Imagine secular Turkey with a first lady who sports a head scarf.
The thought alone is jaw-dropping considering the government’s ongoing battle against Islamicism (for which the head scarf is the most convenient cultural symbol). In 1997 — following an army overthrow of the “Islamist” government — an often-ignored head-scarf ban was suddenly strictly enforced. Since then, the head coverings have been banned from schools and parliament — despite the fact that they’re worn by 60 percent of Turkish women. Since the ban was enforced, thousands of women have forgone a formal education since it would otherwise mean abandoning the head scarf; some families “make the same decision for their children, pulling them from school in their teens,” reports Reuters.
But, in a scandalous turn of events, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a Muslim, is considering a presidential run … meaning, it’s possible that the presidential palace will be occupied by his head-scarf-wearing wife. Thus, the upcoming election is being framed as a battle royal between secular Turkey and Islam.
In fact, it would be hard to overstate the political and cultural showdown at hand. A little over a week ago, in what is claimed to be the largest peaceful protest in Turkish history, 70,000-150,000 people converged on the mausoleum of the founder of the Republic of Turkey, in protest of Erdogan’s potential presidential run. Still, the election will be decided by the Turkish Grand National Assembly, in which Erdogan’s party has a majority.
Regardless of whether Erdogan runs, it’s sad that the country’s political landscape has become so absurdly polarized that a repeal of the strict head-scarf ban is seen as the death knell of the country’s secularism.