"Untying Turkey's Head-Scarf Knot," a Commentary by the Christian Science Monitor

May 1, 2007

Source: The Christian Science Monitor


That strategic ally so vital to NATO; that bridge between Europe and the Middle East; that symbol of a relatively stable, secular democracy in a Muslim nation: Could Turkey now rupture over Islam's role in public life?

On Sunday, at least 700,000 protesters marched in Istanbul, insisting that Turkey maintain its secular laws and demanding the resignation of the government, which is led by the Islamic Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Sparking the protest is the election of Turkey's president, who is chosen by parliament – which in turn is dominated by the AKP. At first the AKP prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wanted the job. That met with a backlash from demonstrators and a warning from the military. Last week, the AKP foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, became the party's official candidate – setting off Sunday's much larger protest and another military warning.

What's objectionable about these men? Their wives wear the head scarf, a sign of Islamic modesty.

The controversy stretches further than a piece of silk fabric, although the covering itself is no small matter. The strictly secularist Constitution forbids wearing a head scarf in a public building. The ban is thanks to the revered founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who also gave women the right to vote and changed the alphabet from Arabic to Roman letters.