Buhari’s recent revelation that he has unilaterally enlisted Nigeria into the comity of the Saudi Arabia-led Islamic nations fighting terrorism via an al-Jazeera television interview is already leading to an uproar. Adding the Turkish dimension may lead to very dangerous consequences
Turkish President, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during his recent visit to Nigeria assured President Muhammadu Buhari of his support in the fight against the evil Boko Haram sect. He noted that his country and Nigeria suffer the same constant threats of terrorists’ attacks. Erdogan pointed out that it is better for Nigeria and Turkey to collaborate to defeat the Boko Haram terror menace.
The Turkish President stressed that more Muslims have died in the terrorists’ attacks in Turkey and Nigeria, and that people should not try to associate terrorism with any tribe or group as it would only serve to “assist the terrorists”. Harping on the need for collaborative efforts in the anti-terror war, he condoled with Nigerians on the death of thousands of citizens resulting from Boko Haram attacks. Erdogan averred that he would not allow any group in Turkey with peculiar interests to dictate the pace or direction of his government’s efforts to tackle terrorism.
Even as Erdogan is assuring Buhari of joining efforts to fight terrorism, it has to be pointed out that Turkey, a country initially celebrated for its secularism, is fast succumbing to Islamic mindconditioning through the educational policies of the selfsame President Erdogan. Schools are being converted into imam-hatips, that is, religious schools in which 20 percent to one-third of hours are dedicated to Sunni Islamic study. This move has led to riots in the streets of Istanbul. The education overhaul is overwhelmingly seen as an attempt to roll back Turkey’s 90-year-old secular project. Nigeria has to be wary of such a leader who is breeding terror at the grassroots.
The highly charismatic Erdogan, leader of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), won power in 2002. He had from the very beginning been accused by his secular opponents of trying to turn Turkey into Iran. Erdogan had initially forged a reputation as a reformist. His AKP party passed EU-inspired legislation, and subdued Turkey’s once-meddlesome military, seemingly to create a more liberal, pluralist society. In recent years, however, Erdogan who ascended from prime minister to president has spoken more openly of his desire to recast the country along conservative lines.
The government’s initiatives have over the years pushed Islam deeper into Turkey’s nominally-secular education system. The controversial examples include a plan to build mosques in 80 different state universities, and a scheme to convert one Istanbul university into a centre for Islamic learning.
A government-backed education council has recommended the extension of compulsory religious classes to all primary school pupils, as well as adding an extra hour of obligatory religious classes for all high school students. That decision, which is seen as obnoxious in many Turkish quarters, came in spite of a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which did not mince words in ordering Turkey to stop the existing one-hour-a- week compulsory religious classes for middle- and high-school pupils.
The spread of Islamic education is more clearly advertised, however, in the steady expansion of imam- hatip schools. After AKP came to power in 2002, about 65,000 pupils were enrolled in imam-hatip schools; now, the figure is nearly one million, or 9 percent of all school children aged between 10 and 18. The increase occurred mostly since 2010, when AKP legislated to transform general high schools into vocational schools, including imam-hatips. Ever since, their number has increased by 90 percent, from 493 to 936. The party in 2012 legislated to allow middle schools to also operate as imam- hatips as well, meaning children as young as 10 can now attend them. The students are somewhat made to attend these schools against their will. Compulsory religious teaching happens to be the mode of indoctrination.
When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established the Republic of Turkey on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, he embarked, in a revolutionary manner, on arguably the most radical state-driven social engineering projects of modern times. In his 15-year rule, he set about rooting out the influence of Islam over Turkish society. Moving like an unstoppable hurricane in his first three years, Kemal Ataturk banned Sharia courts, closed all Madra- sas, shut down private Islamic orders, and banished religious education from state schools. In a very radical drive, he abolished the caliphate – the office of political and religious leader of the Muslim faith that Ottoman sultans had claimed since the 15th century. Ataturk’s reforms were aimed to re-mould the everyday habits of Turks. Traditional Islamic forms of headdress such as turbans and the fez were banned, and the hijab was outlawed in public offices.
According to Ataturk, “My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go.” Ever since Ataturk died in 1938, there has been spirited resistance to his reforms within Turkey’s conservative heartlands. The fear is that the Erdogan government’s Islamic agenda could eventually make Turkey vulnerable to a spillover of the civil turmoil currently troubling Iraq and Syria.
It is therefore pertinent that President Buhari should be wary of Erdogan’s offer to visit his country. Religion is a very sensitive matter in Nigeria. Buhari’s recent revelation that he has unilaterally enlisted Nigeria into the comity of the Saudi Arabia-led Islamic nations fighting terrorism via an al-Jazeera television interview is already leading to an uproar. Adding the Turkish dimension may lead to very dangerous consequences.