Hagia Sophia

I think it is time this blog had some thoughts on the conversion of Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and the now open neo-Ottoman rhetoric emanating from the government of Turkey and its supporters. I have been watching Turkey for some years now, and while these developments are upsetting, they are not surprising.

The Turkish government considers that the last true Caliph was the sultan of the Ottoman empire. When Attaturk abolished the caliphate, an “inter-regnum” began. This government is dedicated to reversing the secularisation of Turkey and end of the Ottoman empire by the 100-year anniversary of the abolition of the Ottoman sultanate/caliphate – i.e. by 2024.

The Ottoman empire at its greatest extent ruled North Africa, the Levant, Anatolia, parts of the Caucasus/Greater Armenia region, the Balkans, Greece, and Arabia. It had a hot-and-cold relationship with the Persian Safavvid empire, with the two contesting rule of Mesopotamia.

The current Turkish government desires not only direct rule of the territories once controlled by the Ottoman empire, but also influence in the wider Islamic world and special influence in Turkic-ethnicity dominated nations, namely the nations of Central Asia (as well as influence among Turkish and Turkic minority groups in nations such as Germany and Russia).

These things are causes for concern, as events that occur in the Middle East usually have wider ramifications for the world, especially in these days of globalisation. Turkey’s and Iran’s influence are opposed by Saudi Arabia, the Arab Gulf States, and Egypt. Whether in proxy wars or direct conflict, much harm is resulting and will result.

Education – not fit for purpose

Amidst the business of GCSE and A-level grades that has caused such tumult this August, we should spare some thoughts for the bigger problem of cultural and intellectual decay in the UK. Education is now an important pillar of society. As Christians and adherents of virtue epistemology, how can we not weep in our present situation?

The UK does not traditionally have a doctrine of “church and state”. In fact, our law requires state schools to hold assemblies of a broadly Christian character. The system, as a whole, however, has failed to teach students about Christianity or the skills of critical thinking. As I have written before on this blog, when I taught sociology of religion, I first had to teach religion because my students did not have the foundations on which to build the sociology.

We are confronted with a zeitgeist in which many parts of our population believe that science has “disproved God”, and yet know absolutely nothing about proper scientific methodology, philosophy of science, or epistemology generally. Meanwhile, basic life skills, such as managing a household budget, finding legislation, and operating a joint bank account are not taught.

Our education system is not fit for purpose. It does not provide the skills that are actually needed to enter the workplace; it does not teach the law or the principles of good citizenship; it does not produce God-fearing, patriotic citizens. This is not to say our teachers do not work hard or that parts of the curriculum do not try to address these issues – but the system has failed.

There are several poisons in the swamp of our education system. One of them is the influence of the Labour Party at both formal and informal levels. Teacher training is decidedly skewed by liberal ideology and a large proportion (perhaps a majority) of teachers are Labour-voters and members of unions (whose control rests in Labour-voting hands).

The workplace, meanwhile, insists on people having degrees in order to obtain various jobs that actually do not require degrees, but only skills that can be learned on vocational courses. The universities support this culture because it means money for them. Thus people are landed with debts that – in abstract terms – they should never have needed to incur.

Meanwhile, the straight-jackets imposed via national curricula deny teachers and schools (even, to some extent, independent ones) the flexibility they need to properly fulfil their mandates. Thus we churn out students who have been exposed to subversive literature, but who cannot write grammatically correct sentences (or spot the fact that they have failed to produce such sentences).

On top of this, we have the incoherence of trying to impose rigorous and finely-differentiated grades on arts subjects where such measurements are not possible in the contexts of essays and other such genres of writing. While one can assess the general quality of a piece of work and assess the relative merits of different pieces, the attempt to impose the kind of grading we use today is ultimately futile and means the dissemination of false ideas.

Our society is corrupt – it will take changes in our culture as well as our laws to heal it.