About a week or so ago, I wrote a post entitled Islamism and Turkey â€“ The First Shoe Drops? In that post I wrote that ever since a party with deep Islamic roots has won a landslide victory in Turkey’s elections weâ€™ve wondered if the Islamists would try to re-establish a fundamentalist Islamic culture in Turkeyâ€™s secular society. It seems they have started when the Islamic-leaning prime minister called for lifting a ban on women wearing head scarves in universities.
A bus traveling from Samsun to Istanbul on September 2nd stopped at a mosque when passengers insisted on saying their daily prayers. Similar demands are heard all over Turkey, says Milliyet, a daily that was bombarded with hate mail from religious hotheads for reporting the Samsun case.
In another incident, Gulcan Kose, a 28-year-old divorcee who was wearing a knee-length tunic and leggings, was detained by Istanbul police for â€œindecent exposureâ€ as she stood with a fellow fisherman on the Galata bridge; she faces charges of resisting the authorities. Many restaurants that once served customers during the Ramadan fast no longer do so.
Recent incidents like these are not sitting well with Turkish secularists.
Turkey’s secularists feel cornered. Ataturk’s republic, some say, is becoming â€œanother Iranâ€. Their fears have grown since the Justice and Development (AK) party’s election victory in July and the subsequent elevation to the presidency, over the army’s objections, of Abdullah Gul, a former AK foreign minister. Mr Gul’s wife wears the Muslim headscarf, banned in government offices and schools.
Now Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, has said that the headscarf ban should be scrapped in universities. A new constitution planned by the AK to replace one written after the military coup of 1980 includes this change. Many fret that pressure on women to wear the veil, particularly in conservative areas, will intensify if it is allowed on campuses.
Let the Shariâ€™s nose into the tent and â€¦â€¦
Yesim Arat, a political scientist at Bosporus University who dislikes the headscarf ban, laments the use of the new constitution to repeal it. The headscarf is worn in keeping with Islam. â€œBy inserting it into the constitution you are forming law based on religious dictates,â€ Ms Arat says.
Some women are similarly spooked by the removal of a clause saying that the state is responsible for ensuring equality between the sexes.
It didnâ€™t take the Islamists long to start turning Turkey back towards the 7th century.
There is only one woman in Mr Erdogan’s cabinet. AK women, who played a big role in wooing voters, are now being sidelined: one of them, Ayse Bohurler, who opposed Mr Gul’s presidency, complained of being labelled â€œa bitchâ€ by male colleagues. And instead of trying to allay secular fears, Mr Erdogan has told critics to â€œshut up and mind your own business.â€
Yep. Sounds like Muslim respect for women to me. Donâ€™t it?
Mr Erdogan says he has no immediate plans to get rid of article 301 of the penal code, which was used to prosecute various writers, including Orhan Pamuk, for â€œinsulting Turkishnessâ€. But keeping article 301, say opponents, just confirms that AK is interested only in promoting Islam and defanging the army.
Has the shinning example of how a Muslim dominated nation can live free as a secular democracy seen its days? What will the EU do with Turkeyâ€™s application for membership? Will they let the Muslim camelâ€™s nose into the European tent.
Thatâ€™s yet to be seen.
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