Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Brain Drain of Devout Muslim Women

I have previously reported on the appalling decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Şahin v. Turkey that upheld the right of Turkey to prevent devout Muslim women from wearing headscarfs (hijabs) to graduate school.

Last week the Chronicle of Higher Education had a very interesting article (subscription required) that highlights the brain drain of devout Muslims who are fleeing Turkey to study abroad. The article discusses Ms. Sahin's situation in particular, but also addresses the broader subject of the adverse impact that ill-advised policies regarding religious practices are having on Turkey.
"[C]ritics of the policy--and there are many on campuses here--say that a law supposedly designed to protect the country from religious intolerance and move Turkey into the modern era has had the opposite effect. Human-rights experts estimate that hundreds of Turkish women unwilling to adapt to the law in their home country have left in order to complete their education elsewhere--in Europe, in the United States, or in other countries that allow them to wear Islamic dress. Others have abandoned higher education altogether, hampering efforts to raise the education level of Turkish women..."
Forcing devout Muslim women to choose between faith and learning is a terrible policy that violates basic human rights. But it also happens to be bad public policy that will have serious adverse repercussions for the future labor market in Turkey. If Turkey wants to move forward economically, it should not espouse backward religious policies. If Turkey doesn't want the best and brightest devout women in its country, Europe or the United States will educate them.

So when will Turkey stop the offensive practice of outlawing headscarfs of the devout? Many speculate that it will not be until after Turkey secures membership in the European Union. The article suggests that Turkey has been so intent on proving its western, secular credentials to the European Union that it is trying to "out-secularize" secular Europe. So the irony is that for now, devout upwardly-mobile women like Sahin are welcome in western Europe, but not their native Turkey.
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