Erdoğan made the first comments on the issue in response to a Republican People’s Party (CHP) move challenging a regulation to abolish the system of using a lower coefficient to calculate the final score of the university admission examination, or Undergraduate Placement Examination (LYS), of graduates of vocational high schools, including imam-hatip schools, in the Council of State.
“Why are you disturbed by graduates of imam-hatip schools? Why do imam-hatip schools disturb you so much? Why are you disturbed by vocational schools? Are the students studying at these schools children of this country? Why are you disturbed when the graduates of these schools pass university entrance examination and study at a university? Why shouldn’t a pious generation come?” asked Erdoğan at his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Jan. 20. Erdoğan’s statements sparked reactions from CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who accused the prime minister of engaging in separatism by labeling people as pious and non-pious.
“Who gave you the measure to label people as pious or non-pious,” asked Kılıçdaroğlu on Jan. 31 at his party’s parliamentary group meeting.
The exchange of words between Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu did not stop here as Erdoğan denied Kılıçdaroğlu’s separatism charges and said in remarks on Feb. 1: “You should first hear this: There is no reference to people as pious or non-pious in my statements. There is the ideal of raising a pious generation. I stand behind my words. Esteemed Kılıçdaroğlu, do you expect us, the AK Party [Justice and Development Party], which has a conservative-democrat identity, to raise an atheist generation? This could only be your work or goal.”
Erdoğan’s statements found little support from society because many think raising individuals according to a certain belief or ideology is not the state’s job as the state should expand freedoms in the country so that everyone from all beliefs and ideologies can freely decide on their own preferences.
Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER) President Ahmet Faruk Ünsal, who approached the issue from the perspective of universal children’s rights and the civil code, told Sunday’s Zaman that both of these laws grant families the right to raise their children in accordance with their religious beliefs or philosophy.
“Raising young people according to a certain belief or religion is not something within the responsibility of the state but that of the families and civil society organizations,” Ünsal said.
He explained that the state needs to ensure that all its citizens have equal access to healthcare, education and employment opportunities and create a free environment where its citizens will be able to determine their preferences easily.
However, Ünsal added that Erdoğan’s remarks were exaggerated as if the state is taking any concrete steps to impose religion on people, but there has been no such move as the content and duration of the religious courses remain unchanged, and many restrictions still remain on religious freedoms, including the wearing of headscarves.
The wearing of the Muslim headscarf has been a matter of contention in Turkey for many years. A headscarf ban applies to the public sphere, including public and private schools and state institutions in Turkey. The ban had been put into effect in strict terms as Turkey applies “assertive secularism” in line with France, with the aim of controlling religion in the public sphere. The ban affected university students until a short time ago. Headscarved women are not allowed to enter military facilities, including hospitals and recreational areas belonging to the Turkish military.
According to Bekir Berat Özipek, a university lecturer, the education system in Turkey is far removed from being a democratic system as it is an obligation for all students from primary school to university level to be educated in accordance with the principles and reforms instituted by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the nation’s founder. Özipek says the system needs to be dealt with first.
“The Tevhid-i Tedrisat Kanunu [Uniformity in Education Law] bans diversity and pluralism in education and describes education as a state job. Education is provided on the basis of the inoculation of Kemalist ideology. This needs to be resolved first,” he told Sunday’s Zaman. Özipek said that if the AK Party wants to raise a pious generation on the basis of diversity and pluralism in education by allowing civil society to establish religious schools, there will be no problem in this. However, in doing so, the government should not assign a mission to the state.
He further commented that looking at the AK Party’s almost 10 years in power, he sees such a move (assigning the state such a mission) being made by the AK Party government as unlikely because the government has so far taken steps for the liberalization of education.
The AK Party, which first came to power in 2002, is enjoying its third term in power. The government has been hailed by many for its pro-freedom and pro-civilian stance in education.
In a move that came as yet another step toward demilitarization, the AK Party government last month abolished controversial national security courses given at schools, which have long been criticized for breeding an ideology of militarism in the public by indoctrinating students with the belief that there is a continued threat against the country.
Milliyet daily columnist Hasan Cemal discussed Erdoğan’s statements in one of his articles last week in which he explained that the duty of the state is not raising pious generations because this would violate democracy and secularism in a state aspiring to become democratic.
“Everyone’s piousness or atheism concerns themselves. This should be so. Everyone should be able to live the way they want. The key to peace is democracy and secularism,” wrote Cemal. Erdoğan’s statements did not find much support among Islamic writers either, who called on the prime minister to expand the scope of freedoms in the country.