The age today ran a remarkable story about Islamic factions in Turkey trying to re-write history to erase the legacy of secularism in that nation.

You can read the article here.

The story here is paralleled by Christianist factions who want to re-write the history of the West to convey their religious agenda.

The key point in the story is that after WWI – the leader of Turkey, Ataturk wrote a moving tribute to Anzacs who died at Gallipoli in a now famous letter, which eloquently sums up the moral purpose of the secular principle in state affairs:

”Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country,” Ataturk wrote.

”Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours … you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.”

This quotation was read today in Turkey at the ceremony at Suvla Bay.

What this sentiment exemplifies is that peace and tolerance depend on a political commitment to the secular principle that separates the powers of government from the religious factions which seek to impose their religious commitments via those powers, Ataturk’s comments recognise the different backgrounds of “Johnny and Mehmet” – but affirm the equality and shared humanity and not their religious differences.

It turns out that Ataturk was also a champion of separating Church and State functions and was responsible for abolishing the Caliphate, and spearheading the establishment of public education (from Wikipedia):

Education was the cornerstone in this effort. In 1923, there were three main educational groups of institutions. The most common institutions were medreses based on Arabic, the Qur’an and memorization. The second type of institution was idadî and sultanî, the reformist schools of the Tanzimat era. The last group included colleges and minority schools in foreign languages that used the latest teaching models in educating pupils. The old medrese education was modernized.[64] Mustafa Kemal changed the classical Islamic education for a vigorously promoted reconstruction of educational institutions.[64] Mustafa Kemal linked educational reform to the liberation of the nation from dogma, which he believed was more important than the Turkish war of independence.

Today, our most important and most productive task is the national education [unification and modernization] affairs. We have to be successful in national education affairs and we shall be. The liberation of a nation is only achieved through this way.”[65]

In the summer of 1924, Mustafa Kemal invited American educational reformer John Dewey to Ankara to advise him on how to reform Turkish education.[64] His public education reforms aimed to prepare citizens for roles in public life through increasing the public literacy. He wanted to institute compulsory primary education for both girls and boys; since then this effort has been an ongoing task for the republic. He pointed out that one of the main targets of education in Turkey had to be raising a generation nourished with what he called the “public culture”. The state schools established a common curriculum which became known as the “unification of education.”

Unification of education was put into force on 3 March 1924 by the Law on Unification of Education (No. 430). With the new law, education became inclusive, organized on a model of the civil community. In this new design, all schools submitted their curriculum to the “Ministry of National Education“, a government agency modelled after other countries’ ministries of education. Concurrently, the republic abolished the two ministries and made clergy subordinate to the department of religious affairs, one of the foundations of secularism in Turkey. The unification of education under one curriculum ended “clerics or clergy of the Ottoman Empire”, but was not the end of religious schools in Turkey; they were moved to higher education until later governments restored them to their former position in secondary after Mustafa Kemal’s death.

Both Christianists and Islamists want to re-write history to deny the success of secularism as an organizing principle because they are not content with the freedom to worship as they choose – their concerns are for how others choose to live, and the best way to to do this is control Government and to control the schools.