Opinion

An Evolution of Devolution: How Turkey is Moving Backwards

By Ben Bequette, Contributing Writer

// Dictators seldom begin as leaders or even politicians.

Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania made shoes, Idi Amin of Uganda began as a military cook, Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union studied to become a priest, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey played semi-professional soccer. Erdogan was skillful as well—enough to draw the eyes of top-tier club Fenerbahçe.

Unluckily for greater society, young Recep was turned away from soccer by a protective father. So instead he embarked on a political career, snagging his first major position as the mayor of Istanbul in 1994. He represented the Welfare Party, a far-right group with a rising national profile and an inspiring slogan: “Justice is Our Goal.”

The justice in question was the institution of an Islamic code, based on holy texts, known as Sharia law.

Unlike the judicial systems of liberal democracies, Sharia is not based on the precedents of previous cases, legislation, or written constitutions, all of which can be adapted as times and circumstances change. It is instead based on the supposed immutable, inerrant words of God and his Messenger. These texts cannot be replaced or rewritten. As a consequence, the morality upheld by contemporary Islamic courts does not differ significantly from that of the seventh century minds behind Islamic holy texts.

In the 38th verse of the Surah al-Ma’idah in the Quran, it is plainly stated that as for “the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands.” Unsurprisingly, Shar’ia courts in contemporary Islamic theocracies from Iran to Saudi Arabia routinely hand down this barbaric, inhumane punishment. Besides the medieval practices embodied by Shar’ia, it is also profoundly non-pluralistic; all inhabitants of the state, Muslim or not, are subject to its laws.

This intermixing of religion and government was rejected by Mustafa Kemal, the father of the Turkish Republic, whose secular reforms following World War I included the abolition of Islamic courts and the political liberation of women.

It was this man’s legacy that Erdogan, now the increasingly authoritarian President of Turkey, and his Welfare Party attempted to destroy throughout the 1990s. However, following the party’s ban by the Constitutional Court of Turkey for attempting to violate secularist principles, Erdogan helped found the new Justice and Development Party, abandoning openly Islamist aims in favor of a more moderate conservatism. Or so he claims.

Although Erdogan no longer calls for Shar’ia, a large portion of his base are former supporters of the Welfare Party, and that influence has come more and more to bear.

Recently, his government removed the teaching of evolution from official curriculums below the university level, citing the “controversial” nature of the subject matter. This pathetic, muddling dodge is the same one religious conservatives in the United States routinely utilize. By creating an artificial “controversy”—the scientific community is actually totally united on the issue, due to the overwhelming weight of evidence supporting the theory—fundamentalists can then proceed to establish an invented “middle ground”: in the U.S. the ludicrous concept of teaching a fabricated controversy, and in Turkey the elimination of the subject altogether.

The real motive of such suppression of fact is simple: the theory of evolution directly contradicts the Genesis account of human origins, a version of which is given in the Quran. By depriving the nation’s children of this basic scientific knowledge, Erdogan and his more theocratic cronies hope to raise a generation steeped in a fundamentalist worldview and less in the secular tradition of the Turkish government.

This generation will be more amenable to the ongoing, gradual erosion of that same tradition, and when they come of age, there could be a large, powerful theocracy right on the doorstep of Europe.

Theocracies are unstable forms of government with high rates of irrational, and dangerous behavior. They can disregard real-world consequences in favor of theological considerations and are unpredictable as a result.

For instance, nations, as a rule, want to avoid nuclear war. With theocracies, such practical considerations go out the window. If it was believed by a theocratic state that the apocalypse and final reckoning were nigh, nuclear strikes might seem unimportant, or even necessary. In this charged international climate, the United States, and the world, need more major powers operating reasonably, not fewer.

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