Islam and the Great Turkish Headscarf War

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  • Topic: Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Islam
  • Pages : 10 (3675 words )
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  • Published : December 8, 2012
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From The Times
July 18, 2008
Islam and the great Turkish headscarf war
Turkey's increasingly Islamic Government wants to relax a ban on the Muslim headscarf as traditional secularists fight to maintain it - and Turkish women are caught in the crossfire.

Mrs Hayrunisa Gul, wife of the Turkish president
Janice Turner
Faith Central: Miss Muslim Headscarf competition
Zeynep tugs the knitted cotton hat down over her headscarf. “Secular!” she says. Then she pulls off the hat, leaving just the orange fabric around her pale, earnest face. “Now, not secular!” I'm relieved that she is laughing, sees the funny side of having to look like a Smurf to complete her MA in history. The headscarf war in Turkey is so grave and bitterly entrenched that it has brought angry millions onto the streets. It is why the country's constitutional court this month decides whether the democratically elected AKP Government should be removed from office. A square of coloured silk may yet cause a military coup. Even so, the code that dictates what Turkish women may or may not stick on their heads when they study at universities or take government jobs has a comic absurdity. In the wig shops that have sprung up across Istanbul, the Christina Aguilera-ish blonde dos are worn by the clubbers and transvestites who party in bars around polyglot Taksim Square, but the bestselling model is a mouse-brown, fringed bob of synthetic hair, bought in the thousands every September by devout Muslim girls, to be pulled from bags and on to heads to replace the scarves that must be removed before they can pass through college doors. Turkey, always a gateway between Europe and Asia, is the nexus of our most fervent global dialogues: East v West, secularism v religion, state v the individual. Turkey poses the question: can an Islamic nation be truly democratic? And how the West longs for an affirmative answer. In the middle, strafed by ideological crossfire, dragged between camps and paraded by each in triumph like Helen of Troy, is the Turkish woman. Who has control over her body? The imams, the State or the woman? It is best to be honest and say that, as a Western, secular feminist, I abhor the headscarf. In London, I feel anger and dismay at eight-year-old British Muslim girls in hijab. If this is an act of sexual propriety, why is it now so often extended to prepubescent children, other than to render women hamstrung and invisible, almost from birth? Loose clothing, the covering of legs and arms, I can better understand. The invocation to Western women to look perpetually “hot” and up-for-it is depressing, too. -------------------------------------------------

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But the head is the site of our brains, our faces, our individuality. To cover it in public implies sublimation, a need to be hidden, disregarded, subordinate to male authority under the guise of religious observance. The degree to which women are covered in any Muslim country is a reliable index of their oppression. In this I am in accord with the Turkish secular republic founded by Mustafa Kemel Atatürk, who 80 years ago, in...
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