July 26, 2008


History is an important thing. I have spent all my adult life studying history in the academy (I was a double major; Gender Studies was my other concetration). In school, I learned the most fascinating and dangerous aspect of history is how people can manipulate it to shape the present to be something ugly. History is used to justify some pretty terrible things, one of which happens to be the oppression of Muslim women in Turkey today.

What inspired this post is that the Globe and Mail just did a feature on the status of the traditional Muslim headscarf in Today's Turkey. Turkish secularism is, in my opinion, EXTREME. It goes far beyond not having an official state religion and becomes what I call "fundamentalist secularism" where Turkish university students aren't even ALLOWED to wear hijabs to school. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great no one HAS to wear one, but the majority of Turkish women DO veil, and so having these laws effectively just prevents many women from going to university and becoming educated at all. That's not good for Turkish women, and it's also not good for the Turkish economy (think of all the wasted talent!).

While the Globe's article is not bad, the comments from readers can get stupid and offensive. Take this as an example:

Betsie Weiss from Halifax, writes: I think this news article is taking only one side into consideration. Poor Black Turks trying to wear what they want and live their religion freely. This is how it is presented. In order to understand the deeper reasons behind "secularists" resistance, one has to know the Turkish history. Who can forget the behaeded young soldier Kubilay and his head was shown all around Menemen to threaten so called "secularists" of the time - year 1930. These fundamentalists burned 35 people alive in Madimak Hotel in Sivas - year 1993. It is not just simple "human rights" issue. It is deeper than this.

Okay, Betsie. Because some people got out of hand in the examples you site from years ago and committed terrible crimes, no one ever gets to wear the hijab again? That's proportionate. Anyway, there are other safe-guards you can have that create a society between fundamentalist Islam and Fundamentalist secularism. How about not having an official state religion AND allowing anyone to wear WHATEVER they want, instead of forcing women to break with religious practices they believe in or sentence them to a lifetime of economic and educational disadvantage?

Also Betsie, accusing people who don't get Turkish extremist secularism of being ignorant of Turkey's history? That's not a cool trick. While I don't want to play the "ethnic card," no one knows better than the Armenian community how pre-secularism, Muslim extremism got out of hand. While Betsie does not refer specifically to events that took place at the beginning of the twentieth century through World War One in Anatolia, the type of Turkish Muslim extremism from the early twentieth century to which Betsie refers is the reason I am Canadian. Muslim extremism is shitty and hurts people, yes, but it doesn't justify secular extremism, because that hurts people too. So, please don't invoke Turkish history as a way of justifying oppressing millions of Turkish women today. From an identity politics perspective, I DON'T appreciate it. I don't want anything to do with the fact that millions of women live under dispicable policies in Turkey.

Is this type of propaganda what history was really meant to be?

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