Is Turkey Heading Towards Religious Extremism?

Earlier in July, Erdogan’s government rolled out the new school curriculum in Turkey, and it has created quite a hullabaloo not only within Turkey but also outside of it.

The reason is such that the new school curriculum is devoid of Darwin’s evolution theory. It has raised concerns among most of the Turkish populace regarding the secular foundations of the country being under threat.

Reason for Excluding the Evolution Theory

The reason the Education Ministry is giving for this change is that the Darwin theory underlines a ‘controversial subject’ and is above the high school level.

However, the main elements of the Evolution theory are included in the curriculum, only the mention of Darwin’s theory would not be the part of school studies. These students would study this landmark theory at University level.

The Backlash

This move by the government has faced a backlash from the opposition as well as the masses. They deem it a step to damage the secular foundations of Turkey.

The civil society is taking this action as an attempt to prevent raising “generations who ask questions.” Furthermore, they are considering the reason to be highly insulting for the undergraduate students who can elect and be elected but cannot study the theory of life and origin. They are taking it as a step forward towards Erdogan’s bid to raise a ‘pious generation.’

Is There an Issue?

If the government’s reasoning is taken into account i.e. that the core concepts of evolution are present in the curriculum, the step is just taken to make the curriculum simple. But, had this move come alone, the reason would have been acceptable.

The step has come along with another curriculum change i.e. reducing the focus on the life of Turkey’s secular founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. This move does not match the aforementioned government’s justification.

The debate over evolution theory is not new; it dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Neither is this just true for religious conservatives of Islam, rather, other religions like Christianity and Judaism also don’t go along with Darwin’s theory. But in the present era when people are cognizant of the importance of science and technology, this resurgence of religious conservatism is alarming.

It is leading the world towards extremism and is becoming the primary concern of our time. In a country like Turkey, which takes pride in its foundations of secularism, this move has rightly rung the alarm bells. Is this leading to the end of the Turkish secularism? People fear it will.

Erdogan’s Relation with Technology

Regardless of his image portrayed in the media and to the outer world, he is not someone ignorant to the importance of science. It was him who said that science was just like any other thing for people. Also, he was the one who linked science and technology with culture and values. He also envisioned the incorporation of science and technology into Turkey’s long term plans. Long story short, he does not have anything against science. But his policies tend to focus more on religion and less on secularism along with aiming to control the masses.

A Step Towards Extremism in Turkey?

Another country which has removed the traces of Darwinism from its curriculum is Saudi Arabia, a country renowned for its religious conservatism (popularly known as religious extremism). Another similarity between the countries is suppression. Turkey is emerging as a suppressive state, especially after the military coup fiasco of July 2016; while Saudi Arabia is already known for its regime suppression. This similarity is even graver and justifies the concerns of the Turkish society.

Repercussions for the Upcoming Generations

If this curriculum gets implemented as expected in 2019, the consequences for the next generations could be grave. The reason is not that a specific theory has been excluded, but the underlining motives behind this step i.e. to structure and frame the thought process of the new generation. This move will not just take a toll on this generation’s ability of independent thinking but will also impact its capacity to invent, innovate and indigenize. This is going to be the highest cost; a cost society has to pay for.

Is This Pattern Natural to Muslim Countries?

The question is if it’s necessary for a Muslim country to force its beliefs upon an individual. If we retrospect, we will find that this is not the case. The ideals of Islam allow the difference of opinions and peaceful coexistence. A state is always expected to facilitate its citizens in independent and critical thinking; only then a state, either Muslim or Christian, may develop and prosper.

About Ambreen Shabbir

Ambreen is a freelance writer and content strategist. Holder of a Masters in International Relations, she keenly follows the developments and pitfalls in Global Politics. She writes from the 7th most beautiful capital in the world and appreciates beauty in everything.

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