From left to right, Funda Altintas, Esma Bendez and Fatma Betul Yumuk talk about their futures on a recent night out in Istanbul. Jonathan Lewis http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42226074/ns/world_news-europe
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Funda Altintas picks at her lamb kofte and salad and tentatively describes her dream.
"I really want to be a professor," the 23-year-old psychology graduate says. "My father says that maybe in 10 years I'll be able to be a professor."
On a night out on the town, Altintas' friends also share their ambitions: Melike Akkus, 25, and Fatma Betul Yumuk, 22, are getting their MBAs. Esma Bendez, 23, would like to focus on intercultural studies.
Despite earning degrees from one of Turkey's best universities, none can be sure of reaching their career goals. What stands between them and their ambitions has little to do with dedication, loans or standardized tests. Instead, it is the traditional Muslim head covering they all wear.
Parliamentarians, judges, teachers and professors are forbidden from wearing the headscarf in public buildings, even though Turkey is predominately Muslim and governed by the Islam-oriented Justice and Development Party (AKP). Held in place by an old guard of secular bureaucrats, judges and the army, the ban has been eased at universities but remains unofficially applied in large parts of the private sector.
For many Muslims, the right of women to dress in accordance with their beliefs is on the front line in a battle with the traditional ruling class. For many secular Turks, the head covering is a symbol of everything they fear Prime Minister Recep TayyipErdogangovernment is working toward — political Islam and the oppression of women.
Istanbul seems to comfortably meld the old with the new, the secular with the religious. A sleek tram car rumbles through the Old City. The Blue Mosque's soaring minarets and a hulking Aya Sofia — first a basilica, then a mosque and now a museum — crown a skyline that is both ancient and modern.
Originally published on MSNBC