Academic Freedom in Turkey Under Seige

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses lawmakers at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses lawmakers at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013.


Date posted: December 2, 2013

MICHAEL SHANK

It appears that Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Islamic preacher from Turkey who promotes peace and tolerance, and the schools associated with his religious Hizmet movement can’t get a break.

They were first targeted in America, via discrimination aimed at the Turkish American community centered on his educational efforts, which was initially identified in the Center for American Progress’ report “Fear Inc: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.” The report found a well-financed, well-organized network of advocates, experts and media partners conducting a strategic campaign throughout America and “spreading hate and misinformation,” as CAP put it.

The new supposed Turkish threat to America: “Muslim Gülen schools, which [members of the Islamophobia network] claim would educate children through the lens of Islam and teach them to hate Americans.”

The authors of the CAP report flatly reject this assertion, however, saying that the schools started by Gülen are “nothing of the sort” and that “they are a product of moderate Turkish Muslim educators who want a ‘blend of religious faith and largely western curriculum.'” Indeed, two Gülen charter schools ranked fifth and sixth on Newsweek’s 2011 “Top Ten Miracle High Schools” and two Gülen schools ranked 144th and 165th on Newsweek’s 2011 list of “America’s 500 Best High Schools.” Clearly, they were doing something right.

Now, Gülen’s schools are being targeted in his home country by the Turkish government’s ruling Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, which should dispel any notion in the U.S. that the AKP is somehow in cahoots with the Gülen movement.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan recently announced a plan to shut down private prep schools, many of which are run by the Gülen movement. Erdogan’s draft legislation would abolish the fee-based private preparatory courses for college or high school admission exams and the free private tutoring centers. In doing so, the prime minister said Turkey “will be putting an end to under-the-counter education” and that “this business which takes place in apartment flats needs to stop.” To show his commitment to this crackdown, Erdogan even expelled a dissenting parliamentarian who took issue with his plan.

Speculations are that this is really about who will rule the country going forward, as Erdogan is perhaps keen to undermine Gülen and his, as Reuters noted, “global network of schools over the past four decades promoting Turkish language and culture” and its “powerful movement whose members hold influential positions across Turkish society, from the police and judiciary to the central bank, political parties and media.” To put this “threat” in perspective, keep in mind that Gülen talks of peace and tolerance and was compared by Georgetown professor John Esposito to the Dalai Lama and praised by Madeleine Albright and James Baker III for his advocacy of democracy and dialogue.

Erdogan’s move was immediately criticized. The former director of the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning from 2006-2010, Mark Bray, said that the government should work to deemphasize the weight of the centralized exam instead of attempting to abolish prep schools. Ersan Sen, a law professor at Istanbul University, added, “In a representative democracy, the parliament should not abolish prep schools with legislation that does not serve a public need and has no legal foundation.”

The critics are onto something, as there are some serious concerns with Erdogan’s proposed move. Conservatives and liberals alike feel that this is another step in government’s increasing proclivity to control and micro-manage civic and private life and demonstrate disregard for democratic values such as the participatory process. But there are more reasons to be alarmed.

First, eliminating education services operating within the law and providing a much-needed service to parents voluntarily sending their children should be cause for concern. Any government attempt to monopolize the provision of educational services, and thus suppress an important component of the civil society, is equally disconcerting. And if the legislation passes, expect greater inequality and lack of opportunity for the children of low-income families.

Second, closing free tutoring centers limits opportunities for low-income Turkish youth to pursue education that can lead to an actual career. This is what socio-economic mobility and development looks like. Keep in mind that some of these tutoring centers serve youth who are targets of violent insurgent recruitment in east and southeast Turkey. Integrating and educating these youth is a far better option than disenfranchising them further, a reality to which Erdogan’s schools closures will inevitably contribute.

Third, undermining the resolutions of the European Human Rights Court, of which Turkey is a member — especially the freedoms of expression, freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the protection of property — shouldn’t be tolerated. This clear crackdown on Gülen and Hizmet participants — who have never endorsed a political party and who have only praised the government’s latest democratization package and even supported, in true inter-religiously tolerant fashion, the re-opening of a Greek Orthodox seminary (which the government opposed) — demands a second look by the international community.

This brings us back to America. The Obama administration has recently and closely courted Turkey’s government in an effort to help bring stability in almost every Middle East and Central Asia war zone, from Syria to Afghanistan. Consequently, we have Erdogan’s ear if we want it. We should take the opportunity to encourage education, tolerance, private enterprise and inclusion, not marginalization. This is how you create an open and more stable democracy, something Erdogan should desire given the instability surrounding him.

Michael Shank, Ph.D., is the director of foreign policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and adjunct faculty at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. This article was originally published in US News & World Report.

ends Committee on National Legislation and adjunct faculty at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

Source: US News , December 2, 2013


Related News

Post-coup purge in Turkey leaves children parentless after mother and father are put behind bars

Turkey’s post-coup purge is continuing to hit children, leaving them parentless in myriad cases, shattering their families, disrupting their education and upending their emotional life.

Kosovo President: Arrest of Gulenists was wrong

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci in a televised interview for T7 admitted for the first time that the arrest and deportation of the six Turkish men suspected of their links with Fetullah Gulen’s movement was wrong. Thaci has earlier publicly endorsed the extraditions, saying the six Turks were a danger to the fledgling country’s national security.

African Union Commission chair visits Turkish school

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, paid a visit to a Turkish school established by volunteers of the Gülen movement, which is inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, in the South African city of Durban, saying its students are “privileged” to be educated there.

C. African president: Turkish school will have no trouble in my country

Central African Republic (CAR) Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has praised a prominent Turkish school’s contributions to her country and assured that it will not experience any problems in the CAR as long as it carries out its educational activities “within the legal framework.”

Liberals silent as Turkey targets its own Khashoggi

On May 31, Orhan Inandi, a Turkish-born educator and Kyrgyz citizen who founded a popular school network in Kyrgyzstan went missing in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. After his car was found five miles from his house, all its doors open and tires flattened, his families contacted Kyrgyz authorities.

Purge-victim businessman sent back to prison a week after stomach cancer surgery: son

Hacı Boydak, a Kayseri-based Turkish businessman, has been put in solitary confinement only one week after he underwent a cancer surgery, according to his son.

Latest News

This notable Pocono resident has been living here in exile since 1999

Logistics companies seized over Gülen links sold in fast-track auction

That is Why the Turkish Government could Pay 1 Billion Euros

ECtHR rules Bulgaria violated rights of Turkish journalist who was deported despite seeking asylum

Fethullah Gülen’s Message of Condolences in the Wake of the Western European Floods

Pregnant woman kept in prison for 4 months over Gülen links despite regulations

Normalization of Abduction, Torture, and Death in Erdogan’s Turkey

Turkey’s Maarif Foundation illegally seized German-run school in Ethiopia, says manager

Failed 2016 coup was gov’t plot to purge Gülenists from state bodies, journalist claims

In Case You Missed It

Gülen’s lawyer appeals arrest warrant

Turkey’s teachers, police officers join unskilled labor force after coup purge

Islamic scholar Gülen criticizes Turkish gov’t response to Gezi protests

AKP: What is next?

Turkish Imam: Enjoy the properties of Gulen Movement as ‘spoils’

Spinning on the Same World

New Jersey’s Peace Islands Institute Holds Iftar At Community Center

Copyright 2021 Hizmet News