One Ban and Many Headscarves: Islamist Women and Democracy inTurkey


Boğaziši University, Bebek, Istanbul


ABSTRACT: This paper relates to the headscarf debate in Turkey. There is a ban on wearing headscarves for those women who attend universities. The paper discusses the arguments both in favor of the ban (which the European Human Rights Commission legitimized when it rejected a case for the headscarves) and against it. An attempt is made to go beyond the formal arguments given on both sides. Interviews with those who cover their heads are used to locate the meaning and the implications of the headscarves in the historically specific Turkish context necessary to evaluate the impact of the ban on democracy. It is argued that the ban homogenizes all who wear the headscarf and essentializes Islam. This author proposes that the ban should be lifted, even though some of those who cover their heads propagate illiberal values and threaten the secular state. Those who wish to cover their heads can be accommodated in a secular context with many others who want to be part of a secular, democratic community.




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