For the last two decades the Turkish State has come under attack from Civil Liberties Groups and NGOs for banning the wearing of headscarves on university campuses, within Parliament and other State institutions. These groups all saw this ban as a flagrant abuse of the human rights of Turkish women. However after the attacks on the twin towers within New York City the attitude towards the worlds Muslims has changed somewhat and hardly for the better. So when on Saturday last the Turkish Parliament withdrew from the statute book the law which enabled the banning of the wearing of headscarves in some of these State institution, far from there being universal acclaim much of the British and US media saw it as a cunning plot by the Turkish AK Party government to bring Islam into the classroom and on to the campus.
The constitutional reform package [which included the lifting of the headscarf ban] proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) passed into law, receiving 411 “yes” votes in the 550-seat Turkish Parliament. The new legislation was backed by one of the opposition parties who had previously opposed it, the right wing Nationalist Movement Party(MHP) and needed 367 votes to pass into law. Although the main opposition party the Republican People’s Party(CHP) voted against the legislation and according to Turkish media reports is expected to go to the Constitutional Court to challenge the vote of Turkeys elected parliamentarians to allow the wearing of headscarves on university campuses. The consensus amongst legal analysts is its unlikely that the court will nullify Saturday’s vote, as such a ruling would deal a harsh blow to the country’s democracy.
Whilst many of those who criticize Islam will claim the lifting of this headscarf ban is a step backwards, not an extension of women’s democratic rights, I am not convinced of their case, for as elsewhere in the Islamic world, the wearing of headscarfs in Turkey is more of a traditional and cultural matter and their banning undoubtedly restricted the ability of many young women, especially from the eastern part of the country to attend university.
It will be interesting to see if now that young women have been granted the right to attend university wearing a headscarf whether they continue to wear it. Or will the pull of their less religious or culturally contained peers pull them in another direction. What ever the outcome Turkey can hardly be condemned for allow a practice that is perfectly legal in all western nations.*
* The photos above are of a young Turkish woman and US movie actress Jennifer Lopez.