New Freedoms in Turkey—for Whom?
SSRC Blog Roundup
New and Noteworthy in SSRC blogs
By Mary-Lea Cox
Participants in SSRC’s blogs weigh in on the latest European head scarf controversy in Turkey, the stakes involved in Harvard University's vote to allow open access policy for faculty publications, and the outbreak of conflict in Chad.
New freedoms in Turkey—for whom?: Bloggers on The Immanent Frame addressed the controversy that has arisen as a result of Turkey’s government voting to approve measures easing restrictions on women wearing Islamic headscarves in universities.
The social anthropologist Jenny White writes that the din over headscarves on Turkey’s campuses misses the point. Instead of arguing about whether the presence of women students with covered heads will be the "camel’s nose in the tent," she says, Turkish people should be debating democratic principles and the role of tolerance: "Liberal democratic laws exist in order to protect groups and individuals against the intolerant forces of society. But how does an elected government create such laws in the face of powerful and often intolerant special interests?"
Princeton professor Joan Wallach Scott, author of The Politics of the Veil, finds it curious that in Turkey as elsewhere in Europe the headscarf has become a symbol not only of political Islam but of the oppression of women: "When, in 2004, for example, France outlawed the wearing of headscarves in public schools, it was in the name of secularism and gender equality. The two were taken to be synonymous." In Scott’s view, however, this thinking is flawed: "History, both in France and Turkey, contradicts the claim that secularism guarantees equal rights for women and men. The French secular state long denied women the right to vote and its civil code enforced male prerogatives over women in families until well into the twentieth century. The Turkish republic (a one-party state until after WWII) was inspired by the French republic (although it gave women the vote in 1934, ten years before France) and it modeled its penal code on Italy’s. Until that code was revised in 2001 (with the support of the AKP), women were defined as men’s property and rape was considered a violation of a male property-holder’s right. Ideas about family honor resting on the control of women’s sexuality are not unique to Islam, nor are they foreign to secularism." (Scott’s posting was picked up by the nonpartisan blog newspaper, The Issue, as an introduction to its 11 February 2008 issue of the day: "Cultural Symbolism of Islamic Headscarves.")
Gulesen Erin Uzun entered a comment questioning Scott’s thesis: "As a young Turkish woman, this certainly is not something I want for the daughters of Turkey. Democracy and secularism go hand in hand with women’s rights, especially in countries where the dominant religion is Islam. And for that matter, Turkey continues to be one of the few examples in the whole world — certainly the only example in the Middle East — where the overwhelming majority of the population (99 percent) is Muslim, which is also a democracy and is still secular."
Access and Taxes: In the SSRC’s newly launched blog, Knowledge Rules, Stanford education professor John Willinsky considers the question that has been raised in Congress about whether colleges and universities should be required to justify their tax-exempt status by spending a minimal proportion of their endowment on public purposes, just as foundations do. This is also, of course, a question that relates to this week’s news about the Harvard Arts and Sciences faculty voting to allow open access to Harvard scholars’ research publications. Although the Harvard faculty was motivated by their wish to have more control over how their work is used and disseminated, Willinsky interprets this development as a sign that elite universities are becoming more aware of open access as a means of fulfilling their public missions—that it won’t simply be enough to use their endowment funds for increasing financial aid, as many are now doing. (An even better example, he notes, is Stanford’s steering of endowment funding to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) "From where I stand, as someone concerned with both this public service question and current changes in scholarly communication, these universities have a wonderful opportunity to do more than modestly expand access to their degrees for the brightest and the best…. [They] are also in a position to direct endowment earnings toward greatly increasing access to the very body of knowledge to which they eagerly contribute on an almost daily basis."
Making Sense of Chad: SSRC program director Alex de Waal devotes a couple of his recent Making Sense of Darfur postings to the recent coup attempt in Chad (which Sudan, Chad’s neighbor, is alleged to have been behind). In a Feb. 4 posting, he makes some ominous predictions: "The war for Chad is not over. It is likely to become more bloody and involve a wider humanitarian disaster before any solutions can be grasped. The next week will be critical for the future of the country–and for the wider region, including Darfur, as well." (This particular posting was cited, along with the blog itself, in the Feb. 7 New York Times article "Fighting in Chad's Capital Ebbs, But Problems Loom," by Lydia Polgreen.) In his Feb. 9 posting, De Waal stresses the need for knowledge of Chad’s complicated history when trying to comprehend the conditions that have led to Chad now having declared a state of emergency: "Chad was the first African country to win the dubious distinction of having its capital city destroyed in a civil war. It was also the site of the first venture into peacekeeping by the Organisation of African Unity—a brave effort that ended in failure when the force had to withdraw under fire. And it was in Chad that political scientists first used the term ‘warlord’ in an African context."