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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The head of Turkey’s Higher Education-Board confirmed this week that he ordered Istanbul University, one of the nation’s biggest, to stop its professors from kicking students out of classes for wearing head coverings.
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The directive followed a complaint by an Istanbul University student, who was sent out of class last November for wearing a hat. Many students disguise headscarves by placing an over-sized baseball cap on top of their scarves.
The headscarf debate has dominated political talk in Turkey for most of the year and almost brought the ruling party to the brink of being banned by the country’s highest court for infringing on human rights. Now it seems that the two major parties have reached a consensus.
“This is liberalization in one sense and in another sense it is
acceptance of the headscarf in the public domain in Turkey,” said Dr.
Nilufer Narli, a professor of Political Sociology at Bahçeşehir
University and author of numerous books including the forthcoming Feminism, Islamism and Women’s Political Participation: A Comparative Perspective
“This is a healthy process for Turkey. This issue was really creating
conflict and dividing the society,” Dr. Narli said. “It will bring more
unity to Turkey.”
In a sign of how power is shifting in Turkey, the Republican People’s
Party, or CHP, the main party of secularist opposition, has said in
recent weeks that it, too, would support ending the ban in universities.
“This is a political process. The competing parties have been trying to
reach a consensus, one political group insisted it is only political
symbol and it shouldn’t be permitted in public and another party claimed
it is sign of faith and should be allowed in the public sector. Today
these two parties are reached a consensus that the headscarf should be
accepted and permitted at universities,” Dr. Narli added.
The directive released today was aimed specifically at Istanbul
University, however, it is expected that more universities will follow
“We are against anybody being sent out of the classroom for any way of
dressing,” said Education Board President Yusuf Ozcan, in comments to
Turkey’s NTV television channel.” We notified this [to Istanbul
University]. If it is needed, we will notify other universities as
Secularists, including many academics, support the ban out of fear that
any dilution of Turkey’s secular laws will open the floodgates to the
“This is a huge step backwards, a step to radicalize the state and a
step towards Islamization,” Anders Gravers founder of Stop Islamization
Of Europe (SIOE) told The Media Line. “This will be one of many steps
that will transform Turkey into an Islamic state.”
“The veil means you are a good Muslim, that you are cleaner than
everyone else and that those who do not wear it are unclean. The founder
of Turkey liberated the women and now he [Abdullah Gül] is allowing
them to be condemned,” Gravers said.
“The Arab-Turks want to make this a law because they want to use the
veil as a step towards Islamization. To show that they [Muslims] are
dominating,” Gravers added.
Parliament passed legislation to lift the ban in 2008. The law was
struck down by Turkey’s top court on grounds that it conflicted with the
constitution’s secular guarantees. The court then came within a single
vote of banning the AKP Party (Justice and Development Party) as a
threat to Turkey’s secular foundations.
That, however, is unlikely to be repeated. In a referendum last month,
the government succeeded in driving through amendments to the
constitution that will radically change the make-up of the
Constitutional Court, likely ending its dominance by secularists.
Turkey’s Higher Education Board, too, was once a bastion of secularism.
It is now dominated by government appointees.