hijab as political symbol

The headscarf ban in Turkey has been partially lifted, marking a significant step away from the secularist legacy of Kemal Attaturk:

Turkey's parliament voted on Saturday to lift a ban on female students wearing the Muslim headscarf at university, a landmark decision that some Turks say will undermine the foundations of the secular state.

Parliament, where the ruling centre-right AK Party has a big majority, approved the constitutional amendments by 411 votes to 103.
The headscarf issue cuts to the heart of Muslim but secular, Western-oriented Turkey's complex identity.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party, which has Islamist roots, says the headscarf ban is an unfair denial of individual rights and religious liberty in a European Union candidate country where two thirds of women cover their heads.

Erdogan's own wife and daughters wear the headscarf as do those of President Abdullah Gul and many AK Party ministers.

But Turkey's old secular elite, which includes the judiciary, university rectors and army generals, regards the headscarf ban as crucial for maintaining a strict separation of state and religion.

Opponents of the hijab argue it is a slippery slope towards "Islamic" rule, but since the hijab is clearly a statement of free speech in the Turkish context (unlike in Saudi Arabia, where it is a symbol of oppression), denying it is arguably on the slippery slope towards oppression as well. Given Turkey's secularist background, the dangers of a slide into Islamic rule are slim, whereas maintaining such strict bans is probably what gave the Islamic parties in parliament their life to begin with. The people of Turkey are muslim, regardless of the elite's secularist tastes. Trying to oppress that identity only serves to strengthen it in opposition and resistance. Providing it the outlets it needs is the best way to tame it towards more useful channels. It isn't the Islamic political parties arguing you cant be Turkish and muslim at the same time.


Nightstudies said...

I think that by the time you have a nominally Islamic party in power and the sky hasn't fallen, there's little problem with getting rid of the ban.

Having a moderate Islamic party in power is a strong bulwark against less moderate Islamist power - the danger, if it exists comes from within the party not from without.

The only problem left with the hijab is as a symbol of the oppression of women, that it becomes a slippery slope, where women are forced to wear it, and everyone knows that it is coercion that's symbolized, not freedom of expression.

When so many Muslim women are oppressed the world over, when so many are coerced, the hijab can't be a purely harmless symbol. It will always carry a double edge.

Nightstudies said...

I think the political meaning of hijab was different in Turkey than in France by the way.

In France they wanted to remove it because they wanted to promote the idea that French citizens lack distinctions, that everyone is French. It's interesting because they don't succeed in that sort of thing as well as the US does.

But the US had "melting pot" policies for the first couple of centuries that were similar - children were encouraged, in school, to assimilate culturally. It was an odd message, both that assimilation is a simple choice that anyone, even a child, can make, but also that not assimilating is shameful.

Both aspects of that policy were entirely conscious.

After WWII there as a generation that also grew up with policies that tried to encourage children to trust each other and be social - this was a response to a fear that WWII had traumatized families and their children.

Sometimes I think that the 60's were the result of a generation more cohesive to each other than to their families.

I don't know much about Turkey, but I think the hijab ban was meant as both as a symbol that the government supports a modernized attitude toward women, and to demoralize the Islamists, demonstrating their powerlessness.

It seems illiberal, but perhaps the forced break in Islamist power was necessary, otherwise there would have been no room at all for other ideas.

One can only look around at how Islamic clerics, how Sharia, lead to injustice everywhere that they gain power to see that there is utility in taking whatever steps are necessary to put some bulwark between Islam and political authority.

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