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Veiled debates in Turkey and beyond

The Turkish parliament has voted the end of the controversial ban on headscarves at Turkish universities on 9 February 2008. The ban had first been introduced in 1980, prohibiting Turkish women to wear veils in universities or in schools (both public and private). The headscarf was also barred from all government grounds. In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights had upheld the ban. The decision had set a precedent which allowed governments across Europe to enact analogous measures; interestingly, France was the only country banning the headscarf as rigorously as Turkey. With the latest decision, a heated public discussion on religious symbols has been kicked off.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, has kicked up the dust well beyond Turkey by unveiling just another ambitious goal. In a recent visit to Germany, which is home to almost 3 million people of Turkish descent, he called for Turkish-medium schools and universities for his German-born countrymen.

The heated reactions as well as their geographic and political scope show how sensitive the issues of national identity, religious symbols and integration still are. It may remind you of the outcry after the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech on the introduction in the UK of parts of the Sharia law.

Union of European Turkish Democrats