Analysing the Headscarf Debate in Turkey from a Deliberative Perspective: Is Social Learning Possible?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2009

30 Pages, Grade: 5 (CH)



1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Framework
2.1 Preliminary Remarks on Deliberative Democracy
2.2 Deliberative Democracy in Divided Societies: John Dryzek
2.3 Social Learning Perspective: Seyla Benhabib

3. The Headscarf Debate in Turkey
3.1 Secularism and Political Islam- Historical Remarks
3.2 Legal Framework

4. Analysing the Headscarf Debate from a Deliberative Perspective: Is Social Learning Possible? .
4.1 Survey of Konda Research Institute: The Headscarf in Turkey.
4.2 Q Study on Islam, Secularism and Democracy

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography


Table 1: Percentage of the Population Covering Their Heads

Table 2: Change in Veiling Practices

Table 3: Veiling by Political Party Choice

Table 4: Reasons for veiling

Table 5: Reasons of Veiling by Style of Veiling

Table 6: Why a Türban Instead of a Headscarf?

Table 7: The Ban of Türban in Universities

Table 8: Opinions with regard to the ban of türbans according to the covering style

Table 9: Is the Türban a Symbol of Antagonism To Secularism?

Table 10: Views about the relationship between the turban and secularism according to covering styles

Table 11: The Headscarf in the Q Study


The victory of the conservative AKP (Justice and Development Party) in November, 2002 elections has brought the issue of turban1 back on the agenda, so much so that the tension between Islamists and Kemalists has again increased. This controversial debate has divided the Turkish society into different camps. Secularists claim that the turban is a political symbol and has nothing to do with basic individual rights. Islamists, on the other hand, treat it mainly as an issue of religious freedom. The basic goal of this paper is to answer the question of whether deliberative democracy can contribute to creating a healthy dialogue between Islamists and Kemalists in Turkey. Special emphasis has been given to deliberative concepts such as social learning and mutual understanding, because they may enhance the possibility that an adequate atmosphere of dialogue can be created.

First, the theoretical framework will be discussed: After handling the general considerations of deliberative democracy, a more specific model of John Dryzek will be dealt with which analyses the decision making and social learning levels of deliberation separately. Then, Seyla Benhabibs work “Claims of Culture” (2002) will be examined. Benhabib focuses on the less restricted, informal phases of deliberation in her book. By focusing on Dryzek and Benhabib, this paper aims to establish an analytical framework that shows deliberation as an opinion formation process oriented to learning alongside the decision making process. The third chapter focuses on the headscarf debate in Turkey by considering its historical roots and legal framework. In the fourth chapter, a survey conducted in 2007 by the Konda Research Institute regarding the perceptions and practices of people in Turkey regarding religion, the headscarf and secularism will be presented. Next, some of the findings of the “Q survey” conducted by Bora Kanra will be discussed. It will be argued that the findings of these two studies will bolster the hopes for establishing a more healthy democratic culture in Turkey.


In this chapter, general remarks on deliberative democracy will first be presented. Next, the theoretical framework will be drawn for analysing deliberative democracy in divided societies. Consequently, the works of Dryzek and Benhabib will be discussed in order to set the analytical background of the headscarf issue in Turkey.


In recent years, deliberative democracy has gained importance in political science research. Among the many definitions of deliberation and deliberative democracy, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (2003) has a more comprehensive version:

“Deliberation is an approach to decision-making in which citizens consider relevant facts from multiple points of view, converse with one another to think critically about options before them and enlarge their perspectives, opinions and understandings. Deliberative democracy strengthens citizen voices in governance by including people of all races, classes, ages and geographies in deliberations that directly affect public decisions. As a result, citizens influence - and can see the result of their influence on - the policy and resource decisions that impact their daily lives and their future” (Deliberative Democracy Consortium 2003).

Dryzek (2000: 76) defines deliberation broadly as “communication that induces reflection on preferences, values and interests in a non-coercive fashion”. Deliberative democracy presupposes that deliberation should be open to all those affected by the decisions. There should be equal conditions and resources for the participants to affect the deliberation. A central point of the deliberative process is that claims should be reasonable. “Reason-giving” is also at the core of it (Thompson 2008: 497). Deliberation as both substantive and procedural is also an ongoing process of justifiable reason-giving. Furthermore, mutual respect and equal concern is required. Coercive power should not exist in the deliberation process. Participants should not try to alter others’ ideas through sanctioning mechanisms or the use of force (Mansbridge et al. 2009). Deliberative theorists also reject democracy conceptions based on the use of power or interest. The focus of a deliberative process lies at finding a consensus. It doesn’t consider the utility maximization of a participant, but instead to find a solution that is accepted by everyone. That means deliberative democracy is defined contrary to self-interest and to the use of power, although some scholars claim that self- interest may be part of the deliberation (Mansbridge et al. 2009). According to these scholars, negotiation involving self-interest may meet all of the premises they set for ideal deliberation.

Deliberative democracy as a theoretical model ensures the possibility as to how self-interests can be integrated into the general interest.

Thompson (2008: 497) states that deliberative theory tries to answer the following question: “In a state of disagreement, how can citizens reach a collective decision that is legitimate?” He points out that disagreement and decision making are the conditions for deliberative democracy. Legitimacy refers to the moral justification of collective decisions. A state of disagreement is also necessary for deliberative democracy, which means that the opinions should not be the same. Furthermore, it aims to come to a decision to which all participants are bound regardless of their degree of agreement or disagreement with it. Other aims such as learning and understanding should be considered as instruments to this main aim.

Jürgen Habermas is one of the most important promoters of deliberative democracy idea. He claimed that democracy is based not only on the aggregation of preferences, but also upon the transformation of them. Chambers (1999: 1 cited in Bächtiger 2005: 19) points out that this transformation process led to the “voting-centric democratic theory being replaced by talk- centric democratic theory”. Deliberative democracy’s requirement from the institutions is that, they should guarantee the participation of all willing persons to the discourse and that they have the same rights and duties. The participants should behave respectfully, they should listen to each other, and they should be able to justify their positions and try to reach consensual solutions. In order to find an acceptable agreement, the participants should be ready to change their positions if the other participants have a better argument. In the discursive ethic of Habermas, the discursive communication should respect the rules of dominance-free discourse. Habermas formulated five discourse rules which constitute ideal communication (Habermas 1973: 222fff.): Understandability of expressions, the honesty of the speaking person, the validity of the claim, the variable preferences, and respect to others.

A special emphasis should be given to the idea of “reciprocity”. As Gutmann and Thompson (2000) point out, moral disagreement and political disagreement are to be handled together, because citizens having contrary perspectives on fundamental values do not have the same view about the political institutions to which they are bound. The problem is to find a morally justifiable solution regarding binding collective decisions inspite of the conflict of fundamental values. Moreover they stress: “Yet no theori]st has ever managed to find a way of transcending the foundational disagreements that animate many (even if not all) deep disagreements in democratic politics” (Gutmann and Thompson 2000: 165). They emphasize the idea of reciprocity as a fundamental principle of deliberative democracy. Deliberative principles based on reciprocity enables the legitimacy of policies in a modern pluralistic society. According to Thompson and Gutmann, “Reciprocity, publicity, and accountability are the chief standards that regulate the conditions of deliberation. Basic liberty, basic opportunity, and fair opportunity are key components of the content of deliberation” (2000: 167).

Another important point is how to improve the conditions of deliberative democracy. In their research, Bächtiger et al. (2009) aimed to explore the effects of institutions, culture, actors and issues on deliberative quality. Through combining these elements they reached a comprehensive theoretical framework for deliberative analysis in the political sphere. They link the abstract philosophical ideas of deliberative democracy to the concrete world by discussing the affects of these factors in the deliberative process. They found that,

“Our analysis shows that deliberative ideals - such as respect - can be linked with empirical political science. In concrete, we found that specific institutions - in particular, consensus institutions in the form of grand coalitions and non-public arenas - less polarized issues, as well as partisan strategies and status strongly affect respectful interactions in legislative settings, while the effects of culture and other individual characteristics are less clear-cut” (Bächtiger et al. 2009: 21).


In his article “Deliberative Democracy in Divided Societies: Alternatives to Agonism and Analgesia” (2005), Dryzek asserts the capability of deliberative democracy of processing “mutually contradictory assertions of identity” prevalent in divided societies (2003: 1). He first evaluates the answers given by agonists such as Chantal Mouffe and consociational democrats:

“Agonism may feature plenty in the way of authentic democratic communication, but is hard to apply to any divided society in the real world. A consociational state for its part can often deliver political stability in real-world divided societies, but it undermines the ability of groups to live together through deliberative and democratic social learning” (Dryzek 2003: 24).

He develops a deliberative democracy model that can cope with profound differences in identity within divided societies by considering deliberation basically at two levels, which should be treated analytically separately: The decision making level, and the deliberative level of democracy. In other words, the informal and formal stages of deliberation should be separated. Dryzek emphasizes that identities are bound up with discourses, which should be open to reflective engagement. Furthermore, he maintains that engagement is less likely to end in hostility if one concentrates on specific needs rather than general values (2003: 15). By emphasizing the public sphere as the locus of discursive engagement, he doesn’t neglect the state. “Discursive engagement in the public sphere can influence state action in many informal ways. These include changing the terms of discourse in ways that eventually come to pervade the understandings of governmental actors” (Dryzek 2003: 20). In other words, deliberative democracy in divided societies should focus on engagement in the public sphere as loosely connected to the state.

Dryzek and Niemeyer (2006) stress the importance of the idea of metaconsensus. They claim that deliberation is not in conflict with pluralism, the aim is not to homogenise substantive political commitments. “Pluralism ought to be accepted and valued at the simple level of values, beliefs, and preferences. Pluralism at this level can nevertheless coexist with normative, epistemic, and/or preference meta-consensus, all of which have qualities that should attract even pluralists” (Dryzek/Niemeyer 2006: 634). Deliberation does not presuppose substantive consensus in terms of preferences, values and beliefs. It does not have to result in normative, epistemic and preference consensuses. Instead, its goal is directed to the meta-counterparts of these consensuses. It should guarantee “recognition of legitimacy of disputed values”, “acceptance of credibility of disputed beliefs”, and “agreement on the nature of disputed choices” (Dryzek/Niemeyer 2006: 638). Dryzek and Niemeyer distinguish between three types of issues. The first one is quite relevant to the headscarf issue in Turkey. This type refers to issues that involve clashes of identity within a divided society. The key here is production of a normative meta-consensus that remains contestable. Normative meta- consensus implies reciprocal understanding and recognition of the legitimacy of the values held by other participants in political interaction. The idea of meta-consensus makes it clear that in a discursive democracy, the type of reciprocity required does not imply an erasure of the self. It lies in a mutuality that is constructed through the give and take of reasons in which each discourse is reframed by others in the need to answer them. (Mendonca 2008: 15).

Deliberation functions more properly when a society is not understood as consisting of parallel communities that have clear-cut boundaries. In deeply divided societies, deliberation can be a solution to the increasing hostilities between different groups (O’Flynn 2006; Kanra 2004; Deveaux 2003; Dryzek 2005).


As Kanra (2004) points out in his doctoral thesis “Deliberating across difference: Bringing social learning into the theory and practice of deliberative democracy in the case of Turkey”, deliberation, which gives to social learning a special emphasis by treating it as an analytically distinct category, contributes to the reconciling of differences in societies divided intensively by ethnic, cultural and religious cleavages and face difficulties.According to Kanra, the literature on deliberative democracy is mainly concentrated on the decision-making process and neglects to a certain extent the social learning dimension. Nevertheless, the social learning and understanding phases of deliberation have a crucial role in deep-cut countries such as Turkey. Kanra (2004: 33) emphasizes, “A healthy dialogue oriented to social learning and mutual understanding between Islamic and secular forces of the Turkish public sphere could enhance the possibility that an adequate framework for reconciling differences can be established”. That means a theoretical framework should be established that analyzes deliberation as an opinion formation process oriented to learning, as well as a decision making process.

Seyla Benhabib, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Yale University, is a deliberative theorist, who focuses on the less restricted, informal phases of deliberation and analyses the role of hermeneutics in deliberative process. Benhabib evaluated deliberation as an ongoing process of argumentation which has the aim of understanding the other. With her differentiation of “generalized” other and the “concrete” other, Benhabib tries to analyze the interaction between individuals with a hermeneutic approach. In her book “The claims of culture” (2002), she takes an universalistic position to democratic theory and tries to offer an answer as to how liberal democracy can be realized in an atmosphere of growing conflict over culture and identity politics. Benhabib points out that cultures are not homogenous in themselves, and are in continuously in a creating process which changes the imagined boundaries between “us” and “them”. Benhabib also maintains, contrary to some theorists such as Huntington, that the deliberative ideal enables dialogue and understanding between cultures. She asserts that individuals and groups having profoundly divergent value systems can deliberate successfully, because there is a common point at the realm of material interests and shared life forms (Benhabib 2002: 36).

In answering the question, “is universalism is ethnocentric?”, Benhabib focuses upon the dialogue across cultures and civilizations. This question is actually based on the assumption that western culture is a distinct and homogenous culture and have no similarities with other cultures of other civilizations. In giving the example of Yunus Emre, a thirteenth century poet in Anatolia, she clearly demonstrates the diffusion taking place between separate cultures. Yunus Emre anticipated elements of Renaissance humanism and pantheistic philosophies of nineteenth century. Benhabib states,

“Emre, one of the great mystical poets of Islam, blended Plato’s teaching of the forms with an Aristotelian ontology. Galileo’s claim, several centruries later, that “the book of nature was written in mathematics” has much in common with Yunus Emre’s belief that the universe is an intelligible, ordered hierarchy of forms” (Benhabib 2002: 25).

She emphasizes Hannah Arendt’s concept of the enlarged mentality in order to further understand the perspective of other participants in deliberative practices (Benhabib 2002: 142). She finds the transition from civil to political citizenship necessary, whereas enlarged mentality plays a substantive role. “Such an enlarged mentality allows us to exercise civic imagination in taking the standpoint of the other(s) into account in order to woo their agreement on controversial and divisive norms that affect our lives and interactions” (Benhabib 2002: 171). Enlarged mentality enhances an individual’s ability to negotiate other perspectives and to distance himself from his profound values in order to understand the conflicting perspectives in the realm of universal morality (Benhabib 2002: 171). Kanra asserts that the value given to the enlarged mentality by Benhabib shows her emphasis on the learning aspects of deliberation. He points out the fact that regardless of how deep the traditions are, the changing conditions of modernity can lead to a transformation of these traditions (Kanra 2004: 233). Benhabib, following Habermas, points out the discourse principle, which states that the interests of all affected by the decision should be taken into account. Kanra (2004: 239) emphasizes that, by Benhabib, the social learning aspect still remains in the background as she doesn’t differentiate the decision making and social learning analytically.

According to Benhabib (2002: 105), democracy is a model for organizing power in the main institutions of a society based on the principle that decisions are an outcome of a process of reasoned deliberation among morally and politically equal individuals. She also gives a special emphasis on deliberation procedure that affects the decision-making process, which in turn is about the well-being of a society.


1 The term türban in Turkish refers to a certain style of covering one’s head and has a different, mostly political meaning than the word turban in English.

Excerpt out of 30 pages


Analysing the Headscarf Debate in Turkey from a Deliberative Perspective: Is Social Learning Possible?
University of Bern  (Insitut für Politikwissenschaft)
Deliberative Democracy
5 (CH)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Analysing, Headscarf, Debate, Turkey, Deliberative, Perspective, Social, Learning, Possible
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Can Büyükbay (Author), 2009, Analysing the Headscarf Debate in Turkey from a Deliberative Perspective: Is Social Learning Possible? , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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