Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Educating away religious hostility

When you think of a developing country changing its constitution in order to adapt a liberal, more pro-Western government, you usually think of the government divesting itself from, rather than affixing itself to, its archaic religious principles.
Turkey’s case is the reverse.

Since the foundation of modern Turkey circa 1923, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk positioned the nation-state on a rigorous secular agenda. His idea was to create a modern nation-state that prided itself on education and scientific advancement.

Though nearly all Turkish citizens still remain religious: the primary religion being Islam: this secular goal has, to a certain extent, been reached. The problem is that the means by which the goal has been achieved has been subject to hypocrisy. In other words, Turkey may be getting more secular, liberal and pro-Western, but in doing so they have undermined the very meaning of what it is to be a democratic society.

Luckily for the Western world into which Turkey seeks to assimilate, Turkey is beginning to correct this problem.
On Sunday the Turkish Parliament voted to enact a constitutional amendment that will ensure that all Turkish citizens who want to go to college can, regardless of their attire.

The previous legislation, put into place by government authorities in the late 1990s, banned all women from wearing head scarves in universities. It was a poor knee-jerk reaction to the increasing number of veiled women in Turkish colleges, in effect, keeping the most pious of Muslim women out of academics. The secular elite thought their establishment was being threatened by scarf-wearing Muslim women when they were the ones being veiled from reality.

In effect, they couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

By educating previously Muslim women, the Turkish government strengthened its sizeable middle class in terms of education: one of its founding principles. Putting restrictions on who receives its education, however, is where the schism between religion: conventionally thought of in Turkey as for the lower classes: and education: for the upper classes: begins.

Not to make any sweeping generalizations, but it seems as though there is an apparent trend in the educationally-rifted Muslim world that shouldn’t go unnoticed: As accessibility to education increases, threatening religious radicalism decreases.

Thus, it would behoove governments not only in Turkey, but throughout the Middle East, to consider increasing the amount of educational institutions and the accessibility thereof if they desire to decrease their rate of religious hostility.

Building more schools, colleges and what-have-you, however, is not the stand-alone answer to reducing religiously-stemmed violence. The ongoing crises in Turkey’s neighboring countries, namely Iraq, Iran, Syria and Palestine, among others, are complicated by many variables and not mitigated by the proliferation of knowledge.

Unlike these countries, Turkey does not have very many, if any, internal problems that come from religious differences. This is in large part because of their stringent anti-religious policies. But it is these anti-religious policies that would be unconstitutional in the eyes of the European Union or the United States. This is especially significant in the case of the former.

Just over two decades ago, Turkey formally applied to join the E.U. And only as of three years ago has the E.U. agreed to negotiate with Turkey regarding accession.

In a Eurobarometer survey conducted in late 2006, 59 percent of E.U. citizens are against Turkish membership while only 28 percent are for it. Moreover, 90 percent of all of the people surveyed cited human rights as their primary concern over Turkish accession. While this last part may be true, it doesn’t take an eagle’s eye to see the religious European undertones against Islam.

Taking religion out of the picture, Turkish membership would turn the current E.U. dynamic on its head. With over 70 million people, Turkey would fall just shy of Germany for the most members of the European Parliament. Thus, if Turkey were to join the E.U., it would inherently be a starting pitcher in its rookie season: not a good prospect by anyone’s standards.

In the next five or six years Turkey will have a huge battle on their hands. They must convince Europe that they are not only secular, but unequivocally democratic as well. The recently   revoked scarf ban is a small yet convincing step toward the democracy we know and love, but if Turkey really wants to persuade Brussels, perhaps they should set their sights on becoming the first true democratic paradigm of the Middle East.

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