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portraits of ordinary muslims: turkey
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Why are Head Scarves Feared and Banned in Turkey?
Although secular, democratic Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim, for almost eight decades its legal and political systems have shown a deep-seated fear of Islam as a political force. The government monitors and regulates how Islam is preached and practiced. In recent years, one of the many restrictions on religion has included a ban on head scarves at public universities and in government buildings. In this clip, three university students who became victims of the crackdown talk about what head scarves mean to them, and the Vice Rector of their university explains the reasons for the ban.

Note: Video no longer available.


An interview with Turkish scholar Nilufer Gole
She discusses the difficulties of being a Muslim woman in the modern world, what Turkish girls are saying by choosing to veil themselves, the new demands for Islam in Turkey's political and cultural life, and why these demands are feared by the secular elite.

Related Links and Readings

The Tensions in Turkey

To better understand the tension between East and West in the Muslim world, this report, "Muslims," travelled to Istanbul, Turkey -- a city straddling both Europe and Asia.

Istanbul has a rich Islamic past. Until 1922, it was the center of the last great Islamic empire of the Ottomans. But in 1923, Kemal Ataturk became the first leader of a Muslim people to believe that in order to modernize, Islam's influence on society had to be crushed.

Under Ataturk, Friday ceased to be a public holiday, and mosques emptied. Sharia law was replaced by Western legal codes. Islamic scholars were forced under state control. Arabic script was replaced by the Latin alphabet. European dress was required for both men and women.

By the 1970s, Turkey had become the most Westernized of Muslim countries and an active member of NATO. But at the same time, rapid urbanization was changing Turkey's cities, and a free market economy had increased inequality. Voters were frustrated at what they saw as corruption within the political system. Many Muslims began to question Ataturk's belief that Islam should be removed from politics. Pro-Islamic politicians promised to rectify a split that they saw as artificial.

By 1996, a Turkish Islamic party had gained enough popularity to win over 20 percent of the national vote and came to power in a coalition government. In response, secular officials clamped down on Islam's most visible symbols, among them the head scarf.

Related Links and Readings

· "Turkey, On Road to Secularism, Fears Detour"

This New York Times article looks at how Turkey practices its own brand of secularism through the careful monitoring of religion. The article outlines how the government not only builds the mosques, but "employs those who preach in them and dictates sermons." Despite this, political Islam is rising to confront state secularism. But will it succeed?

· PBS's Think Tank: The Transformation of Turkey

The March 7, 2002 episode of this program explored whether Turkey could be modern, democratic, secular -- and still Islamic. Host Ben Wattenberg interviews The New York Times' Stephen Kinzer and Bulent Aliriza, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The website includes a full transcript of the show.

· NPR's Fresh Air: Interview with New York Times' Stephen Kinzer

Here is Terry Gross' October 2001 interview with The New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer, author of Crescent & Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds. It covers the tensions between secularism and Islam, and Kinzer's thoughts on where it might lead. "Even modest aspects of religious devotion, modest displays of piety and religious belief, are thought of as scary [in Turkey]," he notes. "No country that has ever placed itself in competition with religion has ever emerged successful from that conflict."

· "The Rise of the Islamist Movement in Turkey"

In this 1999 article published in the Middle East Review of International Affairs, author Nilufer Narli analyzes the rise of the Islamist movement in Turkey and how its popular support derives not only from religion, but also from socio-economic factors and the strains of modernization.

· A Changing Turkey: The Challenge to Europe and the United States

The Brookings Institution offers here the complete online publication of Heinz Kramer's 2000 book on Turkey. It's an analysis of the country's history and geopolitical challenges, its relations with the West, and includes a chapter on Turkey's experience with political Islam. In this regard, the author notes: "beneath the secular surface of the republic, religious sentiments and entities have always been politically active."

· "The Compatibility of Islam, Democracy, and Secularism"

When the author of this article, Suleyman Demirel, wrote in 1997 for The Journal of International Affairs, he was at the time the president of Turkey. Demirel defends Turkey's model of secularism and democracy, and outlines why there is a lot to be learned from the Turkish experience.

· International Religious Freedom Report, 2001

Released by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in October 2001, this excerpt about Turkey says that "government policy and the generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom." It goes on to point out, however, that some religious minorities face government and social harassment. The entire report is available online.


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