Friday, February 15, 2008

Turkey: After Headscarves, What's Next?

"What will happen now that the turban is permitted? [turban: "a specific, nontraditional type of headwear that arose in Turkey during the early 1980s after first appearing in other Muslim countries. The turban exposes no hair and, unlike the other scarves, covers part of the face."] Conditions in much of Istanbul and the West will not change much. In low-tolerance areas, however, things will be different. In rural central Turkey, women may feel uncomfortable without the turban, and in the southeast women will feel compelled to wear them. Instead of resolving the issue, lifting the turban ban will create a new problem for the many Turkish women who choose to not wear the turban. These women will be under social pressure to conform to the new practice of "virtuous living."
In order to resolve this issue, the AKP must convince the Turkish population that it is ready to protect women who do not wear the turban and that it is genuinely interested in women's freedom. For instance, the AKP could pass legislation protecting women who do not cover their heads as well as those who do. According to a recent poll, 10 percent of women who cover their heads are forced to do so by their families and husbands. What is more, to assure secular Turks that it is not a single-issue party, the AKP should pass the turban legislation as part of a package of freedoms and liberties towards European Union (EU) accession -- lately, the party has shied away from EU reforms. Third, the AKP should allow more room for debate; the amendments passed after only three weeks of public discussion.
In the absence of these steps, Turkey will not necessarily become a fundamentalist state overnight, but it will become a country in which one symbol of religious practice -- the turban -- will become universally enforced in many areas. Religious homogenization will ensue, resulting in court interventions and counter-protests by secular Turks. What lies ahead for Turkey is a period of soul-searching and, unfortunately, political turmoil, until the country settles on a new balance between religion and politics."

Soner Cagaptay,, February 13, 2008

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The claim that not much will change in Istanbul and the West can be contested. These places too will see a lot of friction; self-segregation, designated neighborhoods for different choices can be expected. Also, it is not like such hasn't so far happened. It is happening already. Cab drivers refusing rides to uncovered women... New leasees adviced to move elsewhere due to uncovered wives... High-school girls in school uniform skirts attacked by acid (on the exposed legs)... Just a couple of recent incidents reported to have occured in Istanbul and Mersin. More of it is certain to come.