Another brick is falling in the fiction that Turkey seeks to remain a democratic, pluralistic, Western-leaning society: The head of the Turkish body which oversees placement tests and university admissions has announced that it will soon include religious questions in its placement tests. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has previously reconfigured the exam formula to benefit those who had attended Imam Hatip schools—Turkey’s equivalent of a madrassa—over those who had had a traditional, liberal arts education. While religion is in the state curriculum, there has been recent controversy over forcing non-Sunnis (20 percent of Turkey’s Muslims are Alevis, not Sunnis) into religious classes which indoctrinated Sunnism.
Turkey, despite its problems, thrived in comparison to the non-oil rich Middle East over the decades precisely because it refused to allow religious populism to become the basis of government. Alas, Erdoğan seems intent not only on becoming a Vladimir Putin-style autocrat but also radicalizing society and the bureaucracy for the long-term. None of this should surprise. It has been less than a year since Erdoğan himself declared his goal to be to Islamize a generation. How unfortunate it is that so many in the U.S. Congress lend their blanket endorsement to Erdoğan’s agenda.