Does Turkey’s Headscarf Ruling Foreshadow the AKP’s Ouster?

Does Turkey’s Headscarf Ruling Foreshadow the AKP’s Ouster?

On June 5, Turkey's Constitutional Court struck down a proposed amendment that would have allowed Muslim students to wear headscarves in the country's public universities. According to the court's judgment, the entirety of which has not yet been released, such an amendment would have undermined one of the pillars of the Turkish state -- the constitutionally unalterable provision that the country remain a strictly secular republic.

On the face of it, the court's ruling was a legal matter, a question of how far the state could go in limiting religious expression. And in most other circumstances a decision of this sort would have rested on technical legal questions. But in the context of the ongoing faceoff between Turkey's secularists and an Islamic coalition led by the majority Justice and Development Party (AKP), the headscarf ruling had a decidedly political feel, with the law only a small part of the picture.

The court's decision, of course, wasn't unexpected -- it was simply the latest battle in an ongoing war about the role of religion in public life, one in which the headscarf ban has become the chief political symbol. The headscarf debate has snowballed into a struggle over the country's very identity and, perhaps more importantly, a referendum on who will decide its future path. It's also a struggle with clear battle lines: supporters claim that the headscarf is a religious symbol which violates the country's longstanding principle of secularism, while detractors argue that the ban constitutes a denial of their right to religious liberty and claim that it is designed to keep governmental control firmly in the hands of the secular establishment.

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