[Marxism] Re: European Court yields to Islamophobia

Emrah Goker antidoxic at gmail.com
Thu Nov 24 05:34:15 MST 2005

>From within Turkish politics, the situation looks a bit more
complicated, I should say. I'll come to that.

>From the perspective of EU politics concerning European Muslim
communities, an argument can be made about "Islamophobia", but the
burden of proof is upon us. There were 17 judges in the court from all
over Europe. The heart of the decision against Leyla Sahin lies in the
court's rejection of two violations: (1) Article 9 of the Convention
for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; and (2)
first sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 in the Convention.

Article 9 reads: "1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his
religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with
others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief,
in worship, teaching, practice and observance. 2. Freedom to manifest
one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as
are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the
interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health
or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of

First sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 reads: "No person shall
be denied the right to education."

16 of the 17 judges thought that Turkey's treatment of Sahin did not
violate these two items. There three other articles involved, but they
are secondary to the heart of the matter (and the decision about their
non-violation was unanimous). An argument about Islamophobia needs to
show that the interpretation of the judges were biased and political
and motivated by an aversion against Muslim practices. Clues for this
line of thought can be found in the very illuminating
counter-interpretation written by the Belgian judge, sole dissenter in
the decision about these two articles, Mrs. F. Tulkens. She of course
doesn't accuse her colleagues, but argues why the Turkish ban against
veiling is unjust. The text she has written is a very good treatise on
interpreting religious rights and secularism.

I have the full 53 pages of the court decision, including Tulkens'
dissenting opinion at the end, I can send it to anyone interested.
(The text - dated Nov 11, 2005 - can also be dowloaded from the
European Human Rights Court case server:
http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/search.asp?skin=hudoc-en . Conduct a
search in the "judgments" category, application # 44774/98.)


Now in Turkey, the politics of the veiling situation cannot easily be
framed in a North American- or European-style "Islamophobia". The
version of orthodox Sunnism, i.e. Hanafism, which is the dominant
tendency among Turkish and Kurdish Muslims, has always been an
integral element of Turkish stately reactionarism and nationalism --
especially against the Left and the union movement. The Army had made
only pragmatic use of reactionary/politicized Hanafism, especially
during the fascist coup back in 1980, but the non-secular, right-wing,
to be precise, "worst" elements of Hanafi conservatism (which, in the
last 20 years, became more and more influenced by Wahhabism) has been
hegemonic amongst many sections of the civilian bureaucracy since
mid-1960s. The so-called "Turkic-Islamic Synthesis" was used as an
oppressive, racist, conservative technology of power by the ruling
class to destroy the workers and other left-wing movements toward the
end of the 1970s and well into the 1980s after the coup d'etat.

Today's "turban/veiling problem" in Turkey owes partly to the social
movement support mobilized by mainstream Islamism (encouraged by
post-coup conservatism) after mid-1980s. The Welfare Party (along with
its European organization, the National Outlook Movement) made good
use of the newly deradicalized political field. The style of veiling
that marks today's discussion is a genuine child of the 1980s, and the
young women who were the agents of this emergent style were from the
relatively better-off (mostly middle class fractions) households
supporting the Islamist movement. That particular veiling style (see,
for example: http://www.samanyoluhaber.com/db/resim/haber/nor/10291.jpg)
is peculiar to the politicized Hanafi interpretations of the National
Outlook circles and does not represent the general forms of veiling
practiced by Turkish and Kurdish Sunnis. It was also debated that the
style was not Islamic at all, or that Islam does not dictate that kind
of covering of the female body, but this is more of a theological

However, the nationalist-laicist establishment, especially provoked by
the Army's threat perception, chose to aggravate the situation by
attacking public-political appearances of the Islamist movement.
Rather than facing with their mistakes in the past, or with the fact
that the "laicist" state itself, for many years, fed the channels of
politicization of Islam, they tried to forcefully "remove" the
problem. It didn't work, on the contrary, a movement of religious
young women trying to continue their university education, emerged.
(Yet even this students' movement has been monopolized and patronized
by the alpha males of the Welfare Party for many years.)

Today's right-wing neoliberal government, remnant of the more
conservative Islamist movement, is still trying to legalize veiling in
universities and other state institutions. I find this hypocritical,
because the government is repressive when it comes to Alevis, the
Left, workers rights, or to irreligious women. To be honest, this
"right to religious veiling", as it has been politicized in many cases
like that of Leyla Sahin, is the problem of a small minority of
religious women. Most of them are graduates of the religious (and
state-financed and regulated) Imam-Hatip high schools. Theoretically,
these schools educate imams and hatips, religious Sunni clergy, but
young women are also accepted (another result of the stately
"Turkic-Islamic Synthesis"), and only 10-15% of the school graduates
are employed in state institutions related to the regulation of Sunni
practices. During the neoliberal period, no government wanted to
reform these conservative, non-secular, reactionary schools. I guess
the bureaucracy (also the Army) did not want to give up its hold on
the regulation of Islam, but then Islamists took hold on the
bureaucracy responsbile for this, and clashed with other, radically
secular-nationalist segments of the bureaucracy (including the Higher
Education Council, many courts and juridical institutions, President's

At the moment, there seems to be an impasse: The government has to
find a way (to keep its right-wing electoral support) to legalize this
peculiar form of veiling, but to do this, the only legal way left to
them is constitutional reform. And putting specific articles in the
1982 Constitution (which is mostly a Military constitution, remnant of
the coup) related to this issue is highly controversial. The more
radical (the left-wing, perhaps) way to go is to overhaul the whole
bureaucracy, cut all state finance to the regulation and
monopolization of Islamic practices (including support for the
Imam-Hatip schools), and truly secularize the government's relation to
religious affairs. But this is against the interests of the emergent
conservative capitalists (who got wealthy through their careers in the
Islamist movement), because they need all those positions inside the

All in all, as it is constituted within Turkey, in contrast to the
French contention, this veiling issue is only tangentially about
"Islamophobia". Sure, there are those who think that these young women
are Islamofascists trying to take over the state, but politically,
they are not hegemonic. And the problem's relation to human rights and
democratization is more complicated than even the dissenting judge in
the ECHR decision allows. There may be parallels to the US fight over
"intelligent design", but I've already written an awfully long post...

Emrah Goker

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