks] as human beings.... They want them to evaporate, to disappear as fast as possible."
The developing story in Turkey of its heated head scarf dispute is an important reminder to us all. Conflict, especially internecine, grows dangerous when dehumanization begins.
It is one thing to disagree about the appropriateness of religious symbols in public places, to debate and be divided on the necessity of separation of church and state – or in this case, mosque and school – but it is another thing entirely to deny the humanity of a group of people.
We see the beginning of this process emerging in Turkey; dehumanization is so often incubated in callous language, in angry labeling, in base and unfair generalizations. We see the end of this process in the tragic examples of Rwanda, Bosnia, the Middle East, and even in the fates of America's hate-crime victims Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, among many others....
We will not, ultimately, be protected by laws or bombs. We will only be protected by the continued fight against dehumanization in all its myriad forms, and the renewed effort to focus on developing emotional awareness and empathy in our children and in ourselves. A flag is not just a flag. A scarf is not just a scarf. And a human heart, well it is most certainly not just an organ. It is our fiercest weapon against annihilation, and our most inspired ally toward creating a more peaceful world. [Link]
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