Turkey school curriculum radicalised with Jihad, sympathies for ISIS - study

Turkey’s school curriculum has been radicalised, reversing a previous trend of tolerance and cultural openness, according to a study published this week.

The government has introduced Jihad into textbooks, and martyrdom has been glorified and turned into the “new normal”, reported IMPACT-se, which researches and exposes intolerance in school textbooks in the Middle East and elsewhere from its headquarters in Tel Aviv.

“Islam is depicted as a political matter, with science and technology used to advance its goals,” IMPACT-se said in the study prepared with U.K.-based think tank, Henry Jackson Society.

“The curriculum adopts an anti-American stance, displaying sympathy for the motivations of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, while remaining staunchly anti-PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party),” it said.  

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his government is conservative but democratic and tolerant of other religions. But in recent years, he has combined his fiery, pro-Islamic rhetoric with human rights abuses and a crackdown on political dissent, raising alarm bells among human rights groups and Turkey’s pro-Western allies.

“There is an emphasis on concepts such as 'Turkish World Domination' and Turkish or Ottoman 'Ideal of the World Order'," IMPACT-se said. “According to the curriculum, the 'Turkish Basin' stretches from the Adriatic Sea to Central Asia. Both Ottoman Turkish and Arabic language studies are offered.”

Textbooks largely neglect the identity and cultural needs of Turkey’s large Kurdish minority. While the Alevi branch of Islam is acknowledged, religious studies exclusively encompass Sunni teachings, according to the study.

“Elective programs such as Kurdish have been neglected and largely replaced by religious 'elective' courses, which are often mandatory in practice,” IMPACT-se said.

The curriculum contains subtle anti-democratic messaging, describing former political allies as terrorists and suggesting that civil activism, such as the 2013 Gezi Park protests, are “manipulated by suspect capitalist and foreign powers”, IMPACT-se said.

“Some anti-Christian and anti-Jewish sentiment has been introduced; in both cases the pejorative infidels is used, rather than the traditional term, 'People of the Book'," it said.

The Holocaust has, however, been mentioned for the first time, including Auschwitz, the gas chambers and death squads, IMPACT-se said.

The study’s author is Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, a researcher at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, and an expert on contemporary Turkish politics and society.

Here follow the key findings of the study, as printed in the executive summary:

  1. The Turkish curriculum has been significantly radicalised in recent years.
  2. Jihad war is introduced as a central value; martyrdom in battle is glorified.
  3. Islam is depicted as political, using science and technology to advance its goals
  4.  An ethno-nationalist religious vision combining neo-Ottomanism and pan-Turkism is taught.
  5. Concepts such as "Turkish World Domination" and the Turkish or Ottoman "Ideal of the World Order" are emphasised.
  6. The curriculum adopts an anti-American stance and displays sympathy toward the motivations of ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
  7. There are anti-Armenian and pro-Azerbaijani stances. The Kurdish minority's identity and cultural needs are largely neglected. The 1955 pogrom against the Greeks is ignored.
  8. Religious studies are dramatically enhanced via the Imam Hatip vocational-religious schools and system of "mandatory elective" courses. The theory of evolution has been removed.
  9. Subtle anti-democratic messaging is conveyed (e.g., the Gezi Park protests).
  10. Christians and Jews are characterised as infidels instead of People of the Book.
  11. The curriculum demonises Zionism and verges on antisemitic messaging by describing some post-WWI Jewish schools as hostile to Turkey's independence. Conversely, the curriculum continues to show respect for the Jewish civilisation and the Hebrew language.
  12. For the first time, the Holocaust is specifically mentioned (briefly).