Turkey's secularism challenged

Opposition fears religious conservatism gaining the upper hand.

by

    Religious conservatism and Western values live side by side in Turkey, but some fear a shift

    Every morning the children of Turkey swear allegiance, not to God, but to a man: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of the republic.

    But in the town of Denizli, some teachers worry that Ataturk's secular vision is being threatened.

    A book called Prayer as the Anchor of Religion, secretly distributed to the children by a deputy headmaster who has since moved on, encapsulates that fear.

    Dikmen Onat, a Denizli teacher, says the book advocates jihad and it proves that the government is steering education in a religious direction.
     
    She said: "I've been a teacher for 24 years, and so many things have changed, especially in the last four years.

    "Our education system was always based on the principles of secularity and uniformity, but this is now being challenged."

    Tradition

    The opposition fears religion
    is being pushed in schools
    The grand opening of one student hostel - celebrated with dances, customary clothing, trumpets, drums and all the trappings of tradition - is the kind of event that worries secularists.

    Inside are religious students and the hostel is run by a small religious political party called Buyuk Birlik, or the Grand Union party.

    At the hostel, the boys get cheap accommodation, and a dose of religious education.

    So perhaps, in these hostels, a new, pious Turkey is being built.

    Balance

    Opponents of the government say Denizli has become a much more conservative and devout town in recent years.

    But the government says it is absolutely committed to respecting Turkey's secular constitution.

    Sahin Tin, who is running for parliament for the ruling AK party says his party is not plotting to introduce sharia, or Islamic law - it is more concerned with economic growth.

    Ataturk, father of the Turks, believed Turkey
    had to adopt Western values to succeed
    "I have been an AK party member for five years and in that time I've never been to a party meeting where thoughts are expressed against the republic.

    "We don't have secret agendas or meetings, these are rumours put forward by parties that cannot win fair elections. Our record speaks for itself," he said.
     
    In Denizli market, religious conservatism and Western values can be found side by side.

    Turkey has always struggled to balance these.

    The opposition fears conservatism now has the upper hand, but the government says the two forces are still in harmony.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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