Last week Safak Pavey, MP for CHP, gave a speech in the Grand National Assembly on the occasion of the very first inclusion in parliament of four women wearing headscarves. Her speech captured the historical moment in all of its ambiguities and anguish. Her words were much discussed, debated, and repeated in Turkey and abroad. She also received death threats. Journalists dragged her through the mud, for instance, by asserting falsely that she lost her arm and leg as a result of a failed suicide attempt, rather than an accident.
Ambiguity, complexity, speaking truth to power — rather than blindly following the leader — still elicit fear and thus are demonized in large parts of Turkish society. Why is tolerance so fragile in human society? I shudder at the US Tea Party’s intolerant stances; I wonder at how after the coup in Egypt, even liberals swung suddenly like an unhinged gate toward uncritical support of a brutal military dictatorship. What would it take in Turkey for people to accept women with headscarves in parliament, Pavey asks, and also seek those same rights of expression and belief for others? Will women, having gained the right to wear headscarves, now stand up for women’s rights in other arenas where they are sorely lacking, or is the headscarf a finite victory — for whom, then? Will those having gained rights work to broaden the rights of others, like Turkey’s minorities, or will they keep them for themselves and block them for others?
Here is the entire text of Pavey’s historic speech, as translated by Hurriyet Daily News.