“Following last year’s coup, Erdoğan has pushed many teachers out of public service and has cracked down on political opponents.”
Students in Turkey won’t be learning about evolution in school anymore, but they will be getting a healthy dose of “jihad” as a result of changes to the national curriculum. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been accused by many foreign critics of veering toward dictatorship, and Turkey’s education system has been among the biggest targets.
First, the Turkish education ministry is adding “jihad” to its Islamic law section. However, that doesn’t mean that schools will be teaching terrorism. “Jihad” is actually interpreted as “struggle.” War and violence is one way to wage a jihad, but there are other, more peaceful ways as well.
Turkish education Minister İsmet Yılmaz emphasized that Turkey’s reforms will focus on these more peaceful meanings. Yilmaz stated, “What our Prophet says is that while returning from a war, we are going from a small jihad to a big jihad. What is this big jihad? It is to serve our society, to increase welfare, to ensure peace in society, to serve the society’s needs. The easiest thing is to wage war, to fight. The skill is the difficult one, which is to ensure peace and tranquility.”
In other words, building a peaceful and prosperous society is a part of “jihad,” or the struggle. There are generally three accepted mainstream uses of the word jihad. The first is the struggle to believe in God and to adhere to the Islamic faith. The second is the struggle to build a good Islamic society. The third is to wage a holy war. Terrorists, obviously, focus on the last meaning, waging war. Hopefully, Turkish educators will be focusing on the other uses of the term.
As for evolution, Yılmaz argued that the scientific theory was simply above the students’ level and not relevant to their education. Previously, when evolution was first announced to be on the chopping block, the head of the National Board of Education, Alpaslan Durmus, said that students lacked the necessary scientific knowledge and background to work with such “controversial” issues.
It remains unclear why the national education system wouldn’t instead try to provide students with the necessary background and scientific knowledge to grapple with evolution. The moves to shake up the education system have been slammed by political opponents and regime critics, who have warned that such changes will leave Turkey’s students ill-equipped.
President Erdoğan himself has urged for the raising of a “pious” generation. Turkey was long among the more secular and modern nations of the Middle East. The founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was a secularist. He urged free public education and equal rights for women, as well as the founding of a representative democracy.
Erdoğan has worked to undermine much of Atatürk’s legacy and is viewed by many as autocratic. Following last year’s coup (which some allege was a black flag operation), Erdoğan has pushed many teachers out of public service and has cracked down on political opponents. Efforts to reform the education system are being viewed by many as a further way to consolidate power.