Hilal Kaplan is an important columnist who writes for the Taraf newspaper. She believes that democracy and free will should let people to be able to wear the headscarf. She is currently giving a fight for this with her articles.
Have you experienced any problems since you’ve started wearing a turban?
Yes, I have. When I was studying at Bilgi University there weren’t laws against students going into school with turbans. When it started we weren’t allowed to attend classes or exams but we went into exams with hats .So basically I finished Bilgi University by playing hide and seek with the security guards. When I was at Boğaziçi I had similar problems. Despite Boğaziçi being known as a liberal school, I had problems with the security guards who were happy with the law .It was hard because something a security guard would say would really annoy me. Boğaziçi has this famous image where there are students lying on the grass on campus. I could never enjoy that area because I had to hide from security guards .I could say the same thing for cafeteria life in Bilgi University.
As for problems outside of school, I’ve been both verbally and physically harassed. Once, an old drunk man tried to pull off my headscarf.
You gave an interview to Vatan newspaper dated 11th February 2008 and there you identified the ones who wear turbans “as women who wear silk scarves as a result of urbanization and betterment of welfare, and they are just replacement of women who would wear scarves made of cotton”. Is this the line you draw between turban and headscarf? Is this the reason why you prefer turban?
The word turban is something that was made up after 1980, to make it seem alienated, it is not a word that the public opinion has come up with or understood. For example; once the Kurdish were called as Turks from the mountains, we face the same situation. There are women who wear turban but these are among the same circle which consists of women who wear headscarves. Frankly, turban is a made up concept, it is institutionalized. Nobody can identify who wears scarves and who wears turban.
Do you think that a woman with a turban is being more outcasted than headscarf?
Türban is being exagerated by YÖK. Besides YÖK, it doesn’t effect a citizen that much. The level of discrimination is equal.
They say that putting on a headscarf is a freedom. Considering historical or geographical data, do you think the headscarf has really brought freedom to women?
I believe it’s wrong to associate taking off your headscarf with freedom. It’s said that taking off your headscarf is liberating for a woman. However, there is a lot of media related propaganda against woman who are not covered. There are moulds that are hard to fill. Such as the weight and height women should be. Sadly these are set from a man’s point of view and are co modifying women. This situation is increasing the amount of women suffering from conditions such as anorexia and bulimia. There are also millions of women who are having plastic surgery in order to free themselves from societies, which is ruled from a male point of view, comments etc…Whether she is covered or not, every woman tries to be free. In our history there is a very important movement called ‘The Ottoman Women Movement’. The majority of the women who took place in this movement were covered but they didn’t see this as a handicap. All women just stuck together and accomplished a lot.
So do you think the headscarf being free will add something to being free?
I believe it will because latest research shows that %70 percent of the women in Turkey are covered. If we exclude all these women from schools and working areas, we take away their economic and individual freedom. Since the 1930s Turkish women have the right to vote and be elected. However, %70 percent of them can vote but can’t be elected. So yes, I think it’ll be a very important step for freedom in Turkey. Unfortunately the headscarf issue is not the only problem we have to solve in order to be free. I believe that along with the headscarf ban each of these problems are very important and need to be worked on.
How do you feel about the headscarf issues being discussed in male dominant media, education and parliament circles?
You are very right. It’s very disturbing that some people are telling other people what to do and millions of women’s lives are being ruined in between but to be honest no one really cares. I think one of the main problems is that covered woman can’t be elected. If we could have a few women representing us we’d have some people voicing our opinions. I don’t like going on TV but recently I have been because I feel like someone has to represent covered women. Obviously, I don’t represent all covered woman but I can represent some stuff and I wanted to use this power. It is very important for women to stick together and protect each other’s rights in a male dominant media and political circle. Back in 2008, along with a few feminist friends, I published a declaration called ‘we’re taking care of each other’. I believe it was a very important step in order to break the male dominant vicious cycle.
Do women who wear headscarves, turban or nothing to cover their heads face social pressures? Can you give examples for each?
Women who do not cover their heads are exposed to more sexual harassment. I also experienced something similar to this. For social pressures for example I can tell you about my colleague’s neighbor who was influenced by her cousins and started covering her head and started practicing namaz. Then her family got angry and pressurized her, they even went physical. Some would be wearing headscarves may be because of the pressures from the family. I was insulted by people on the streets, but I knew these were on purpose because they wanted me to surrender and yield to their pressures.
What do you think about religion lessons in schools? Do you think there should be an obligation or there should not be a religion lesson in a secular country?
Our problem is that we are not secular. A country can not become secular by only writing to its constitution. Besides I believe it should be one of the elective lessons.
When we compare our country with other Islamic countries, what are the positives and negatives our country offers, the good and the bad factors in our country?
There are many Islamic countries; I find Turkey in general more positive than the other Islamic countries although there is a state ban of headscarves and education strictly outcasts the Kur’an. Even though it is tough for the people, the outcome for the country is more positive . Even if there’s a Democratic system creating the pressures, at least we can afford to have people who struggle with this pressure. But we are affording this struggle only in the last five years; before, just think of pre 2004, we were a country constantly under the threat of coups, there were many obstacles for expressing one’s thoughts. But comparing to other Islamic countries, Turkey has attained a faster velocity to change things in rights and freedoms domain. It is positive. However, I believe a lot is still very unfair for many Muslims and non-Muslims in the domain of religious belief. For example in Syria the Suryanis go to churches and it is more meaningful for them to live there. A long time ago in Turkey the Suryani people were forced to leave the country and only now have they started to return to their land. We cannot say that we are showing much effort for the non-Muslim community to stay in our country; a first hand example to this is the 1915 happenings. The inhabitant non-Muslim communities were treated like unwanted weeds in a flower patch because of unionist ideas in public. That’s why our secularism is actually debatable. Our country didn’t actually consist of much of a homogeny Muslim population until these low population non-Muslim communities disappeared. At the end, the only people that were left were of one religion: the Muslim people. Our questionable secularism is actually based on our past mistakes.
Which country has the fairest approach to the head scarf issue?
I’d say Canada, England and America. I think they’re very important examples. If we accept the fact that secularism is seen in Europe, I think secularism is something that protects the government from religion. Any type of “-ism” protects the public from religion . I believe governmental systems protect citizens from religion .I think Turkey needs a system that protects religion from the government. Any other system isn’t right for Turkey and we’ll all realise this in a couple of years.
Who has inspired you the most?
I have been inspired deeply by Hrant Dink. I believe his case should find justice but I have lost all hope about justice in Turkey. Why did I choose Hrant Dink? I chose him because he has been forced to be an outcast because of his Armenian identity. Despite all this he did not surrender and persevered his stand and tried to send a message across to people. He said “you don’t understand me” and these words make me really admire him and I try to follow his steps. Unfortunately we live in a country which treats our killers and murderers as heroes, and glorify them.
How would you define your occupation in 10 words?
I can not do that right know but i can say that i am trying to form justice in every case.
How would you husband would define your occupation?
My husband really cares about my job. He supports me therefore i consider my self as a lucky partner.
What was your most stressed moment?
Whenever these kinds of bans are discussed I always remember my days in Bilgi University I was always the one gathering covered students and arranging meetings against the headscarf ban. I felt the need to do this because there were diversities of opinions and along with some others I tried to keep us all together.
What is the one thing that most people don’t know about you?
I’d like to have done my master at a younger age. I know it’s not too late since I finished my master when I was 27 but I feel like I wasted a lot of time. I would also like to be more involved with literature. Even though I am I still don’t feel like it’s enough. It’s not something I generally tell people but I actually love poetry and am pretty good at reciting poems. I have a few poems that were published in my universities newspaper.
How do you want to be recalled?
Someone who tried to fight for equality and devoted her whole life to this. She was fair, honest. Those words would be the ones I would like to hear people talk about me. These words are enough. I am not a person who demands for more.