Saturday, July 30, 2016

PakTurk schools may become a casualty of attempted coup Turkey

by Salman Hameed


There are Gulen-linked schools all around the world. They usually provide high quality education, are apolitical, and follow the local educational structure.  There are several of them in the US ("Harmony Schools") and considered amongst the best, in particular in math and science. Just in Texas, they operate 46 campuses and educate about 31,000 students. However, Texas has just opened a probe against these schools on behalf of the Turkish government.

In Pakistan, the Turkish ambassadors has asked the government to take a more direct action and close down 28 schools located in seven cities. This is truly unfortunate, as we are talking about affecting more 10,000 students! Here is a bit from Dawn:

The future of private schools set up by the PakTurk International Schools and Colleges network plunged into uncertainty a day after Turkey’s ambassador called on the Pakistan government to close down all the institutions backed by the Fethullah Gulen-inspired Hizmet movement. 
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s closeness with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistan’s brotherly relations with Turkey put pressure on the federal government to make a decision that does not upset its strong ally. The Foreign Office is taking the ambassador’s request very seriously, and the foreign secretary has chaired a meeting to explore ideas on how to proceed. 
The network of 28 schools and colleges in Islamabad, Lahore, Quetta, Karachi, Hyderabad, Khairpur and Jamshoro has a staff strength of 1,500 who teach around 10,000 students from pre-school to A level. “Since 1995, our schools have been giving quality education to Pakistani students with no political motivation or illegal activity,” says Ali Yilmaz, the Sindh education director for the association, adding that Turkish staff works in Pakistan legally through an NGO visa. 
Although the PakTurk network officially denies being linked to “any political or religious movement”, it is widely believed by the Turkish government that the schools are being run by the supporters of Gulen in several countries, including Pakistan, for decades.
And just like the US, these are highly regarded for the quality of education. I hope the schools stay open and the government can navigate this tricky terrain. There is already an enormous need for good quality of schools in Pakistan, and it would be terrible to leave 10,000 students in a lurch. But I can imagine the pressure on Pakistan in this regard:
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid says a tactful decision will be made. “We will definitely listen to them [the Turkish government] and their concerns,” he says, adding that no sudden move will be made and that the Foreign Office will write to the provinces as education is a provincial matter. 
“We will also have to take into account that there are thousands of children studying at these schools. The government will take a decision that does not cause damage to the students yet also acknowledges the request of the Turkish government.” 
A government official familiar with the matter says the schools are linked with Gulen and have long been a source of agitation for Erdogan. “The Turkish government has been asking Pakistan to close these schools for a while but we resisted. In Punjab, the PakTurk network had asked for a piece of land for school but they were not given the lease. The participation of the Punjab government in their activities has dwindled for this reason,” he says, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak on the matter. 
“Gulen has a trait: they are very legally sound so the government did not have any reason to take action against them.” 
“But now, I don’t think the government can sustain these schools. There will be lot of pressure from Erdogan and Islamabad will be compelled to come up with an excuse to close them.”
Read the full article here

Friday, July 22, 2016

We are looking for a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Qualitative Sociology at Hampshire College

by Salman Hameed

We are currently seeking a Postdoctoral research fellow in Qualitative Sociology at the Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies (SSiMS) at Hampshire College. If you are interested, please apply here.

Here is the full announcement:

Qualitative Social Science Post-Doctoral Research Fellow
Hampshire College, an independent, innovative liberal arts institution and member of the Five
College consortium, along with its Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies (SSiMS), invites applications for a post-doctoral fellowship under the general category of Qualitative Social Science. This is a one-year grant-funded position with possibility of continuation.

The post-doctoral research fellow will work principally on the development of a large-scale project on ‘Establishing a framework for a multidisciplinary study of science in Muslim societies’. Phase 1 project overview: There is a significant gap in scholarly understanding of how Muslims living in majority and minority contexts perceive science and the role it plays in the construction of both their religious and secular worldviews. The primary aim of this planning project is to begin to build the capacity and networks necessary to conduct a larger scale research study to address this gap. This longer term research will seek to develop a more comprehensive picture of how differing groups along a spectrum of worldviews, within Muslim majority and minority contexts, relate to and from public domain narratives surrounding ‘science’ and ‘religion’. Continued research on subsequent phase 2 will be dependent on future funding.

The Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies (SSiMS) is a multidisciplinary research center that uses perspectives from sociology, anthropology, media studies, science education, and cognitive science, to understand perception of science in diverse Muslim societies. For further details, please visit https://www.hampshire.edu/ssims/center-for-the-study-of-science-in-muslim-societies

This project will be undertaken in partnership with the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Belief in Society (CSKBS) at Newman University, Birmingham, UK. For further details, please visit:  http://www.newman.ac.uk/research-centres/4322/centre-for-science-knowledge-and-belief-in-society

This fellowship award provides an annual salary of $57,000, plus benefits. A PhD with an emphasis on Islam and/or Muslim societies in a relevant social science field such as science and technology studies, Middle Eastern studies, religious studies, or sociology of religion/sociology of Islam, is desirable.  It is essential that the research fellow have some experience working on postdoctoral qualitative social science research projects. A proficiency in Turkish, Bahasa, or Persian is desirable but not necessary. The anticipated start date of this position is September 2016.

Hampshire is committed to building a culturally diverse intellectual community and strongly encourages applications from women and minority candidates.

Review of applications will begin August 8, 2016. Please submit a letter of interest that describes your qualifications and interest in the project, a CV, and two letters of recommendation at https://jobs.hampshire.edu/   No hard copies will be accepted.

Informal Inquiries may be addressed to Dr. Salman Hameed (Director of the Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies) at shameed@hampshire.edu.

Hampshire College is an equal opportunity institution, committed to diversity and inclusion in education and employment.

Restrictions on Turkish Academics and a statement by MESA

by Salman Hameed


Things in Turkey are taking a further dive. The crackdown following last Friday's coup attempt has so far affected more than 50,000 people. This includes the suspension of 15,000 education workers and a forced resignation of over 1,500 university deans. In addition, the licenses of 21,000 teachers have been revoked by the state. These are all staggering numbers - and to think that this many people had involvement with the coup - is of course ludicrous. Even if all of them are Gulen folks, a purge like this is still deeply deeply problematic. Now there is also a travel ban on educators:
The travel restrictions on educators officially apply to work-related trips, the state broadcaster TRT reported. “There are no restrictions to personal travel,” said a senior Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government protocol. He described the travel ban as a “temporary measure.” 
But some professors and others in academic fields claim that their administrators have told them they cannot leave the country for any reason. Several university professors also confirmed that their supervisors told them to cancel vacations and other leave plans indefinitely.
I was supposed to be in Istanbul right now as well. However, I was scheduled to fly last Saturday, but all the flights got cancelled and I end up not going. It is really sad to see what is going on in Turkey and I really hope that some sanity will prevail over this vengefulness.

Here is a statement from the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) on the situation in Turkey:
The Middle East Studies Association, American Anthropological Association, Executive Committee of the American Comparative Literature Association, American Council of Learned Societies, American Studies Association, Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, European Association for Middle Eastern Studies, German Middle East Studies Association (DAVO), German Studies Association, International Center for Medieval Art, Latin American Studies Association, Linguistic Society of America, The Medieval Academy of America, Modern Language Association, National Communication Association, and Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association collectively note with profound concern the apparent moves to dismantle much of the structure of Turkish higher education through purges, restrictions, and assertions of central control, a process begun earlier this year and accelerating now with alarming speed.
As scholarly associations, we are committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression. The recent moves in Turkey herald a massive and virtually unprecedented assault on those principles. One of the Middle East region’s leading systems of higher education is under severe threat as a result, as are the careers and livelihoods of many of its faculty members and academic administrators.
Our concern about the situation in Turkish universities has been mounting over the past year, as Turkish authorities have moved to retaliate against academics for expressing their political views—some merely signing an “Academics for Peace” petition criticizing human rights violations.  
Yet the threat to academic freedom and higher education has recently worsened in a dramatic fashion. In the aftermath of the failed coup attempt of July 15-16, 2016, the Turkish government has moved to purge government officials in the Ministry of Education and has called for the resignation of all university deans across the country’s public and private universities. As of this writing, it appears that more than 15,000 employees at the education ministry have been fired and nearly 1600 deans—1176 from public universities and 401 from private universities—have been asked to resign. In addition, 21,000 private school teachers have had their teaching licenses cancelled. Further, reports suggest that travel restrictions have been imposed on academics at public universities and that Turkish academics abroad were required to return to Turkey. The scale of the travel restrictions, suspensions and imposed resignations in the education sector seemingly go much farther than the targeting of individuals who might have had any connection to the attempted coup. 
The crackdown on the education sector creates the appearance of a purge of those deemed inadequately loyal to the current government. Moreover, the removal of all of the deans across the country represents a direct assault on the institutional autonomy of Turkey’s universities. The replacement of every university’s administration simultaneously by the executive-controlled Higher Education Council would give the government direct administrative control of all Turkish universities. Such concentration and centralization of power over all universities is clearly inimical to academic freedom. Moreover, the government’s existing record of requiring university administrators’ to undertake sweeping disciplinary actions against perceived opponents—as was the case against the Academics for Peace petition signatories—lends credence to fears that the change in university administrations will be the first step in an even broader purge against academics in Turkey. 
Earlier this year, it was already clear that the Turkish government, in a matter of months, had amassed a staggering record of violations of academic freedom and freedom of expression. The aftermath of the attempted coup may have accelerated those attacks on academic freedom in even more alarming ways. 
As scholarly organizations, we collectively call for respect for academic freedom—including freedom of expression, opinion, association and travel—and the autonomy of universities in Turkey, offer our support to our Turkish colleagues, second the Middle East Studies Association’s “call for action” of January 15, request that Turkey’s diplomatic interlocutors (both states and international organizations) advocate vigorously for the rights of Turkish scholars and the autonomy of Turkish universities, suggest other scholarly organizations speak forcefully about the threat to the Turkish academy, and alert academic institutions throughout the world that Turkish colleagues are likely to need moral and substantive support in the days ahead.

Friday, July 08, 2016

AAAS panel urges increased scientific collaboration with Iran

by Salman Hameed

This is a good sign. The Science Diplomacy 2016 conference of The American Association for the Advancement of Sciences devoted one full session on increased scientific collaboration with Iran. This should be a no-brainer, but here we count any steps as a blessing. Here is some coverage of the session:
Throughout the “Opening Doors to Iran” session of the 5 May conference—one of eight sessions on diverse topics in science diplomacy—panelists cited far-ranging evidence of the capability of Iran’s scientific community as a collaborative partner. They described
the problems Iran is experiencing—such as energy shortages, HIV/ AIDS, and air and water pollution—as opportunities for science and technology engagement to positively
impact people’s lives. Referring to the nuclear agreement signed last July and subsequent statements signed or released by the United States, Iran, and five other nations, panelist Ali Douraghy, of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, said, “There are certainly very positive opportunities for potential scientific cooperation outlined.” 
Over the years, Iranian scientists, physicians, and other health experts have collaborated with their U.S. counterparts through partnerships fostered by the National Academies, the National Institutes of Health, AAAS, and CRDF Global, on topics such as water, food- borne diseases, neuroscience and drug abuse, noncommunicable and infectious diseases, health disparities, and bioethics. The 5 May panel was convened by CRDF Global, a nonprofit that connects emerging scientific communities with the international scientific community. 
“Scientific collaboration is among the best ways to show that the two countries can productively work together, as opposed to work against each other, by helping tackle the world’s greatest challenges and to build trust,“ said Tom Wang, AAAS’s chief international officer and director of the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy.
And here is a nod to the sanctions:
Stone described how Iranian scientists were able to push ahead on international-quality research despite the sanctions. The Iranian Light Source Facility, a synchrotron project, has made remarkable progress in overcoming sanctions, thanks in large part to improvisation. Similarly, when scientists were unable to import sensors to measure seismic stress on infrastructure such as dams and bridges in a country laced with faults, they invented their own that are now used throughout the country and are even starting to be exported. 
“I was struck by the ingenuity of many of the Iranian scientists in the face of sanctions,” said Stone. 
Somewhat surprisingly, stem cell research was one of the fields that progressed, after Iranian scientists, unsure of what was permissible, petitioned Iran’s Supreme Leader Seyyed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to issue a fatwa on stem cells. The ruling in 2002 legalized any kind of stem cell research except for human cloning, a policy more liberal than that of the United States. Iranians, given the go-ahead from Khamenei, actively advanced the research, Stone said.
It is not just stem cells policy that is more liberal than the US. I had posted a while back about the proliferation of IVF centers in Iran. The panel talked about universities engaging with Iran in scientific research, and I think that is crucial:
U.S. universities, said panel moderator Siri Oswald, sometimes misunderstand the restrictions on scientific exchanges and needlessly abandon efforts to engage. “They back off of opportunities that, frankly, they could engage in,” said Oswald, interim vice president for programs at CRDF Global. A publication by the Institute of International Education entitled “Reinventing Academic Ties,” which contains a helpful guide on the impact of sanctions on academic exchanges, offers information for U.S. scientists and institutions looking to collaborate with Iranian researchers, said Douraghy, who is a senior international programs officer for the National Academies. 
“In this time, we should take advantage of the good will and test the system, and see what kind of collaborations we can start under current conditions,” said Stone, who urged environmental scientists to turn their attention to a catastrophe occurring in northwestern Iran, where poor water management and drought have caused Lake Urmia to lose 80% of its water, creating a salt desert that threatens crops and people. 
“These sorts of environmental problems are really amenable to international cooperation,” he said. “They’re an easy sell” to the U.S. government, the Iranian government, and to funders, Stone added, “and if they’re successful, they’re going to sow a lot of good will with the Iranian people.”
Read the full article here