Turkey: What’s up with that scarf?

EuropeNews September 24 2007

The issue of the Turkish ban on headscarves is in the media again after Erdogan quietly suggested to modify (lessen) the ban of using it in public institutions by lifting the ban at universities.

This is an interesting move on the side of the Islamist AKP government: Gül promised to respect the constitution – now Erdogan works to change that very constitution to Islamist ends.

There is some confusion in the press here as to how the ban works and how it can be that a ban actually protects freedom and secular values. A suggestion:

The ban is the secular response to, and defense against, this Quran verse (and a couple others):

Quran 33:59: “O Prophet ! Tell Thy wives and daughters. And the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (face) when abroad, that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested.

The keyword here, of course, is ‘molested’. This molestation is, as is well known, taking place in neighbouring Iran on a large scale. If the Turkish ban was to be removed, a similar movement to force Turkish women to wear religious uniforms, and generally submit to Islamic rule(s).

There is a history to this worth knowing. Enforcing religious markings was an importanct factor in the Ottoman Empire, where non-Muslims were required to wear clothing indicating their religion, including coloured badges for each of the main religions and the funny curly-nosed shoes enforced on Zoroastrians.

Maintaining the ban protects the right of the women to wear anything else than Islamic clothing. It is important to the secular nature of Turkey, and surprising that Erdogan launches an attack on this so early an so boldly.

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