University ban on headscarves in secular Turkey and other issues.
rs at robertsheridan.com
Sat Feb 9 18:01:23 PST 2008
Turkey went secular when re-constituted, under Kemal Ataturk, after
the defeat and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire in WWI. As a
result, Muslim women students who observe a religious desire or rule
to cover their heads by wearing headscarves cannot attend university
in Turkey. Noah Feldman has an op-ed in today's NYT in which he
discusses but doesn't offer to provide a solution to this difficulty, at
He notes that Prime Minister Erdogan's daughter attended university in
the U.S. for this reason. Here she may wear the scarf.
I know a Muslim woman who promised God during a difficult childbirth
that if only things went well she'd always wear the headscarf. This
got her fired from her Christmas sales job at a large department store
chain as well as an appearance on the TV news and an appointment with
The proponents of secularism in government anywhere including here
seem to have unusual difficulty in distinguishing government as
regulator from government as provider of other services, such as
I have a friend who retired to Picayune, Mississippi, where Hurricane
Katrina smote him and his neighbors sorely. He was out of touch for
weeks. No communications, no power. Local stores were closed. What
kept him and his neighbors alive was the local Baptist church, not any
of the local, state, or federal agencies. The church set up soup
kitchens. This has made me rethink any idea of absolute separation
between church and state in an ideal world that doesn't exist. It
appears to me that, as in other areas, we need to carefully
distinguish whether the ideal of separation applies to government's
regulating power or to its support for helping to keep people alive,
an important value to me.
In wondering why Turkey has difficulty distinguishing between
secularism in lawmaking and a ban on headscarves in class, I wonder
what I'm missing, about Turkey and about us.
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