One of the most interesting figures opposing the “Hat Law” was İskilipli Mehmed Âtıf Hodja, an Islamic scholar who made a name for himself in Istanbul’s Darü’l-fünun Divinity School. In an influential pamphlet, “The Imitation of the West and the Hat,” he argued that it was absurd for Muslims to try to dress like Westerners. Mehmed Âtıf’s pamphlet was seen as particularly toxic by state officials who gave orders to detain the scholar immediately. In December 1925 he was arrested and sent to an Independence Tribunal. During his inquisition, Mehmed Âtıf was pressured to repent for his views and at the end of his two-day long trial he was sentenced to death by hanging.
In Turkey today, the issue of what to wear or not to wear is once more on top of the political agenda. On June 5, 2008, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Turkish Parliament had violated the constitutional principle of secularism by lifting the headscarf ban in universities.
This article, however, is concerned with an earlier chapter in the biography of headgear. Considered an important tool by Mustafa Kemal in his attempts to modernize Turkish society, a new dress code was enacted in 1925 that required traditional headgear be replaced by the western hat. In subsequent days, 808 people were arrested for violating the law, 57 of whom were executed.
By this legislation of sartorial westernization the individual head became a political site, fusing social and political history in terms of identity construction. The motivations behind, reactions to, and consequences of the Hat Law were recorded in a variety of contemporary sources generated in different social areas. By integrating these images, it is possible to analyze and map the main tendencies of identity formation, a process that went beyond and above a dichotomous Orientalist discourse of East vs. West, revealing lines of conflict that continue to scar the face of modern Turkey.