European court head scarf ban ruling stokes controversy in Turkey |

European court head scarf ban ruling stokes controversy in Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey – A ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in favor of Turkey’s ban on head scarves at universities has stoked a confrontation between the Islamic-rooted government and the secular establishment.A panel of 17 European judges on Thursday ruled against a Turkish woman’s challenge to the country’s ban on wearing Islamic head scarves at the country’s universities, saying it does not violate the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion guaranteed by an international human rights treaty.Proponents of the ban, including President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, said the ruling was “binding” and should spell out the end of the head scarf controversy.But the conservative and Islamic-rooted government led by the prime minister argued the decision was not binding and promised to press ahead with its campaign to lift the ban.”The government is determined to lift bans,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.Parliament Speaker Bulent Arinc said Sunday that the court had “committed a grave mistake.”The ban on head scarves on campuses and in state offices has been enforced vigorously since 1986 under the auspices of the military, which considers itself the guarantor of the secular constitution.The issue also is hotly debated in Europe, with some countries, such as France, banning the wearing of conspicuous religious apparel in schools, while others allowing it.But the debate over the dress code dates to the days before Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who implemented Western reforms as he founded a modern, secular Turkey from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire 82 years ago.Proponents of the dress code fear that if left unchecked, Islamic fundamentalism will lead to a theocracy like that in Iran under the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.The court dismissed an appeal by Leyla Sahin, a Turkish Muslim, against an earlier ruling from a lower chamber of the Strasbourg court that found the head scarf ban was in place to protect the rights and freedoms of all students and safeguard public order.In a politically charged case, Sahin sued the Turkish government after being refused access to a written examination at the faculty of medicine of the University of Istanbul in 1998 because she was wearing a head scarf. On the same grounds, the university refused to enroll her in a course or admit her to various lectures.Gul’s wife, Hayrunisa, had filed a similar case with the court after the board of Ankara University refused to register her for classes in 1998, but she withdrew her complaint last year.On Sunday, opposition leader Deniz Baykal told private CNN-Turk television that Gul and his government were angry because they “felt defeated.”In June, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government would consider holding a referendum on whether to allow the wearing of head scarves in schools and government offices. Erdogan’s wife and two daughters wear head scarves and Erdogan has said that his daughters chose to study at American universities because of the Turkish ban.The court ruled that the head scarf ban was based on the principles of secularism and equality which, according to the Turkish Constitution, guarantee democratic values and prevents the state from manifesting a preference for a particular religion or belief.

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