Turkish women protesting shariah laws and headscrafs 
Ozer Aksoy

*VP of The Turkish World Congress, 821 United Nations Plaza,New York,NY USA*

Headscarf is more than a piece of cloth: Pinned carefully to conceal the
neck, throat and hair, Islamic headscarf has become the unmistakable symbol
of political Islam. This is why secular people have been insisting on
keeping it out of the universities and government institutions, as the
secular laws require.

I read Mark Mackinnon’s article “Traditional head scarf unveils new rifts in
Turkey” (Globe, July 22, 2008) with interest. There seems to be a chaos
of concepts€  ’·and I mean it in the nicest possible way€  ’·involving the
dichotomies secularism and Islam, modern law and Islamic canon (Sharia,)
the elites and the uneducated, the periphery and the center, black Turks and
white Turks, old guard versus Islamic reformers, and more. I urge your
readers to gain a deeper understanding of dichotomies before jumping into
evaluating the recent issues about Turkey. Let’s see if I can shed some
light on all this.

While the Christian world is inherently endowed with separation of Church
and State, thanks to the age of enlightenment in history, the Islamic world
continues to treat democracy and secularism as opposite sides of a coin.
Most Muslim countries today still enshrine in their constitutions the
Shariah which is not compatible with secularism or democracy. Turkey, on the
other hand, with its 99 percent Muslim population, was founded in 1923 as a
secular republic. Thus, the development of democracy in Turkey was built on
sound secular foundations. Secularism is not “being opposed to religion”.
It reflects a profound respect for all faiths as secularism guarantees
individual freedoms while rejecting superiority of one faith over another.
If Turkey’s secular foundations are demolished, then its democratic
structure will soon collapse. What does the AKP representative in your
story say to that?

The Turkish population and governments since 1923 had always been basically
pro-Western, although some 5 -7 % of the voters, mostly from various
religious circles, seemed to always oppose any degree of Westernization.
The 1979 Iranian revolution had a considerable impact in the entire Muslim
world. In addition, some Middle Eastern countries (like Saudi Arabia) tried
very hard to export their version of Islam and provided financial support to
various Islamic circles in Turkey. Combined, these two causes resulted in a
religious explosion: publishing companies started popping up, Islamic
publications multiplied, mosques began to appear on every corner and soon
turned into centers for enforcing Islamic lifestyle. Women were “trained”
and sent to every Turkish low-income household to influence and instruct
other women. Koranic courses were organized to brainwash children at an
early age. High school and university students were financially and
unconditionally supported. Public demonstrations were staged demanding
female students to enter university with Islamic attire, including the
headscarves. The religious press stressed that women should also cover up
all of their body parts. Most of the militant female university students
were well paid and insisted to attend classes dressed in chador (a dark
traditional garment that covers head to toe.) They were supported by
Islamic extremist male school mates and lawyers. All this, while the Koran
only suggests but does not order women to cover their hair. Most in the
media supported Islamic women university students without knowing that those
students wearing head scarves were hired. (Fatma Benli in your story
reminded me of this.)

Erdogan’s government started to chip away at the secular system since 2002.
Today, the big picture is not as innocent as some in western press portray:
there are 67, 000 secular schools versus 85,000 mosques. Compare the
77,000 doctors trying desperately to dispense good health to 75 million
Turkish citizens, with 90,000 well-paid religious appointees (or imams)
happily dispensing faith at state’s (taxpayers’) expense. While there is a
single hospital serving 60,000 persons in Turkey, there is no problem
finding a mosque for every 350 people. There are 1,435 public libraries all
over Turkey, but 3,852 Koran courses. The budget of the Religious Affairs is
equal to the cost of 22 universities. The Erdogan government
encourages his supporters (and their companies) to stimulate the Islamic way
of life around them. Growing number of hotels and municipalities have
already built segregated swimming pools, the head-to-ankle swimsuit for
women and “hasema” for men. Secular advertisements aimed at women have been
photo-shopped by some newspapers to lengthen sleeves and skirts of the
models in photos. Some hotels and restaurants have stopped serving
alcohol. There are reports of alcohol licenses being refused and internet
porn sites being banned. And imams€  ’· Islamic preachers employed by
government€  ’·continue to fire at will at women who dare to go out and work for
an honest living.

Equally disturbing is the various forms of public pressure put on women for
not having dressed more “Islamic” or for sharing the public space with men.
Islamic press insist that it is not appropriate for male doctors to examine
female patients, and vice versa. Some medical students tried hard to apply
these Sharia rules in Turkey, but were stopped by the secular establishment.
All of the examples mentioned above are straight from the playbook of Iran
and Saudi Arabia. As we watch official Islamization programs in Malaysia,
Morocco, Algeria, Indonesia, and Iran, we can clearly see how these once
“Islamic countries” turned into “Islamic states.” In each case, women
first were ordered to cover-up their heads and bodies, and systematic
changes in daily lifestyles were gradually instituted after that. Sounds

Headscarf is more than a piece of cloth: Pinned carefully to conceal the
neck, throat and hair, Islamic headscarf has become the unmistakable symbol
of political Islam. This is why secular people have been insisting on
keeping it out of the universities and government institutions, as the
secular laws require. If still in doubt, the reader should know that the
Turkish PM recently made a public statement saying something to the effect
“€  ’¥So what if the headscarf is a political symbol?..”. This statement
reveals his intentions and also those of his political Islamic party. The
European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of the prohibition of head
scarves in Turkish universities in November 2005, commenting that “the head
scarf appeared to be imposed on women by a religious precept that was hard
to reconcile with the principle of gender equality”. The Turkish
Constitutional Court also overturned a law, engineered by the Islamist AKP
that would have allowed women in the secular republic to wear Muslim
headscarves in universities. The Western world does not seem to be aware
of the immediate and serious threat posed to women’s rights in Turkey.
There is not a single example of a Muslim country where women’s rights have
advanced one iota after religion has been politicized.

The alternative to religious extremism is not military coup d’etat. I do
not justify a military intervention such as that of April 27th, 2008.
However desirable it may be to preserve Atat€  ürk’s secular legacy, that
should not come at the expense of overriding the normal process and
institutions of democracy.

Plainly put, therefore, head scarf is men’s tyranny over women. Any attempt
to justify this direct and brutal assault on women’s rights, whether in the
name of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, or other principles,
is simply taking part in this tyranny.

* Ozer Aksoy*
** http://www.turkishf content/2008/ 07

*VP of The Turkish World Congress, 821 United Nations Plaza,New York,NY USA*


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