Religious conservatism and Turkish academia

Religious conservatism and Turkish academia

Turkey is trying to cope with several international crises and domestic problems all at the same time. What the nation does not need at this point is some religious vitriol and utter disrespect to whatever is left of the secular values. But lo and behold, ask any ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party)-appointed university rectors and they will come with a handful of those.

Uludağ University, once the center of medical research and scientific progress as a small city university, is inviting leaders of religious orders to give conferences as if that was the only thing missing in the curricula. The university’s Mete Cengiz Conference Hall could not be booked for the annual symphony concert, but Mustafa Özşimşekler, one of the high-ranking leaders of the Nakshibendi order, will be able to give a conference on “Being young and resurrection” on Oct. 20.

Adıyaman University Rector Prof. Mustafa Talha Gönüllü expressed his views about women in a blatant statement. “Shaking hands with a woman is worse than putting your hand in fire,” Gönüllü said. After angry reactions from women’s groups and social media users, Gönüllü did not even take a step back but claimed those in opposition were “all against Islam.”

This is the kind of mentality that we have to keep our youngsters and kids away from. This is the academia that turned Afghanistan into a Talibanland. This is the mindset that turns a country from being a bright shining candidate of the European Union into a failing nation. Turkey’s academia has been flawed in the past as well but since the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, some of Turkey’s universities are a little more than madrasas in Pakistan.

Two weeks ago, Dicle University’s Hüseyin Seyhanlıoğlu said something very striking on our show on the private broadcaster CNN Türk. “Syria has turned into Afghanistan,” he said. A viewer tweeted back and asked, “Then who is Pakistan?” Indeed, Turkey may become the Pakistan of the region.

Our nation has deep sympathy and ties to Pakistan and its leaders. But both Turkish and Pakistani elites have been notorious in their delusional approach toward radical and political Islam. Sending their kids to the best universities in the U.K. or the U.S., living partly in London and partly in the richest neighborhoods of Karachi, Lahore, Ankara or Istanbul will not make the elites part of the nation. Soon, their money will not be able to buy science, technology or the renaissance that took centuries to create. Turkey is fast approaching the point of falling into the darkness of the Middle Ages of Islam. With politicians and academia so far from truth, science and the future, a nation cannot make any progress. On the contrary, it will take a step backward.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Virgin’s Richard Branson are all aiming to create a colony in space. They are aware of the fact that the resources of the Earth are running out, and dogma and conservatism will eventually destroy millions of people.

Knowledge and science can make you go mad. But this madness is much better than ignorance and delusion. With madness comes creativity. Hiding behind the name of Islam with a coat of conservatism is an open insult to Ibn Khaldun and Avicenna. Turkey’s academia is nearing that ultimate challenge. Their choice will be the future of this region.

Opinion, Ahu Özyurt,