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Higher (Islamist) Education Board

HDN | 10/28/2010 12:00:00 AM | BURAK BEKDİL

A ban on some students’ entrance to campus comes after YÖK sent a directive that no student is to be dismissed from class due to attire or disciplinary behavior.

A week ago, a group of students at Yıldız Technical University in Istanbul peacefully rolled out placards that read, “No to the turban in the name of the university’s and women’s freedom!” As soon as they did so, they were attacked by “students of the opposite opinion,” as most news bulletins covered the brawl in the usual Pravda language. And then by private security guards and the police, who used pepper gas and batons, eventually injuring about half a dozen protestors of the Islamic turban.

Four days later, the protestors received letters from the university’s secretariat general that “their entrance to the campus had been banned for campus order and for a disciplinary investigation.” One protestor complained that the campus ban meant he would fail his physics class because of poor attendance.

The ban on the students’ entrance to the campus came less than a month after the Higher Education Board, or YÖK, had sent a directive to universities stating that no student is to be dismissed from class due to any attire (the Islamic turban) or disciplinary behavior. And, ironically, the directive came a couple of days after a group of university students outside the campus building where President Abdullah Gül was speaking were brutally beaten by police because they had opened up a placard that read, “We don’t want self-paid education!”

Commenting on YÖK’s directive, this column argued that: “The letter, as evinced by its wording, aims to safeguard the right to education for ALL students. I have lived long enough in this country to guess that ‘enforcement’ will probably widely differ from what the directive says” (Hürriyet Daily News, “Freedom for turban, jail for placard,” Oct. 8, 2010).

Speaking of sad prophesies, allow me to extensively quote from this column two-and-a-half years ago, when YÖK’s present president, Professor Yusuf Ziya Özcan, took office and promised to make Turkish campuses “libertarian premises of absolute freedom” (Hürriyet Daily News, “Nutty professor disguised as Voltaire,” Feb. 28, 2008):

“The man who ‘oversees Turkish universities’ is proving to be an exceptionally entertaining character. He rather looks like a government official tasked with instrumenting a political goal on campuses.

“We have no means to know how much of his office time Professor Yusuf Ziya Özcan has devoted to what normally his job would require him to do, such as, making Turkish universities better academic premises with internationally better scientific recognition and citation. But we can fairly gather that he has devoted quite some time to play the government’s field marshal in the turban wars – as evinced by the multiple statements his office has released in defense of the turban.

“This is the same man (then) finance minister, Kemal Unakıtan, recently told a microphone mistakenly left open that ‘of course he would speak in favor of the government policy, or else…’

“Ironically, the man who does not have the liberty to neutrally/apolitically oversee higher education in Turkey, the man who just follows orders from the ruling elite, often talks about freedoms and liberties on campuses. Too bad, we could have started building campus freedoms by having a president for higher education who dared to protest a minister’s humiliating –and mistakenly publicized- words. Too funny, the man ‘who will introduce freedoms to Turkish universities’ is not free to talk against the government’s wishes/policies/ideology. Welcome to EU-candidate Turkey!

“Typical of a missionary, Professor Özcan most recently brought forward a legal jurisprudence that must have caused loud laughter even among first-year students of law faculties. Here is the jewel line from the nutty missionary professor:

“‘The Republic’s fundamental principles cannot be a pretext to suppress individual liberties.’ (read: the constitutional principles can be violated if violations support individual liberties; further read: constitutional principles can be violated for individual freedoms if the individual is a devout Muslim girl who wants to put on the turban on a campus).

“In theory, the professor’s line looks so chic, so libertarian. In fact, it is only selectively chic, and selectively libertarian. What other amusing shapes these men will take in order to defend what is effectively the symbol of political Islam in Turkey?

“If Professor Özcan stands behind this argumentation, he should send new orders to universities so that every student has the liberty to, for example, act for the abolition of parliament, or defend the supremacy of the Turkish race over other ethnicities, or non-violently struggle for the disintegration of the Turkish territory, or make hate-speech along religious lines.

“What should we do if someone wants to behave ‘unconstitutionally’ on a campus, citing his/her individual liberties ‘that cannot be suppressed even by the constitutional limits?’ Is there a country in the world where individual liberties are limitless, not bound by constitutional principles? Can a student in the Cradle of Democracy propagate for anti-black racism, citing his/her ideological civil liberty?

“In Turkey, we are talking about universities where even adult students do not have the liberty to consume alcohol. Is alcohol against ‘our society’s moral values?’ Whose national drink, by the way, is rakı? Peruvians’? What kind of freedoms are we talking about? A 15-year old girl can marry a future president, but a 20-year-old adult cannot drink a pint of beer on campus? 

“We are also talking about universities where students who stay at dormitories must return to their rooms at specified hours. Or where girl students must conform with vague dress codes ‘in line with our society’s moral values.’

“Professor Özcan is a stereotype AKP official, a loyal servant of the Islamist politburo. He has the habit of perpetually using democracy/freedoms/liberties as a cover for his [or his bosses’] ideological goals. This is, unfortunately, a very cheap rhetoric that cannot convince even my cat no matter how many boxes of Whiskas he may have been bribed with – I, of course, cannot guarantee whether he would join the ranks of the AKP and meow in support of the turban for girl cats if he were given a fancy title as head cat who oversees education for all the cats in the neighborhood.”

Turkish campuses as premises of absolute freedom? Yes! And, by the way, my cat is a professor of quantum physics.

Editor's note: The Yıldız Technical University in Istanbul announced Thursday that the ban preventing protesting students from entering the university was removed. This piece was written before the university's decision. After consulting with our columnist, it was agreed that there was no need to change the article as the university's decision did not in fact affect the core of the content.

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