Headscarved women want freedom for all

A group of more than 600 women wearing headscarves, including some well-known journalists, authors and rights activists, have signed a declaration calling for freedoms for all segments of society, not just for women wearing the headscarf.

Headscarved women want freedom for all
The declaration comes amidst a heated debate on a constitutional package putting an end to a nearly two-decade-old headscarf ban on university campuses. Secularists think removing the ban will damage the secularist qualities of Turkey, while pious women say they would like to be able to have access to education in the apparel they say their religion dictates. The government says the move is about religious freedom and meeting the demands of a pious electorate, and not a desire to topple the secular pillars of a nation of more than 70 million that is often praised as a model of coexistence between Islam and democracy.

Some journalists and authors wearing the headscarf such as Nihal Bengisu Karaca and Sibel Arslan as well as Today's Zaman journalist Fatma Dişli are among the signatories of the document, which calls for freedoms for all living in Turkey.

The declaration, titled "We are not yet emancipated," reads, "As women who have been discriminated against for covering our heads we hereby announce with all our sincerity that we will not be content with entering university campuses with our headscarves on."

"Until the day that the legal and psychological circumstances of the country allow Kurds and all groups who have turned into 'others' in this country feel like fundamental elements of society; until the day the real organizers of brutal murders are found; until there is legislation to put an end to legal cases involving charges related to [penal code Article] 301; until those who spinelessly sit on the properties belonging to minority foundations; until the insistence on considering Alevis' form of worship a cultural activity and considering their places of worship culture centers disappears; until our friends dismissed from universities with groundless excuses can return to school; until the authoritarian mentality stops telling us when, where and how to cover our heads; until the Higher Education Board (YÖK), which stands as the biggest obstacle in the way of the scientific autonomy of our universities, is abolished; until a new civil constitution replaces the Sept. 12 coup d'état constitution so that no part of the latter remains, we will not be content. No freedom is true freedom in the real sense of the word until the tyrannical mentality that plays us against each other by spreading the fear that we are a threat to one another is completely eliminated."

"As people who know what it means to have one's freedoms restricted, we will be against all sorts of discrimination, rights violations, oppression and coercion," notes the declaration.

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which recently promoted a bill adopted a week ago in Parliament to put an end to the university scarf ban, has been criticized for dragging its feet on other reforms that would provide more freedoms to other groups in the country, such as the Kurds, Alevis, and writers and authors who have been charged under penal code Article 301, which criminalizes "denigrating Turkishness," as well as the rights of non-Muslim foundations whose property was taken from them by the state decades ago. The government passed the scarf bill swiftly in Parliament, but that pace has not been reflected in other European Union-related reforms.

European politicians have stated similar concerns. "I wish the government would invest the same amount of energy and resolve for political reforms," Joost Lagendijk, the co-chairman of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Commission, said last week in an interview with Today's Zaman. "There is a concern in Europe that the headscarf will distract the government's attention and create an excuse to slow down an already slow process of political reforms. The government should push for reforms on the very well known areas. I tell them the 'headscarf is now okay, push for the other'."

Lagendijk, a fervent supporter of Turkey's membership in the EU, also sounded alarm bells, saying the AK Party risks losing credibility in the EU due to its repeated failure to keep reform promises. "Europeans are beginning to think that the AK Party received a huge mandate at the elections and should now deliver. If the reforms do not come, I am afraid the idea of 'hidden agenda' will surface again," he said, referring to criticism from the AK Party's staunchly secularist critics at home, who accuse it of having a "secret Islamic agenda" veiled by its reform drive.

Today's Zaman
Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Şubat 2008, 12:39