“Be sure of it!” challenged the jealous Othello, for he must be certain of his wife’s infidelity. “Give me the ocular proof,” he demanded of the treacherous Iago, taking him by the throat. And in this manner Desdemona would be condemned by her own version of a headscarf, her handkerchief, the ocular proof.
The headscarf issue that so besets and divides Turkey is also “ocular proof.” But of what? National piety, that’s what. It allows America to call Turkey a “moderate Islamic nation.” It satisfies the American need for symbolic gestures, like the upright purple fingers of Iraqi voters signified democratic progress. For without such signs how can America (and Americans) be sure of Turkey’s democratic moderate Islamic piety? Without the headscarf Turkish women look, for the most part, much the same as any western women. Nevermind what’s in the head of Turkish women. For politicians, it’s what’s on it that counts. In their eyes, women are merely objects, with particular prurient focus on their hair. The admonition for women to cover their heads is made by men not the Koran.
The American woman presented as some sort of authority in the Turkish Daily News article entitled“American seeking a democratic Turkey” (Feb. 2, 2008) said that, for her, the headscarf symbolizes that “I am a Muslim woman.” Covering is “mandatory” and an “obligation.” One may make up one’s own rules about anything but there is no such rule in the Koran. “There must be some wisdom to it,” she insisted, demonstrating blind faith and little else. How sad a limitation for this woman who professes to be a “seeker.” For all the books she has read, one wonders if she read the Koran.
For the Koran, a precisely worded text, contains no language requiring women to cover their heads. None whatsoever. It renders specific procedures about many things. For washing: “hands as far as the elbow... feet to the ankles.” No water? Use “clean sand” (5.5). For apostates who preach against God: “have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides” (5:31). Regarding food: don’t eat “strangled animals” (5.3) and “kill no game while on pilgrimage” (5:95). Of course, it does admonish all people as “children of Adam” to cover their shameful parts, but this is derivative material from the Bible and the fall of man (7:25). And for all its enormous specificity, it never mentions women’s hair. There is much information in this fact.
In reality, the Koran is protective of women. Women should “draw their veils close round them” so they will not be molested (33:57). They should “cover their bosoms,” not display “their adornments except such as normally revealed” and not “stamp their feet when walking” (24:30). But there is nothing therein about wearing a headscarf in order to be a “Muslim woman.” This is a manmade myth, a sham actually, that is also dangerously stigmatizing of those women who don’t cover. Are they any less Islamic? And why should women bear the full signifying burden anyway? The answer is simple. First, because of the Turkish government’s complicity with America’s political project in the Middle East. Second, because men, particularly pious political men, said so. What a bad, sick joke on women!
Of course, women can wear anything they choose. But they should know why they do so. If they choose to wear a headscarf, they do so, not for Allah, not for the Koran, but for politicians. And they should take great care not to end up like Desdemona, torn apart by the deceitful hands of political men.