Let them into the EU! Here is yet another example of just how far modern, secular Turkey is from genuine pluralism and freedom of inquiry.
A 92-year-old retired archaeologist will stand trial in Turkey for claiming that Islamic-style head scarves date back more than 5,000 years – several millennia before the birth of Islam – and were worn by priestesses who initiated young men to sex.
Muazzez Ilmiye Cig, an expert on the ancient Sumerian civilization of Mesopotamia between the fourth and third millennia BCE, is the latest person to go on trial in Turkey for expressing opinions, despite intense European Union pressure on the country to expand such freedom as freedom of expression. Her trial is scheduled to start in Istanbul on Wednesday.
She joins dozens of other writers, journalists and academics who have been prosecuted, including this year’s Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and novelist Elif Shafak….
The trial begins a week before a crucial European Union report on Turkey’s progress toward membership, which is expected to chide Turkey for slipping in reforms and not acting to change laws that have been used to curb freedoms – in violation of EU human rights standards.
The trial against Cig was initiated by an Islamic-oriented lawyer who was offended by claims made in her recently published political book, “My Reactions as a Citizen,” in which she says that the earliest examples of head scarves date back to Sumerian times, when priestesses who helped young men learn sex veiled themselves.
Unlike Pamuk and Shafak, who were tried under Turkey’s notorious Article 301, which sets out punishment for insulting the Turkish Republic, its officials or “Turkishness,” Cig is accused of “inciting religious hatred.” She could face 1 1/2 years in prison if found guilty.
An avowed secularist, Cig gained public attention when she wrote to Emine Erdogan, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s wife, urging her to take off her head scarf and set an example to women in this predominantly Muslim and secular country, where more and more women are veiling themselves in a show of religious piety.
Secularists like Cig view the head scarf as a symbol of political Islam and of female oppression.
Turkey has strict secular laws and regulations. Head scarves are banned in schools and in public offices.
Erdogan, whose party has roots in Turkey’s Islamic movement, has made no secret of his desire to relax the laws on head scarves. Cautious of sensitivities of pro-secular circles, including the powerful military, however, he has said that he would bide his time on the issue.
Pro-secularist groups were expected to turn out in force at the trial in a show of support to the archaeologist, who retired in 1972 and has written 13 books.
UPDATE: Good news: she has been acquitted.