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Turkey’s March toward Religious Extremism

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made no secret of his religious and, frankly, sectarian agenda. “We will raise a religious generation,” he told parliament. With the military under Erdoğan’s boot—one-in-five Turkish generals are now imprisoned for offenses emanating from Erdoğan’s fevered imagination—the prime minister is now pushing a transformative social agenda even harder.

Last month, Hürriyet Daily News reported that the government was forcing students seeking vocational education to instead enroll in religious academies. Adding insult to injury is the fact that many of the students forced to enter the schools which are, in effect, Sunni indoctrination centers are members of the Alevi religious minority. Just as Pakistani Islamists, for example, target the Ahmadi sect, so too does NATO member Turkey now target its Alevis.

Amidst the backdrop of the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and the attacks on U.S. embassies throughout the region, Erdoğan took the lead on pushing for international legislation that would make it illegal to affront the sensitivities of Muslims. As noxious and hateful as the “Innocence of Muslims” video was, prioritizing religion above free speech is a very slippery slope for any democracy.

Now comes word that alcohol will now be banned from university campuses. So much for going to a campus bar to watch the football game or enjoy a glass of wine in the faculty club. The rule has nothing to do with tolerance or plurality, and instead has everything to do with Erdoğan’s desire to raise a religious generation.

Turkey’s turn from a democracy into something approaching an Islamist state has not been sudden: Erdoğan has pushed a slow and steady agenda. Rather than sound alarm, American diplomats have bent over backwards to exculpate bad behavior. With the Turkish government not shy about its blacklist, former ambassadors who seek to do business in Turkey or academics and analysts who wish to preserve access will publicly apologize for what privately they condemn. Almost a decade into Erdoğan’s rule, though, it is no longer possible to deny his intent or, indeed, the nearing fruition of his goals.