I enjoy watching the Olympics with them because at the same time I can sneak out and do some other things without neglecting them. Yet, a couple days ago while I was happily watching the Olympics, I started reading the International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 by the US Department of State and got really upset. The report, which reviews the status of religious freedom in countries around the world, had this to say about Turkey: “The government continued to impose limitations on Muslims and other religious groups, including restrictions on Muslim religious expression in government offices for the stated reason of preserving the ‘secular state.’ … Authorities continued their ban on wearing Muslim religious headscarves in government offices as well as public primary schools, although the ban was not enforced in universities and ignored in some workplaces.”
In the US, when I ask people what amazes them the most about Turkey, many intellectuals who have visited Turkey give me the same answer “You can see a woman in a veil next to a women in a miniskirt.” I also believe this is the magnificence of Turkey; we call it democracy. However, with this democracy that we are so proud of it’s really hard to understand the headscarf ban. If everybody looked the same, there would be something wrong. Isn’t it extremely primitive to inhibit someone’s religious freedom since it is an essential element of human dignity for individuals and brings democratic stability and economic prosperity to societies? We are in the 21st century, for God’s sake.
Why is the headscarf still banned in the public work sector? A ridiculous argument made by supporters of the ban suggest that if headscarved women are allowed to work in the public sector, they cannot act fairly and may discriminate against certain people with whom they do not share the same worldview. To me, this is a gender equality problem because if men who share these same worldviews can work in the public sector, why can’t women? Then you should also have the same concerns about liberals. Is there any guarantee a woman who exposes her hair would not discriminate against someone who wears a headscarf?
US Ambassador-at-Large Suzan Johnson Cook, who presented the religious freedom report, pointed out that while some European countries such as France are trying to limit women’s religious freedom on clothes, others such as Iran and Saudi Arabia force women to wear religious clothes. Do you think Turkey is now like France and may end up like Saudi Arabia or Iran? I don’t think so, and it shouldn’t be. It is just a cliché that some people use to destroy our unity. In June, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times had said, “Iran will end up looking something like Turkey,” in an article about Iran; read the article for a different view of the situation.
The other day New Jersey Senator Loretta Weinberg told me that “conservative politicians have found stunning success in their attempts to turn back decades of gains made by women. The efforts to turn back the clock on American women focus on reproductive rights but also attack the changing roles in the workplace, in the family and in government which reproductive rights have helped to allow women to assume.” Isn’t it the same in Turkey? While the government is busy with issues like abortion, C-sections, having a third child and so on, it neglects important women’s rights like discrimination against headscarved women and barring them from working in the public sector. A minor change can easily be made to the article of the law that defines the dress code of civil servants to eliminate the ban on the headscarf in the public sector. I bet it’s much easier and more logical to make this legal change than banning abortions or C-sections. It is more necessary and would be much more virtuous, too. We should find a way to observe and appreciate our diversity and differences without fracturing our communities.
My kids are getting ready to watch judo competitor Wojdan Shaherkani, the first female Saudi Arabian female athlete in the Olympics. The 16-year-old competitor had to initially fight to keep her headscarf on while competing. The Olympics committee had wanted to ban her from participating for safety reasons. However, that ban started a huge discussion on whether it was due to reasons of safety or discrimination. All the US-oriented human right organizations took her side in this argument, and she won. Congratulations to Shaherkani because she has already made history by being the first female athlete from Saudi Arabia to compete in the Olympics.
I love watching the Olympics with my kids and sharing in their wisdom and joy. Equality, fair practice and tolerance 101. Family time spent wisely. I love it!