Thursday, September 20, 2007

Erdogan calls for end to headscarves ban

Erdogan calls for end to headscarves ban

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, insisted on Tuesday that the ban on women wearing headscarves on the campuses of the country’s state universities should be lifted as part of a proposed constitution.

Mr Erdogan said Turkey had to solve “the problem of the headscarf” in the changes to the constitution that he said would strengthen the country’s democratic and secular foundations.

It was unfair that some girls were denied a higher education because they were not allowed to wear the headscarf at state universities, he said.

It was a political issue that could not be ducked, he said, in spite of a swirling controversy in Turkey over whether any easing of the ban would undermine the country’s secular constitutional and political system.

“The right to higher education cannot be restricted because of what a girl wears. There is no such problem in western societies but there is a problem in Turkey and I believe it is the first duty of those in politics to solve this problem,” Mr Erdogan said in an interview with Turkey-based foreign correspondents.

It was part of a wider ambition to introduce a fully civilian constitution for Turkey, a goal that was shared by Turks of all political and social persuasions, he said. He pointed out that Turkey’s two most recent constitutions were drafted by the military after coups in 1960 and 1980.

Mr Erdogan promised that a wide-ranging debate would be held on the new constitution, which is being drafted by a team led by constitutional scholars.

“We want a constitution that is going to provide and protect a state that is a democratic, secular, social state of law,” he said. “This constitution is going to point Turkey in a certain direction and it is our duty to debate it and consult with people in the widest possible sense.”

Women have not been allowed to wear the headscarf on state university campuses since 1982.

“What we are trying to achieve is not a new process,” Mr Erdogan said. “In Turkey, it was possible to go to university while wearing the headscarf, and later you could not. So it is not a new issue.”

But several commentators have warned that any removal of the ban at state universities would be the beginning of a slow but inexorable move towards forcing all women to cover their heads in public. Many in Turkey see the banishment of the headscarf into the private sphere as an essential act in the country’s modernisation.

Source: Financial Times

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