Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Canada Calling: Ousted Turkish M.P. Merve Kavakci Calls on Canada to Help Hijab-Wearing Muslim Women

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Canada Calling: Ousted Turkish M.P. Merve Kavakci Calls on Canada to Help Hijab-Wearing Muslim Women

Article excerpt

CANADA CALLING: Ousted Turkish M.P. Merve Kavakci Calls on Canada To Help Hijab-Wearing Muslim Women

By Faisal Kutty

Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and columnist for

More than 37,000 girls expelled from school. Twenty-four thousand teachers fired. The possible sentencing to death of a mother and her two teenage daughters for participating in a political rally. Thousands of Islamic schools in the country ordered shut. Two hundred teachers prosecuted for violating a special anti-terror law. A journalist sentenced to 145 years in jail for writing an article critical of Israel. Teaching the Qur'an and Islam forbidden even in the privacy of one's own home.

Welcome to Turkey in the 21st century. The one-time seat of the Islamic empire is now one of the bastions of Muslim persecution. The girls, the mothers, the teachers and students all are guilty of the same crime--wearing or advocating the right to don the hijab, or Islamic head covering. Over the last three years, the military-run secular state has intensified the anti-Islam policies set in motion by Mustafa Kemal Attaturk in the early 1920s.

The plight of Turks who wish to practice Islam is virtually ignored by media in both the West and the East. Even editors of major Western media outlets who consider themselves enlightened and aware appear to be ignorant or indifferent on the situation in Turkey. I discovered this while trying to arrange interviews with Turkish Member of Parliament Merve Kavakci.

Following her 1999 election to parliament the 32-year-old legislator was precluded from taking the oath of office and was booed out of parliament by members of the ruling Democratic Social Leftist Party for walking into parliament wearing hijab. Although her story received international attention at the time, most editors I spoke with thought Kavakci was thrown out for refusing to wear the hijab. When I corrected them, they asked incredulously, "But isn't Turkey a Muslim country?"

No matter how hard the ruling elite in Turkey would like everyone to forget the country's roots, it seems the world just won't let it. Even if the world did, courageous Turkish women like Merve Kavakci certainly won't. "I have hope for Turkey that it would integrate into the Western world without ending its Islamic bonds with the East," said Kavakci.

Kavakci, who was in Canada in late November to deliver lectures and meet with the media in Toronto and Ottawa, is not someone working against progress for Turkish women, as her critics would have us believe. And she certainly is no pushover.

"Anyone who wants to fight for what is right must be prepared to struggle all the way," said the articulate advocate for women's rights.

The brunt of human rights violations falls squarely on the shoulders of Muslim women in Turkey, and Kavakci has made it her mission to fight for Turkish women, almost 70 percent of whom wear hijab. Her passion for the hijab issue was ignited back in the 1980s, when her mother was forced to leave her faculty position at a Turkish university, and was reinforced in 1988 when she herself was forced to leave medical school due to pressures to remove her hijab.

"If we want to make a difference and we really mean it, we have to be in politics," said the University of Texas graduate. "That's why I chose politics, to make changes in Turkey and for the whole of humanity."

The former head of foreign affairs for the Islamist Virtue Party said that religion is a large part of her identity, and insisted that others must accept her the way she is. …

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