Yesterday was an historic day in Turkey as headscarved deputies were allowed for the first time since the 1930’s to sit in Parliament. A disabled female MP addressed the ruling Islamist party AKP in a rousing speech that may be called Turkey’s first “State of the Union” address since Ataturk addressed the first parliament as founder of the People’s Republican Party, the current official opposition.
Safak (pronounced Shafak) Pavey is Turkey’s first elected disabled member of parliament who lost her left arm and leg in a freak train accident in Switzerland. She’s also the intrepid and outspoken deputy chairwoman of the People’s Republican Party (CHP) that doesn’t share the style of her leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who’s often been accused of running Turkish opposition down to the ground as a cheerleader for the Islamists.
In an impassioned speech to the parliament Pavey took issue with statements reportedly made by one of the headscarved deputies that she would no longer be contaminated by opening up her head. She said those deputies above everyone else should be the custodians of rights for those fired for wearing mini-skirts, those beaten up for wearing an earring, those murdered for not fasting during Ramadan, those lynched for showing cleavage, and Christians who changed their names for fear of being discovered.
She said she had deep fears about the future of secularism in Turkey, but it’s not about symbols like headscarves and the red lipstick ban (on Turkish Airlines’ flight attendants), but about the mentality that seeks a Fatwa from (Ministry of) Religious Affairs to open places of worship for minorities. She said she fears the mentality that confronts The Law with Religion and ties the rights of one faith to the permission of another.
Pavey emphasized that the headscarved deputies should display the same sensitivity to others’ rights and ask themselves why Turkey is number 120 in the world for respecting women’s rights. Quoting Hillary Clinton, that “The future will change if women do”, she expressed her fears about women losing their individual freedoms as 5-year-old girls are being covered up and 15-year-olds given away in marriage. She said the headscarf is like a double-edged sword, representing freedom of conscience on the one hand, and repression on the other.
She expressed her regret that Turkey is no longer the jewel of secularism in the Middle East or the legend of co-existence as the majority seems bent on crushing the minority. Apparently alluding to the hundreds of army officers, writers, journalists and opposition politicians in jail, she said “If you want to avoid dragging this country to a terrible fate you must learn the difference between revenge and justice...We are not seeking a fight, but merely resisting for survival...Only our struggle for survival can prevent the radical monster you created from taking you prisoners.” She said the greatest guarantee for freedom of conscience is a flawless secularism, not shepherding with religious control.
Born to journalist parents, Pavey (nee Onal) is a graduate of the University of Westminster and the London School of Economics. She worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at several posts in Europe, Asia and Africa before returning to her native Turkey in 2011 to run for office where she was elected an MP from Istanbul. In 2012 she was honoured by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama with an International Woman of Courage award by the U.S. State Department.
In an article published by The Guardian on June 10, 2013 Pavey warned the West about the dangers of losing Turkey as the last stronghold of secularism in the Middle East in the name of democratisation.