Can Miniskirts And Veils Walk Amid Mosques?

High on the list of likely successors to the old guard of Turkey's pro-Islam Welfare Party is Abdullah Gul, a former minister of state who is a moderate voice of the party.

To survive in a new form, the reworked Islamist party will be required to ease hard-line views that cause its secular enemies to fear that Turkey is ripe for Islamic revolution.

Such fears blow the party's real and legitimate aims out of proportion, Mr. Gul says.

What his party wants is not enforced Islamic dress on women, enforced Islamic education, or imposed Islamic law, Gul contends, but a melding - and mutual respect - of the joint Western and Islamic traditions in Turkey. Though some Welfare hard-liners have called for turning Turkey's decades-long secular tradition on its head, Gul speaks of the "Islamic headscarf and the miniskirt walking hand in hand."

The military and secular elite, in their turn, often interpret their role as one that must prevent any overt manifestation of Islam - wearing Islamic dress in government offices is forbidden, for instance.

"They are not the 'secular elite,' they are anti-religious," says Gul, in an interview in his parliament office. "They want to create another religion, which is atheism. It's the secular people who are not tolerant, and they want to impose their lifestyle here.

"They do all this for the sake of the Western world, but if you look at Western countries none of them are like that," he says. "Isn't it a shame for this country that they are closing the party, and still the party will continue as the largest group in parliament. It's very shameful."

Gul admits that Welfare leaders made mistakes during their year in power, but rejects that any of them broke the law. He points to the case of Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan giving an iftar dinner party during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan - one of the examples used by the High Court in deciding to ban the party.

"In this country, maybe the wise politician wouldn't do this, because it would be interpreted in a certain way," he says. "But these are the kind of mistakes they are using to shut Welfare down. Maybe they are politically wrong, but none of them are unlawful or illegal."

Two-thirds of the population is ruled locally by Welfare officials, he notes, and their work is largely appreciated.

"But certain [secular] circles create a very bad image of us - because they can't compete with Welfare," Gul says. "They failed to serve the people, to get their confidence, so instead of proving themselves they are playing us as illegitimate.

"If you want to compete with us, OK," he adds. "Sell your goods."

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