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Turkey's head scarf ban prevents advance of Islamist agenda to undermine pluralism
11:24 PM ET


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Farzana Hassan [President, Muslim Canadian Congress]: "The Muslim Canadian Congress, in welcoming the decision of the Constitutional Court of Turkey to disallow the lifting of the ban on hijabs, viewed it as a significant triumph of secularism over repressive Islamist practices. The court recently ruled that amendments to the constitution by the ruling AKP in an effort to permit hijabs in universities would amount to rendering "nonfunctional the basic features of the republic." At the core of this decision is the recognition that the hijab continues to be a tool of oppression for Muslim women, severely undermining their right to express their faith in their own unique and personal way, if they so desire.

Faith and its expression must be a matter of personal choice rather than something that is handed down as a "categorical imperative" through a system of belief that is repressive and outmoded in its inward and outward manifestations. While the decision of the Constitutional Court of Turkey may restrict the rights of women who claim to have adopted the hijab of their own free will, one must question the authenticity of such claims through a process unearthing some of the repressive religious underpinnings of such decisions. It is the same suspicion over the authenticity, or lack of it, that European lawmakers have chosen to restrict the use of religious headgear in public institutions.

One would need assurances for example, that women who reject the hijab would not be subjected to coercion in the matter, simply because the orthodoxy considers it a religious requirement. The lifting of the ban would have empowered the fundamentalist Islamic forces, resulting in the marginalization and oppression of women, reducing their role in society to one of subservience and subjugation. This would be tantamount to providing leverage to the religious right in their unrelenting attempts at enforcing compliance for the practice where it is not voluntary.

Traditional Muslims often bristle at such criticism by downplaying the social pressures faced by women who reject the hijab. This, however, is a gross misrepresentation of reality. Even women who supposedly opt for it, do so because they are rarely if ever exposed to an alternative exegesis on the issue, which does not regard the hijab as a requirement. Women's "choice" in the matter can be considered authentic only if they are exposed to other narratives on modesty, which do not entail the covering of the hair.

Turkey as a modern state and last bastion of secular Islam, must continue to uphold its tradition of the separation of religion and state. The headgear or hijab is a political tool and a threat to Turkey's long secular tradition. Currently, there is tremendous pressure on secular women to cover up according to orthodox requirements, even in large cities. The present government has also attempted to eliminate the secular dress code in government offices. It has taken a slower, steadier path, careful not to jolt the establishment too quickly while at the same time floating an occasional trial balloon for social reforms to advance the Islamist agenda.
Islamism, quite distinct from Islam, is a fascist ideology that needs to be countered with equal force, blow for blow, at each step of its numerous incursions into civil society. It strikes at the foundational principles of liberal and secular democracies, seeking eventually to undermine cherished values of freedom, pluralism and egalitarianism. Just at the time as Islamists are relying on the pluralism card to advance their religious agenda, they are making plans to eventually kill any other competing worldview.

Muslim and non-Muslim dalliance with pluralism to allow the spread of Islamism is misguided. They are scantly aware of the Islamists' long term agenda to establish an orthodox form of Islam which allows no dissent whatsoever. Proponents of pluralism must recognize that the two philosophies are mutually contradictory at practically every step of the game, and cannot possibly form the basis of a genuine relationship based on universal humanistic principles."

Opinions expressed in JURIST's Hotline are the sole responsibility of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, or the
University of Pittsburgh.

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