A very interesting attack took place the other day at Uludağ University in Bursa, a major Turkish city. A group of some 30 students broke into an exhibition, beat up three security guards, and shattered some of the objects on display. The damaged objects were none other than animal fossils, as this was a “fossil exhibition.”
Now, before going deeper into the story let me stop here and ask what most Western readers would think when they hear about this news? My bet is that most of them would readily assume the militant students in question are “religious fundamentalists” who can’t stand to see facts about Darwinian evolution and, ultimately, science itself — the torch of reason, enlightenment and modernity.
However, the facts in this incident were quite the opposite. The fossil exhibition was intended to promote not Darwinian evolution, but its main adversary: creationism, or the view that species have been divinely created rather than evolving gradually. And the students who attacked the exhibition were “fundamentalists” not of religion, but rather of one of its arch enemies: They were the members of the Turkish Communist Party or the “University Collectives,” a Marxist student association.
Moreover, other leftist voices supported the vandalism done by their comrades. Sol Portal (Left Portal), a popular news site with a clear socialist take, ran a story that hailed the attacks and heralded that “religious reactionaries will not be allowed in Turkish universities.”
For me, however, if there is one thing that should not be “allowed” in any university, it is the very vandalism of these “progressive” students, and all other acts of violence. Even if you believe that somebody’s views are as ridiculous as the flat-earth theory, you can only criticize, and, well, ridicule them. You can’t storm their exhibitions and “expel” them from the campus.
Now, if this were an isolated incident, it would not be worth pondering too much. However, it is only one of the many manifestations of a deep-seated problem in Turkey: the veneration of violence by some of the self-declared “progressives,” who think that their Marxist truth gives them the right to attack dissenting voices.
The history of this fanaticism goes back to the famous (or infamous, I would say) “generation 68,” which expressed itself in Turkey with not just violent protests but also terrorist groups. One of the leaders of these groups was Deniz Gezmiş, or the Turkish version of Che Guevara. In 1971, he and his comrades at the “People’s Liberation Army of Turkey” robbed a bank and kidnapped four American
soldiers, before being captured, tried and executed. He then became a legend whose poster hangs in every leftist space, including the office of Gürsel Tekin, the vice-president of the main opposition Republican People’s Party.
The death penalty given to Gezmiş was certainly unjust and cruel, but he still was a criminal deserving time in prison. But the Turkish left never ever denounced his violent legacy and rather wowed to “walk in the footsteps of Deniz.”
That is why today when leftist students organize protests in universities such ODTÜ, “the castle of the left,” they not only chant slogans and open posters, which is their natural right. But they also throw stones to the police, burn tires and destroy ATM machines. Meanwhile, others comrades of theirs tear fossils into pieces. And, believe it or not, they all really believe that they are freedom-loving “progressives.”