Claim: Secular lifestyle under threat in Turkey

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Claim: Secular lifestyle under threat in Turkey

2017-01-09 12:16 GMT
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Turkish journalist wrote in Washington Post that secular people’s “lifestyle” and “joy” are “under threat” in Turkey

Secular Turkish people enjoying their meal at a restaurant in the city of Istanbul

On 3 January 2017, The Washington Post published an article written by a Turkish journalist named Ezgi Basaran after a terror attack was carried out by DAESH on an upmarket nightclub in Istanbul, in which it was claimed that “secular lifestyle” in Turkey is imperiled. “Now not only is the lifestyle of the secular people under threat, but their joy is, too,” she argued.

The author listed some examples in the following paragraph which she considered to have contributed to the “threat” that the secular people in Turkey are said to face. “In the last days of 2016, there were systematic ‘preemptive strikes’ from several mayors, government institutions and nongovernmental organizations against people who would celebrate the New Year,” she wrote.

Those “preemptive strikes”, according to Basaran, involved a caveat stipulated in a sermon released by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate read out in mosques during the Friday prayer. “Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate claimed it ’illicit’ for Turkey’s Muslim citizens to celebrate the new year,” she continued. Director of Religious Affairs Mehmet Gormez was even sued by a group “for inciting animosity among society.”

The aforementioned part of the sermon was as follows:

“At the end of a year gone by, it is completely unbecoming for a believer to forget about themselves and their purpose of creation and display unlawful attitude and behavior that in no way comply with our values. It is worrying that the first hours of a New Year are turned into waste with New Year entertainment of other cultures and other worlds. It is saddening that the hours which must be spent contemplating on good and bad deeds, good and evil are wasted on gambling and games of chance like the lottery with the desire of getting rich without working.”

In contrast to the author’s denunciation, providing imams with Friday sermons that aim to improve Islamic thinking and practice among Muslims is a regular duty of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate. Accordingly, as a matter of fact, some activities that commonly take place during New Year celebrations such as drinking alcohol and playing the lottery is strictly prohibited in Islam, the latter of which was mentioned in the sermon. Therefore, the Religious Affairs Directorate was simply fulfilling the purpose for which it was established.

The author’s other claim was that a climate of respect for all lifestyles used to prevail in Turkey. “Although the majority of Turkish people are conservative and religious, alcohol consumption or celebrating the New Year had never been a big issue among the public,” she wrote. “Everyone knew that respect for other lifestyles was not a matter of human decency in Turkey, a melting pot of cultures, but a condition for peaceful coexistence.”

However, the claim of public awareness of respect as a “condition for peaceful coexistence” is contentious. Turkey’s recent socio-political history has witnessed the systematic repression of a certain group of society by the state as well as other social groups. That group, headscarved women, constituted 75 percent of Turkish women in 1999 according to a survey, whereas a more up-to-date survey’s findings suggested that the rate dropped to 61 percent in 2014.

Such a considerable amount of society was excluded from both public and private places and institutions. The first practice of exclusion kicked off in 1998 in universities during the period known as the 28 February post-modern coup. Students were not admitted to universities.  Even male professors were fired on grounds that their wives were headscarved.

Women were not allowed to work in state offices while wearing a headscarf. Furthermore, a headscarved woman could cause trouble for her state official husband even if she was not a public employee. In 2007, secularist politicians and citizens inveighed against Turkey’s 11th President Abdullah Gul’s headscarved wife. Turkish military released a statement, now known as the “e-coup,” on the army’s website on Abdullah Gul’s candidacy for president, warning that it will continue “to protect the unchangeable characteristics of the Republic of Turkey.”

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Wearing the headscarf was not a mere component of the issue of lifestyle and further constituted a religious/ethical responsibility for women, according to a research. The results of the research suggested that 49 percent of Turkish women wear the headscarf because they “believe it is a religious obligation” and 35 percent stated that they are headscarved because it is “a symbol of Muslim identity.”

The headscarf ban was lifted gradually. In 2007, headscarved women were admitted to universities again. In 2013, after 11 years the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) rose to power, the ban in public offices was lifted as part of a democratization package. Four deputies of the AK Party soon decided to come to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) covering their heads – 14 years after a headscarved deputy, Merve Kavakci, was ousted from TBMM by other deputies for refusing to unveil her hair. In 2016, both police women and professional basketball players were officially allowed to wear the headscarf.