Turkish Headscarf Debate Goes On

The controversy over being allowed to wear a headscarf in college began in the 1960s when Hatice Babacan was expelled from Ankara University because she insisted on wearing the veil. The controversy became mor intense in the 1980s when political Islam began to become more prominent in Turkish political life. Several center-right governments like that of Turgut Ozal, tried to allow legalize wearing of the headscarf in universities only to be over-ruled by the Constitutional Court which regarded itself as a bastion protecting secular rights. To date, the ban on headscarfs in universities is not based on a piece of legislation, but on a Constitutional Court decision. Secularists have made the headscarf an issue that is central to their beliefs that Turkey must remain a secular nation and not allow religious authorities to determine the daily lives of citizens. In 1998, the military drove out Prime Minister Necmeddin Erbakan because of his supposed Islamic views. Since then, the Higher education Board (YOK) has been a watchdog protecting secularism within universities.

As of this point, the Islamic Justice and Development Party of Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul has carefully adhered to a strict policy of respecting secular rights. As secularists gain confidence their human rights will not be abridged, it might be possible to loosen somewhat the ban on headscarfs.