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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

BULLETIN: Turkish parliament debates headscarf for universities.

As the parliament in Istanbul votes on whether to allow women to wear the headscarf in the universities, Turkey faces a crisis: to preserve a secularist tradition or tp restore an even older, religious tradition. A century ago, in 1908, the Young Turks of the secularist CUP party dominated the government and the parliament, demanding liberal reform from the Ottoman sultan, Hamid II. Women discarded the veil and western advisers were brought in. Many feared, however, that the Young Turks had a radical, authoritarian agenda. A century later, the situation is reversed, with the new pro-Muslim AK party and its president Abdullah Gul, bringing in a period of change. Their secular opponents in the army and in at least half the population, suspect Gul and the AK of a radical, Islamist agenda. The agents of change, secular in 1908 and Islamic in 2007, are both seen as potentially radical and authoritarian by their opponents. As secularists worry about Gul's wife wearing the Islamic headscarf, many in 1908 feared the Young Turks' prohibition of the veil.

-in the seventeenth century, Constantinople became aware of its weakness next to Europe and of increasing commercial rivalry with European powers. The Ottomans attempted to shape their court along the lines of the most prestigious court in Europe, the court of France. This was the beginning of repeated attempts to use 'westernization' to reinforce the Ottoman Empire against the West itself.

-by the mid-19th century, efforts to create a western-educated elite around the sultan were in full swing. By World War I, the Ottoman Sultans had created the very secular, westernized elite that would finish them off.

-after World War One, the Ottoman Caliphate came to an end.

-on the 29th October, 1923 the 'Young Turks', headed by an army officer, Kemal Ataturk founded the Republic of Turkey . The new state was set up on 6 principles: 1) republicanism 2) nationalism 3) populism. 4) statism 5) secularism 6) reformism (or Westernization).

The post- war period, however, saw a gradual revival of Islam First there was Adnan Menderes who attempted greater tolerance toward Islam. He was overthrown and hanged in a military coup in 1960. The secularist military, heir to the legacy of Ataturk, set itself up as the ultimate arbiter in Turkish politics, intervening not only on religious, but on political and economic grounds as well.

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