Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expanded his destruction of civil liberties and secular government with a new call for the arrest of students opposing war as “terrorists.” Erdogan was not content with arresting or firing thousands of intellectuals in Turkish schools. He now wants to arrest free-thinking students — leaving Turkish colleges occupied by government-approved faculty stooges and government-controlled students. He has also barred the teaching of various subjects including evolution. Erdogan’s ire was directed at students at Bogazici University. I had the pleasure of speaking at Bogazici University years ago and it was considered one of the finest academic institutions in the World. The university attracted the top students in the country and it is little surprise that Erdogan and his religious parties would view the students as a threat.
We have followed the rapid destruction of the secular government and civil liberties in Turkey under the authoritarian rule of Erdogan. Erdogan used the recent failed coup to push his effort to create a de facto Islamic regime and to complete his work in arresting his critics, including forcing the resignation of thousands of secular academics, and suspending all civil liberties in a proclaimed state of emergency. Previously, Erdogan threatened the United States if it didn’t hand Gulen over to him and that a failure to yield to his demands would be a “big mistake.” He also ordered the round up of journalists despite the fact that journalists helped him stay in power during the coup by bravely continuing to broadcast during the coup. Thousands of opponents have been arrested or questioned under those newly acquired powers. Thousands of teachers have been fired under Erdogan and tens of thousands detained since his rise to power.
Erdogan has also been mocked for both his ridiculous knowledge of history and self-portrayal as a brilliant mind. This has included the arrest of Mehmet Emin Altunses, 16, who allegedly committed the crime of “insulting” Erdoğan. calling people who use birth control “traitors” and saying Muslims discovered America, you are not allowed to be disrespectful or insulting in discussing Erdoğan. Then there was the prosecution of model and former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac, 26, for criticizing Erdogan for quoting a few lines from a poem called the “Master’s Poem” from weekly Turkish satirical magazine Uykusuz. Erdoğan’s totalitarian measures have earned him the nickname “Buyuk Usta” (the Big Master). Even a joking reference to Gollum and Erdoğan is enough to land you in jail today in Turkey.
Now Erdogan has declared that students who oppose war are “communist, traitor youth” and called on “religious, nationalist, local youth” to fight them. He further declared that “we won’t give these terrorist youth the right to study at these universities.”
So Erdogan’s program of wiping out secularism and free thought is now expanding to destroy its leading university. Like other infamous dictators in history, he clearly wants intellectuals out of the country or in jails or dead. He will then be able to raise a generation of religiously obedient, uneducated citizens who know little beyond the constant adoration for Erdogan on state-controlled media.