June 5, 2008

Headscarf Rights and Turkish Delights

Hatched by Dafydd

This case is fascinating, pitting individual religious rights against Turkey's constitutional guarantee of a secular government... and I believe the minority Left's zeal for the latter critically endangers the former. From the New York Times via Reuters:

Turkey's ruling AK party appeared to move a step closer to being shut down on Thursday when the Constitutional Court overturned a reform that would have allowed women to wear Islamic headscarves in universities.

The headscarf amendment plays a central role in a separate, crucial case that seeks to outlaw the AK Party for anti-secular activities, and ban 71 members, including the prime minister and president, from belonging to a political party for five years.

On the one hand, we have the obvious religious-liberty problem of Turkish women not being allowed to wear a religious headscarf at university. But on the other hand, the headscarf is a symbol of Islamism, and the most characteristic tenet of Islamism throughout the Moslem world is that governments should be run by sharia (religious) law, not democratic law.

On the third hand, the AK (Justice and Development) Party won a solid majority of the seats in the Grand National Assembly -- 341 out of 550 (62%)... which is just shy of the 67% needed to push through legislation (and their own candidate for president) over the objection of the center-left coalition led by the socialist-democratic Republican People's Party (CHP).

And on the fourth hand, despite AKP's Islamist roots, they have so far shown remarkable restraint and have not tried anything overtly anti-democratic. They are center-right on most political issues, yet they have the full support of the Euro-elites -- Turkey desperately wants to be admitted to the European Union -- because, say EU officials, AKP and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the former mayor of Istanbul, support "such fundamental freedoms as the freedom of expression, the freedom of religion."

Background check

The AKP was founded in 2001; although many members came from a religious (some conservative, some Islamist) background, the party has steadfastly maintained that it is a secular party. Indeed, party leaders pushed several positions that seem incompatible with a desire to impose sharia law, such as joining the EU, supporting religious freedom and tolerance, and even supporting the American invasion of Iraq in 2003: The party leaders approved us sending our troops into northern Iraq via Turkey; but after the AKP leaders mishandled the vote in the Assembly, a rebellion by AKP backbenchers joined with the leftist CHP, giving them just enough votes to withdraw transit approval, forcing us eventually to send the 4th Infantry Division all the way around to southern Iraq.

(According to Douglas Feith's excellent doorstop War and Decision, pp. 394-396, Gen. Tommy Franks deliberately left the 4ID floating on ships in the Mediterranean, in a largely successful effort to confuse Saddam Hussein into thinking either (a) we wouldn't invade until they eventually left the Med and headed through the Suez Canal to Kuwait, or (b) that we might still invade through Turkey; so the denial wasn't catastrophic... though it did mean that none of the fighting occurred north of Baghdad, in the "Sunni triangle," leaving Sunni insurgents unscathed and uncowed.)

They have had a lot of success on the Turkish economy, continuing the efforts of the previous government to shift it from "command" to free market; for example, inflation dropped to 6% in January of this year. This may sound high to us; but in 1993, inflation in Turkey hit a peak of 73%.

I believe AKP is currently allied with the conservative, right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is also not an Islamist party (certainly not since it was refounded in 1983, following the 1980 army coup d'état).

Each of these undertakings makes it less likely in my estimation that either the AKP or the MHP wants to overthrow the secular, democratic government of Turkey and impose sharia. Nevertheless, the headscarf issue still roils the country: Headscarves for women -- along with other religious clothing banned since the 1980 coup -- are seen as a symbol of creeping Islamism... and secularism is very deeply embedded in Turkey. It was one of the founding principles of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the Republic of Turkey out of the wreckage of empire in 1923, seven years after the Ottomans were defeated and overthrown in World War I.

The dilemma

There is no question that a lot of Turks want to do away with the secular government and impose a theocracy. But "a lot" is still a very small minority; the very fact mentioned above, the depth of belief in a secular government in Turkish culture, makes Turkey a very unlikely place for an al-Qaeda revolution.

Yet Islamism is surely growing in Turkey, and many citizens are very uneasy seeing the trappings of a very intolerant branch of Islam. No major party has so far called for a ban on Islamism itself... just the outward manifestations, which many see as needlessly provocative; so some might argue that the headscarf ban does not violate freedom of conscience. Indeed, a court in the European Union ruled in 2005 on this very point, finding that the headscarf ban did not violate the right of Turkish women to education and was not discriminatory:

According to the court's ruling, which is final, the headscarf ban is based on the Turkish constitution's principles of secularism and equality.

In a society where men and women are equal, it said, a ban on religious attire such as the headscarf was justified on university premises.

"The court did not lose sight of the fact that there were extremist political movements in Turkey which sought to impose on society as a whole their religious symbols and conception of a society founded on religious precepts," the court's ruling added.

But I think the ruling is a shuck and jive: The EU may like the Justice and Development Party, which wants to overturn the ban; but I believe the Europeans much prefer cultural secularism and the leftists, led by the CHP. The decision is so freakish that it can only be political.

The camel's nose

But the key to the strife, I believe, is that the Turkish Left, smarting from their election loss last year, was trying to get AKP banned and its leaders suppressed even before the majority party decided to pass an amendment protecting the rights of religious Moslem women to attend university. From the Times story linked above:

The headscarf amendment plays a central role in a separate, crucial case that seeks to outlaw the AK Party for anti-secular activities, and ban 71 members, including the prime minister and president, from belonging to a political party for five years.

"This guarantees the closure of the party. I don't think we can talk of any calm before full chaos," said Cengiz Aktar, a political scientist at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University....

A powerful elite of military, judicial and academic officials regard themselves as the custodians of secularism and the army, with public support, edged a party from power as recently as 1997 on accusations of Islamist activity.

In AK, however, the secularist elite faces a party with a large parliamentary majority and a highly popular leader.

Senior AK Party members told Reuters recently the party has started to believe it would be closed down and Erdogan banned from belonging to a political party for five years.

The closure case is expected to take months to conclude.

Secularists, who until recently controlled key state institutions, are now accused by some of using the judiciary to hit back at an increasingly prosperous and assertive religious middle class that forms the bedrock of support for the AK Party.

"These guys are playing their last card and they won't take any chances. They can't do a coup d'etat any more like in 1960, 1971 or 1980," Aktar said.

As our own bitter experience shows, once CHP gets a taste for rule by judicial fiat, biting off one limb of actual liberty, they will never be satisfied with "just a little." Like the crocodile chasing Captain Hook, they'll pursue liberty relentlessly with prandial intent, desperate to gobble up the rest and rule in classic liberal-fascist fashion.

Let freedom reign

The problem in Turkey is not Islamism but socialism... or more accurately, liberal fascism: Socialist parties like CHP have a kneejerk reaction to the terrible crime that the late, great Timothy Leary used to call "Injudicious use of the First Amendment." When a liberal fascist decides that people are "misusing" liberty to make the "wrong" choices, his first impulse is to restrict those choices -- for everyone.

If there were an actual religious civil war raging in Turkey, with Islamists seizing bases and safe zones whence to launch attacks on the teetering secular government, I could see banning the open display of the flags and symbols of Turkey's enemy. But this does not describe the current climate.

While some women may be intimidated into wearing the headscarf, they have a very powerful source to appeal to: The courts clearly have no tolerance for such intolerance; Turkey isn't Malaysia, and sharia courts do not take precedence over the government courts. I don't see a crisis perilous enough to warrant such a flagrant violation of freedom of religion as forcing the religious to choose between worshipping as their faith demands -- and obtaining higher education.

Indeed, the very amendment that the AKP passed, the one that was just overturned by the Constitutional Court, read only thus: "No one can be deprived of (his or her) right to higher education." Thus, the Turkish Constitutional Court is now on record saying that religious Moslem women can be deprived of their right to higher education, if leftists find the sight of such women offensive.

Once again, I am awed by the genius of our own Founding Fathers. Rather than seeking security by banning dangerous religions, dangerous speech, or dangerous thought, they believed that liberty was the great bulwark against extremism.

Instead of banning headscarves -- and the political parties that leftists cannot defeat in the voting booth -- Turkey would be much better served by a "First Amendment" that not only protected the free exercise of religion but also prohibited government establishment of an official religion or sect. Courts that are secular enough today to overturn as innocuous a statement as that above about the "right to higher education" would certainly overturn any attempt by any party to incorporate religion into Turkish law.

Then private citizens could wear whatever religious clothing they chose, but they could not use sharia-courts to impose such demands upon others.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, June 5, 2008, at the time of 11:38 PM

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The following hissed in response by: nk

Ataturk, who was himself of Albanian descent born in Salonica, Greece, saw what happened to the Ottoman Empire which divided its twenty-five ethnic groups three times again, between Moslems, Christians and Jews. His idea of "freedom of religion" was to eliminate dhimmi -- the subornation of Christians and Jews into less than second-class subjects. To make a new nation of only "Turks".

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2008 10:30 AM

The following hissed in response by: nk


The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2008 10:32 AM

The following hissed in response by: Davod

Protection of the courts is little comfort if the alternate to wearing a veil is a beating or worse.
And yes, it is the foot in the door.

The above hissed in response by: Davod [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2008 10:41 AM

The following hissed in response by: Davod


You seem a little preoccupied with defending the Islamic message. Have you taken the Arab coin?

The above hissed in response by: Davod [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2008 10:45 AM

The following hissed in response by: nk

Shut up, davod. I am intimately familiar with another remnant of the Ottoman Empire. I have seen what happens when a country adopts an official religion -- in that case Christianity. An uncle served six months in jail for "atheism".

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2008 11:46 AM

The following hissed in response by: Davod


What does your statement have to do with either of my comments. I do not agree with Turkey re-adopting a state religion.

The above hissed in response by: Davod [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2008 2:02 PM

The following hissed in response by: nk

I did not like the personal attack against Dafydd. There is a legitimate basis of disagreement with his point -- Turkey is not America nor England for that matter. But to accuse him of being pro-Islam ...?

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2008 2:08 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Have you taken the Arab coin?

No, but some former prime minister in Nigeria has offered to transfer several million dollars of embezzled funds to me, if I just send him my complete banking information.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2008 6:57 PM

The following hissed in response by: nk

Ok, sorry Davod. Dafydd can take care of himself.

Ataturk is still the Lycurgus of Turkey. No matter how popular a politician or party is, they will suffer the fate of Cleomenes and Pausanias if they go against his laws.

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 7, 2008 1:34 PM

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