02/01/2008, 00.00
TURKEY
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Military and university personnel oppose the abolition of the ban on wearing the veil

The army, which considers itself the guarantor of state secularism, and the academic boards of some of the universities are aligning against the measure presented in parliament, which would permit the wearing of the veil in schools and universities.

Ankara (AsiaNews) - Members of the Turkish military and many university teachers are opposing the ban on wearing the Islamic veil in schools and universities.  A clear, although implicit, declaration in this sense has been made by Chief of General Staff General Yasar Büyükanit, one day after the presentation in parliament of the proposal to eliminate the ban.  Explicit, on the other hand, has been the 'no' from a great number of university teachers. 

"All segments of Turkish society know what the military thinks about the headscarf issue", the general said, according to the Turkish Daily News. "To say anything would be nothing more than stating the obvious. This is why I do not want to say anything".

Military officers have always proclaimed themselves as the guarantors of state secularism, and continue to do so.  They see the abolition of the ban as another step toward eroding this principle.  Although not directly provided for by the 1925 constitution of Kemal Ataturk - the father of modern-day Turkey - the ban against wearing the veil was sanctioned by the constitutional court, in analogy with the constitutional provision prohibiting men from wearing a cap that expresses their religious affiliation.  On this basis, the court struck down a law permitting the veil in the 1980's.

For their part, university teachers and directors are mobilising.  More than a hundred teachers of the Middle East Technical University and Gazi University have gathered in parliament to support the Republican People's Party (CHP), the country's oldest political group, which opposes the overturning of the ban.  For its part, the academic board of Aegean University has published a declaration in which it denies that the wearing of the Islamic veil is an expression of the right to freedom.  Similar arguments have been expressed by the academic board of Istanbul University. 

The proposal presented to parliament is the result of an agreement between the majority pro-Islamic party of prime minister Recep Tayyp Erdogan, the AKP, and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP). This guarantees the voting margin necessary to amend the constitutional ban.  But this has not stopped the debate, which has also engaged public opinion, nor does it guarantee that any change would go into effect.  Many think, in fact, that the constitutional court would strike down a change in the fundamental charter on the ban, as contrary to the "unchangeable" secularism of the state.

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