Judge shot dead in Turkish ban on headscarves

A background story on why tensions are rising in Turkey between Islamists and secularists ...

Guardian Unlimited, UK, May 2006

A Turkish lawyer shouting: "I am a soldier of Allah," opened fire in the country's top administrative court yesterday, killing one judge and injuring four others. Witnesses described how the gunman shouted, "Allahu Akbar" (God is most great) as he fired a handgun in the court's second chamber.

The assailant, a lawyer accredited with the Istanbul bar association, later told police he carried out the attack because the court had stopped a woman becoming a headteacher on the grounds that she wore a headscarf. One of the judges, Mustafa Yucel Ozbilgin, was shot in the head and died later in hospital, Anatolia news agency reported.

Four of the judges, including Mr Ozbilgin, had voted in February against the promotion of an elementary school teacher who wore a headscarf outside of work. The fifth had voted in favour. The judges' photographs were published by the pro-Islamist Vakit newspaper. The court's decision was criticised by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, whose AK party has roots in political Islam. Mr Erdogan condemned yesterday's shooting.

The attack was the most dramatic sign yet that religious-minded Turks are becoming frustrated in the predominantly Muslim, but strictly secular, country.

Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the president, who has voiced fears over the country's creeping Islamisation, described it as a "black mark in the republic's history", adding that "pressure and threats will not intimidate the Turkish judiciary, which will continue its constitutional duties bound to the secular and democratic republic." The opposition leader, Deniz Baykal, said the shooting showed Turkey was "being dragged towards a very dangerous place".

Mr Erdogan, whose wife, Emine, is banned from attending official presidential functions because she wears a headscarf, has called for the ban to be lifted.

Todays Zaman, Turkey, May 2006

According to public polls, the large majority of the Turkish population is not against the wearing of headscarves in public buildings. A political party which would like to soften the bans against headscarves has been in power in Ankara now for four years. The near future does not, however, appear to hold any prospect of liberalization on this matter. The careful efforts by the government to start solving this problem were interrupted from the very beginning by the opposition’s rejection of calls by the ruling adminsitration to work together to soften the headscarf ban, and by the resisitance of the military and a large part of the Turkish media. When in May 2006 a judge was killed most likely as a result of a decision he had made against a headscarved student’s case, the emotions on this matter rose to even greater heights across Turkey. This murder spawned a giant march in Ankara in support of secularity, and many people were reminded of the atmosphere of spring 1997 by the tension in the air. Since that time then, there have been no calm or reasonable debates in Turkey over the headscarf.

More: Guardian Unlimited, BBC News, Todays Zaman

My Thoughts ...

That explains why the millions that rallied recently included chants about keeping headscarves out of public life, particularly as the wife of the would-be president wears a headscarf. They are divisive marks of separation, visual reinforcement of the march of Islam, a symbol of power, a sign of the regressive forces that often follow it, and a comfort zone from which radicals flourish.

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