June 01, 2007


This is the headline of an interesting article that appeared in today's New York Times regarding the growing divide between the segments of Turkish society popularly described as "secularists and Islamicists and the political ramifications these divisions are giving rise to.

Here are some excerpts:

At the heart of the issue is a debate about the fundamental nature of Islam and its role in building an equitable society. Turks like Mr. Zeybekci contend that their country has come a long way since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s secular revolution in 1923, and that it no longer needs to enforce controls like preventing women from wearing head scarves in public buildings. “It’s like locking everybody in a stadium, when you know that only three are thieves,” Mr. Zeybekci said, in his office, which has pictures of Mr. Erdogan and Ataturk.

But secular Turks contend that Islam will always seek more space in people’s lives, and therefore should be reined in. They look to the military as secularism’s final defender.
“Islam is not like other religions,” said Kadim Yildirim, a history teacher in Denizli from an opposition labor union. “It influences every part of your life, even your bedroom.”

Perhaps the most sensitive point for teachers like Mr. Yildirim are the changes they say are occurring in textbooks. Changes were already under way, part of an upgrade needed to join the European Union, but some officials say that as the nationalism is taken out, a new conservatism is being put in. One of the country’s primary eighth-grade science books, for example, “Science Knowledge,” has lost its detailed description of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and gained a reference to a theory that holds that living beings did not evolve but came into being exactly as they are today, attributed to several ancient Asian scholars. The reference was not there before, nor was the word Islamic to describe the originators of the theory.

It is still unclear where today’s changes will lead the country. Mr. Oran says that although the ideology of Mr. Erdogan and his allies “is inevitably Islam,” they are workers and tradesmen who are ultimately motivated by profit. “They are very rapidly becoming bourgeois.”

Mr. Yildirim draws hope from a recent exchange among his students he overheard. One posed a question: If you were rowing a boat with only one extra seat and passed by a deserted island with the Prophet Muhammad and Ataturk, whom would you save?

Another answered: “Ataturk is resourceful. He can save himself. Take Muhammad.”

Pokr Mher: Secularists or Islamicists...You won't be reading about the Armenian genocide in any Turkish school textbooks anytime soon....


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