Istanbul University lifts headscarf ban

In Turkey, women being allowed to wear headscarves at universities; follows complaint by Istanbul University student, who was sent out of class.

hijab jerusalem 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
hijab jerusalem 311
(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.
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.
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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 suit.
“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 well.”
Secularists, including many academics, support the ban out of fear that any dilution of Turkey’s secular laws will open the floodgates to the country’s Islamization.
“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.