Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Headscarves in Turkey's Parliament

Since Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's approach to religion in public life has much more resembled France's aggressive secularism than the Anglo-American model of inclusion without endorsement.  A key sign of this has been the ban on headscarves in government offices.  For the devout they are required by modesty and a sign of faith, but for the Kemalists who reacted most strongly against the late Ottoman Islamo-centric policies of Sultan Abdulhamid II, they were a dangerous sign of reversion to what they saw as a primitive an unenlightened age.  That is why the fact Turkey now has four head-scarf wearing MPs is a big deal:
All four were members of Parliament in Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) list. They were elected without their heads covered because women with headscarves were not accepted as candidates by political parties after a major conflict in Parliament back in 1999, when a deputy, Merve Kavakçı, came to the opening session wearing a headscarf. She was denied ground following protests led by former Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, who claimed the move would violate the secularist principles of the Turkish state...
Erdoğan has just issued a decree and freed the use of the headscarf for public servants (with the exception of the military, police, prosecutors and judges). Followed by that major step, woman deputies within the AK Parti started to talk about wearing headscarves in parliamentary sessions. It was the pilgrimage season and some of them already covered their hair after visiting the Kaabah in Mecca, uncovering it during their working hours in Parliament.
In a sign of how much Turkey's political culture has changed under the AKP, the leader of the Kemalist party expressed support for breaking this taboo, albeit to the disgruntlement of many backbenchers.  The Kurdish party also supported the idea that people should be free to dress based on what they believed.  That said, the Kemalists have also made the point that the AKP should remember the value of freedom for those who are not conservative Muslims.  Glad to hear it, and I hope they remember their experiences in the minority whenever they regain power.



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