Turkey's reversing secularism, moves toward Islamic standards

Sunday, July 6, 2003

ANKARA For the first time in the history of modern Turkey, the government is moving toward the imposition of Islamic standards in public life.

Turkish officials said members of the ruling Justice and Development Party have been promoting Islamic law that would govern the conduct of government and public officials. They said the ruling party has been careful to avoid labeling the effort as Islamic.

Turkish parliamentary speaker Bulent Arenc provoked a storm earlier this year when he brought his wife dressed in a veil to official ceremonies, Middle East Newsline reported. Arenc has campaigned for the right for women to wear veils to Turkish universities.

The quiet campaign has been the result of a dialogue between Ankara's new pro-Islamic leaders and the powerful Muslim lobby in Turkey. Officials said Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, whose government enjoys the support of a huge majority in parliament, has pledged to Islamic fundamentalist constituents to reverse decades of staunchly secular rule that banned Islamic and other religious symbols in public life.

Parliamentarians have already pushed through a regulation that would regulate women's dress in their offices. The general secretariat of the Turkish parliament has banned women from entering parliament or any of its buildings in dress that reveals anything above the knee. This means that women must wear knee-length skirts or trousers.

Some parliamentary workers have been wearing mini-skirts and translucent garments in Ankara, one of the warmest cities in the country. The code also bans sleeveless or open blouses as well as open sandals.

Officials said the new dress code went into effect on July 1. The memorandum by parliament said women who violate the dress code would be penalized.

The pro-Islamic campaign comes as Turkey has been engulfed in a new military crisis with the United States. Over the weekend, U.S. forces captured 24 Turkish nationals in a Turkish military office in northern Iraq.

Eleven of the Turks were described as members of the special forces and were said to have planned to assassinate the new Kurdish mayor of Kirkuk.

Turkey has been alarmed by what officials have termed the Kurdish takeover of the mixed city of Kirkuk, which is the center of Iraq's northern oil reserves.

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