Taking a leaf out of the censorship book

2 mins read

Any student of history will know that trying to suppress ideas, thoughts, or critical discussion is a perilous journey many have travelled on with varying degrees of success.

Brutal repression can only go so far.

The wall of resistance or rebellion may take decades or centuries to build, but that day will come like a burst water pipe.

Tyrants, demagogues, dictators are in the habit of rewriting history, creating a world in their glorified image where dissent is not tolerated.

There are ideologies and political systems based on fear, violence, and coercion.

A narrow interpretation of what the world should look like and behave.

Anything that doesn’t fit that orthodoxy is crushed, eliminated, tortured, imprisoned, and silenced.

The methods justify the means; the interpretation of the past, future and present are non-negotiable; you either abide by the rules or get mangled by the system.

Prevailing wisdom or revisionism does not always stand the test of time, neither does intolerance to a different point of view.

Galileo was put on trial for believing the Earth revolves around the sun, which was deemed heretical by the Catholic Church.

It took the church 300 years to clear him of heresy.

Stalin killed millions through the gulag system of forced labour camps and collectivization of agricultural land.

Pol Pot wanted to return to year zero by destroying the bourgeoisie in Cambodia and dismantling the capitalist monetary system.

A brutal social engineering experiment fuelled by a political philosophy for an agrarian utopia at the expense of two million people.

Racist Americans justified segregation, ignoring the basic rights and freedoms of non-whites.

Some will argue that the legacy of prejudice remains ingrained in US society, demonstrated by cop killings of young blacks.

These are all topics worthy of discussion and analysis in the education system.

There are many home truths that Cyprus itself has not come to terms with, but the government feels the only way to confront history is to tear pages out of a book.

The symbolism of telling teachers to destroy a page in an English language textbook because of its perceived praise of modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was lost on the Education Minister.

It is the type of intolerance that Stalin, the Taliban, and the book-burning Nazis would appreciate.

Secondary school teachers were not being told to destroy fake news, racist or revisionist history books but an exercise in English where views are challenged.

After being lambasted over its order to rip the page out, the Education Ministry removed the book because it was too generous in praising Ataturk, saying his legacy was marred by “crimes against entire peoples.”

Taking a stand against the Armenian Genocide is laudable, but the ministry was unnecessarily dragging politics into the classroom, open to accusations of racism.

Pressing the nuclear button over a reference in a textbook to Ataturk was excessive, ill-conceived.

It gave Turkey extra ammunition to bash the government as bigoted haters.

Would the ministry have been as quick to react to an errant teacher espousing racist and sexist remarks in the classroom?

The exercise in the book posed the question: “How can someone be both a hero and a villain?”

The English curriculum textbook is essentially banned from schools or may reappear with the offending page censored.

And where was the Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou while the hurricane blew the roof off?

It is inconceivable that the order did not come from him, and if it didn’t, what does he have to say about it? Well, not much by the sounds of it.

Even President Anastasiades conceded that defacing books in the modern post-Galileo age is not what a self-respecting democracy should be engaged in.

If this is the level of tolerance and teaching behaviour in our education system, then no wonder why Cyprus fails every metric out there.

Prodromou should be more concerned about standards in education after an inglorious track record in getting school students through the pandemic.

When that painful story comes to be written, more than one page will be missing if Prodromou gets his hands on it.

In short, the government gave Turkey ample ammunition in the propaganda war of who could be trusted the least.

Purging Ataturk from a harmless textbook (ala Stalin) betrayed our unwillingness to adapt, change and improve.

Progress is not listening to the echo of your own voice.