The Cheat Sheet

When 301,878 books were murdered in Turkey...

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on August 08, 2019 Published on August 08, 2019

Death of books? What exactly happened?

Since 2016, the government of Turkey has pulled back from its schools, stores and libraries, and destroyed, over three lakh books. And that’s according to official estimates — revealed this week by none other than Turkey’s education minister Ziya Selcuk.

Oh dear! But why 2016?

That year witnessed a failed military coup and Turkey’s current regime accused a US-based Muslim cleric — Fethullah Gülen — with instigating the event. And the destroyed books are linked to the event and its alleged perpetrator. Interestingly, Gülen always denied any involvement in the 2016 coup d’état. But the government of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not buying it and instead is cracking down on all forms of dissent.

That’s terrible!

Indeed. Reports published in the international media, including The Guardian, reveal the absurd ways in which Turkey has been trying to silence dissent. For instance, the government banned a maths textbook which said somewhere in it that something was travelling from point F to point G. Since, the letters F and G stand for Fethullah Gulen, the ministry felt the book should be recalled and redone.

Bizarre!

Here’s more: in 2016 itself, some 18 lakh textbooks were re-jigged (destroyed, redone or reprinted) just because they carried the word Pennsylvania, which the regime felt was very objectionable.

Why?

Because the rebel cleric Gulen apparently lives there. Several media outlets in and outside Turkey have published visuals of the books being destroyed, reminding readers of the shocking images of book burning from history and bringing to light the immediate demand to protect free speech and the right to dissent. A statement from PEN International, a non-profit collective of writers and activists worldwide, says nearly 30 publishing houses downed shutters in just three years after the government put curbs on them for spreading what it calls terrorist propaganda.

That’s astonishing!

PEN paints an alarming picture of Turkey’s intellectual scene in its 2018 report. The Guardian quotes PEN saying 200 publishing entities vanished after the 2016 coup, while 80 writers are under probe and more than 5,800 teachers were fired from 118 government universities.

Less wonder then they burned all those books!

You said it! In fact, this is not the first time in history an angry regime is cracking down on books. As recently as in 2012, when al-Qaida militants attacked Mali, they destroyed precious and ancient books and manuscripts — many of the books were on Islamic culture dating back to the 13th and 16th centuries and were on Unesco’s World Heritage List.

If you travel back in history, in 213 BC, Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang made a bonfire of books. His aim: as a mark of consolidating his power and eliminating bad ideas! In fact, in 259-210 BC, another Chinese emperor, Shih Huang Ti, buried alive 460 Confucian scholars, not just books, as he wanted to control, the writing of history in his time.

How cruel!

From Roman emperor Caligula’s infamous opposition to The Odyssey by Homer, and caliph Omar burning all the 200,000 volumes at Alexandria library in Egypt, to Roman Catholic Church’s nefarious attempts to ban books that went against its morals, to Nazi’s burning books they never liked, which included Jack London’s Call of the Wild — history is replete with examples of powers trying to clamp down on books to curb dissent.

But as history shows us, in the end, the letter and the spirit they are written with, outwit all such attempts. Is Turkey listening?

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Published on August 08, 2019
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