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Turkey’s government promoting a pro-Western version of Islam

M.S. Ahmed

The Turkish government has recently announced a programme for retraining schoolchildren, teachers and even imams to “promote modern and peaceful interpretations of Islam”, and to rebrand old European enemies such as Greece and Russia as friends. The programme is not confined to “retraining” and reorienting Turks but also covers the Turkish communities inEurope, showing that there is no limit to the extent that Ankara is prepared to go in its efforts to meet EU membership demands. It is already engaged in devising a school curriculum for the purpose, and has also sent more than thousand ‘moderate’ imams to Europe to ‘reorient’ there. With EU membership talks due to start this year, the government is keen that diaspora Turks distance themselves from “radical Islam”.

When the government first announced the programme to retrain teachers and change the way schoolchildren are taught, the minister of education criticised the way old books are hostile to European countries such as Greece and Russia. In a radio interview on January 11, he said: “In the old books, I see old enemies coming out against Greece and Russia etc… But they are our friends.” He conceded that the task of devising a new curriculum “is massive”, adding, however, that it must be undertaken whatever the cost, “in order to democratise”. Not surprisingly, he did not concede that the task amounts in effect to rewriting Turkey’s history. Changing all the schoolbooks, as the new programme requires, is expected to take five years. But this programme also demands the retraining of all teachers, although neither the minister, his officials nor media analysts have said how long they think that will take, or even found out whether teachers will be prepared to submit to a reorientation exercise.

The aspect of the programme relating to the retraining of imams and to their tasks of reorienting Turkish Muslims in Europe is equally ridiculous and demanding. Of the more than a thousand ‘moderate’ imams already in Europe, 700 have been despatched to Germany, and there are plans to send many to other European countries. The imams are not only retrained before departure but are also taught foreign languages to help them to carry out their disgraceful brainwashing mission.

Ali Bardakoglu, the head of Turkey’s directorate of religious affairs (diyanet) explained the purpose of the exercise in these terms: “Our mission is to explain Islam as a source of peace and friendship and certainly not as a tool of violence,” he said. “There are 70,000 imams in Turkey. One of our biggest priorities now is to educate imams, teach them foreign languages, to equip them to go abroad.” He added that the exercises are trying to prevent “extremism” and help integration of the estimated 4 million ethnic Turks in the EU. He even described some imams as having barely any formal religious education, claiming that it is imams like that that are responsible for spreading “fundamentalism”.

But neither Bardakoglu nor the minister for education could conceal the fact that their programme for “retraining imams” and teachers is not original, and that they are copying the strategies of the French and German governments, thereby joining their open war on Islam and their Muslim populations. France, whose Muslim community of 5 million is the largest in the EU, has been trying for some time to force or tempt imams to take university courses, in a transparent attempt to transform them into secular “clerics”. Germany has also embarked on a programme to intimidate imams in the country.

On January 12 (a day or two after the new programme was announced) mosques throughout Germany were raided, the German police arresting 12 “Islamic radicals” who are “suspected of supporting terrorism”. According to media reports, those arrested included men and women from the Middle East, Bulgaria, North Africa and Germany itself. All of them are “suspected of belonging to terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda, and of providing assistance through money-laundering.” According to a German prosecutor, “the network raised funds to pursue their ideological goals and equipped people with false documents to facilitate illegal residency in Germany.” According to him, those arrested are also accused of “spreading racial hatred and recruiting people for a jihad.”

August Stern, the chief state prosecutor, provided further details, saying that those detained were linked to the Ansar al-Islam and al-Tauhid, and that one of them had trained at an al-Qa’ida camp in Pakistan. “We suspect those arrested to be members of a criminal organisation with international contacts,” he said. He explained that the main purpose of the countrywide raids (at least 50 addresses have been raided by German police) was to “destroy the logistical base of the network”.

The German raids on the mosques and on Muslims (whether citizens or “aliens”), and the justifications given for the criminal assaults, are familiar to victims of similar repressions of Islamic activism elsewhere, including by Muslim rulers that Western countries such as Germany dismiss as dictators who have no respect for “human rights”. In fact, few Muslim rulers would dare order so many raids on mosques in one operation, for fear of their people’s reaction. But the raids in Germany were ordered without any prior evidence of illegal behaviour (let alone terrorism) by those who have been victimised. The German police in fact publicly contradicted Stern’s statement, saying that they had found “no evidence indicating that the group planned to carry out a terrorist attack”.

For Turkey to join Germany and France in their public campaign against Islam and European Muslims, many of them its own nationals, is not supposed to be all that reprehensible, provided that it portrays Turks as Muslims only in name and paves the way for Turkey’s EU membership. But even if all moral and political considerations are set aside, Ankara’s action is inexcusable because it drastically reduces its bargaining power. In any case, EU members are in no mood to admit Turkey, which they dismiss as a Muslim country that is far from being European in its values and culture. The fact that – unlike other candidates – Turkey has been allowed to take part only in talks about talks, and not about membership, says it all. And even if it is admitted eventually as a member, that will take decades, as all commentators and analysts agree. In the mean time, European countries such as Germany and France will continue to useTurkey’s support to suppress their Muslim populations.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 12

Dhu al-Hijjah 21, 14252005-02-01

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