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Turkey’s ‘secular’ opposition party supports the use of the Muslim headscarf at public institutions

As Iranian women are protesting against the obligatory headscarf (hijab) laws and the actions of the “morality police” in the country, and getting murdered for daring to request freedom, Turkey’s “secular” opposition party has submitted a law proposal to the parliament, supporting the use of the headscarf at all state institutions.

The chairman of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, recently announced in a social media video that his party would propose a law on the headscarf issue.

According to the proposal,

Women who are employed in public institutions and organizations and who perform a profession in connection with professional organizations in the nature of public institutions cannot be subjected to any coercion in a way that violates fundamental rights and freedoms such as wearing or not wearing clothes other than robes, aprons, uniforms, etc., which must be worn within the scope of the performance of their profession.

The proposal is surprising and unconventional for the CHP, the founding party of Turkey. The CHP’s logo consists of the “Six Arrows,” one of which represents laicism (laïcité/secularism). For decades, the party was in opposition to the use of the headscarf at state institutions.

In response to the CHP’s proposal, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called for “providing a solution at the constitutional level, not through a law.” Erdogan stated that the headscarf was no longer a problem in Turkey, and that no one had a problem wearing it at public institutions or schools. He added: “If you are sincere, let’s amend the constitution to completely solve the problem.”

Erdogan’s government has indeed removed all restrictions concerning the use of the headscarf at state institutions including schools. So the CHP’s law proposal seems to be just aiming to gain the religious Muslim votes, and prevent the Muslim masses from thinking the CHP would bring back restrictions on the headscarf at public institutions.

The lack of democracy, secularism, and human rights in Turkey is a problem that is much deeper than the headscarf issue. Prior to Erdogan’s coming to power in 2012, the non-Islamist governments of the country pursued many policies that help to Islamize the country even more: Opening many Islamic imam hatip (khatib) schools, and Islamic theology schools across the country, keeping the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) as the sole state institution regarding religion, an act which is against the principle of secularism, and gradually reducing the non-Muslims of the country are some of those policies. Erdogan is now completing the process of the full Islamization of Turkey. Today the Diyanet’s budget suppresses even the budgets of many ministries. 

According to the second article of Turkey’s constitution, “The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state governed by rule of law.” True secularism and democracy in the country, however, ended before they even started. A state that systematically persecutes and discriminates against its non-Muslim citizens cannot be regarded as “secular” or “democratic,” no matter what its constitution claims. As the Christian, Jewish and Yazidi populations across Anatolia collapsed throughout the decades because of government-led policies such as the 1913-23 Christian genocide, so did Turkey’s prospects of forming a healthy democracy that would uphold human dignity, freedom, the rule of law, and human rights. In addition, Christians and other non-Muslims have never had the freedom to proselytize or share their faiths with the public. This could have led to more people leaving Islam, an act which would have strengthened Turkey’s chances of being a democracy that respects fundamental human rights.

The CHP’s publicly and officially embracing the headscarf issue that has become a global symbol of political Islam is worrisome for whatever little remains of Turkish secularism. The website “The Religion of Peace” explains why Islam is incompatible with democracy:

Islamic law is absolutely incompatible with true democracy. It is a theocratic system with Allah alone at its head. Allah’s law is interpreted by a ruling body of clerics. There is no room for a secular political system in which all people are treated as equals…

Islamic law is based on the Quran and the Sunnah, which are set and fixed. Laws made by fallible men (particularly non-Muslims) are not necessary; government need only apply Islamic law. Nor should democratic rule take the place of Allah’s perfect law, which tells us everything we need to know about daily life (down to which hand a man should ‘hold it in’ while urinating).

If Allah is not the authority, then anything less is a secular dictatorship, including rule even by a Muslim populace. As an American-Muslim jurist complained in a recent fatwa, ‘Democracy gives free rein to the authority of the Ummah, and puts no ceiling on it.’

Also, the law of one person, one vote is essential to democracy but heretical to Islam. According to the Quran, the testimony of a woman is worth only half that of a man, and Jews and Christians are never to have equal standing with Muslims under the law (and certainly never to be in a position of authority over Muslims). Atheists are to be killed outright…

Muhammad and the caliphs who succeeded him ruled on Allah’s authority and did not submit their decisions to the will of the people. Neither is there any tradition of democracy in the 1400-year history of Islam in the Middle East and Persia. If the entire world became Muslim overnight, it is highly doubtful that democracy would last, since it would be applicable only to the most mundane of matters not decided by Islamic law.

As another cleric, Sufi Muhammad, recently put it, ‘True Islam permits neither elections, nor democracy.’”

When tens of thousands of political prisoners are rotting in jails across Turkey based on trumped-up charges, when Turkey’s aggressions against Armenia, Greece, Iraq, and Syria are ongoing, and millions of Turkish citizens are struggling with poverty and high inflation rates, Turkey’s political parties choose to focus on the “headscarf issue.”

This debate also demonstrates the level of Turkish Islamization. The CHP always pursued hostile policies against non-Muslim communities, particularly throughout the one-party period, during which it ruled the country from 1923 to 1950. Yet the party also claims to defend secularism. As Turkish society has become more and more Islamic throughout the years, even the CHP now seems to think that fighting for secularism is obsolete and pointless, and that it would be impossible to win the upcoming national elections without appeasing the religious Muslim population of Turkey at the expense of secularism.

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara.



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