Thursday, November 17, 2005

Secularism: A worldview or status quo

This post is directly referring to Lorenzo’s recent post on the secularism debate in Turkey. Lorenzo argues, “the decision LEYLA ŞAHİN, the ECHR defended an ambiguous understanding of the concept of secularism.” Why is the understanding ambiguous according to Lorenzo? Namely, Lorenzo finds it difficult to accept that, as ECHR states quoting the Turkish Constitutional Court, “secularism, as the guarantor of democratic values, is the meeting point of liberty and equality.” While Lorenzo explains how it is possible to accept that secularism protects a certain conception of liberty, it clearly does not safeguard equality. For Lorenzo, ECHR was wrong to confirm the Turkish decision that affirms that secularism (meaning in this particular case ban of head-scarf in Turkish universities) protects sexual equality.

The debate in the article then goes towards attempts to set the framework for the adequate balancing and harmonizing of liberty and equality.

Often secularism is referred to as a worldview in itself. I wander is this is an appropriate way to treat this concept. While one can be an atheist, agonistic, catholic, Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, it can be argued, one cannot be a “secular person”. Or at least one cannot call himself a “secular person” if that does not refer exclusively to the fact that he accepts the achieved legal balance between different worldviews in the society. This in itself does not mean much, since secularism is not an individual but communal phenomenon. Thus, it is not helpful to treat secularism as an ethical system. It could be argued that secularism corresponds to status quo between opposing worldviews striving to dominate the legal system of a particular state. This status quo is never perfect but needs to be constantly readjusted. The final goal of secularism is to reach stable balance between different, often opposing worldviews in a society. Its goal is not to progress towards the universal ideal of human liberation. As Lorenzo, well depicts in his article, it is rather difficult to judge in a particular matter if the ban on head scarf in Turkish Universities is a way to promote liberty of the particular woman (although in a paternalistic way) or is it a way to promote equality (so that girls do not feel antagonised by the fact that one is wearing the foulard and the other one not). Rather than endulging in this prfoundly difficult task, it would be better to establish whether one decision or the other upsets the achieved balance in the Turkish society regarding the particular question. This brings us to the question: whether the courts are indeed the most suitable actor to define the balance between oposing wordlviews in a society. Possibly, but not necessarily (and not exclusively), this task is to be left to the legislative branch.

A note to the reader, I do not assume that status quo does not have prfoundly ethical goals, however, in itself is not an elaborate worldview.

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