By Ihsan Yilmaz
06 September 2013
When it came to power, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) had spent a considerable amount of its energy to reform the Higher Education Board (YÖK).
This constitutional organ of the state was designed by the military generals after the 1980 coup to make sure that all universities and academics in Turkey were under the extremely strict control of the Kemalist state. The AKP was rightly arguing that academia is about freedoms and liberties and academics must be trusted to make their own decisions at their universities. The Kemalists, who firmly believed that the people were “belly-scratching” ignorants who could not be left alone to make decisions about themselves, imagined the academics along those lines as well.
Thus, the last of the Kemalist presidents, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, blocked attempts of the AKP to liberalise academia. After he had gone and an AKP founding member was elected as president, all of us naively believed that the leaders of the AKP internalized freedoms and liberties and expected that they would get rid of a crucial impending block on university reform -- that the AKP would then make the systemic change that it could not make a few years ago. But instead of liberalizing the system, the AKP has decided to use it for its own ideological intentions.
I must confess, in the beginning I thought that since the establishment of the republic, the Kemalists had one-sidedly, brutally and disproportionately filled the academic posts with almost only Kemalists so that for a few years this imbalance had to be dealt with by using the overly-centralized YÖK system. It seems that I was wrong. The AKP does not seem to have any intention of letting the academics decide for themselves. YÖK, for some years, has been under the control of academics who are ideologically closer to the AKP. Yet these academics do not seem to be leaving decisions to the universities but continue to decide about almost everything -- that includes appointing the deans of faculties and deciding about the curricula for each degree in all branches. The straw that broke the camel's back, as far as I am concerned, is YÖK's decision to eliminate all philosophy courses from the curricula of theology faculties.
As an academic who did his Ph.D. on a topic related to legal philosophy, sociology, jurisprudence and Islamic law, I have, for long, been arguing that our law faculties need to have several more philosophy, jurisprudence and sociology courses if we do not want to have lawyers like Sezer, who see the world in black and white or in binary oppositions. I was also hoping to have, one day in the distant future, theology faculties that would be strong in social science disciplines. It seems that now the YÖK is moving in the opposite direction.
I have written here repeatedly that similar to Kemalists such as Sezer, Islamists envision the world and social, cultural and political phenomena around them in binary oppositions. In this regard, philosophy is a needless subject. With the Gezi protests, we have also observed that, similar to Feb. 28 coup leader Gen. Çevik Bir, our Islamists are not happy with sociology, either. Our YÖK -- under the helm of ex, former and current Islamists -- do not want to have imams, preachers, muftis, Islamic scholars and academics who are well-versed in philosophy and sociology. They do not trust the “belly-scratching” theology faculty students. They are simply repeating the mistakes of the Ottomans. But what we need are Islamic scholars and academics who can fuse modern philosophy, sociology and social sciences with Islamic sciences and try to develop new hybrid sub-disciplines.
In its golden centuries, Islam's scholars were not afraid of entering into philosophical, jurisprudential and even theological dialogue and interaction with non-Islamic scholars and texts. Unless our Islamic scholars are well-versed with the sciences of this age, memorizing and citing old texts, however sacred or precious they are, will not help Muslims to save themselves from their current unfortunate situation in the world.