Through the gate, headscarf off

Politicians in Ankara are fighting over the headscarf ban. Many Turkish students are tired of the discussion and would like the ban to be abolished quickly.

While in Ankara, the political centre of the country, advocates and opponents of the headscarf ban are locked in bitter debate, many other Turks are rather tired of the discussion. As are the women it concerns, the students who wear a scarf. Nesibe Cansiz (19), pedagogy student: “Of course it will be a relief when I don’t have to take my headscarf off any more to enter the university grounds, but it doesn’t feel like a victory. I don’t make it an issue, like politicians do.”
The Istanbul University, where Nesibe is studying, is known as a bastion of the headscarf ban. The rector even said he would give covered students lower grades. He withdrew this threat, but Elif Deniz (19), covered first year law student, is already worrying about her grades when she attends classes and exams with a scarf. “Some people say that women without a scarf will be pressured to also cover themselves, but I think it will be the other way around. There will be pressure on headscarved women to take the scarf off again.”
The lifting of the ban is only definite after the second round of voting on Saturday, even though the opposition threatens to take the decision to Constitutional Court to have it reversed again. Nesibe patiently waits. “When I went to university, I knew I had to go without my scarf. I mentally prepared for that, and in time it became automatic: through the gate, headscarf off. But it still feels weird. Wearing a scarf is a choice, and it’s strange to alternately put it on and take it off.”
Also many non-religious students cannot relate to the political debate. Fethiye, Selahattin and Ahmet for example, Elif’s fellow law students: “Now they even talk about how the scarf should be worn to be allowed or not”, says Fethiye. “And then the governing party says they are in favour of freedom! They turn this issue into a game, while the women whom it concerns just want to follow the rules of their religion. What could be wrong with that?” And no, the group of friends say, the headscarf is not a political symbol, like advocates of the headscarf ban claim. Ahmet: “And even if it was, then so what? This university is bristling with political symbols of all persuasions. That this is possible is the foundation of democracy, isn’t it?”

(written for Dutch news agent ANP)

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