Social Imageries In Turkey And The Battle Over Headscarves

“A Muslim country with a great commitment to secularism and modernity.”

Turkey’s place in the world is unique because of it being seen as a confluence between the east and the west, orient and the occident, in terms of its geography as well as its cultural ambience. A Muslim country with a great commitment to secularism and modernity.

But now things are becoming highly volatile with clear political and social divisions appearing in the Turkish society.

These divisions have their manifestation in the social imagery that is currently visible in the country.

One of the most unique sights that Turkey offered to visitors was that of a woman wearing a longish skirt but one showing a little bit of leg, but at the same time wearing a headscarf to cover her head.

This was a good example of the social dynamics in Turkey. Modernity seemed to live comfortably beside traditional religiosity.

But now, new debates are coming up over what should be Turkey’s cultural identity and how it should reflect in public.

The headscarf has become a potent symbol of the struggle between secular modernists and traditional conservatives.

Struggle Over Headscarves

“Justice and Development Party (AKP)”

Women wearing headscarves were banned from attending universities and holding public positions.

This remained the situation until a college student went to the European Court of Human Rights claiming that her fundamental right to practice her religion was restricted by this law.

The court upheld the ban saying that rights of individuals can be restricted to protect other citizens’ rights and maintaining public order.

However, with the arrival of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power, things were bound to change. The current President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s wife wears the headscarf and the government supported lifting of the ban.

However, this has led to a protracted legal battle. In the Turkish population at large, there is widespread support for removing this ban.

This battle is symptomatic of the larger social churn being witnessed in the country.

Recent Events In Turkey And Their Impact

“The popular Reina club in Istanbul.”

The growing ideological conflict in Turkey has now even reached textbooks. The attempts by the government to introduce religion-based education in Turkey has led to controversial inclusions in textbooks.

These include passages talking about women’s role as mother and wives and how they should be devoted to their husbands.

But apart from the textbooks, even the pronouncements of the Turkish President haven’t done any favor to the impression that Turkey is slipping into religious fundamentalism.

An attack on the popular Reina club in Istanbul on the New Year’s Day of 2017 by ISIL was followed by a rather meek statement from the President wherein he said that people shouldn’t be forced to follow the same lifestyle.

But his statement some years ago about creating a pious generation of Turks suggests he does seek a more conservative lifestyle among the people.

However, Turkey continues to be still a very modern and open society and is a huge magnet attracting tourists from Arab countries who chafe under the restrictions of their governments. This would continue to be the case for a long time.