Turkey, the AKP, and the Ending of the Headscarf Ban in Government High Schools
Burak Akinci of AFP (in Yahoo) wrote an article entitled Turkey Lifts Headscarf Ban in State High Schools. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling AKP in Turkey have recently removed any ban regarding the hijab being worn in public high schools. This comes after a long battle with seculars over the issue of the hijab in schools and public buildings. Some members of the secular opposition took issue with this latest move by Erdogan and the AKP, suggest that this is going against the secularism of Turkey.
The issue of the hijab in Turkey is not a new issue, but rather, has been a part of the public discourse for decades. More recently, the issue of the hijab in the country received heightened domestic and international attention when a medical student by the name of Leyla Sahin, who wore the hijab, was preparing to take medical exams. However, she was asked to remove the hijab, or else would not be able to take her exam. She challenged this, taking it to the European Court of Human Rights. The ECHR voted against her, in a highly controversial ruling. But with the rising power of the AKP over the years, they have continued to advocate for the removal of any bans against the hijab.
The issue between Turkey’s secularization in the context of an Islamic society stems to the early 1920s with Turkish leader Mustapha Kemal, or Ataturk (“Father of the Turks). Ataturk, Turkey’s first leader following the end of the Ottoman Empire and World War I, secularized Turkey extensively. Following Ataturk, the secularization of Turkey continued in some areas of society, with powers even written into the constitution for the protection of secular principles. However, as Islamist parties became more popular, and began winning seats and elections such as the AKP in 2002, society has been divided on the role of secularism and Islam in government.
Thus, this is a continuation of this tension. The Islamists view secularism as encroaching on the Islamic identity of Turkey, as well as the ability for freedom to decide, and the seculars see this as a push towards “Islamicizing” Turkey. Unfortunately, in many cases, these discussions have become political, instead of focusing on the human rights of the individual, who should be free to where or not where whatever one wants. In fact, Valorie K. Vojdik wrote an excellent article entitled “Politics of the Headscarf in Turkey: Masculinities, Feminism, and the Construction of Collective Identities” (in the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender. Vol. 33, pages 661-685) which look at the use of the veil in Turkish politics as it relates to issues of masculinity. In the piece, she argues that “[b]oth secularists and Islamist political parties have used the veil, and the regulation of women’s bodies, to embody competing notions of the state and national identity. This local struggle for a hegemonic masculinity constructs local gender relations…” (684).
It is important to continue to stress the absolute freedoms of all individuals, free to choose and practice one’s religion, or choosing to not practice a religion. In addition, we must continue to advocate the right for women to where whatever they want, or equally, to have the full right not to have to wear something they do not want, all the while ensuring that the issue is not politicized by competing parties.
Examining the relationship between masculinities and