What a woman wears on her head may literally cost you your head in Germany.
That is what German politician Ekin Deligoz discovered recently when she called upon Muslim women in Germany to take off their headscarves. Deligoz, who is Turkish-born, has long expressed her opposition to the scarf’s wearing and wants Muslim women in her adopted country to lay it aside, believing it is a symbol oppression and patriarchy. There are more than three million Muslims in Germany and about two million are Turks or of Turkish descent.
“You live here, so take your headscarf off,” said Deligoz in a German newspaper.
But unlike the veil controversy in England where the Leader of the House of Commons, Jack Straw, wanted Muslim women to go about with uncovered faces, Deligoz, a member of the leftist Green Party in the Bundestag, has received numerous death threats as a result of her comments. Ninety per cent of the threats, the Green politician said, were from men. Also unlike Straw, Deligoz now has joined the lengthening list of European writers, editors and politicians, among others, who have to accept police protection in their own countries due to threats from Muslim extremists.
Some German Muslim feminists see a danger to Germany’s legal and social order in the headscarf’s wearing, viewing it as part of the creeping Islamization of German society. Author Serap Cileli, a champion of Muslim women’s rights in Germany, views the headscarf as outwardly representing the fundamentalist Sharia legal order rather than a sign of faith. Sharia, in turn, she says, demands the subordination of women to men. So the head scarf, according to Cileli, is really a symbol of oppression.
As well, other Muslim feminists maintain the headscarf, like the veil, is a conscious self-segregation of its Muslim wearers from Western society and values.
And as the headscarf controversy flares up in Germany, it isn’t only the extremists who are venting their venom against Deligoz and other German Muslim feminists who oppose its wearing. In Turkey, the newspaper Yeni Mesaj claimed the Bundestag representative and another supportive politician, Lale Akgun, also a woman of Turkish descent, have been “made into Germans in Germany.” The two women have distanced themselves, the report stated, from their Turkish and Islamic identity, remaining Turkish in name only. The newspaper also said Deligoz and Argun are using Nazi-like logic in calling for the headscarf’s disappearance.
In truth, the only ones using Nazi-like logic here are the newspaper’s editors, especially with their reference to race with the inference of the superiority of one over the other. Moreover, their hate-filled comments make it obvious why the integration of Muslim immigrants has failed in so many European countries.
As expected, not much support for Deligoz is forthcoming from Muslim associations in Germany. While they condemned the death threats, according to a newspaper report, the associations sharply criticized their co-religionist. The chairman of one Muslim organization said Deligoz’s comments were nonsense. What is important for him, he continued, is “that she is allowed to spread this foolishness.” All of which, again, clearly shows the disturbing attitude of some Muslim leaders living in European societies toward the Western tradition of freedom of expression.
Moreover, some Muslim women teachers in German schools, where the wearing of the headscarf by instructors is forbidden, are offering resistance to this dress-code regulation. In the state of North Rhineland-Westphalia, where the ban came into effect last May, several Muslim teachers continued to show up in class with covered heads. It was last reported discussions were being held with the malefactors before implementing any disciplinary measures, which include dismissal.
In another well-known case, a Muslim teacher in different German state even tried to overturn the headscarf regulation in court, but failed. Muslim teachers have also tried to get around the headscarf ban in the classroom by decorating their head coverings and presenting them simply as a fashion accessory and not as “a religious-political symbol.” This, according to one school official, has created a “grey zone.” But another German school official, exercising more firmness and common sense, said the redecorating of the scarves to evade the law will not be tolerated.
But all the news is not bad. Emal Algan, the daughter of the founder in Germany of Milli Gorus (National Vision), a large, radical Turkish Muslim organization, laid aside her headscarf last year. Until then, the 44-year old Algan had led a typical life for a Turkish woman. Promised in marriage at sixteen, married at nineteen and the mother of six children, she had led a sheltered existence. Bearing her father’s famous name, however, had given her standing in Germany’s large Turkish community, where the now divorced German-Muslim was honorary chairperson for years of Milli Gorus’ women’s association.
In a newspaper interview last year, Algen said that without the identifying head scarf, she was now just “one of many” and was looking forward to a scarfless life,
“Almost every door is open to me now, and I step through inconspicuously,” she said.
And although many of her former Muslim friends have shunned her since her decision, Algen did not regret taking off the scarf, giving as her reason what should be the last word for any Muslim woman considering the same move: “My head belongs to me.”
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