30/01/2012

National Security Lessons Scraped: Democratisation, De-Militarisation, or Neither?

I just read a rather interesting and upfront article in Sabah (28/01/12) by Emre Akoz talking about the government's move to give the teaching of Milli Guvenlik, or 'National Security', classes in schools a dishonourable discharge.

Once a week, Turkish middle-high school students are visited by a Turkish army commander, who enters the class in full military garb. They are taught about such matters model (soldier) citizenship and the importance of the army for the protection of the rights of the nation (because there's no 'I' in army).

The classes have been existent since 1979, and so represent a relic of the coup years when the army's power was displayed en force. Within a few years it was coupled by the introduction of religious education classes, brought in to usher a sense of non-partisan unity and provide a third way to the youth, caught up in mass street violence between the materialistic ideologies of capitalist nationalism and socialism. 

Democratisation and De-Militarisation 

The Prime Minister announced the decision as being based on EU observations. Why were soldiers teaching in public and private educational institutes? According to the PM, the more harmless 'citizenship' aspect lessons will be observed in other classes by regular teachers. I gather that this means greater emphasis on the Sosyal Bilgi, or 'Social Science' lessons. Don't be fooled by the name though, this class' textbooks focus solely on Ataturk's message, Turkish history with all its official red line issues and depending on the age group, an emphasis on morals and ethical behaviour. This is worrying to me because of the Turkish state's impoverished view on real humanities study, which is based on the pondering of questions and exploring issues, rather than stated facts and self-congratulatory truisms like the morning pledge "I am Turk, I am right".

Emre Akoz asked the question therefore, as to whether removing the armed forces from schools would simultaneously signify the removal of Turkish Militarism and introduction of Democratisation. "Only by an inch," the writer said ("zerre kadar"). Akoz related his observations on the way the 30th August celebrations were held by the military across Turkish cities in 2009; 

"In all the big cities posters everywhere were saying 'Powerful Army, Powerful Turkey.' This slogan was a straight-up lie, because however strong  a country is (economically), the army may be powerful. History is full of examples of this."

'National Security Course is now History' The headline works
on two levels - one implying that from now on the work will be
left to history teachers.
According to Akoz, the real message was simple however;

"Soldiers are more important than civilians [...] Love your soldiers, respect them, whatever they say is true whenever they ask for money never ask for it back, if the solders rise up in a coup d'etat, do not go against them"


In any case, militarism will still be a feature of the curriculum (mufredat) but children will no longer see the friendly face of a fifty-year old Turkish commando. I don't know if it's cynical to say this is just another straw on the back of the military, but I think it is as it takes away their presence within public space it is a small but significant step in the AKP's cold war with the military. As far as EU reports are concerned, it is good to see them getting a mention again, but as the last term has so-far been characterised by a lack of concern with government interference in the judiciary and anger at EU states France and Germany, I have to conclude it is simply being used to cover-up the political implications. 

Reaction in Schools

Not to say that this is not an important step, no matter what the politics behind it. Teachers will be happy that strangers in military uniform will no longer be peering into things at the school. My own religious school in Bagcilar will be particularly pleased, as having states officials round means putting the whole school on alert, lest anyone find the female students or teachers wearing hijab. A plan is put into action and the bottom two levels of the school are restricted only to those students who don't choose to wear the scarf.

In one meeting, the principle pointed out that our security was perhaps a little too stringent as, every time the commander came in, he commented on the lack of noise "so be aware," he said. On another occassion, the risk even reached our teachers room. There were rumours that the commander had decided to take a look around. The site of five adult women lingering around the 'blind-spot' of the staff room, leaping behind a well-positioned cupboard whenever anyone knocked on the door is as good an example as any, to prove the ridiculousness caused by French-brand secularism and the power of its interference in people's private lives.

Education Union, Egitim Bir Sen gave the news their backing. As with anything, if Egitim Bir Sen sense the whiff of more jobs they will support it. Their report was accompanied by badges (pictured above) saying "Soldiers for the Barracks, Historians for Schools" and "Soldiers have alot of work, Historians have none!" The sense here, was that solders have been taking the role reserved for history teachers, despite having important national security work.

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