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A group of University of Iowa law students was going to visit Turkey this summer to study the tension between Islam and secularism in that country’s legal and political systems.
But those plans had to change once the tension between Islam and secularism exploded into political demonstrations that have rocked Istanbul since May and turned violent this week. The nine students are participating in the law school’s summer program in Arcachon, France, and were scheduled to be in Turkey with professor Adrien Wing from June 13 to June 24.
The students planned to visit Istanbul, Ankara, and Cappadocia, and also study Turkish law in comparison to the legal systems in other European countries, as well as Turkish corporate and business law.
But Wing monitored the ongoing political crisis there that started in May, when the conservative Islamist government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced plans to renovate an historic and politically significant square in Istanbul. Protestors descended on the site, accusing Erdogan of becoming increasingly authoritarian and trying to impose conservative Islamic values on the secular state.
In the last few days, police have attacked demonstrators with tear gas and water cannons, and three people have died. The government has also detained at least 40 lawyers who had gathered in Istanbul and Ankara to protest the police action.
As the violence escalated, Wing communicated with College of Law and UI International Programs officials and everyone decided that the situation was too dangerous and too big a safety risk to bring students there. She canceled the Turkey trip last week and put together a last minute itinerary to visit Jordan, instead, with the help of Hisham Kassim, a UI law alumnus who now lives there.
Wing, a constitutional and international comparative law specialist, has worked as a legal consultant for developing countries around the world, so re-routing herself around or out of political hotspots at the last minute is old hat for her.
“Thirty years experience as an international lawyer, including dealing in the Middle East, helped me to switch gears so that the students would still be able to have a fabulous academic experience while being safe,” Wing says. “It is a shame that our decision last week to shift countries has been borne out by the continuing violence in Turkey, which even includes going into court houses and arresting lawyers.”
Aside from political violence in Turkey, Wing says the students’ trip has also been slowed by rail and air worker strikes in France.