A debate is raging in Turkey concerning whether women should be barred from wearing headscarves (hijab) and other religious garments in public universities and other state institutions. The distinctive square cloth has a great symbolic significance all over the Middle East; but the ways in which the head covering is used and its meaning vary from place to place. However, some sectors of society tend to equate the headscarf with deviant behavior. While the reasons of this accusation are not clearly understood, there is still an ongoing dialectic between supporters and non-supporters. Turkey forced a ban to endorse a vision of secular democracy that traces its broadest line to the founding of the contemporary Turkish state. Turkeys parliament recently backed legitimate modification that would enable the lifting of the ban hence, exacerbating the conflict between backers and non-backers. These proposals have brought resurging protests in the streets from groups aiming to maintain the status quo of secularism. There is a lucid hostility between women who accepts and dons the headscarf and those who doesnt accept it due to secular beliefs.
The notion of secularism creates a non-religious state, which socializes people to see the headscarf as being abnormal. In this essay, I am going to elaborate the reasons for accusing headscarf as deviance. And most importantly, I will try to find out how secularism causes this accusation.
Turkey is at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It has been argued by countries such as France that Turkey is not a real European state. The French approach in general, and its particular headscarf ban on 2004, has been used by Turkey to support its own secular agenda. 1 However, it is obvious that Secularism has had different meanings in both countries. Pierre-Jean Luizard, a French scholar admits that France does not want religion in the countrys politics but Turkey controls the amount of religion it would like to include in its politics. He says, В«We confuse other countrys secularism with France secularism which does not include religion, and judge their actions according to our secular beliefsВ». 2 France banning of the headscarf in public schools has no anti-Islamic connotation as unlike Turkey it is not over 99 percent Muslim. So this is the era where the debate in Turkey starts. How did the headscarf come to be such a potent controversial symbol in Turkey although it has a great majority of Muslim? Why did the wearing of headscarves arouse strong reactions by the university administration and the members of Parliament? The debate around the issue of the wearing of the headscarf has been very rich, encompassing wide-ranging questions about, for example, Islam, the nature of secularism or laicism as understood and practiced in Turkey. Headscarves came to be seen and understood in particular ways that are tied up with ideas of womanhood, honor, and shame at the same time. And certainly, people who are against the headscarf are not observing the underlying meanings that the headscarf brings to a woman.
It should be pointed out that this Turkish В«SecularismВ» is not equivalent to American secularism, which includes the separation of church from state. Rather, it is a form called Laicism in which religious practices and institutions are regulated and administered by the state. Basically, the aim of laicism was the modernization of all aspects of culture, state and society that have their roost in traditional Islamic. 3 The production of the headscarf as an issue stitches together democratic and Muslim discourse as the headscarf is framed in terms of human rights. Hence, everyday understanding of rights and government are formulated within the context of the daily negotiation of politics and identity in Turkey. The simple headscarf, a square fabric used to cover a womans head and hair to varying degrees, never did disappear from practices of dress in Turkey. Moreover, only about 27% of Turkish women go out on the street with their heads uncovered today.
What has come to be known as the В«headscarf issueВ» has taken up a prominent position in the symbolic lexicon of the struggle between political Islamism and state secularism. 5 The problem with the headscarf started when one parliamentarian who wanted the vote from religious people, said in public Imam Hatip schools were their backyards in 1987. 6 What he was trying to do was to get the attention of religious people but people who were afraid of the likely emergence of an Islamic state started to protest against the headscarf and religious schools. Until this statement was made people were living in harmony without thinking about a conflict between secularist and traditionalist. People started being apprehensive about the potentiality of the displacement of a laic status quo with that of a life filled with religious obligations. What is known as the Headscarf War epitomizes the whole secular-Muslim struggle in this country. Yet within the debate, the worry has been that the assimilation of covered students into higher education system will result in the strengthening of an extremist Islamic movement. 7 However, the Turkish Government also pointed out that there was no ban on wearing the headscarf on private or communal premises. Pupils were free to wear it outside schools. Istanbul University, Turkeys largest university located in the heart of the old city has become the main battleground for the Headscarf War. Istanbul University has a total student body of 73, 000, including an estimated 5, 000 religious activists, who demand freedom to don beards or Headscarves. 8 University students have staged hunger strikes and public demonstrations in support of the headscarf. Interestingly, University students have more accepting of headscarf then higher income earners among the Turkish people.
The Headscarf practice in Turkey has taken place in dialogue with European imperial discourses that cast the headscarf as a synecdoche for the В«barbarityВ» of Muslim societies. In a ruling in 2004, the European court of human rights concluded that the existing ban in Turkey on female students wearing the Islamic headscarf while on university premises could be regarded as В«necessary in a democratic societyВ». 9 This restriction of what many saw as a basic right was argued to be legitimate В«in a country like Turkey, where the great majority of the population belong to a particular religion, hence allowing measures to be taken in universities to prevent certain fundamentalist religious movement from exerting pressure on moderate students or on those who belong to another religion.В» Secularists warned that Turkey risked becoming another Algeria whilst Islamic fanatics feared Turkey was becoming too European. Therefore, it has become more important to further inquire whether and to what extent wearing the Islamic headscarf in universities constitutes a genuine threat to the freedom of others.
The proponents of the restrictions to the headscarf start with the claim that the headscarf is a political symbol. Some argue that the increasing number of students wearing the headscarf symbolizes the dominance of extremism in the foundations of the democratic order. There is a fear that when there is a great number of students whose dress reflects a particular belief, the free and critical atmosphere that must exist in universities will be stifled. After all, as it is commonly stated, the current controversy about the headscarf exist not because the pro-restriction camp is interested in В«seeing the hairВ» of these students but because there is a genuine fear of a threat to democracy. 10 Turkish courts showed that the headscarf had become a sign that was regularly appropriated by religious fundamentalist movement for political ends and constituted a threat to the rights of women.
If wearing the headscarf is a religious and moral choice, there need not be a full translation of this into an extremist political stance. A person may want to live according to the dictates of her religion or moral values and yet consistently hold that others must be free to decide for themselves as to how to lead their lives. Students who wear a headscarf have expressed no wish to be exempted from certain aspects of university education; they have made no objection to the curriculum, no demand not to participate into certain educational practices (such as medicine). 12 Student with headscarves want full and equal participation in the higher education system. In other words, what they want is inclusion and not exemption or special privileges. By providing them university education and the empowerment that a degree brings, the state will take an important step towards enabling headscarf covered students to adopt an interpretation and practice of religion that will be correspond with equality and democracy. Conversely, denying them this opportunity will result in pushing these young women to a marginal role, aggravating the danger of a sectarian threat to the regime.
Everyone should be free to choose how to dress, as social and religious values and traditions of society also had to be respected. However, when a particular dress code was imposed on individuals by reference to a religion, the religion concerned was perceived and presented as a set of values that was incompatible with those of contemporary society. 14 In addition, in Turkey, where the majority of the population was Muslim, presenting the wearing of the Islamic headscarf as a mandatory religious duty would result in discrimination between practicing Muslims, non-practicing Muslims and non-believers on grounds of exterior qualities with anyone who refused to wear the headscarf undoubtedly being regarded as opposed to religion or as irreligious. It is considered that Turkey was entitled to impose the restriction because, in view of the great preponderance of Muslims in the country, wearing the headscarf could in the circumstances amount to a form of pressure both upon non-Muslims and upon those Muslims who did not practice their faith. 15 A poll studying how the Turkish society at large perceive the tricky issues of religion, secularism and tolerance for others, including homosexuals, shows that society in Turkey can be described as anything but polarized. The survey, conducted by independent polling company Veritas on 4, 500 individuals across 33 cities for the Star daily which is a Turkish newspaper found that only 4. 8 percent of the more religious say they cannot stand women not covering their heads, while only 5. 2 of hard-line secularists express feelings of intolerance towards women covering their heads. 16 In other words, about 95 percent of the society has no qualms with a woman covering her head.
But how religious is Turkish society? An overwhelming 92 percent define themselves as believers. Out of half those surveyed, 49. 2 percent responded that they prayed five times daily, while 43. 6 percent said they believe in the religion but do not practice it regularly. Only 7. 2 percent said religion has no place in their life. 17 Thinking of religiosity in terms of innocent demands by the society from the state would help us see this distinction. In this form, religiosity responds to the most fundamental and vital demands of the society. Religious people think that the surest way for a family to protect their child from the bad influences of the outside world and make a good person out of the child is religiosity. 18 The political expression of religiosity here is only about the family wishing to remove obstacles that make it difficult to raise their child as a religious person. The society believes that the state cannot meet its demand for religious education in the current social, cultural and political atmosphere. In Turkish society there are three mainstream perceptions of the concept of secularism. Both the religious and those who are distant from religion believe that secularism does not have to mean being against religion. In Turkish laws, it is stated В«secularism is the core of a society. And in the case that there would be any movement from its current state of affairs, discrimination of religion and sect will arise. If secularism was removed from this country, the concept of race and ethnicity will cause the corruption of the Turkish stateВ». 19 A majority understands secularism as separation of religion and state and the state maintaining an equal distance from all faiths. Lastly, most people accept secularism as something more than a legal principle; they accept it as a lifestyle.