Ever since it was established by Kemal Ataturk in an atmosphere of war against Islam, Turkish democracy has survived by alternating oppression of radical Muslims with concessions to them. From the Financial Times, with thanks to Nicolei:
Universities in Turkey are locked in a dispute with the government over a proposed change to admissions policy that has led to claims of a “hidden Islamic agenda” and has echoes of a previous clash between the secular state and an Islamic-oriented government.
Some university rectors threatened to resign yesterday and opposition MPs walked out of a parliamentary commission in protest at a government proposal to give students from Islamic high schools the same access to secular third-level institutions as those from secular high schools.
The general staff of the armed forces said anyone “devoted to the principles of the republic” could not accept the measure, which the government intends to put to a vote in parliament next week. It was approved by parliament’s education committee yesterday despite the walk-out by members of the opposition Republican People’s party.
The dispute goes to the heart of an increasingly fractious debate in Turkey over the rise to power of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP). Its power base is among an emerging middle class of devout, socially conservative Muslims in the country’s Anatolian heartland, whose children would be the chief beneficiaries of the proposed change.
The government’s measure would overturn a 1999 law banning students from imam hatip high schools, where they get a solid Islamic schooling, from receiving third-level education in secular universities and pursuing careers other than as imams and preachers. That law was introduced after Turkey’s first, unhappy experience with an Islamic-oriented government, and it drastically reduced the number of students at these schools.
Some opponents of the new measure said it would lead to a revival of imam hatip schools and greatly expand religious education, violating the republic’s official secular ideology.
Many university-educated Turks remain convinced that the AKP has a “hidden agenda” to force all women to wear headscarves and to shift the country, whose population of 70m is 99 per cent Muslim, gradually towards a stricter interpretation of Islamic law. Any suggestion of a move in that direction would almost certainly end Turkey’s chances of joining the European Union.
Ural Akbulut, rector of Middle East Technical University, said he would resign if the measure became law. In an interview, he said the higher education system would be “swamped” by religious students who would gradually take over state institutions. “The hidden agenda is for every government appointee to be a practising Muslim,” he said.
Erdogan Tezic, head of the Higher Education Board, accused the government of pursuing a “political initiative” that would “irreparably damage” Turkey’s secular education system. If the measure and other education reforms are approved by parliament, the leadership of the HEB will be replaced.