Thursday, November 17, 2005

Headscarf ruling divides Turkey

The Turkish ban on women wearing headscarves in universities and public offices is a significant restriction on religious freedom. Of course, the reason the ban is enforced today has more to do with political considerations than religious ones:

"Leyla Sahin has run out of options. In 1998, she was barred from attending Istanbul University medical school because her headscarf violated the official dress code.

Last week, her legal challenge reached a dead end when the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), based in Strasbourg, upheld Turkey's ban on women wearing headscarves in universities, leaving her no more avenues for appeal.

However, the decision also pointed a growing divide between the Islamic-rooted government and the secular establishment. Pres. Ahmet Necdet Sezer said the ruling was "binding" and should spell the end of the controversy, but leaders of the conservative and Islamic-rooted government argued the decision was not binding and promised to press ahead with an effort to lift the ban. Although the country is overwhelmingly Muslim, it has had a secular system since the 1920s."

"The court said that it considered both the need to protect rights and freedoms and to maintain public order in a country where most of the population, while pursuing a secular way of life, adhere to the Islamic faith. "Imposing limitations on the freedom to wear the headscarf could, therefore, be regarded as meeting a pressing social need by seeking to achieve those two legitimate aims, especially since that religious symbol had taken on political significance in Turkey in recent years," the court said."
Toward Freedom - Headscarf ruling divides Turkey

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