Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Headscarf Debate in Turkey

Turkey must lift headscarf ban for EU: formin
Feb 2, 2008; Reuters

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey must lift a ban on headscarves at university as part of democratic reforms aimed at European Union accession, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said on Saturday.

Turkey's parliament is expected to approve a constitutional amendment next week sponsored by the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party aimed at easing the ban for university students.

The headscarf debate is central to Turkey's complex identity, as the young democracy struggles to meet the demands of both a pious Muslim population and also a secular, pro-Western elite that sees Islam as backwards.

The EU has pressed Turkey to boost freedom of expression and minority rights but has no position on the headscarf issue.

"Turkey is a country which has to make political reforms to achieve the strategic goal of full membership in the European Union, which it has chosen," Babacan told a news conference.

France as well as some colleges in the Netherlands ban headscarves, while Britain and many other EU members allow the headscarf in the name of civil liberty.

Turkey's government wants to expand freedoms to turn Turkey into a "first-class democracy where freedoms in all fields are enjoyed fully", Babacan said.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan sought on Saturday to soothe secularist fears that lifting the ban would over time lead to heavy pressure on uncovered women to wear the headscarf.

"We are calm. Everyone is doing their duty and nobody should be disturbed by this. Here I see headscarved women as well as uncovered women. This is Turkey which we desire to see," Erdogan told a gathering of his party.

Babacan also said the furor on the headscarf issue and rising tensions taint Turkey's image.

"Unfortunately an important part of the debate going on in these days is weakening Turkey's image abroad," he said.

Secularists plan to hold a rally in Ankara on Saturday in protest of the government.

Members of Turkey's judiciary and top businessmen have already criticized the headscarf plan and the main opposition party, the secularist CHP, has said it will try to block the reform through the Constitutional Court.

Turkey's powerful military, which views itself as the ultimate guarantor of the secular order, has made clear it is closely watching the debates, but has so far refrained from directly commenting on the headscarf proposal.

(Reporting by Selcuk Gokoluk; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

Also See: Huge Pro-Secular Protest in Turkey - AFP

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