As a woman born and raised in Turkey, I always felt fortunate to live in a country that is both Muslim and secular – giving me the right to choose how I would like to practice my believes. Unfortunately, the global Islamic fundamentalism also is affecting Islam in Turkey. The core concept of Islam – tolerance – is being overridden more and more by the concept of Jihad.
The head-scarf issue has been placed at the political center of the Islamist parties in Turkey – and they use it as a litmus test to see how far they can push the Turkish political system and the predominantly secular society to accept their world vision. Only after the Islamists made a political symbol out of the head-scarf, has the wearing of it become an issue. Turkish women for centuries have and are covering their head, and are free to do so.
But Turkish university campuses were wrought with violence and division across political lines for many decades. Violence among different political groups’ student body extensions has cost the lives of dozens of students back in the ’60s, the late ’70s and early ’80s. The style of one’s mustache even was grounds enough for being attacked by some extremists either on the far left or far right wing political camps. Classes were interrupted, exams halted, professors beaten and deans’ offices stormed by students – this is the recent history of politics on Turkish university campuses.
Based on this experience, nobody should be surprised if authorities are alert about displays of political ideology, and if the head-scarf has become precisely that. Nobody else but the Islamic parties in Turkey, who are riding this issue only for political gains, can be blamed for it.
Moreover, it is laughable that Muslim women protest Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country where women have enjoyed the greatest rights and equality in front of law and society than in any other Muslim nation. It is hypocritical that these women protest only when the rights of Muslim women who share their set of beliefs are affected, and that they have the audacity to dress it up as “women’s rights” or “human rights.”
If they are sincere, they would also protest when Saudi women are not allowed to drive and are beaten by the police for showing their ankles, Algerian girls and women are executed by fundamentalists because they were NOT wearing the head-scarf, Sudanese women are mutilated by female circumcision, and scores of Muslim women all around the Islamic world are intimated, coerced and brainwashed into submission as second-class citizens by a mainly male-dominated society. This is not the Islam that Turks believe represents the true religion and the version widely believed in Turkey.
As a Turkish Muslim woman who does not believe she has to cover her head, face or body to be respected by men and to be protected by society as a human being, I strongly support secularism and I object to the exploitation of religion by political parties anywhere. I sincerely hope that this “freedom of choice” in Turkey spreads to all other Muslim nations. I also deplore my fellow students for their one-sided perspective on an issue that goes to the heart of reform in Islam and the rights of Muslim women.
-The writer is a vice president of the Turkish Student Association.