Turkey needs to re-interpret secularism – senior MP

October 15, 2010

erdogan

(Photo: Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan watches his wife Emine voting in a constitutional referendum, in Istanbul September 12, 2010/Osman Orsal)

Turkey has to re-interpret its principles of secularism to adapt to a changing society, an AK Party member in charge of drafting a new constitution said, joining a growing debate over the Muslim country’s identity.

Turkey, a rising regional power which aspires to join the European Union, was founded by Kemal Ataturk as a secular republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. But a power shift led by a new middle class of observant Muslims which forms the backbone of the AKP government is challenging Turkey’s ability to reconcile Islam and secularism.

In the lastest twist of a long-running dispute, Turkey’s Higher Education Board last week ordered Istanbul University, one of Turkey’s biggest, to stop teachers from expelling female students who wear the Muslim headscarf from classes.

The headscarf, banned at university and public institutions, is one of the most touchy issues in the culture wars.

“We respect Turkey’s principles of secularism, but these need to be re-interpreted,” said Burhan Kuzu, chairman of the constitutional commission in parliament, controlled by the AKP. “The headscarf issue for example is not about secularism, but about individual liberties. Turkey’s new constitution should focus on democratic values and individual rights.”

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