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International Conference “Religion Revisited – Women’s Rights and the Political Instrumentalisation of Religion”, Heinrich-Böll-Foundation & United

Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), 5-6 June 2009, Berlin

Deniz Kandiyoti Secularisms, Citizenship and Gender Equality: Contested Approaches
I would like to start my talk by specifying what I am not going to talk about since the “secularisms” in my title might raise false expectations about what I am going to say. I am not going to rehearse critiques of the “secularization thesis” because we have heard quite a lot on this subject already. As you know, the theory claiming there would be a decline of religion under conditions of modernity has been repeatedly shown to be mistaken. Apart from numerous publications on this question, we also have popular books with jazzy titles like “God is Back” that some of you might have picked up. I will simply remind you all that 1979 was the year when the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was passed at the same time that the Moral Majority in the United States, the Solidarity Movement in Poland and the Islamic Revolution in Iran were giving us a foretaste of the diverse imbrications of religion with politics. My aim today is neither to examine secularism as a political doctrine nor to look at secularization as a process but to focus on a more specific topic. I would like to probe into the relationships between different types of secularism and different forms of national belonging that are implicit in modern conceptions of citizenship. To that effect, I shall start with a number of assumptions. My first assumption is that the political uses of secularism are very closely related to transitions to modern citizenship, whether these are transitions from feudal orders to the concept of “citoyenneté” after the French revolution, or whether these are articulated in various forms of post-colonial nationalisms. Secondly, very different forms of belonging are implicit in modern concepts of citizenship. These vary from conceptions based on civic understandings of living on the same territory (or jus soli), to understandings of belonging based on blood and descent or (jus sanguinis). These have implications that I will not go into today. My third assumption is that genealogies of national belonging are, most of the time, heavily imbued with the language of religion. The presentation on Poland we heard yesterday was pointing very strongly in that direction. We have numerous examples like the Orthodox Church in Serbia or in Greece, Catholicism in Poland or Islam in Pakistan where nation and creed are intimately enmeshed. This brings me to my fourth and most central assumption, namely, that secularism is not a universal category but that its meaning and practice de1

For example. It is. The consequence of this path is. Lisa Hajjar proposes a useful tripartite model of state-religion relationships in relation to predominantly Muslim countries or countries with sizable Muslim minorities. I would like to get one very important issue out of the way. Nonetheless. The history of personal status legislation in Egypt is a good example of these pressures since the law has been seesawing between using Shari’a as a source of legislation versus using Shari’a as the source of legislation. The second path. This has become an enduring stake in the politics of the country. Countries like Israel. that women are deprived of equal citizenship rights in the sense that they do not have equal recourse to the codes and laws enforced by the state. that of “nationalization”. and Nigeria provide examples of this path. I will come back to this issue in greater detail when I talk about the case of India. institutions and authorities are accorded semi-autonomy from the state regime. by and large. especially when it comes to personal status legislation. therefore. some of you may recall the debate on Shari’a law in Canada and the discussion as to whether Muslim women should be subject to the laws of the land or to Shari’a law. One of the most immediate consequences of this path is that there is a great deal of socio-political pressure on states by conservative constituencies that push for more Shari’a and less secular state law. If we accept these propositions the key questions to pose must be how. One may tentatively add to this category some of the multiculturalist policies of liberal democracies in the West. Numerous examples of “nationalization” may be found in Arab states (Egypt being a pertinent case). A clear example is that of the United States. a secular country where the political weight of religion is arguably much larger than in Europe where we find established churches (as in the case of the UK with the Church of England). The first path defined as “communalization” describes a situation where religious laws. the legal domain still remains an area of active contestation both by women’s rights activists and by their detractors. Before getting into the main body of my talk. modern constitutions that accord men and women equal rights under the law co-exist with Shari’a derived personal status codes that limit this equality in various ways. This concerns the question of the legal status of religion and its implications for gender equality. possible to concede that the different paths adopted by states in accommodating religion have significant consequences for women’s rights and for gender equality. India. occurs in contexts where religious laws and jurisprudence are incorporated into or are influential over the state’s legal regime.rive from specific historical contexts. why and by whom are concepts of secularism being appropriated and for what purposes. The legal separation between religion and the state does not necessarily result in the relegation of religion to private space nor does it limit its influence on the public sphere. Here you have a situation where secular. In this respect. After listening to discussions of the Polish case yester2 .

with different interpretations of how strictly these should be understood and enforced. clearly. paradoxically. The two cases that spring to mind are Iran and Pakistan. that of “theocratization”. which I will discuss in greater detail. In what I call the “master narrative” of Turkish secularism. likewise. The dilemma was how to move from an empire based on a multiethnic. too. Zoya Hasan. this is not the case in Pakistan where the army has been the main enforcer of Islamization policies. PanIslamism as a rallying ideology also failed as the Arab provinces. theocratic monarchy to a republican nation state. broke off. could be said to have a nationalized religious regime whereby it becomes very difficult to separate state law from religious law and doctrine. managed to accentuate the role of religion in public life rather than bring about its decline. These debates have included reformist elements in the case of Iran and remained more consistently conservative in the case of Pakistan. the atavistic and that which needed to be combated. You have to bear in mind that this was happening in the context of a very bitter post-partition struggle when Pakistan separated off as a Muslim state. the result is widespread. The response was a type of pluralism that. While theocratization is based on clerical rule in Iran. political pluralism or a “weak” form of secularism where pluralism vis-à-vis the state did not imply building walls of separation between religion and public life. In practice. and where the defence of religion and the defence of state become co-terminous. The consequence is that public debates on women’s rights are restricted to their rights under the Shari’a. What became the anti-thesis of secularism? What was the political response and what categories emerged as “dangerous” to the political system? In post-independence India the key dilemma was. The result was that in India the anti-thesis of secularism was communalism. It became in the words of a colleague at our workshop. the key dilemma here was very different. the 3 . Attempts to salvage the empire on the basis of a civic Ottomanism had failed miserably as all the Balkan provinces broke away under the sway of nationalist movements. I would now like to turn to a comparison of two secularisms which are purported to be in crisis. state sanctioned gender injustice. Moving on to Turkey. occurs where the state bases its own authority and legislation on religious law and jurisprudence. I have constructed my argument around the key dilemmas that secularism was trying to address in each although they are extremely different given that theocratization does not necessitate clerical rule. those of India and Turkey. The third path. it is possible to conclude that Poland. as was the response. how to devise an integrative national narrative in a post-colonial society divided by religious and caste cleavages. This was the background against which the anti-thesis of secularism in Turkey became religious reaction (irtica). The reason I think the comparison is particularly pertinent is because these cases seem to represent two opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their understanding and application of secularism. It was communalism that represented the retrograde.

it is claimed. led to a resurgence of identity politics and of religious identities. the founder of the republic. This led to a rupture between state and society. An alternative narrative draws attention to the fact that claims of national belonging in Turkey were at no point divorced from being Muslim and Sunni. we find an extremely ambiguous relationship of the state towards religion in two multi-party democracies where the importance of electoral calculus has pushed religious forces (Hindu and Muslim) powerfully to the forefront. these actors represent. The conundrum. democratization becomes more or less co-terminous with the ascent of previously marginalized Islamic actors. became how to respond to appropriations of secularism by an authoritarian military /bureaucratic elite. The response was an onslaught on Ottoman institutions and that included expelling religion from public life. Therefore secularization was a direct adjunct of Western-looking modernization. The key moment of transition came in the 1980s which ushered in economic liberalization policies that led to an emergence of Muslim identity politics in the context of democratization and a revitalized civil society. was a progressive leader who wanted to Westernize and who thought that Islam was retrograde. Arguably. in both cases. In both cases. there was another which had to do with doing away with the ancien régime. in both cases. This narrative centres on the claim that after the demise of the Ottoman Empire the republican state effectively failed to transform society. between a Kemalist elite and a Muslim population. a major reconfiguration of the social forces in society and of the spheres that the state could and could not control. It is worth noting that the Turkish rendering of secularism is laiklik (from the French word laïcité). Therefore. In this narrative. the Sultan Caliph was the favoured interlocutor of the British and a British mandate was on the table. At the point of the dissolution of the empire. republican laicism had not so much disestablished religion as brought it under state control through the creation of new institu4 . disestablishment of Ottoman Islam became a raison d’etat for nationalist republicans and central to dismantling the ancien régime. an alternative modern public sphere. This has. Overthrowing the monarchy and bringing in the republic was a revolutionary move in the context of a war of national liberation. in time. The final commonality is a lack of consensus – evident in debates among public intellectuals and politicians – on what a secular polity might look like. While this is one part of the story. I will now move to a comparison of Indian and Turkish secularisms. I would first like to briefly highlight some of the commonalities between the two cases. I would now like to examine in greater detail the contours of Turkish secularism which I have constructed around two contested narratives. The effects of transitions from state-led to neo-liberal development policies have produced. The first narrative (or the “master narrative”) has become the conventional wisdom on Turkish secularism.key idea is that Kemal Ataturk.

was founded as early as 1962 (and received support from Rabitat-ul Islam in Saudi Arabia). The point is that a de-legitimization and devaluation of the secular and. The role of the Turkish army. However. It may be instructive to quickly look at a few statistics in the field of education to illustrate this point. A noteworthy feature of this increase is that there is a clear gender disparity in enrolment in religious establishments. Note that these developments were not necessarily instigated by Islamist parties but by a variety of centre-right parties. this debate was triggered in 1985 when the Supreme 5 . Overall. based on the notion that Islam was an antidote to threat of communism. This is where Milan Kundera’s inspired phrase concerning “totalitarian kitsch” – to denote the ritual expressions of state power – comes into play. that is generally hailed as the bastion of state secularism. In a nutshell. There was a consistent ambivalence of the state vis-à-vis religion. After the 1980 military coup. it was the Turkish army that was instrumental in introducing compulsory religious education in schools and that endorsed a new orientation for Turkish Islam (or the Turkish-Islam synthesis) based on three main pillars: the family. In India. the key transition took place after the 1950s with the shift to multi-party democracy when there was a more sustained incorporation of religion into politics through a mixture of populist and anticommunist. It is a moot point whether this display takes the form of fountains streaming with the blood of martyrs and commemorations of Karbala in Tehran or whether busts of Ataturk are paraded in Anatolian towns like processions of the virgin. Educational policies since the 1970s resulted in a systematic increase in state-sponsored religious education at all levels. and the same applies to Quranic schools where girls heavily outnumber boys in the courses. I apologize to our German audience for whom the words “Kinder” and “Kirche” might have unpleasant associations. the first Association to Combat Communism. Where does this bring us in terms of gender equality? What are the paradoxes and dilemmas that reside in these different paths of secularism? I have selected two examples as object-lessons. My final point concerns the sacralisation of the secular with the army turning the Kemalist legacy and the figure of Ataturk into a secular cult. indeed. Cold War policies. the debates over the Muslim Women’s Act versus the Unitary Civil Code best exemplify the conundrums many feminists face. For instance. state-sponsored religious education has been instrumental in the creation of cadres with a religious formation and outlook over a period of at least forty years. of the religious inevitably follow when they are inhabited by projects that are seen as illiberal. the military and the mosque. deeply enmeshed in ties of patronage with influential tarikat leaders (Sufi orders) and religious communities. deserves scrutiny.tions. Female student enrolment is much higher than boys’. The curricula teach girls that biology is destiny (fitrat) and that traditional roles are religiously ordained.

Focusing on the headscarf (rather than. heightening the concerns of secularist constituencies that this was not so much about safeguarding the rights of Muslim women as a more insidious policy of encroachment. thus creating a serious conundrum for both Hindu and Muslim feminists. However. Although on the face of it. The Hindu right used the concept of secularism and equality to mount an attack against minority rights. thereby denying them equal citizenship rights. to remove the ban on veiling the AKP chose to trade with the right-wing nationalist party MHP over a notorious clause of the Penal Code (Article 301. applied to the court for maintenance from her husband. on “insults to Turkishness” which has led many writers and journalists to be prosecuted). However. The panic among secularists in Turkey was therefore not about Muslim women choosing to wear what they want. The headscarf debate in Turkey points to equally intractable dilemmas. the way in which the AKP government went about trying to secure Muslim women’s right to veil was to push for a constitutional change and starting to chip away at secular the constitution. The BJP-RSS and VJP also allied around the Uniform Civil Code. a 73 year-old divorcee by the name of Shah Banu. the political context in which this debate is unfolding is. The Shah Banu controversy reignited an old debate over a Uniform Civil Code. under Rajiv Ghandi. indeed. The Indian government. backed down and passed a new code. explicitly non-sexist code found unwanted companions in their cause in the shape of the Hindu right. in fact. riddled with contradictions. but about fears of a creeping policy of amr bil-maruf (the promotion of virtue in Arabic – a concept that is little known among the wider public in Turkey) by stealth. seen as illiberal and there was widespread demand for a well thought out process of comprehensive constitutional reform. targeting beards) meant that men with Islamist persuasions could come and go to universities as they pleased while it was the women who were discriminated against. in 1986 overriding the court’s judgement and excluding Muslim women from the purview of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code. say. The Indian court passed a judgement in her favour and made the mistake of adding that this was not infringing Quranic dictates. This debate was intensified when the women who were pushing for a unitary. The women’s movement in India had been demanding a uniform code since the time of independence. albeit in the service of a most antisecular agenda. Would giving people freedom to observe their religion imply that it also gives them the 6 . An uproar followed in the Muslim community interpreting this intervention as an assault against their religion. The 1980 constitution penned by the military was. the Muslim Women’s Act. giving the legislation a sexist bias. The illiberal and rather manipulative intent of the government became evident in the way these debates played out in parliament. the issue appears to revolve around the right of believing Muslim women to veil in “state” spaces (such as public universities and offices).Court passed a landmark judgement when an elderly Muslim widow. Even more regrettable is the manner in which they went about it.

I conclude with a question: Is there a principled stand on gender equality between the impulses of illiberal secularisms and various religious dogmas that make bids for social control using women? Thank you! 7 . The heterogeneous composition of the mass demonstrations in defence of secularism. where ultranationalist militarists parading Turkish flags rubbed shoulders with feminists is an indication of these divisions. their sisters’ keepers? When would choosing not to veil become equated with sin? Liberal feminist constituencies were deeply divided over this issue. The feminists wanted to adopt a slogan that was unambiguous.” They were attempting to reject both Islamists and the military in a bid to articulate a liberal. “neither the clog (the Islamists) nor the boot (the military). secular voice. and more importantly.freedom to become their brothers’. The constituency that is expressing such views currently feels both marginalized and threatened.