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Islam and Politics ( 7 May 2017, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Political Islamist Leader Erdogan’s Diplomatic Visit To India With A Doctorate From Jamia Would Not Go Down Well With The Democratic Ethos Of The Country As Well As The University

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam

08 May 2017

While Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan received the Honorary Doctorate from Jamia Millia Islamia, many of its students wondered as to why? What outstanding contribution to education or other humanitarian domains has Erdogan made in Turkey or India?

Erdogan has banned scores of universities and liberal institutions of education. Even the Mevlana University in the south western Turkish city of Konya which awarded an honorary degree to Indian Vice-President Dr. Hamid Ansari in 2011 has been shut down. Named after Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, the world-renowned Turkish Sufi saint, Mevlana University was among the leading institutions of secular education, progressive thinking and anti-extremist Islamic theology in Turkey.

Notably, scores of free-thinking Muslims including the Indian academicians were teaching and studying at this Turkish university. But after the coup attempt which was blamed on Fathullah Gulen—the progressive Muslim thinker who inspired many institutions—several Indian teachers and students in Turkey having been living in trying times. Despite being wholly devoted to academic pursuits far from the Turkish political leanings, the innocent Indian scholars were deeply affected and caught in circumstances not of their making.

Among the Indian academicians affected by the clash of political Islamism with spiritually-inclined Muslims in Turkey, is Dr. Kashif Khan, who had a doctorate in international trade from Jamia Millia Islamia. He was teaching at the Mevlana University which was shut down immediately after Erdogan ordered the repressive purge of Turkish educational institutions adhering to Gulen’s exhortation of Hizmet or Khidmat (service to mankind). In his bid to purge the Turkish Islam of its spiritual inclination, Erdogan went to the extent of banninga vast number of universities, colleges, schools, civil society organisations and the NGOs, jailing and persecuting thousands of their staff workers who were accused of being the Gulenist followers. Recently, The Hindu reported the plight of the Jamiate scholars including Dr. Kashif Khan in the aftermath of the educational purge in Turkey: “Almost a year after his departure, Mr. Khan remains in Delhi, fighting to retrieve his belongings and dues from the university. He not only lost his job, veiled threats have been issued, indicating that he could be arrested for working in a Gulenist university”. Talking to the newspaper, Dr. Khan said that he was not involved in politics at all and was totally dedicated to academics. “I was not afraid and still am not, and can go back to teach in the university, if Turkey will allow me”, he said.

Inevitably, Jamia’s conferment of a doctorate degree on the Turkish President has dismayed many of the university's alumni as well as the present students and scholars. A couple of days ago, a Jamia alumnus initiated a signature campaign on the website, in an appeal to reverse the university’s decision to felicitate Erdogan, who has been involved in "blatant human rights violation and has become a dictator in Turkey." This petition signed by the “Students, Faculty, Alumni and Well Wishers of Jamia Millia Islamia University”, reads:

“He [Erdogan] has stifled dissent, cracked down on the rights of working people, women and minorities in Turkey and is conducting a brutal war on the peoples of Kurdistan. He is destroying universities and intellectual life, and poisoning them with Islamist politics...” “There is no reason for a university like Jamia Millia Islamia which has traditions, though much weakened with time, of democratic and open intellectual life, to endorse a brutal and cynical politician with dictatorial ambitions. Turkish society is vibrant, open, secular, and in the end will, we are sure, defeat the designs of Erdogan and his cronies. If Jamia Millia Islamia University is to live up to its responsibilities of being a friend of the Turkish people (with whom it has historic ties) it should refuse to endorse and affirm the Erdogan regime”.

Earlier, Jamia has fairly conferred the honorary degrees to Dalai Lama, Ban Ki-moon and Amartya Sen. These spiritual, social and intellectual dignitaries have richly contributed to the global peace activism, human rights protection and scientific temperament. They do inspire the university’s students and academicians to explore the greater potentials to uphold the universal human values.

But what contribution has Erdogan rendered to the educational, social or other humanitarian pursuits? Evidently, the political Islamist leader does not fit into the list of the distinguished awardees of the Jamia. While his ideology is antithetical to the spiritual essence of Islam, his crackdown on educational, scientific and social institutions debars him from the eligibility of receiving the prestigious degree—Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa).    

While Jamia confers the prestigious doctorate degree to Erdogan, his bid to launch an onslaught on free scholarship has distressed the global academia. In an article entitled, “Why Turkey’s government is threatening academic freedom”, A.Kadir Yildirim, a Turkish research scholar at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, wrote in The Washington Post: “Erdogan has set out on a crusade against academics. After 1,128 academics signed a petition to the Turkish government imploring an end to the violence in south-eastern Turkey, prosecutors launched a criminal investigation against all signatories. University administrations have begun investigating these academics, who have in some cases been detained or suspended.”

Yildirim avers that the persecution of the 1,128 academics is not an isolated phenomenon in the present Turkish regime. He triggers a pertinent question: what are the undercurrents of this troubling chapter in Turkish politics?  “Two dynamics are at work. First, Turkish society is embracing an increasingly anti-intellectual disposition. The value of an educated person is judged less by her inherent intellectual qualities and more by the ideological support she can offer for a political cause or the immediate material benefits her position accrues. A culture of intellectual exchange has largely waned; academics are reduced merely to their ideologies”, Yildirim writes.

Recently, the US-based civic and cultural organisation, Alliance for Shared Values, has published a comprehensive report on the mass purge of education and free media in the aftermath of the failed military coup in Turkey. It provides a civil society perspective with a critical analysis of the grim situation of human rights violation in the country.

Going by this report published in the last year, 21,000 private school teachers were suspended and their licenses to teach in Turkey were revoked. In a separate wave of the post-coup purge, Erdogan regime fired 11,000 Kurdish teachers and shut down 2099 educational institutions, including hundreds of K-12 schools and universities. 138,000 school children had to move to a different school, and were sometimes bullied for having being transferred from a school with links to the Hizmet movement.

Thus, Erdogan issued a blackout ban on the secular education and free academics, flogging the fiction of ‘links with the FETO’, a dangerous and dubious name created for the network of Fatehullah Gulen, the exiled Turkish scholar known for his peace activism and dialogue-based educational institutions across the world.

According to the international media reports, Erdogan ordered to force all the Deans from every Turkish university. More than 1,500 university deans were forced to resign without an investigation or an indication of whether they could later return to their jobs, as reported in The Guardian.

While some academics were forced to resign based on their alleged ties with the Hizmet movement, others who signed a petition in protest of the security forces crackdown were also suspended from their jobs.

Deplorably for the Turkish academia, Tayyip Erdogan has particularly curbed the higher education in the Turkish universities. The Post-coup purge has crashed down the country’s higher education so badly that it will affect Turkey's education sector for decades. Umar Farooq, a correspondent at Los Angeles Times reported: “The day after the coup attempt, 1,577 deans — working at nearly every university in the country — were forced to resign. An estimated 200,000 students were left in limbo after the closure of 15 universities and 1,043 private schools reportedly linked to Fethullah Gulen”. “More than 6,000 academics at 107 universities have since been fired as well, many accused of links to Gulen’s movement or the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK”.

In January, 2016, the Middle East Studies scholars critiqued Erdogan for attempting to bring higher education under his control.  They exposed the new Turkish law that grants the Higher Education Council authority to close private universities if their administrators “execute or support activities against the state’s indivisible integrity.” In a letter to Turkey’s prime minister, the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom described the new Turkish law as “emblematic of the increasing encroachment on academic freedom in Turkey.”


Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a regular columnist with  , scholar of classical Islamic studies, cultural analyst and researcher in media and communication studies.


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