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Turkey eases headscarf ban

Monday, October 18, 2010 08:20:10 AM, Reuters

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Istanbul: In a landmark decision, Turkey's Higher Education Board earlier this month ordered Istanbul University, one of the country's biggest, to stop teachers from expelling from classrooms students who do not comply with a ban on the headscarf.

It was the latest twist in a long political and legal tussle in Turkey between those who see the garment as a symbol of their faith and those who view it as a challenge to the country's secular constitution.

"I was ready to wear the wig, just like my cousin did," said Gungor, a 18-year-old student wearing a pastel-colored headscarf. "This is about my freedom. I don't see why my headscarf should be seen as a threat to anybody."

The debate is not unique to Turkey -- France and Kosovo, for example, ban headscarves in public schools, and parts of Germany bar teachers from wearing them.

But it goes to the heart of national identity in this country of 75 million Muslims whose modern state was founded as a radical secular republic after World War I.

A bid by the ruling AK party to lift the headscarf ban three years ago sparked a major political crisis and almost led to the party being closed by the Constitutional Court for anti-secular activities.

But the rise of a new class of observant Muslims to form the backbone of the AKP, which has held power since 2002, is challenging old notions.

Opponents of the headscarf ban -- in place since a 1982 military coup -- say it is a violation of individual freedoms and incompatible with a modern democracy. Supporters say the prohibition is necessary precisely to defend Turkey's democratic values.

"Turkey needs to find a new relationship between state and religion," Ergun Ozbudun, an constitutional expert, said at a recent lunch with EU ambassadors and journalists.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who comfortably won a referendum last month on government-sponsored constitutional reforms, has declared plans for a brand new basic law.

Seen as clear favorite in 2011 elections, the AKP is widely expected to try again to remove the headscarf ban. Among reforms approved in last month's referendum were an overhaul of the Constitutional Court, traditionally dominated by secularist judges.

Until the decision by the Higher Education Board, girls from religiously conservative families say they had to wear hats or wigs to conceal their headscarves in order to attend classes.
 

 

 

 

 

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