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Students embracing the veil

UNC holds lecture as Turkey lifts scarf ban

By: Greg Smith, Staff Writer

Posted: 2/20/08

Sophomore Nadiah Song, a Singaporean exchange student, was first asked by her parents to wear a hijab when she was 14.

"Singapore has a secular system of schools, so I would wear a hijab out of school when I was with friends," Song said. "After I graduated, it became full-time."

Although Song was warned by family and friends about possible prejudice in the U.S., she said she has never felt discriminated against.

Muslims on American college campuses have worn headscarves for years, but Turkish Muslim women were only recently allowed to don headscarves in universities across the country.

UNC geography professor Banu Gokariksel, who is from Turkey, will be presenting a lecture about the issue at noon today in Toy Lounge in Dey Hall.

A ban on wearing headscarves on Turkish college campuses was lifted Feb. 9 when Parliament passed two constitutional amendments to allow them as religious expressions. The ban, part of an attempt to secularize the country, was instituted in 1983 after a military takeover.

The repeal follows the 2007 electoral victory of an Islamic political party, the Justice and Development Party, and is just one of many changes as Turkey works to modernize and gain membership in the European Union.

"We are a Muslim country, but we are globalizing and modernizing," said Serkan Yuksel, president of UNC's Turkish Student Association.

The repeal has been criticized by both traditional secularists in Turkey and institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights. They supported the ban and worry about rising Islamic extremism.

"(The repeal) is something new and modern in every way," Gokariksel said.

"It may not be secular modernity, but it is modernity because it improves women's access to jobs and education and things they want to do," she said.

Turkey's secular government also banned its civil servants, teachers, lawyers and politicians from wearing headscarves, and those bans remain in place.

The headscarf has become increasingly popular in Turkey as women attempt to incorporate religion and piety into their lives. It is not necessarily a sign of religious extremism, Gokariksel said.

"People have fears that an Islamic identity will change Turkey into an Iran or a Saudi Arabia," Yuksel said.

"But we're very different. We don't even call them hijabs," he said, referring to the name used in many Arabic countries.

The new government aims to combine moderate Islam with probusiness and Western-friendly policies, stated UNC-Charlotte political science professor Jim Piazza in an e-mail.

"As Turkey has become more economically successful and a closer candidate for EU membership, the old … secular guard has weakened as a political force," he stated.

"I think in the U.S. we have a different sense of secularism," said Maryam Al-Zoubi, a junior international studies and Arabic major from Raleigh who began wearing a headscarf when she was 8.

"It's not 'no religion,' it's 'freedom of religion.' I don't think you can compare (Turkey) to the States."

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