Amnesty International report highlights prejudices against Muslims
Muslims in several European countries face discrimination in daily life, the Amnesty International report says.
By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 30/04/12
Amnesty International published a report titled "Choice and Prejudice: Discrimination against Muslims in Europe," explaining how Muslims in several European countries face discrimination in daily life, especially with employment and education.
The Amnesty International report urges European governments to overcome discriminative stereotypes and prejudices against their Muslim communities. [Amnesty International]
The report urges European governments to overcome discriminative stereotypes and prejudices against their Muslim communities.
Although it covers Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, the report also criticises Turkey for discrimination in the education sphere on religious grounds.
"The strong secular tradition established in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, from the founding of the republic has resulted in restrictions on the wearing of specific forms of religious and cultural dress, and particularly the headscarf, in education," the report noted.
According to Marco Perolini, Amnesty International's expert on discrimination, general bans on religious and cultural symbols and dress applied in the Turkish educational system are problematic.
"These bans represent a very wide restriction on the rights to freedom of expression and religion or belief, and have a disproportionate impact on Muslim women," Perolini told SES Türkiye.
Perolini explained that some restrictions are permissible in specific contexts, for example if the restriction aims at counteracting existing pressure on students who do not want to wear religious dress. However, he said that such a restriction should always be proportionate and necessary, and should not result in the exclusion of students from education.
Rukiye Yildiz, a cleaning lady from Istanbul, is one of the victims of discrimination in education. "In the past, when I saw my cousins excluded from higher education only because they wear headscarves, I was discouraged to continue my education after primary school. I didn't want to be obliged to choose between my education and my religion," she told SES Türkiye.
In the report, Amnesty International also called on the Turkish government to amend the Law on Higher Education, with the aim of allowing students to wear religious and cultural symbols and dress.
According to Ayhan Kaya, the director of the EU Institute at the Istanbul's Bilgi University, the populist nature of the ruling party [in Turkey] has managed to set free the accommodation of Islamic symbols [like headscarf, burqa, or veil] in the public space.
Although legislation and regulations since the early 1980s obliged female students and teachers to respect some modern dress codes in schools and universities, prohibiting any kind of head covering, the wearing of headscarf is no longer a big issue in Turkish universities since 2010.
The ban on headscarves in higher education is currently implemented only according to the decision of each university administration, so the ban has not been fully lifted.
Pinar Ilkiz, from the Turkish branch of Amnesty International, emphasised that in the exercise of her right to freedom of expression and religion, a woman should be free to choose what she wants to wear.
"Governments and religious leaders have a duty to create a safe environment in which every woman can make that choice without the threat of violence or coercion. The universality of human rights means that they apply equally to women as well as to men," she told SES Türkiye.
A report released by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) last week noted that the on-going unofficial ban applied by some professors at the universities has a harmful impact on relations between professors and students, as professors sometimes humiliate and single out students covering the heads.
"Previously, the freedom of women [wearing headscarves] was abandoned by the secularist rules, which were interpreted as a kind of anti-religion. However, laicism is something really completely different. Laicism means the transmission of power from the ulema, clergy, to the lay people in religion," Kaya explained for SES Türkiye.
According to Kaya, the hierarchical nature of the Turkish political culture made politicians manipulate the meaning of laicism as they wished, creating a power game between those advocating laicism and those who saw Islam as their reason of existence, without a fruitful result.
The report concurs with that argument, emphasising that "under international law, state neutrality and secularism are not legitimate reasons for imposing restrictions on the exercise of the rights to freedom of religion or belief and to freedom of expression."