As I glanced at my TV last night, I came across an interview on CNN Türk with writer Pınar Kür about hijabi women, where she harshly judged these women as backward and socially unacceptable. I could not believe that people could broadcast such content in 2014 as we discuss the deficits of multiculturalism to create promote equality. Kür's absolute disregard for hijabi women concentrated on the wives of Turkey's President and Prime Minister: In her own words, she could not stand the sight of these women as representatives of the state. Naturally, these statements caused uproar from print, broadcast and social media as thousands of people objected to her view that there was no difference between Playboy models and hijabi women during a live interview with a mainstream TV channel.
Until recently, I never witnessed such an aggressive statement on the main television channels in Turkey against one particular group of people. As a woman who chooses to wear the headscarf, I find Kür part of the extreme margin of society, part of the radical Kemalist culture that write on blogs, Twitter or any other platform that they can find a place for their marginal outlook, but not in the mainstream. The moderator of the program let her speak as she was cursing and humiliating headscarf-wearing women.
I can't blame Kür for making such a comparison between the Playboy girls and covered Muslim women. She is typical of her generation, cultural class and affiliation with secular identity. These words are typical for an exclusivist group called White Turks who are secular, consider themselves the most Westernized and are an economically privileged part of Turkish society.
The more secularism was understood as a call to reach a homogenous, faceless society, the less it raised a society with principles of equality since a majority of the people lost the right to express themselves. The aim of modernization was to reach a Westernized society in all aspects and by any means. The reflection of this idea found its roots more aesthetic, not substantial.
In this respect, the White Turks have been regarding the headscarf as a matter of backwardness and rural life from the very beginning. The reaction they created against headscarf-clad women has always been extreme, exclusive and polarizing.
Finally, her words are upsetting but not surprising after recent local elections during which this group of people campaigned against the ordinary people of Turkey by questioning their citizenship because they voted for Erdoğan. This degrading campaign against the people's will found a place in the mainstream media, mainly on Turkish CNN. I could not imagine a figure openly supporting racism to find a place in the Western media. An integral part of respect for human dignity and ethics in Western democracies is that no discriminatory tone should be tolerated. On Turkish CNN, I can see women wearing headscarves easily humiliated, degraded and insulted openly. I have two suggestions for these people.
1. Whatever the reason, from left or right, always avoid using abusive, sexist language against women regardless of who they are. Otherwise, the idea of mainstream becomes meaningless and vague in terms of representing and broadcasting the general.
2. Kür's statements were abusive and provocative against women wearing headscarves.
Protecting the interest and lifestyle concerns of a limited group, White Turks should not be above respecting the universal values of human dignity. It is not okay to mock the choice of millions of women wearing a headscarf in Turkey. An open dialogue looking into this irresponsible behavior by the Turkish mainstream media is worth being analyzed by asking, who really is the mainstream media and who do they represent?
About the author
Meryem İlayda Atlas is Editorial Coordinator of Daily Sabah. She is board member of TRT, the national public broadcaster of Turkey. Atlas also serves as a visiting scholar at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University.