Merve Kavakci is proud to say that America is the best place on earth for Muslims. As a student in Turkey she was not allowed to go to medical school because of her hijab. As an elected official she was harassed and thrown out of parliament on her first day for it. In a Muslim nation, Dr. Kavakci was unable to practice her freedom of religion.
She came with her family to the United States and a crucial part of her personal worship as a Muslim, and at the same time to become educated and successful. As she and her mother, a German literature professor, were forced out of their professions due to the headscarf, her father decided to accept an offer to be the imam of a mosque in my hometown of Dallas where she could wear the hijab. The family moved and they loved it. She even describes herself as “half Turkish and half Texan.”
She had her two girls in Dallas, raised them in small towns such as Wylie, Texas, coincidentally the same small town where my family lived when I was very young. She says that the people there were respectful, welcoming, and understanding, even in the girls’ school where they were the only Muslims. She went back to Turkey to introduce her daughters to her culture and history, which is when she got involved in politics and it ended so ignominiously.
Dr. Kavakci has since gone on to teach at George Washington University and advise the State Department on issues dealing with terrorism and Middle Eastern affairs, especially Turkey. She has made a huge impact not only in her home countries’ politics, but around the world as a symbol of a woman’s right to defend her self respect and her ideals.