Piecemeal Freedom: Why the Headscarf Ban Remains in Place in Turkey

By Akoglu, Kerime Sule | Boston College International and Comparative Law Review, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Piecemeal Freedom: Why the Headscarf Ban Remains in Place in Turkey


Akoglu, Kerime Sule, Boston College International and Comparative Law Review


INTRODUCTION

In the fall of 2013, a group of teachers and their eighth grade students went to a military dining facility in Istanbul for a dinner event.1 Everyone was allowed entrance into the facility, except for a female teacher wearing a headscarf.2 Senior military officers told her that she would either have to take off her headscarf or be denied entrance.3 Although the woman tried to reason with the officers and reminded them of her rights, she was forced to leave the facility.4 Today, a headscarf-wearing woman in Turkey is denied entrance into certain state facilities solely because her appearance expresses religious belief.5

In its efforts to offer democratizing reforms, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey's ruling party, unveiled a new ?democratization package? in September 2013.6 The proposed reforms included implementing changes to the electoral system, imposing harsher punishment for hate crimes, improving the rights of Kurds, and finally, removing restrictions on the wearing of Islamic headscarves, among many others.7 Whereas most of the proposed reforms have not yet been implemented, the government has already removed the ban on headscarves through a by-law. 8 Because of the by-law, women can now work at government offices while wearing headscarves.9 Although many Turks applauded the reform, a caveat remains: the restriction remains in place for women who work in the judiciary, the military, and the police force.10 As long as such restrictions remain, the plight of women's rights in Turkey remains on unequal footing.11

Part I of this Note explores Turkish political history and the role secularism plays in Turkish law-making. This Part also outlines the decades-long restrictions on women's dress. Part II discusses the European Court of Human Rights' opinion regarding the headscarf ban in Turkey, the treatment of headscarf-wearing women in politics, and the ?democratization? efforts in Turkey, specifically the recent by-law lifting the headscarf ban in most government offices. In Part III, this Note argues that the current by-law is not only insufficient, but it, ironically, reinforces the same discriminatory practice towards headscarf-wearing women that it tries to correct. Finally, this Note concludes that if Turkey is fully committed to democracy and assuring equal rights to its citizens, all women must be given the same rights, without differentiating between those who wear a headscarf and those who do not.

I. BACKGROUND

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Ottomans started an era of modernization and reforms, called the Tanzimat reforms.12 The reforms transformed Ottoman society and the relationship between the government and the people.13 The debates surrounding modernization focused on whether the empire could be saved by adoption of Western ideas or by stricter adherence to the state's interpretation of Islamic values.14 In the end, Western ideology won over tradition and the Tanzimat reforms became the first real vehicle for secularism entering the Turkish stage.15 Whereas religious education and law had held the uppermost rank in society, it started to decline and was overtaken by Western liberalism.16 The reforms, however, were not enough to save the empire from its looming death at the end of World War I.17

A. Birth of Kemalism: Turkish Secularism

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father and first president of modern Turkey, saved the last remaining soil of the Ottoman Empire from being completely overtaken by rebellious groups and Western forces.18 Riding on the popularity he had deservedly won in the battlefield, Atatürk abolished the Ottoman regime and the Islamic caliphate and started an audacious set of reforms to build a new country.19 Atatürk believed that Turks could come out of the destruction of the Ottoman Empire as a more modern, secular, and, importantly, European society.20

In changing the culture of the Turks to fit the European notions of modernity, Atatürk first banned the fez, a crimson headgear that had become a symbol of Muslim identity in the Ottoman world, and replaced it with a requirement that men wear a Western-styled hat. …

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