Are the Turkish protests alienating the headscarf wearing population ?

One of the Turkish Prime Minister’s tactics for discrediting the protestors in Gezi Park and elsewhere has been to accuse them of rekindling discrimination towards practicing Muslims which he, Erdoğan, has been combatting since he’s been in power. One claim he made was that protestors entered a Mosque with their shoes one and proceeded to drink beer inside. This has been denied very publically by the Imam of that Mosque, who welcomed protestors inside for their safety, while they were being attacked by the police, and to care for the injured. There is supporting filmed evidence of what he says. The imam was questioned by the police for six hours and subsequently suspended.

Another recurrent piece of rhetoric in the same vein is the Prime Minister’s claim the protestors are ‘insulting his covered sisters’. One story being told is of a young woman carrying a child was urinated on and had her headscarf pulled off by protestors in in Dolmabahçe in Istanbul. Whether this really did happen has not been, to the best of my knowledge, established. On the other hand, some of the denials do sound like the sort of denials one might expect whenever a woman testifies to an assault, so one should be very weary of dismissing the story. (There is one article in Turkish refering to the young woman’s testimony). Be that as it may, the incident quickly became part of the anti-protests rhetoric, together with the manifestedly false accusations relating to the Mosque.

But not all headscarf wearing women chose to take this story as evidence that the protests were not for them. One famously replied to the Prime Minister’s tweet that he should not use the ‘headscarf issue’ to win the protests, and that, like many, she’d had enough of his lies.

Are secular women and muslim women divided by what is happening ? Should we worry that practicing muslim women’s voices will not be heard and that they will, as a result, end up being oppressed ? True, one might worry that as was the case before the AKP came to power, their freedom to wear a head scarf in universities and public buildings might be taken away – and this would be a bad thing.

But so far, this has not figured on the list of the protestors demands, or even complaints. One thing to bear in mind is that the protestors are of a later generation than those who were in favour of the headscarf bans ten years ago. Indeed, one of the famous protesters, the iconic standing man, staged a different protest a few years ago, wearing a headscarf to university in support of women who wanted to but could not.

But more significantly, women seem to be standing together:a group of secular women has just launched a campaign for the support of covered women’s rights to participate in politics wearing their headscarves if they so wish. Nicole Pope of Today’s Zaman writes :

A group of 57 female journalists, academics and intellectuals, among them Amberin Zaman, Nilüfer Göle and Balçiçek Ilter, have just launched a new campaign in favor of women wearing the headscarf, urging political parties to “lift all legal and non-legal obstacles” that prevent them from becoming parliamentary deputies, being elected at national and local level and generally participating fully in public life.

The campaign and its implications are described in the article, here

6 thoughts on “Are the Turkish protests alienating the headscarf wearing population ?

  1. This is a question rather than a comment–honestly for information. What does ‘secular’ mean in a Muslim context? Does it mean being an atheist? Within Christendom, one can be ‘secular’ to the extent that one opposes religious influence in the public square or is non-observant, not a churchgoer, without being an atheist–without rejecting the metaphysics. And likely lots of Americans fall into this category.

    But Islam, as I understand it, isn’t heavily theological but understood in terms of practice and moral agenda. So do you have ‘secular Muslims’ who don’t ‘practice,’ who are non-observant, but buy at least something of the metaphysics? I mean, does ‘secular’ mean atheist? I’m really just asking, if anyone knows–no agenda here. I’d want to know the same thing for the same reasons when I read about ‘secular’ Israeli Jews for much the same reason. Does this mean they’re atheists?

    I know this is a naive question. But I’m shameless–and curious. And I repeat, because paranoid, not grinding any axe.

  2. Secularism in Turkey is the separation of state and religion. One very significant manifestation of it is the prohibition of religious practices in schools, university and other public spaces – so no headscarves for women. But a secular Turk can be a practicing Muslim who makes certain compromises in public spaces. It’s harder for women, of course, to keep their religious practice private, if they cover. One reason why secularism is particularly important in Turkey is that one alternative is Sharia law.

  3. Cuts at different joints, which is why it’s puzzling, and why we need to understand without stuffing it all into our indigenous categories.

  4. I also wanted to add that the Imam from the mosque has been transferred to another mosque. Often these kinds of transfers have been used as a means of punishing those who have “displeased” the authorities.

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