The press has flashed the news that Turkish army chiefs boycotted an official ceremony at the presidential palace in Ankara because the president’s wife wore a headscarf. Apparently the generals, who see themselves as custodians of the Turkish republic, regard the headscarf as a threat to the state’s secular traditions.
Has the reader noticed that the headscarf has exhibited an uncanny tendency to keep coming back into news headlines, all for the wrong reasons? Who would, in their wildest imagination, have dreamt that a piece of cloth used as a head-covering could generate ripples of the magnitude usually associated with major earthquakes, in countries that pride themselves on their liberal and secular values?
Considering that the apparently innocent practice of wearing a headscarf has been a matter of controversy for quite some time now, one can only surmise that there is more to this phenomenon than meets the untrained eye. What is mind-boggling is the attitude of the custodians of the values of western civilisation, who would not bat an eyelid at the sight of a scantily-clad girl and yet be mortified if another expressed the desire to cover her head because of her religious beliefs. This is particularly intriguing since it is, more or less, an accepted practice for women in the west to wear a headscarf on formal occasions.
The ‘civilised’ western world inexplicably appears to be exhibiting an ungainly bias in its much vaunted defence of ‘human rights’. Not only do they claim the right to decide what are human rights and what are ‘wrongs’, but they also arrogate to themselves the right to move the goalposts when it suits their purpose. When the right of a girl to go about provocatively and/or scantily dressed in public is jealously defended, why should another’s choice to cover her hair be regarded with suspicion?
While on the subject, one is reminded of a hilarious incident that was reported by the western press several years ago. A well-known society lady appearing at a posh club in London, wearing a blouse and trousers, was refused admission. All efforts at persuasion having proved fruitless, the lady calmly stepped out of her trousers, folded them up and put them in her bag.
There was then no objection to her entry into the establishment in that state of virtual undress. Sensitive western hearts bleed at what they selectively see as denial of human rights in the East. This is not to suggest that all is hunky dory in the east; just that respect for human rights should be universal and not selective. Each nation or society has its traditions, its own culture and values. Breaking traditions and values does not make a society or state more ‘liberal’, secular or free. Nor, it must be added, does it give one society the right to pass judgment on others.
It is high time that the western world and its liberal followers realised that not all that they hold dear is also good for the rest of the world. The world has seen several civilisations. Each of these had its strong points as well as its weaknesses. No civilisation was, or is, perfect. And yet, today, many in the West consider ‘their civilisation’ to be above all imperfections. And that all they believe in is ‘good’ and all to the contrary is ‘not good’ per se.
The self-proclaimed liberal secular societies would do well not to regard the mere donning of headscarf by a Muslim girl as a threat.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 4th, 2010.