Monday, August 06, 2007

Arresting Blackboards

One of my friends (who is knowledgeable about this incident, but whose identity I've withheld for evident reasons) recently brought to my attention a disturbing event. I cannot testify to the accuracy of the report seeing as my knowledge of Turkish politics is low and I cannot read any accounts in that language. However, I was able to confirm the facts from another Turkish person, so I have at least some corroboration.

Ali Nesin is the head of mathematics at Istanbul Bilgi University. He apparently produces a popular mathematics magazines that sells thousands of issues while retaining a very respectable level of the mathematics. Ali seems to really love mathematics in its many forms (including computer science). Ali also cobbles together scraps of funds to run an annual math summer school for students and teachers.

Sadly, Ali's summer school has been shut down and he has been charged with several crimes. Irrespective of the merits of the other charges, the one that we should take issue with is this one: “giving education without permission”.

Alexandre Borovik has set up a petition to protest this. His blog has multiple posts about the situation. Be sure to visit the blog and see the photographs of the cordoned-off blackboard (and check out the content on it).

I have heard that one of the principal reasons for persecuting Ali is that he is the son of a left-wing Turkish humorist, Aziz Nesin, and the recent rise of Islamist power in Turkey has given a fillip to forces arrayed against him. Reading the older Nesin's biography, it's easy to see why he might have offended these powers—not that that excuses what has happened. Anyway, I have reliable evidence that Ali Nesin is a good soul who means to spread his love for mathematics.

It's a sad blow against fundamental freedoms in Turkey. In addition, no country can prosper that shuts down volunteer schools that teach group theory.

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