Turkey’s parliament voted overwhelmingly this month to end a ban on women wearing head scarves at universities. While this move was decried by Turkey’s secular elite, it was the proper thing to do. The ban was originally intended to limit the role of Islam in the public sphere, but it wound up inflaming the passions of religious Turks who wished to freely and publicly observe their Islamic faith.
Perhaps the biggest lesson from the head scarf debate is how difficult it is for a secular society with religious underpinnings to trust that its democratic institutions are strong enough to embrace full freedom of expression. But if Turkey remains committed to these institutions, the rest of the world, including the United States, would benefit by seeing that Western-style democracy, secularism, and Islam can successfully co-exist.
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