The controversy over the arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, and the subsequent backlash from Kurds inside and outside Turkey, have tended to overshadow the fact that Islam remains the Turkish secular establishment’s greatest fear. However, with elections due to take place on April 18 (an attempt to force their postponement by a vote of no-confidence in the government of Bulent Ecevit failed on March 22) the ‘Islamists’ of Turkey are again under fire.
On March 22, government prosecuters asked a court to ban the Fazilat (Virtue) Party, saying that it was a continuation of the Refah Party, which was banned last year for ‘anti-secular’ activities. The terms of the ban forbad Refah members from maintaining the party in any form, but most joined the newly- established Fazilat Party, which is thus widely seen as the de facto successor to Refah. Fazilat is also accused of anti-secular activities. This attack reflects the military’s fear of Fazilat’s strength in the opinion polls, where it consistently receives more support than the 21 percent of the vote received by Refah at the last elections. Like Refah, Fazilat is the largest single party in Parliament.
Moreover, these support levels are despite the boost received by Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party, and other secular nationalist parties, by the arrest of Ocalan. Ap-pealing to Turkish nationalism in an attempt to trump Fazilat’s Islamic credibility was a major reason for the campaign to capture Ocalan, for both the Turkish authorities and their western allies.
There is, of course, no prospect either of Fazilat winning a majority of seats, or of its taking office as the largest party. The issue now vexing the secularists is the spectre of Muslim women in hijab sitting in Parliament. Seventeen Fazilat candidates are women, of whom at least eight wear hijab. Two of theseûMerve-Safa Kevakci and Aysenur Tekdalûûare standing in safe seats. But wearing hijab is banned in government offices and other state institutions by law. Thousands of students have been denied admission or entry to schools and universities for refusing to bare their heads, and some 2,700 school teachers have lost their jobs, according to the Mazlumder human rights group. However, the formal parliamentary dress code, which is decades old, makes no mention of headwear, saying only that women should wear ‘a tailored skirt and jacket suit’. What will happen when- if- women in hijab arrive to take seats in Parliament has become one of the burning issues of Turkish politics.
Muslimedia: April 1-15, 1999