Turkey’s English-language Hürriyet Daily reports that some sixth-grade science and technology textbooks in the country have been revised to replace anatomical diagrams of penises and vaginas in a chapter on reproduction with pictures of mother/baby pairings of humans, polar bears, ducks, and dolphins. The new edition of the textbook also apparently omits apparently risqué words like virginity and breast.
The story comes in the context of a wider culture war being fought over education and intellectual freedom in a country whose conservative religious leaders are steering it away from its secular past. The country’s newly elected President and former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has wide support among observant Muslims, and in September, his government lifted a ban on headscarves in middle and high schools; a ban on headscarves in universities was lifted in 2011. In 2012, the Ministry of Education began to allow high school students to take elective courses on the Quran and the life of the Prophet Mohammed. Erdogan has criticized co-ed university dorms, while a government-imposed dress code bans tattoos, body piercings, makeup, dyed hair, moustaches and beards in schools.
Censorship is on the rise in Turkey in recent years, in schools and elsewhere. Last year a teachers’ group pushed to censor John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men for immorality, and in 2012 a TV network was fined $30,000 over an episode of The Simpsons said to insult religious values. This September, legislation was passed tightening government control over the Internet, building on a law from February that makes it easier for authorities to block sites without a court order. On that front—and on the subject of biology—an anti-evolution movement has succeeded in getting prominent atheist Richard Dawkins’ web site banned by court order, while than 30 percent of the Turkish population and fewer than half the science and biology teachers surveyed in the capital of Ankara accept the theory of evolution.