Threatened by the headscarf

Published: November 4, 2010
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The writer is a former assistant secretary-general of the OIC
khalid.saleem@tribune.com.pk

The writer is a former assistant secretary-general of the OIC [email protected]

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.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • Nov 4, 2010 - 12:13AM

    Well, its the Turkish elite and the military that view the Presidents wife wearing a headscarf as a threat, the “Western” media has not been as fiendish as you seem to suggest, more amused by the fuss. Turkey, is an example of a “secular militant” state if there was ever one. A women with a headscarf cant attend university, sit in parliament, and the current Turkish President nearly didn’t become President at all due to his wife’s “religiosity”. Recommend

  • Ali Farooqui
    Nov 4, 2010 - 12:23AM

    about time some one spoke up on the matter of liberal-persecution … well written much appreciatedRecommend

  • Ayesha Ijaz Khan
    Nov 4, 2010 - 1:18AM

    Let me say at the outset that I am in principle not opposed to the headscarf, should a woman so choose. I am also, by the same token, supportive of a woman’s right not to wear the headscarf. Thus if that right is violated, such as in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, it is equally problematic. However, the writer seems to be a bit confused. He starts off with the Turkish example and then goes on to bolster his argument with a critique of the West. Perhaps the writer is unfamiliar with Turkey’s history and secular nature. Turkey’s secular credentials were not imported from the West but were indigenous. Turkey was taken on the secular path by Ataturk, who had fought against western powers and established credibility among other Turks as a national hero. He saved the Ottoman Empire from being completely overrun by Christian Europe. After he did that, he went on a secularization drive because he felt that it was the way to progress. One can argue that perhaps he went overboard but one cannot accuse him of being a western lackey. Turkey is now in a new phase of its evolution. Its Islamic heritage cannot be denied but neither can its equally indigenous secularization. I do find it curious however that those men who jump to the fore to support a woman’s right to a headscarf, largely remain silent when a woman’s right to drive or vote or even work is denied on false pretexts and misinterpretations of Islam. Could it be that they are threatened by female emancipation and full participation just as the West is threatened by Islamic symbols?Recommend

  • Amna
    Nov 4, 2010 - 1:52AM

    a lot of ET users sound like this Turkish army chief. Liberal extremists. good articleRecommend

  • Nov 4, 2010 - 2:12AM

    @ayesha: its hypocritical either way. I believe that its presumptuous for any man to pass judgement on any women on what she should or should not wear. The author here however, seems to be grasping on straws. It seems that he was waiting for an opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of the “West” and went after it. If the “Western” media is highlighting this issue, it has more to do than to malign the state. A more plausible reason for the interest could be the interest in the internal machinations of the Turkish state as it looks both East and West to expand its influence, join the EU, a member of the g20 etc. I am just surprised that the former assistant general of the OIC views the world in such oversimplified rhetoric, of Western view of superiority over the East. As you noted, Turkey didn’t secularize due to foreign diktats, it happened from within. Recommend

  • Talha
    Nov 4, 2010 - 2:37AM

    I do not like head scarves, a women does not look good in one.

    As for Burqa, a big No, No.Recommend

  • faraz
    Nov 4, 2010 - 3:06AM

    Well said Ayesha. It was the Ottomon caliph, the selfish British lackey who sided with the Europeans while Truks were fighting their war of independence. Here in Pakistan, the great Ataturk is criticised for getting rid of this ridiculous British puppet who wanted to remain caliph at the cost of Turkish independence.

    I agree, you cannot stop someone from wearing a scarf.Recommend

  • Hasan
    Nov 4, 2010 - 4:21AM

    You start with Turkey which does ban scarves but then you start blaming the entire west? How many western secular countries actually ban scarves? Can you name some? By that standard if a country such as Pakistan violates human rights officially and constitutionally should we blame Islam or all Muslims for that?

    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.

    Actually it does. Taking out tribal traditions and values does make societies liberal, secular and free. You think west was like this since ever? Ever heard of dark ages?

    An example from Pakistan is the Hudood ordinance, watering down of which did produce positive results. If we can now take out other so called “Islamic” laws we can begin the journey back to the secular, moderate and as a consequence largely a peaceful society that we once were.

    But besides that, I have a feeling you put this paragraph in as a poison pill against any objections on much more severe human rights violations by the OIC countries (of which you are a former assistant secretary-general) than not allowing scarf as you could then dismiss any such objections using traditions and social “values” as excuse. Clever.

    Nor, it
    must be added, does it give one
    society the right to pass judgment on
    others.

    So why pass judgment on western societies?Recommend

  • faraz
    Nov 4, 2010 - 5:05AM

    @Amna

    The atrocities committed by the liberal extremist bloggers on ET are just horrendus. Suicide bombings and sectarian killings are just a reaction against such blogs. Arguments against digging up of graves and human right voilations surely reflect extremist mindset. Recommend

  • Nov 4, 2010 - 6:23AM

    Interesting and cleverly articulated viewpoint. China is another story and out of context. It’s not that ours is a defensible record on treatment of minorities, and the “self-proclaimed” liberal secular societies do question the record of “allies” like Saudi Arabia among others. Even I feel suffocated over there, what to talk about western women accustomed to dress scantily in very hot weather, asked to obey a laundry list of ‘restrictions’? The psychology behind why the ‘rest of the world’ finds a woman donning a black gown and a headscarf as odd goes somewhat like this. The style originated among bedouins for protection from sandstorms in the Arabian desert. That’s a fact. The liberal mindset can’t understand why does a person mentally belong to the 7th century desert with zero prospect of sandstorms around. Thanks to us, with Islam’s ‘connection’ to terrorism, hiding behind a veil is akin to hiding bad intentions. The opium of religion is indeed hazardous to social health. The world has several coexisting civilizations. The world should soften edges around civilizations to avoid skirmishes. Passing judgement on others is not a one way street. Weaker arguments also mean acknowledging a necessity to make more adjustments than the other party.Recommend

  • binwakeel
    Nov 4, 2010 - 6:48AM

    Point well taken. The trend of realism being overtaken by symbolism does need to be looked into. Values and mores need not become sacrificial victims whether of bigots or ‘liberals’. Recommend

  • AzA
    Nov 4, 2010 - 7:12AM

    I agree with Ayesha Khan, above, that the writer has a confused argument. He uses Turkey as a springboard for his criticism of the West.

    First, Turkey is not West. It is East, and is Muslim. It’s headscarf issue has an historical context.

    Second, I wonder if the writer considers US, Canada and England as part of the “Western Civilization”. In all these countries, there are no restrictions on any woman wearing a hijab, niqab or even a burqa. One comes across women in all kinds of hijabs and nikabs, and no one even looks at them with curiosity.Recommend

  • kamila
    Nov 4, 2010 - 9:39AM

    One may not agree fully, but hats off to the writer for alluding to an issue that sticks out like a sore thumb. The Swiss do not like minarets; the French object to the hijab; tomorrow another liberal society may come up with another triviality. The question is: why target only one religious group? Recommend

  • Ali Farooqui
    Nov 4, 2010 - 10:06AM

    @AZA: Second, I wonder if the writer considers US, Canada and England as part of the “Western Civilization”. In all these countries, there are no restrictions on any woman wearing a hijab, niqab or even a burqa. One comes across women in all kinds of hijabs and nikabs, and no one even looks at them with curiosity.

    So what you are saying is that all the press hatred and persecution faced by these women in US, Canada and UK and all the snide remarks made about them on the streets are false? no wait it must be a propaganda by religious zealots .. if you are living in the west please come out of the hole you are hiding in and see the reality yourselfRecommend

  • ImranS
    Nov 4, 2010 - 1:34PM

    I think you are missing the point completely:
    1. Secular/Christian/European/Western are afraid of letting traditionalism get a foot in the door and expand into the rigid backward hydra we have in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India (Shiv Sena). This is a fact, you may choose to support it or continue to deny it. Most proponents of safeguarding secularism admit to this; I dont see why it is a revelation to you.
    2. In the specific example of Turkey, you (as a member of OIC) would be better served to brief yourself on the recent history and current political situation in Turkey. They have been vehemently secular in recent history, only changing in very recent history. The military is therefore protecting the traditions which are changing rapidly in Turkey, as the actual source of power and public opinion change from junta/secular towards increasing democracy/Islamism. It is something you should expect from them. Although it may have been inspired by them; It does not have the link with the european actions that you wish to create.
    3. Headscarf/no headscarf and its degrees apply across religions in european countries when passed as a matter of law. I am not in favor of a headscarf ban but am completely in favor of a face/full body covering ban. The apples to apples comparison is obvious to any rationale person:
    Full body covering is the polar opposite of nudity. There are laws against public nudity in all european countries, and there should be equivalent laws against full covering.
    Head or hair covering is similar to mini-skirts (or scantily clad as you would call it); it should be okay.
    4. You try to use an anecdote about a members club rulebook loophole (e.g. “no jeans” or “men must wear ties”) and associate it with perceived issues with a secular mindset. Shame on you and bravo, both, for stretching to make a point.
    5. Secular western hearts bleed for child labor, forced marriage, forced prostitution, unfair voting systems, concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, life denying edicts by barely literate village elders….. are you really comparing that with the headscarf? Shame on you again.Recommend

  • parvez
    Nov 4, 2010 - 2:01PM

    Sorry can’t agree with the author’s logic. The liberal secular societies wish to remain so and when they feel their environment is being encroached on, they obviously will react, it is but natural. The argument that this is wrong or hypocritical of them, is unrealistic.
    What they fear is the religious connotation involved. If looked at dispassionately would you blame them ?
    The concession has to come from our side by doing away with the practice of wearing our religion on our sleeve.Recommend

  • hamzah
    Nov 4, 2010 - 2:46PM

    I feel the writer is perhaps being a bit over-sensitive. What we need to do is set our own house in order. The ‘liberal’ west is welcome to its views. We need to be introspective and respect ourselves and our values rather than expect others to do so. Recommend

  • AzA
    Nov 4, 2010 - 3:41PM

    @Ali Farooqui

    “So what you are saying is that all the press hatred and persecution faced by these women in US, Canada and UK and all the snide remarks made about them on the streets are false? no wait it must be a propaganda by religious zealots .. “

    Yes, my friend, I don’t know what press you read or what channels you watch, but, here in the US, making a snide remark on one’s appearance or ethnicity is an offense for which you could go to jail.Recommend

  • Mawali
    Nov 4, 2010 - 5:19PM

    For one Turkey is a Muslim country and part and parcel of your larger Muslim “biradaree” Then, since when did Turkey begin to reflect or be a proponent of the Western values. Turkey is a Muslim country and a European wannabe period. Let’s keep definitions and terminologies distinct shall we?
    The issue of Headscarf controversy keeps coming up because people like yourself will not let “sleeping dogs lie”? You initiated this discussion?
    The fact of the matter is that wearing of a headscarf as a religious symbol is wrong and Islam itself remains divided on the issue. This has been made into an issue not by the West but by the Wahabi Quran toting yahoos from the evil kingdom and their cohorts around the World. Just two decades ago Hijab was not just a non issue but worn by fewer women even in counties like Egypt.
    Quran remains nebulous at best on this issue. Interpretations remain as varied as the Islamic practices around the World. But, as someone once pointed out; you cannot accept Quran verbatim. In order to get the gist of the edicts there goes much into understanding the root of the issue Quran seems to be addressing. Remember Quran is a reactive document to events taking place 1400 plus years ago. If not for the ambiguity at least consider the time span when interpreting and reinterpreting Quranic edicts so as to not only address modern issues but to bring the Muslim people in line with modern thinking and practices.
    Sure beat up on the West for all your ills. I applaud the West in general and France in particular for restoring dignity to women and free them from the shackles of Muslim male insecurities. You sir ought to volunteer from here on to give up all things western including that shirt and tie you proudly display in your portrait. Women have feelings just like men. Why ask a woman to cover herself up/ why not cover yourself up as well and then no one will know anyone’s identity or sex. Don’t look at all women as sexual objects. Recommend

  • Ali Farooqui
    Nov 4, 2010 - 5:57PM

    @AzA : and how many actually do get convicted?? please Recommend

  • Ali Farooqui
    Nov 4, 2010 - 6:00PM

    @AzA : and how many actually do get convicted?? please .. and its beside point which press is saying what .. things are being said example on my part of the globe is Sky, Sun, Mail. And I am amzed you being in America are not aware of the contents of Fox newsRecommend

  • AzA
    Nov 4, 2010 - 8:44PM

    @Ali Farooqui

    I am sorry, I don’t watch Fox News —- or Aalim Online.Recommend

  • Ali Farooqui
    Nov 4, 2010 - 10:08PM

    @ AzA : then you can hardly complain .. and Btw Aalim Online ? typical liberal radicalRecommend

  • Ali Farooqui
    Nov 4, 2010 - 10:22PM

    @MAWALI not for the ambiguity at least consider the time span when interpreting and reinterpreting Quranic edicts so as to not only address modern issues but to bring the Muslim people in line with modern thinking and practices.

    how convenient … Drinking, zina, riba, gambling they are all also modern practices kindly let us know when you are able to interpret Quran in line of these modern thinking … FYI 24:31 and 33:59 Al QuranRecommend

  • Nov 4, 2010 - 10:56PM

    Blaming the Swiss or the French for banning this or that does not get us anywhere. I think all of us have heard/read the story of the camel who wanted to put his nose in the tent. As the story goes pretty soon the camel was occupying the tent and the human had been pushed out.Perhaps, having learnt some lessons with the rise of the Nazis most of Europe / West is not willing to take any chance with conservative / illiberal ideas. The insistence on hijab / ankle length pyjamas is seen as a manifestation of such ideas.

    In a lighter vein, if the absence of the head scarf can be seen to be a threat requiring enforcement of the scarf (and much more) by the vice squads, why can’t the presence of head scarves be seen as a threat?Recommend

  • Hasan
    Nov 5, 2010 - 12:20AM

    @Ali Farooqui: Last I heard you could get Maulana to declare government of woman haram and then halal. What did it take; diesel permit I think? I’m sure you could get other things allowed too…for the right price. Don’t underestimate the power of Maulanas.Recommend

  • Nov 5, 2010 - 1:21AM

    Why, in the name of all that is good, is faith the sole victim of this hatred?
    It’s heartbreaking. Recommend

  • Nov 5, 2010 - 10:34AM

    @Just Another Ayesha

    Why, in the name of all that is good, is faith the sole victim of this hatred?
    It’s heartbreaking.

    Oh,puhleez,don’t be so melodramatic. The headscarf was banned in Turkey ages ago, in Egypt the Islamic University,no less, also banned the same and no one claimed victimhood for ‘faith’. Why so now?

    By the way isn’t faith all about God, Prophet, Namaz, Hajj and Jakat or did Minarets and Pyjamas and Burkas also got added to the list of musts.

    And pray, whose faith and whose hatred, think of other’s ‘faiths’ and laws relating to such ‘faiths’ in many countries, including Pakistan.Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Nov 5, 2010 - 2:25PM

    @faraz: if you don’t understand what liberal extremist means…dont start arguing with me.

    and just because someone isn’t your typical “liberal” does not mean they support terrorism and extremism. Lets grow up and move away from that immaturityRecommend

  • Nov 5, 2010 - 6:14PM

    As a man, the author should be the first person to laud the generals in Turkey. “I will not be turned on by the sight of your hair madam” is what you should be telling every woman who dons the headscarf in the belief that the onus of maintining public morality rests on her shoulders. Recommend

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