Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fashion, Faith, and the Turkish Future

The King's College in New York City sends students each year on international ventures of various sorts to engage students and political leaders on the truth and importance of liberty--spiritual, political, and economic. We have sent teams to Albania, Bulgaria, and Uganda. This May, Jane Clark joined the Turkey Venture. She published this report yesterday on the politics of headscarves there in National Review Online.

Many Turkish college students oppose repealing the ban because they believe that their fellow students want to wear the headscarf as a political statement, rather than from religious conviction. A female student from Bogazici University in Istanbul recently told me she believes the government shouldn’t cater to the scarf wearers: “For some of them the headscarf is just a trend. You can tell by the way they tie the scarves. It doesn’t represent religious conviction for many of them.”

Erol Aslan Cebeci, an AK member of parliament, concurs with those who believe religion should not be a factor in politics. Though personally a devout Muslim, Cebeci says that his religious beliefs should not affect his work. However, he does not see the repeal of the headscarf ban as a religious statement by the government. Instead, he sees it as expanding freedom of religious expression in society.

Cebeci’s argument is counterintuitive for many European secularists: He believes that loosening religious restrictions leads to stronger political secularism. But he points out that there is more than one kind of secularism: “There is American/Anglo-Saxon secularism and French secularism.” American secularism is religiously neutral. French secularism (laïcité) allows the government to control how civilians practice their religion. Since 2004, students in French public schools have been forbidden to wear “ostentatious” religious symbols — including headscarves, but also yarmulkes and oversized crosses.

Cebeci believes that American secularism is the desired model. The question before the Turkish court system is much more than whether women can cover their heads. It is whether to follow the pattern of French liberalism or American liberalism.

Read the whole thing: "Turkey, the Headscarf, and Secularism."

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