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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 8    Issue 13   16-30 November 2013

Professor A. R. Momin

Turkey Lifts Headscarf Ban on Lawmakers

Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey who had a deep fascination for the French republican system, believed that religion should be confined to the individual’s private life and that the visibility of religious symbols in the public sphere, especially in government offices, universities, hospitals and courts, should be curtailed. The wearing of the headscarf was particularly targeted by the Kemalist ruling elite. In 1981, the Turkish cabinet, which was formed after the 1980 military coup, issued a regulation to the effect that female students and faculty members would not be permitted to wear headscarves on university premises. Following the regulation, female students who refused to remove their headscarves were expelled from the university. The ban was enforced more stringently after the military generals forced out the government of Necemettin Erbakan.

In 1999, Merve Kavakci, a Harvard-educated computer scientist, who was elected a member of the Turkish parliament, was prevented from taking oath because she entered parliament wearing a headscarf. The then prime minster, Bulent Ecevit, accused her of violating the tenet of secularism and the Turkish president Suleyman Demirel called her an agent provocateur. She was stripped of her Turkish citizenship and her seat in Parliament. In 2007 Kavakci won the legal case when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that her expulsion from Parliament constituted a violation of human rights. In 2008 Prime Minister Erdogan’s wife was not allowed to visit a friend in a military hospital because she was wearing the headscarf.

Notwithstanding the Kemalist elite’s tirade against the wearing of the headscarf, more than three-fourths of Turkish women continue to cover their heads, and the number of women wearing headscarves is growing across the country, including the metropolitan cities of Istanbul and Ankara. Since it came to power in 2002, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has pledged to expand and deepen the democratization process by making it more inclusive and representative. It has accordingly clipped the wings of the Turkish armed forces, which had cast a long and overbearing shadow over the government since the establishment of the republic in 1923, opened the doors of reconciliation and negotiation with the Kurdish separatists, and has worked for the removal of tyrannical and undemocratic provisions such as the ban on the wearing of headscarves in public institutions. In 2008, the government lifted the ban on the wearing of headscarves on university campuses. On May 9, 2013, four main political parties in Parliament reached an agreement to add a clause in the new constitution that would allow women in positions of public service to wear headscarves.

In a landmark decision, the Turkish government announced on October 8, 2013 the lifting of the ban on headscarves for law makers and civil servants. Commenting on the decision, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “We have now abolished an archaic provision which was against the spirit of the republic. It is a step towards normalization. A dark time eventually comes to an end. Headscarf-wearing women are full members of the republic, as well as those who do not wear it.” Erdogan, whose wife wears a headscarf, added that opposing the wearing of headscarves in Parliament amounted to “disrespect to Parliament and their faith.” Following the announcement, four female MPs from the AK Party attended Parliament wearing headscarves. They were greeted by their colleagues with hugs, kisses and the clicking of cellphone cameras.

The Turkish government’s move to revoke the ban on the wearing of headscarves in public has been supported by a large majority of people, including women. In a survey of public opinion, carried out by an Ankara-based polling firm Metropoll in October 2013, it was found that more than 70% of the public supported lifting the ban. The lifting of the ban has been criticized by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which accused the AKP of undermining the country’s secular traditions. The headscarf ban remains in place for judges, prosecutors and the police and military personnel.

Showcasing the Splendour of Islamic Art in Seville

Museums, international exhibitions on Islamic art and culture and global auction houses are playing an important role in the growing worldwide appreciation of the grandeur of Islamic art. All the world’s major museums have Islamic art galleries, which are visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world.

A fascinating exhibition of 150 rare objects and artefacts of Islamic art opened in Seville, Spain on October 24, 2013. The exhibition, titled “Nur: Light in Art and Science from the Islamic World” and organized by the Focus-Afengoa Foundation in collaboration with the Dallas Museum of Art, focuses on light as a unifying motif in Islamic art and science. The exhibition, directed and curated by Dr Sabiha al-Khemir, a Tunisian-born expert on Islamic art who was the founding director of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, is organized thematically into two major sections: one showcasing innovations in artistic technique that enhance the effect of light, and the other focusing on scientific contributions that are related to light.

The artefacts and exhibits span more than ten centuries and encompass a wide geographical area from Spain to Central Asia and from India to the Middle East. Many of the exhibits have been taken on loan from well-known museums, libraries and private collections, including the Brooklyn Museum, the Bodleian Library of Oxford University, the Alhambra Museum in Granada and the Furusiyya Art Foundation, Liechtenstein. The exhibits include ceramics painted with luster, inlay metalwork decorated in silver and gold, objects made from precious and semi-precious stones, carpets, dishes and bottles painted in luster, and manuscripts of the Quran and of scientific treatises. Scientific objects featured in the exhibition include equatorial sundials, astrolabes, lunar volvelles and anatomical instruments. A section of the exhibition focuses on the healing arts. Many of the objects have never been exhibited before.

On display at the exhibition are four folios from a rare manuscript of the “Blue Quran,” which is written in gold ink on blue parchment. This Quran copy was written in Tunisia around the 10th century and was originally housed in the Great Mosque of Kairouan.

There are also rare scientific manuscripts, such as the oldest surviving illustrated manuscript in astronomy called “Treatise on the Fixed Stars,” written by the Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi in 1010. Some folios of a manuscript of Al-Zahrawi’s celebrated encyclopaedic work Al-Tasrif are also on display.

The Afghan War and the West’s Disastrous Role

Afghanistan is passing through one of the most turbulent, unsettling periods in its history. Three decades of violence and war have brought the country to the brink of utter devastation and ruin. Since 2001, when Afghanistan was invaded and occupied by the US-led military forces, thousands of Afghans, including large numbers of innocent civilians, women and children, have been killed. Afghanistan has the highest proportion of people with disabilities – an estimated one million people. About 80,000 people have become disabled as a result of landmines. More than 2.7 million Afghan refugees continue to live in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. More than 42 per cent of the country’s population of 35 million live on less than $1 a day, and the unemployment rate is nearly 40 per cent. The nation’s GDP stands at about $29 billion and GDP per capita at $ 1,000, one of the lowest in the world. There is a complete absence of foreign direct investment, thanks to violence, political instability and widespread corruption. According to Transparency International, Afghanistan ranks as the third most corrupt country in the world. The New York Times reported on April 29, 2013 that, for more than a decade, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the US Central Intelligence Agency to the office of Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai. The CIA is known to have supported some relatives and close aids of Karzai. The cash flow has fuelled corruption and added to the clout of Afghan warlords. In fact, some US officials point out that the biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan is the United States.

Afghanistan has one of the worst human development indices in the world. According to the United Nations Human Development Index, Afghanistan is the 15th least developed country in the world. The average life expectancy in the country is less than 50 years, one of the lowest rates in the world. The overall literacy rate is about 28 per cent and less than 10 per cent of Afghan women can read or write. Afghanistan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, estimated at 1,400 deaths per 100,000 live births. The country also has the dubious distinction of having the highest infant mortality rate in the world. One in ten Afghan children dies before attaining the age of five.

James F. Dobbins, a senior member of the Obama administration and Barack Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said in a recent statement that mistakes committed by Western governments have been responsible for prolonging the war in Afghanistan and for unnecessary loss of lives. Mr Dobbins, who is regarded as one of the most knowledgeable and experienced American diplomats on Afghan affairs and was instrumental in the installation of a coalition government in Kabul after 9/11, said that the initiative for reconciliation with the Taliban should have been taken much earlier. He added: “If an international peacekeeping force under UN or some other international mandate had been deployed (in Afghanistan) earlier on, I think it would have aided the process of stabilization, economic investment and allowed improved security in those early years when the situation was far more favourable than it subsequently became.”

Dutch Apologise for Indonesia Massacre

From the 16th century onwards, the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British traders and merchants made persistent and determined efforts to dominate spice trade through its sources in India and Indonesia. In 1800 Indonesia became a Dutch colony and over the next two and a half centuries the Dutch colonial government systematically plundered IIndonesia’s rich resources and ruled the country with an iron hand. The first mass nationalist movements –Budi Utomo and Sarekat Islam – were launched in the early decades of the 20th century. The Dutch colonial rulers responded to the nationalist movement with barbaric repression. Violent clashes between the Dutch army and nationalists began in the early 1940s.

Between 1945 and 1949, special forces of the colonial government carried out a series of summary executions in Indonesia, killing thousands of civilians. It is estimated that more than 40,000 Indonesians were killed by Dutch troops during the colonial era. On January 28, 1947, Captain Raymond Westerling ordered the execution of 208 Indonesian men on a field. Westerling and his troops carried out summary executions of thousands of Indonesians to wipe out resistance to colonial rule. Dutch troops wiped out almost the entire male population of Rawagede village in west Java in 1947. A United Nations report at that time condemned the killings as deliberate and ruthless. Westerling and his soldiers were never held accountable for the killings nor prosecuted by the Dutch government for what clearly amounted to crimes against humanity.

In 2009, the Dutch government decided to donate $1.16 million to the village of Balongsari, where 431 Indonesians were killed in cold blood by Dutch troops. However, the Dutch government avoided the term “compensation.” In 2011, nine widows of the victims of the massacre, who were in their 80s, filed a case with the Hague Civil Court, claiming compensation for the massacre of the male population on the islands of Sulawesi and Rawagadeh in Java. The Dutch government contested the case, arguing that the widows were not entitled to compensation because the statute of limitation had expired. The court rejected the Dutch government’s plea and ordered it to pay compensation to the widows. The Dutch government had to comply with the court’s order and paid €20,000 to the widows.

On September 12, 2013, the Dutch ambassador in Indonesia, Tjeerd de Zwaan, offered an apology on behalf of his country at a ceremony at the Dutch embassy in Jakarta. He said: “The Dutch government is aware it bears a special responsibility in respect of Indonesian widows of victims of summary executions comparable to those carried out by Dutch troops in what was then Celebes (Sulawesi) and Rawa Gede (West Java).” Ironically, the Dutch ambassador described what would be considered genocide and crimes against humanity in international law as “excesses.”

Afghanistan: Asia’s Drug Capital?

One of the gravest problems faced by Afghanistan today is the flourishing narcotics trade and the alarming increase in the number of drug addicts, including women and children. Afghanistan accounts for nearly 93 per cent of the world’s supply of opium, whose global retail supply exceeds $52 billion. In 2012 the cultivation of poppy covered an area of 154,000 hectares, up from 1311,000 hectares in the previous year. In the past two years, opium cultivation has steadily increased to reach the record level in 2013, with more than 209,000 hectares of land given over to poppy cultivation. From Shaddle Bazaar and other markets, where thousands of kilos of opium are openly bought and sold, opium is taken to heroin labs in the border areas set up by local drug lords, where it is processed into heroin and smuggled into Europe and the US. Heroin, which is refined from raw opium, is relatively cheap – about $6 for a gram -- and easily available. Drug trafficking is controlled by powerful warlords, many of whom enjoy protection from the government. The thriving drug trade is a great source of financial support for the Taliban as well as for many people in the government.

The number of drug addicts in the country is estimated to be around 1.6 million, or about 5.3 per cent of the population, one of the highest rates in the world. These include some 60,000 child drug addicts – the highest figure in the world. Women and children make up nearly 40 per cent of drug addicts. According to a recent report from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, one in 10 households in cities has at least one drug user. In the city of Heart, one in five households is a drug addict, and the total number of addicts is estimated to be around 100,000. In some villages, the rate of drug use is as high as 30% of the population. In Kabul, nearly 8% of the population is addicted to drugs. In some areas, entire villages have been affected by the menace. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the use of opium doubled between 2005 and 2009, and since then the rate has been steadily rising.

The addicts include refugees who came back from Pakistan and Iran, farmers, female carpet weavers, and war veterans who lost limbs in the war. It is common to see men and teenage boys sitting huddled and smoking and injecting heroin in the heart of Kabul. The addicts also include educated people, doctors and engineers. Children are introduced to opium, often by parents and grandparents, as early as the age of five. Sometimes toddlers are given opium by their mothers to stop them from crying for food, which is always in short supply. Afghanistan’s health ministry runs 95 de-addiction and rehabilitation centres across the country, but the rehabilitation programme is severely hampered by the shortage of funds and trained personnel.

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