Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Headscarf Controversies Go Global

The Turkish Ottoman Lecture Series presents Hilal Elver Ph.D.

Tue, March 4, 2014 | SAC: Legislative Assembly (2.302)

2:00 PM

Headscarf Controversies Go Global

In early 1990s, Turkey was the only Muslim country where a headscarf ban in schools, universities and public institutions took place. In the aftermath of 9/11, in Western countries pious Muslim women experienced a troubling exclusion from the public sphere in the name of secularism, democracy, liberalism, and women's rights. Meanwhile, domestic courts and international courts such as the European Court of Human Rights, are increasingly influenced by social pressures concerning immigration, rejection of multiculturalism, and by attitudes expressed via Islamophobia, the ‘war on terror,’ and ‘homeland security.’

As a result, many Western governments have failed to recognize and protect essential individual freedoms in relation to Muslim women and public discussion is still going on various form of Islamic attire. While exclusion of pious women from public spaces is spreading in many countries where Muslims are a minority, the Turkish headscarf case continued a politico-legal battle among lawyers, judges, and politicians in Turkey. Recently, Turkish government’s long awaited reforms on human rights gave a relative comfort to headscarf use in universities and public offices, current political turmoil makes future of the debate unpredictable. Elver argues that law can be used to change underlying social conditions shaping the social contract, role of religion, and the position of women in modern society. 

Hilal Elver is a Research Professor in Global Studies and Co-director of the Project on Climate Change, Human Security and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  Her most recent book, The Headscarf Controversy: Secularism and Freedom of Religion (Oxford Press, 2012), offers the “first global examination of the headscarf controversy” and examines legal and political debates in Turkey and European countries on the exclusion of observant Muslim women from the public sphere in the name of women’s rights.  She earned a J.D. and Ph.D. from University of Ankara Law School and an S.J.D. from UCLA School of Law.

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