Sunday, April 26, 2009

Turkish Gulen schools under scrutiny in Central Asia

Recently we had some indirect discussion about the impact of Gulen schools in Turkey. These schools are also getting quite popular in Pakistan (but, unlike Turkey, they are considered moderate in Pakistan). But the question is, do these schools have an underlying political agenda? Well...I know that opinion is quite divided about it - and I'm not sure if there is any clear-cut answer. In any case, here is an article about these schools in Central Asia:
The first so-called Turkish schools in Central Asia were founded in the mid-1990s. Turkish educational institutions there -- as well as in countries from Russia to North America -- were set up by the Gulen movement led by Turkish Islamic scholar and author Fethullah Gulen. Gulen is a Sunni Muslim who advocates tolerance and dialogue among different religions.

More than 65 Turkish educational institutions were once operating in Uzbekistan alone. There are some 25 Turkish schools, including boarding schools and two universities, in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan has six such institutions.

Throughout Central Asia, Turkish schools are known for their strict educational methods and discipline and are highly regarded by students and parents.

The majority of national and regional education contests are won by Turkish lyceum students. Easily passing English-language tests, many graduates win scholarships to Western universities.

Parents go to great lengths to enroll their children in Turkish schools, hoping such education will guarantee bright futures for them.
So far so good. And there is a consensus that the quality of education is quite good and it prepares students for the modern world. But what about its ideology?
Yet, Turkish educational institutions have come under increasing scrutiny in Central Asia. Governments as well as many scholars and journalists suspect that the schools have more than just education on their agendas.

In Turkmenistan, education authorities have ordered Turkish lyceums to scrap the history of religion from curriculums.

In the only Persian-speaking country in the region, Tajikstan, the government, as well as academics, are wary of the possible spread of pan-Turkic ideas. They fear that these schools promote Turkish influence and the Turkish language in their country.

However, it is Uzbekistan that has taken the toughest stance toward Turkish schools. In 1999, Tashkent closed all Turkish lyceums after its relationship with Ankara turned sour.
...
Uzbek officials have expressed suspicions that Turkish-school graduates in government offices and other key institutions use their positions to weaken the secular government. They charge that graduates of Turkish schools promote an aggressive form of Islam and even a role for Islam in political life.
Aah...but I think it will still be difficult to clearly sort through all sorts of political motivations from both sides:
Many Uzbek experts believe that Turkish schools and so-called Nurchilar followers have simply fallen victim to the Uzbek government's paranoia about dissent and opposition.

Tashpulat Yuldashev, an Uzbek political analyst, told RFE/RL that Nurchilar is "just a new enemy created by the government to justify its repressive policies."

"Because of his own fear, [Islam] Karimov has fought against Wahhabists, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and Akramiya groups. They all are suppressed and now Karimov has to find a new enemy," Yuldashev says. "It shows that there are problems inside the country and that Karimov feels insecure. In order to keep people in constant fear and turn their thoughts away from social and economic hardships, he always needs a new enemy within."
Indeed, the situation is messy. So the question is: What to do if Gulen schools are the only ones providing quality education - but lets say that they are also transmitting some of their religious ideas? It is quite clear that these are not the madrassas of South Asia - where they are still using a medieval curriculum. Should we consider the Gulen schools at par with private religious schools (such as Jesuit schools) in the US? Or should we be worried about them more in line with some scary Evangelical schools? However, unlike some of the Evangelical schools, the Gulen schools seem to be quite friendly to science. What do you think?

Read the full article here.