Hicab, türban, and democracy: religious freedom versus political protest
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Kalaycıoğlu, Ersin (2009) Hicab, türban, and democracy: religious freedom versus political protest. Monograph. Centre for the Study of Public Policy, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland.
The attire of women, in particular the style of donning of the headscarf to cover the head, neck and the shoulders of women (türban) by pious Sunni women has once again become the center of controversy in Turkish higher education and politics. The amended versions of articles 10 and 42 of the 1982 Constitution of Turkey, which enhance equality before the law of the Turkish citizens, were referred to the oversight of the Constitutional Court as a potential breach of the secularist principles of the Republic. Almost simultaneously, the AKP, which won the most votes and seats in the National Assembly after the July 22, 2007 elections and formed the government alone, has also been indicted on the grounds of becoming the focal point of activities against secularism, due in part for promoting the türban as a political symbol. The Constitutional Court will decide whether the AKP needs to be sanctioned for such acts and be even closed down or not. Therefore, the türban has become a political issue that not only divides secular and religious Sunnis, but also makes and breaks parties and governments in Turkey. Attitudes and orientations to the türban and religious dress codes for women have become critical to the performance of the political parties, governments and democracy in Turkey. In fact, türban has now become the symbol of Islam in democratic politics in Turkey, and represents the role that religion plays in democratic politics of a Muslim society.
In this paper, I will use the data collected right before the general election of July 22, 2007 in a nationally representative survey of voter attitudes, beliefs, values and reported behavior, and determine to what extent the adult population in Turkey perceived the türban as an issue of religious freedom of the pious women versus a political symbol of organized political Islamic movement at the time of the election. Secondly, the paper also scrutinizes the extent to which the voters perceive the türban as a pressing issue of the country that needed the attention of the political elite. Thirdly, a few studies have so far been conducted by Carkoglu, Göle, Kalaycioglu, Özdalga, and Toprak to examine the role of türban and religious women in Turkish politics and society, yet no study has yet been conducted on the role that attitudes toward the türban play in the decisions of the voters at the polls. The paper will examine the role that the türban played in determining the orientations of the voters toward the political parties, and to what extent it played a role in determining the voters’ choice at the polls on July 22, 2007 general elections, and thus contributed to the election victory of the AKP, a party all of the leaders of which have wives who don the türban. Finally, the paper concludes with an assessment of how far as a potent symbol of Sunni religiosity the türban influences the performance of democracy in Turkish society, where a huge majority of the people consists of Sunni Muslims.
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