It is not just about headscarf, is it?
The fuss over the mainly politically motivated use of headscarves in Parliament has started ebbing in Turkey, with neither a fear-driven pious outburst calling for a war against secularist hands “attacking” the Islamic dress code, nor the secular core of the country being put in much-anticipated danger. Under huge media spotlight, four women deputies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) appeared in a General Assembly session late last week. It was a test conducted by the government not only for the other opposition parties but also for the rest of the country that did not vote for them, amid fears of a banal campaign intimidating the other colors.
Now the show is over and the whole political spectrum of the country praises each other for being “mature enough” in a time of crisis, which was in fact an artificial one troubling Turkey for decades. The AKP government adopted a defiant position over the headscarf issue, and was also open to being victimized, which has worked well in terms of collecting votes up to now. Despite the fact that it often relies on symbols, particularly to make its main points as a strategy, the government appeared as if the women deputies with their headscarves in Parliament were not just woman deputies with their headscarves in Parliament, but also a new phase of the “new Turkey.”
While the women MPs with headscarves were heralded as a “victory” of the women’s rights struggle in Turkey by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and its now junior offshoot the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the right-wing Nationalalist Movement Party (MHP) labeled it as a move aiming to lure the electorate in a mainly conservative country. Nevertheless, the two arch-foe parties have finally found something in common over the headscarf issue, by implying that there are not against the use of Islamic dress code in Parliament.
The real winner was not the BDP-HDP brotherhood or their unwished-for alliance with the MHP, but the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). Two speeches by two CHP deputies showed both the traditional rift with its bipolar old party, which has still not decided yet on its political leanings, and the party’s rare ability to survive and manage a crisis, despite the different voices within. Mostly similar to the other opposition parties, the CHP did not adopt a stance against the highly symbolic use of headscarves in Parliament and avoided an embarrassing scene, such as that in which an MP-elect woman with her headscarf was forced to leave Parliament more than a decade ago.
In fact, there would not be any problem with the use of headscarves in the public as long as it is not imposed on those who prefer stay distant from the Islamic dress code. Even if there are some in Turkey who are at odds with seeing headscarves in public - and there are some - they would be scared to death to even say a single word against it, perhaps just voicing small murmurings. That is the real “change” introduced to Turkey by the AKP government in the past decade.
“If you have been intoxicated by arrogance, how can you hear the cry of the one who is not like you? … It is only our struggle to exist that prevents your self-built radical monster from conquering you,” were the astonishing words of CHP MP Şafak Pavey during her speech at Parliament, where the four AKP women MPs with headscarves sat. The real deal with the headscarf is not Islamic lifestyle, but the fact that other lifestyles feel threatened amid the fierce drive by the AKP government for a more conservative society and country. The survival fight of minority “others” is indeed the sole guarantee of strife for the majority “us,” and unless the government realizes this the prospects for political returns appear dim.
As during the anti-government protests in early summer, when it was not just about the trees that were sought to be razed in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, it is now not only about headscarved women, despite their growing trend for Islamic dress code recently. Those braving the police violence on the streets of Istanbul wanted to keep their small amount of green land in the heart of the city as well as ways of life, which have been systemically vilified by the government. Now very much the same part of Turkey wants not to be accused of being “defiled” just for their loose, different or non-existent religious beliefs or different origins, political, cultural or sexual preferences and ethnic backgrounds, while having no hostility with those who prefer to be or act in tendency with the official line.