Erdogan’s Assault on Education: The Closure of Secular Schools

Dec 22, 2015

Photo Credit: MURAD SEZER / REUTERS

By Xanthe Ackerman and Ekin Calisar

In Turkey, where there has been a rise in Islamic religiosity, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, founder of the pro-Islamist Development and Justice Party (AKP), is converting some public schools into seminaries called imam–hatips (or traditional training schools for Sunni Muslim clergy) in an effort to raise a generation of “religious youth.”

Students who perform poorly on entrance exams for secondary school are shunted into imam–hatips where they study the Koran for up to 13 hours a week and take courses on the life of the Prophet Muhammad and Arabic. Erdogan has boasted that during his tenure as president, enrollment in these schools soared from 63,000 to over one million. The number of imam–hatips increased by 73 percent between 2010 and 2014 and 13 percent of Turkish students now study at such schools.

Outraged, dozens of Turkish parents in Istanbul created an advocacy group called Hands Off My School to fight against Erdogan’s education policy. In June of 2014, when the government tried to convert the local middle school to an imam–hatip, the group circulated a petition that quickly collected 13,000 signatures from other parents. A young lawyer from the neighborhood, Yasemin Zeytinoglu, even filed an emergency suspension with the Istanbul Administrative Court to halt the conversion.

Government officials eventually dropped the order to convert the school, giving the parents a short-lived victory. But the school stopped taking new students and after the current classes graduate, it will reopen as an extracurricular center. Left with no choice but to enroll their children in a different middle school, some parents told us that they felt the government was punishing them for protesting.

In September, at the start of the 2014 school year, the members of Hands Off learned that 40,000 children were registered at imam–hatips without parental permission, including the grandson of Turkey’s Chief Rabbi, Ishak Haleva. Hands Off, along with the tens of thousands of people from the secular teachers’ union and from religious minority groups, rallied forcefully in response. During one nationwide demonstration in February, the government responded by locking students inside their schools and calling the police to fire water cannons on protestors.

In Gongoren, a working class borough of Istanbul where three middle schools were recently converted to imam–hatips, 50 men and women met over the summer with Zeytinoglu. She told her audience, “The decision to change the school wasn’t legal. You were never asked if you wanted it to change.” Zeytinoglu has five cases in front of the court now, each for a different school. She argued that in Gongoren, officials did not adequately consult parents and gave no notice before converting the school. Further, there was insufficient demand for religious education in the neighborhood given that it already had seven other imam–hatips.

One parent, Gulay Kacar, a stout woman who wore a paisley headscarf, has a son in the fifth grade at Mehmet Akif Middle School, now an imam–hatip. To avoid religious education, which she said will deprive her son of science classes, she will have to send him to a school in another neighborhood where, “there is so much violence, people are stabbing each other.” She told the parents, “They put pressure on us. They force our kids to have the education that they want.”

Kacar, along with Nurcan Aybalik, whose child was also a student at the now-converted school, set up a signature drive in the Kale Outlet Mall in the city center. Shortly after, five clean-shaven youths approached them and swore at the two women, telling them that they had loosened their headscarves and had made prostitutes of themselves by questioning Islam. “Islam is coming and we will make you observe our laws,” they said, according to both Kacar and Aybalik.

Extremist views are on the rise in Turkey. Twenty percent of Turks support responding to an insult against Islam with violence, up almost 8 percent from last year, according to the Turkish polling firm Metropoll. A Pew Research Center poll released last month reported that eight percent of Turkish people have a favorable opinion of ISIS and 19 percent are “undecided.”

“Because of the mindset of religious education, we are being polarized,” said Aybalik. Erdogan and the AKP have fought hard to hold onto their tenuous majority in parliament, and religious values are a cornerstone of their message to their Sunni Muslim base. Meanwhile, political opponents warn that religious educational policies will polarize the citizenry. Minority groups, especially Alevi–Muslims, who follow a blend of Shia and syncretic beliefs and make up as much as 25 percent of the Turkish population, are increasingly alienated.


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26 comments on “Erdogan’s Assault on Education: The Closure of Secular Schools

  • Never mind, “In god we trust”; it seems to me, that the question is, can god’s devotees be trusted?

    A tragic, stupid betrayal of a nation’s youth and future, driven by ignorance and vanity; or, in a word, religion.

    This sort of thing has to be fought against at all costs.



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  • 3
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Like all the other dictators: corruption of the political process to gain absolute power (re: the latest “elections” were blatantly rigged), controlling the press through intimidation and blackmail, brutal repression against any dissent or critique but most of all, by creating a common ennemy, a scapegoat “a la Hitler” designed to be perceived by the people as the responsible for all the ills of society (namely: the Kurds).

    The latter is by far the most powerful because it taps into people’s primal instincts of mistrust and xenophobia. It is mostly effective when used in a climate of social unrest and the least educated are the most likely to buy into this sectarian trope. This false sense of security makes the sheep remain inside their pen even if the grass is kind of stale and perhaps a bit soiled.

    Sorry for saying this but democracy in Turkey is dead.



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  • No need to apologise to me NNA. If not yet quite dead then flapping about dying. There are around 16million Kurdish people in Turkey in prominent positions. The fight has been carefully taken to the PKK and its supporters but there is a new kid in town as far as a common enemy goes now and thats Putin and Russia.The secret war within the muslims is between Erdogan and Fetula Gulen. That might be why the schools are being taken over because Gulen is very strong in that department. This is being strongly opposed by Ataturk supporters but they are being shut down quickly. Then there is the two gas pipe lines from SA and the like, which includes Israel’s gas, with one line sponsored by America (Through Turkey) and the other by Russia (Through Greece) which is allowing Erdogan room to manoeuvre. New chapters in their EU accession have been opened in spite of his actions. All madness



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  • I have contempt for Erdogan and the entire Turkish people for aiding and abetting this plunge into ignorance.

    They will pay. Such a nation of uneducated boobs will never get into the EU. Such a nation will lose more and more of its international business. Knowledge of the Qur’an has no practical use.



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  • In times past the army would have returned the country to secularism, what Ataturk wanted for the country, but Erdogan was smart enough to “neuter” the army before pushing his sectarian bullshit onto Turkey.

    It may be too late to reverse the process since Erddogan’s surprise “victory” in the last election. An islamic theocracy as a member of NATO?



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  • @OP – In September, at the start of the 2014 school year, the members of Hands Off learned that 40,000 children were registered at imam–hatips without parental permission, including the grandson of Turkey’s Chief Rabbi, Ishak Haleva.

    If populations are foolish enough to elect theists into positions of power, it is unsurprising that their god-delusions start directing their decisions!
    To a god-delusion, the urgent need for faith-schools, is obvious!



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  • If populations are foolish enough to elect theists into positions of
    power

    Thats just it Alan….Elected? One of the criticisms going around was that they counted 5million votes in 2hours from ballot boxes that were still en route, along with other irregularities. He has definitely got the head covered brigade with him, which included the biggest Kurdish party until he waged war on PKK, again, to try and force America and Europe’s hand, but he has a large Ataturk secularist following opposition who have been silenced, ironically, with American help and money. When Obama came along and pulled his soldiers out of the area without sorting out the promised Kurdish problem, relations soured and Erdogan began to get friendly with Putin and signed a gas deal.

    This is the problem with doing deals with other countries on a knife edge. One wrong move, for selfish reasons and it all becomes very dangerous. Now Putin is out and America is back in because bombing ISIS and promising that Assad will be out soon after the Kurdish problem is solved is in Turkeys favour. They are all playing silly buggers with peoples lives. If Erdogan hadn’t been blinded by his deluded ambition to become the Calif then most of this would not have happened.



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  • Erdogan strikes me as the Putin of Turkey. Scheming, despotic, ambitious and a demagogue. Add to that corruption, not the kind of guy I’d want in charge.



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  • They will get into the EU if it is politically expedient for the movers and shakers already in it. Principles have nothing to do with it!
    As for losing business, no politician ever cared so long as their own power was not threatened. Look at dictators around the world and throughout history — caring for the best interests of their populations never featured very high on their list of priorities.



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  • Vorlund
    Dec 27, 2015 at 11:38 am

    “Students who perform poorly on entrance exams”, Says it all doesn’t it. Religions feed on ignorance and wield immense power.

    Even at a young age, children with some education and thinking skills, are likely to question bronze-age indoctrination garbage, so he obvious wishes to concentrate on those whose minds are not “prejudiced” by any real objective knowledge.
    (a bit like the US Bible belt!)



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  • Typical of Fascist tactics and organisation. A new power elite, ideologically based, well in with the wealth- based elite, backed by an ignorant, indoctrinated and violent lumpen proletariat. Someone should warn the latter, that when their work is done, they need to watch out for a Night of Long Knives.



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  • The fear of change…being wrong…..challenging what came before….conflicting messages that you have to work through…and a final realisation is all too much for people like this. The controlling factor comes in later from what I can see. Ignorance first.



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  • @OP – Students who perform poorly on entrance exams for secondary school are shunted into imam–hatips where they study the Koran for up to 13 hours a week and take courses on the life of the Prophet Muhammad and Arabic. Erdogan has boasted that during his tenure as president, enrollment in these schools soared from 63,000 to over one million. The number of imam–hatips increased by 73 percent between 2010 and 2014 and 13 percent of Turkish students now study at such schools.

    Once these fanatics get a foot in the educational door, their delusion and intolerance dominates, unless it id curtailed by civil authority!

    There was this example in the UK which is being dealt with to a limited extent.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35226482

    A head teacher accused of misconduct in the so-called Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham has been “prohibited from teaching indefinitely”.

    But the conduct panel’s ruling means Jahangir Akbar can apply after five years to have this ban set aside.

    Mr Akbar was accused of trying to “eliminate” the celebration of Christmas in school and “undermining tolerance” of other beliefs.

    The tribunal said Mr Akbar’s behaviour was “misconduct of a serious nature”.

    Mr Akbar had been acting head of Oldknow Academy in Small Heath, one of the Birmingham schools caught up in the Trojan Horse claims of a takeover by groups promoting a hard-line Muslim agenda.

    The National College for Teaching and Leadership began a series of misconduct hearings in the autumn – and Mr Akbar was found guilty in December.

    With the announcement of the prohibition order, he becomes the first to face sanctions.

    The professional conduct panel, acting on behalf of the education secretary, concluded that Mr Akbar had “failed to uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviours”.

    Mr Akbar was found to have narrowed the range of religious education and “cultural events”, such as downplaying the celebration of Christmas and cancelling “non-Islamic” events.

    The panel concluded that this “tended to undermine tolerance” and “respect for the faith and beliefs of others”.



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  • Once these fanatics get a foot in the educational door, their delusion and intolerance dominates, unless it id curtailed by civil authority!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35252469

    An organisation of mosques says it “unequivocally” rejects government proposals to require madrassas in England to be registered and inspected.

    The Northern Council of Mosques, representing 400 mosques, says this “encroaches” on religious freedom.

    The Muslim supplementary schools would have to comply with plans for tighter scrutiny over “out-of-school education settings” if the plans were introduced.

    The government’s consultation on the proposals closes on Monday.

    And the Department for Education has indicated that it makes “no apology” for wanting to ensure children are properly protected.

    David Cameron has warned that “teaching intolerance” had to be stopped.

    But in a response, the mosque leaders say the plans are based on “the flawed assumption that radicalisation takes place within some madrassas” and that such “control and monitoring” over lessons would “effectively lead to a form of state sanctioned religious expression”.

    They say the registration and inspection plan “unduly encroaches on the legitimate right of faith providers to teach their children their faith”.

    The mosque leaders also take issue with the use of the term “extremism” saying it is vaguely defined and “potentially all-encompassing”.
    ‘Undesirable teaching’

    In his speech to the Conservative party conference, the prime minister called for such places of religious education to be registered and open to inspection, in a speech warning against the risk of extremist teaching.

    He claimed that in some madrassas, children were “having their heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”.

    It seems that the radicals either don’t regard themselves as radical, or the moderates are sitting in denial taking a “No True Scotsman” pose!

    But in a response, the mosque leaders say the plans are based on “the flawed assumption that radicalisation takes place within some madrassas” and that such “control and monitoring” over lessons would “effectively lead to a form of state sanctioned religious expression“.

    Ah – The state regulation to see that “religious expression” complies with civil law rather than Sharia law!

    In any case, the usual religious “tribalism” of opposition to outside regulation and safeguarding, is very evident in those who regard themselves and their wish-thinking, as above civil law!

    I mean it’s not as if radical clerics at UK mosques had been convicted on evidence of promoting terrorism, or extradited for these sorts of crimes, IS IT????? 🙂

    https://www.mi5.gov.uk/home/about-us/what-we-do/the-threats/terrorism/international-terrorism/arrests-and-convictions.html



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  • It looks as if another pro-theocracy government of a different flavour, has come to power in Europe, – with the standard “faith-thinking” response to criticism!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35276531

    The Polish foreign ministry has criticised German politicians for what it calls “anti-Polish” comments but has given no details of which ones.

    However, both the German president of the European Parliament and the German EU commissioner have been sharply critical of Poland’s new government.

    The German ambassador has been summoned to the Polish foreign ministry.

    The conservative and staunchly Catholic Law and Justice party won elections in October with a majority.

    It became the first party to be able to govern alone since democracy was restored to Poland in 1989.

    A newly enacted media law gives control of Polish public radio and TV to a national media council close to the government.

    Thousands of Poles joined a demonstration on Saturday in Warsaw to protest against the law.

    PiS has also sought to strengthen government control over the constitutional court and the civil service.

    European Parliament President Martin Schulz, a German centre-left politician, accused PiS of putting the interests of party before country.

    It was a “dangerous Putinisation of European politics,” he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (in German), referring to Russia’s authoritarian president.

    Earlier this month, EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said there were grounds for activating a new EU mechanism for states deemed to have breached the rule of law.

    However, in a recent interview with the right-wing Catholic broadcaster Trwam, Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz said Poland would not be lectured by Germany “on democracy and freedom”.

    He accused Germany and other countries of meddling with Poland’s sovereignty.



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