Sweet AKP; how easily predictable you are!
When in 2010, the AKP-controlled Higher Education Board (YÖK) liberated the Islamic headscarf on campuses, I, in my intellectual capacity, did two things: In this column, I advocated freedom for any attire on campus, including the headscarf. But I also predicted that this was going to be about freedoms for the chosen ones. I wasn’t prophesying.
YÖK had scrapped the headscarf ban on the grounds of “campus freedoms.” Big speeches were made by bigwigs, all telling us that this was the beginning of libertarian freedoms on Turkish campuses, of a new epoch in which students would enjoy first-class liberties “like in the West.” Everything on campus would come up roses.
The “pro-freedom” YÖK had sent an elegantly-worded letter to a university warning the administration that “no student is to be dismissed from class or face disciplinary action due to any attire.” We all praised that. I, with caution. In this column, more than three years ago, I wrote that: “I have lived long enough in this country to guess that ‘enforcement’ will probably widely differ.”
Here is some further prophesying from “Freedom for turban, jail for placard,” this column, July 10, 2010: “There is too much evidence in proof of [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s principal motive to grant ‘attire’ freedoms for university students: the advancement of political Islam. Unfortunately, the near future will probably bring about even more evidence. The prime minister’s mental map does not view the turban/headscarf as a right to education and an individual’s free choice of attire. He wants freedom for it because he thinks it is the symbol of the political cause he is wholeheartedly devoted to.”
Since then, not a single student who dared to protest Mr. Erdoğan or any one of his political heavyweights has been able to escape brutal police beating, subsequent detention and prosecution and, in most cases, conviction. And then, there is Gezi...
University students have been granted the freedom to wear the Islamic headgear, but not a dissident t-shirt, not the right to take part in a protest, the right to drink a glass of beer at a rock concert. And now they have lost the right to share a flat with a friend of their choice, regardless of gender. Did someone say campus freedoms?
Meanwhile, YÖK is working harder to further liberalize campus life. New amendments to YÖK regulations state that university students may be barred from university buildings if a legal probe has been launched against them. In the nice bureaucratic language of the proposed article, “Investigators can demand to bar students who are subject to investigations from entering buildings of higher education institutions during the investigation.”
Guilty before verdict. Guilty during the investigation. Punished before the verdict. Sorry, lad; you cannot attend your class today because you are being investigated. But, sir, I am innocent. Come back after you have proven your innocence. But it may take a few years. Sorry, lad; that’s our rule for campus freedoms. But you can always wear your headscarf and attend your classes. But, sir, boys don’t wear…
I must repeat my July 10, 2010 appeal to “Muslim liberals”: “A liberal is a liberal; Muslim, Christian, Jewish or atheist. Behave like a true liberal and protest, at least for honesty’s sake ... Protest those who tell us lies, who twist and bend facts. Who steal your conscious in daylight robberies, thieves of your soul. Try to understand that the right to protest on campus is as sacred as the right to wear a religious symbol. Try to be free men no matter how difficult it can be for you … You want freedoms? Set yourselves free first. You can begin by reading the lines written on the tomb of the great Cretan philosopher/novelist/poet:
‘I hope for nothing.
I fear nothing.
I am free.’”