Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"The Style of Our Mothers and Grandmothers'

I ate lunch today in İzmit's prime place for pizza and watched news break of the proposal AKP and MHP presented to Parliament yesterday. (Yes, there is pizza in Turkey.) The proposal includes the two constitutional agreements upon which the two parties previously agreed, but with a slight revision. Now, instead of reading that everyone has a right to higher education regardless of their apparel, the article instead simply reads, “No one shall be deprived of the right of learning and education in universities unless otherwise is clearly set forth in law.” Apparently, experts thought that the former article was vague and that revisions were needed to define what is exactly being prohibited. To further clarify, AKP and MHP will amend an article of the existing law on higher education.

To brief you on this rather confusing development, after the meetings between the parties concluded on Monday, it seemed that Article 42 would read as follows:
"All attire is allowed at institutions of higher education as long as it does not go against the public order, revolutionary laws [of the Constitution], conventional morality and restrictions that prevent constitutional rights and freedoms from being abused."
However, after spending more time on the issue, representatives from both parties decided that a more exact definition of what is allowed and what is not should be presented. The article now reads as follows:
“No one shall be deprived of the right of learning and education in universities unless otherwise is clearly set forth in law.”
To further evidence that the headscarf is a tricky issue here (see Jan. 21 post), an additional law will be passed to the Higher Education law that will offer a formal definition of what headscarf fashions are allowed and which are not. The proposed Article 17 reads:
“All attire is allowed at institutions of higher learning as long as it does not violate the laws in force. No one shall be deprived of the right to learning and education on charges of wearing the headscarf. No regulation or practice contrary shall be allowed. However, wearing the headscarf shall be in the manner of covering the head with a headscarf fixed beneath the chin without covering the face so as to allow easy recognition of identity.”
Today's Zaman reports that the definitional revision was modeled after an earlier measure that allowed covered women to enter public hospitals.

While both parties are content with this agreement, several activists have expressed the desire that it does not go far enough. With a clear popular mandate for reform, there are critics of the measure who feel the Parliament should not quibble with such details. Indeed, the "fixed beneath the chin" element of the provision to the Higher Education law is reminiscent of past distinctions that have been made (most notably by the military) to distinguish an 'Islamic' headscarf from a traditional one. It has often been argued by headscarf proponents that Atatürk's mother wore the garment and this was one way for Kemalists to answer such claims. After the 1980 military coup, this was a particularly frequent claim as it was felt acceptable that the mothers and grandmothers who might have lived before 1923 continued to wear the headscarf, but that younger women wearing a more stylish and alleged 'Islamic' scarf were potential troublemakers. Thus, a phrase came into vogue that should the headscarf be worn, it should be done 'in the style of our mothers and grandmothers'—not in a style that some Kemalists associated with creeping political Islam.

So, all of this brings me back to the pizza restaurant. For thirty minutes, I watched Turkish television coverage of two women discussing which headscarf fashions are permissible and which are taboo. To demonstrate, one of the women continued to place a piece of fabric on her head in a variety of different ways. While most certainly baffling to an outsider (which I still very much am), this display somehow is starting to make more sense to me.

In another important note, AKP parliamentary group deputy leader Nurettin Canikli said on Monday that the attention to the headscarf issue has further delayed legislation pertaining to Article 301.

And, as an additional footnote, the New York Times reported on the upcoming parliamentary move today, but sans note of all of the provisions that have been attached. These would no doubt be too difficult to explain to an American audience unfamiliar with the issue.

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