For Separation of Church and State
In the last few weeks the independent Member of the Parliament and leader of the Order, Law and Justice party, Yane Yanev, stirred, once again, a scandal on the Bulgarian political scene.
The MP notified the State Agency for National Security (DANS) of fundamentalist Islam practices being promoted in numerous Bulgarian schools, especially among the Muslim-Bulgarians, the Pomaks.
Conveniently, in the wake of the upcoming elections, Yanev "discovered" evidence of Islamic threats and passionately voiced allegations that students in Bulgarian Muslim villages in the Southwestern parts of the country were forced to study radical Islam with funding coming from different Arab sources.
As a follow-up to these revelations, Bulgaria's State National Security Agency (DANS) interrogated Monday the Mayor of the Garmen Municipality, Ahmed Bashev, and a local school teacher of Islam, Murad Boshnak, over the alleged promotion of radical Islamism.
In the heels of the accusations, Bulgaria's Education Ministry announced it was preparing a ban on religious symbols' display at public schools while Education Minister, Daniel Valchev, commented that schools were not a place to teach religion, especially when the country is facing Parliamentary elections.
As someone, who has often criticized the Minister, this time I must wholeheartedly agree with him. Religion does not have a place in public schools. Of course, schools should not be hostile to religion. In religion classes, students can learn morals, compassion and many, many other good things, but the teaching of those should be a family responsibility and/or, in the best case scenario, be included in extra-curricular, elective activities.
Children are one of the most easily manipulated segments of society and religious beliefs should not be imposed on them by teachers at public schools neither should they sponsor religious prayer. Otherwise we will continue to offer the opportunity to politicians aspiring to power to use religion for their own interests.
The Pomak villages, particularly the one of Ribnovo, which has been the focus of MP Yanev's fervent campaign, have been long considered examples of ethnic tolerance and even studied as a case of positive mix of cultures.
The mandatory teaching of Islam at the local school turned that wonderful little place and its honest, hard-working residents, not only into a center of negative attention, but worse - into a tool helping someone, who has never set foot in Ribnovo, to add a few more votes to his ballot.
One of the very few things contemporary Bulgaria can be proud of is the tolerance among Muslims and Christians, among Bulgarians, Turks and Pomaks. To destroy it over somebody's political ambitions, as we keep witnessing over and over again in the last twenty years, is not only shameful, it should finally become intolerable. And it should begin with our children.
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