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GENDER-TURKEY: Slain Muslim Feminist Writer Honoured

Nadire Mater

ISTANBUL, Mar 6 2000 (IPS) - Practising feminism and criticising the established religion in an Islamist society can literally result in death as slain feminist writer, Konca Kuris, tragically discovered.

Kuris, who was tortured and slain, allegedly by Hizbollah, for her interpretation of Islam from a modern feminist point of view is one of three women to be honoured by International Pen, Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) in commemoration of International Womens Day on Wed.

The others are Flora Brovina of Kosovo, currently detained in Serbia and Irene Fernandez of Malaysia, currently on trial. All three are being honoured for their work in campaigning for women’s rights in their own communities and beyond.

Following her disappearance over a year ago, Kuris’ brutally tortured body was exhumed, along with scores of other alleged Hizbollah victims, at one of the organisation’s clandestine hide- outs in Jan.

Allegedly a former Hizbollah affiliate and the only reported woman victim of the organisation so far, the 39-year-old mother of five had become a target of Islamists for her outspoken views on women in Islam.

Personally a devout Muslim and one of the organisation’s early supporters, Kuris however broke ties with Hizbollah, and devoted herself to a highly libertarian interpretation of the Koranic principles.

Through her books, articles, lectures and television appearances, Kuris amassed a following of both secularist and Muslim women. She argued that male scholars had, over the centuries, twisted the essence of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, to finally legitimise women’s subjectivity by men.

“First of all, I, as a Muslim woman, demand my rights,” Kuris had written in one of her manifestos to Islamist women. “Until now, all interpretations of the Koran have been made by men in a male-dominated society so as to reach to a point of crude falsification of the Koran’s message in terms of the status of women.”

Kuris proposed a historical approach to Koran’s interpretations: “We should be aware of the social conditions of the local surroundings at the time when the Holy Book was introduced,” she said.

“We are at a very different period in gender relationships than it was during the time of Koran’s introduction,” she argued.

Kuris fearlessly led heated debates around her views but she was also confronted by a series of death threats. However she refused to be daunted and instead stepped up on her radical criticisms of dogmatic interpretations of the Koran.

A month after a televised interview on Jun 16, 1998 when she confronted the established legend that women are created from Adam’s rib Kuris was kidnapped from in front of her home in the south city of Mersin.

Prior to the kidnapping Kuris had issued a statement in which she had denounced ‘those with antiquated minds, who accused her’ of being anti-God.

Her whereabouts were never discovered until July 20, 1999 when a report in the Turkish media quoted a Hizbollah press release stating that that Kuris had been kidnapped by the organisation.

“Konca Kuris, an advocate of secularism and an enemy of Islam, is kidnapped and interrogated by Hizbollah fighters. She has led to confusion and poisoned the Muslims with her ideas. This is why she deserved death,” the group claimed.

Yet, her case remained unresolved until her body was exhumed on Jan 22, from a shallow grave in Konya, about 350 kilometers to the northwest of Mersin.

Her highly emotional funeral ceremony brought together feminists and women’s rights defenders from every shade of the political ideological spectrum, including the Islamists. Not even death was able to silence this remarkable woman and her funeral provided a platform for women to continue with her work and challenge the male-dominated Islamic rituals.

The women, including Kuris’s own daughter, refused to obey the traditional procedures during the funeral ceremony and to stand behind the men.

They insisted on praying in the front row along with the men and according to sources this was not allowed.

“She stood up for women, spoke in the name of women,” wrote Yaprak Zihnioglu, a prominent feminist figure, in her monthly ‘Pazartesi’ column.

‘She strove for ‘feminising’ Islam. And her assassination has been designed as sort of a deadly warning for those who would follow on her footsteps.

“In her testament she had called the women to rally at her funeral ceremony, yet even her last will had been forcibly barred from implementation by fundamentalists,” Zihnioglu wrote.

Her aunt, Nejla Olcer, chairperson of the Independent Women Association, describes Kuris as a ‘vivid, brave, determined, progressive and idealistic woman with a very critical mind.”

The daughter of a provincial, urban middle class family Kuris was brought up in a secular environment and she had leftist inclinations until she fell in love with an islamist young man and married him at the age of 17.

In her new family she had to face extreme pressure and violence to adopt the islamic way of life and later was forced to join the Nakshibandi order with which her husband and in-laws were affiliated.

Yet, she detached herself from the order as soon as she recognised that their principles contradicted her understanding of Islamic religion.

Kuris in 1996 joined the Hizbollah and visited Iran, but returned disillusioned of the organisation, futher convinced of the anti-women nature of their interpretation of Islam.

By 1997, Kuris had joined a new organisation, a regrouping of women of different shades around the Independent Women Association in her hometown Mersin.

In the association, Kuris gained nationwide attention for her criticism of orthodox male-dominated interpretation of Islam, and also for her efforts to set-up women’s shelter’s to protect women from domestic violence. She was also distinguished for her active participation in peace campaigns for a solution to the Kurdish Question.

Kuris’s efforts have been valued not only by secularist women already critical of Islam but also by Muslim women who feel Islam, as it is practiced, subjugates them to male-domination in both public and private spheres.

“Her assassination is a threat directed at veiled but socially active Islamist women,” says Sibel Eraslan, an Islamist woman intellectual known for her outspoken criticisms of male-domination in the Islamist Virtue Party (FP) politics.

“The gulf between the established religion and the heavenly message has, throughout the ages, grown particularly against the women’s interests.”

“She expressed the problems of the Muslim women who have been trapped between Islam and the mechanisms of modern and post-modern world. She raised questions. Swinging in the air like a dry leaf she was searching both her own voice and the holy message…She was silenced for that,” Eraslan says.

Yet, libertarian interpretations of Islam are not as welcomed by most Islamist women.

“She was ignorant of the Islamic lore,” says Emine Senlikoglu, an Islamist woman columnist. “She was seeking to supplement Islam with some alien blue-print ideologies.”

“Yet, she was not the only one to act in this manner. Why only she was targeted?” she asks. “She has been a victim of excessiveness.”

The WiPC however, is determined not leave other critics to the mercy of islamists. “While (Turkish) president Suleyman Demirel has acknowledged that some government agents may have had some past connections to Hizbollah…Konca Kuris’ death cannot be laid at their door,” the WiPC urges for special action in the honour of Kuris for International Women’s Day.

“The Turkish government should do everything possible not only to bring Kuris’s murderers to justice, but also protect other writers who are threatened by extremist groups,” the WiPC said.

 
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