Ideal Turkish youth: Devout and empty

Ideal Turkish youth: Devout and empty

American author Henry Miller once wrote, “The American ideal is youth – handsome, empty youth.” The Turkish ideal, too, is youth: just replace “handsome” with “devout.”

In 2012, Turkish students aged 15-years-old ranked 44th in the world’s most comprehensive education report by the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which assesses the extent to which students have acquired key knowledge and skills in mathematics, reading, science and problem solving. In higher education, traditionally, only three of Turkey’s 175 or so universities can make their way into the world’s top 500 universities list.

According to a 2013 report, released by the British Council’s Education Intelligence research service, 95 percent of Turkish students said they wanted to study overseas. Another survey, released this week by the Vodafone Group, found that 60 percent of Turkish youths aged 18 to 24 wish to pursue their careers abroad.

A 2012 survey by the pro-government think tank SETA found the aspirations for a devout and empty Turkish youth were successfully moving ahead.

The survey, interviewing 10,174 youths aged 15 to 29, discovered the following: Most did not speak a foreign language; only one in 10 had been abroad; their favorite cultural activity was watching television and their favorite programs were soap operas; one-third of respondents did not read newspapers; only 12 percent regularly read a magazine; they mostly listened to Turkish pop music (52.4 percent) and foreign pop music (22 percent); slightly more than one-third smoked, 21.7 percent drank alcohol and 21.4 percent gambled; 40 percent did not exercise or play sports. Finally, the person that a large majority of Turkish youths "most admired" was President (then-prime minister) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A “golden generation” was in the making.

Back in 2008, this columnist suggested that the Islamic headscarf should not be allowed at university campuses only, but also in kindergarten classes. Six years later, Turkey’s education heavyweights, who gather annually under the roof of the National Education Council, proposed to make “religion” (read: Sunni Islamic teachings) a mandatory course for kindergarten children, aged three to six.

The council had already recommended compulsory religion classes for first, second and third grade students, aged six to nine, defying a European Court of Human Rights ruling that compulsory religion classes in Turkey (presently taken up by fourth-grade students and higher) violated parents’ rights and must be scrapped without delay. Instead, the council recommended that human rights and democracy classes should be scrapped.

It is not surprising that teaching students about religion, but not proper science, is an inherent feature of Islamism; it is a political investment to guarantee votes from future generations for Islamist parties and it perfectly fits into the Islamist ambition to “raise devout generations.”

In Turkey’s case, the first goal seems to be attainable for the ruling state-party. The second looks a little tricky, given a visible degree of hypocrisy among the emerging ideal youth.

Turkey’s pious Muslim youth does not just turn its back on its own country, but also on other Muslim countries when it comes to learning, or - in their manifested goal - “to have access to academic excellence and find better jobs after graduation.”

The British Council’s survey showed the most preferred destinations for higher education among Turkish youth are Britain and the United States (each with 30 percent); Germany (8 percent); Canada (4 percent); France and Italy (each with 3 percent); Spain, Australia and Switzerland (each with 2 percent); and Sweden (1 percent).

These 10 overwhelmingly Christian countries account for 85 percent of Turkish students’ preferred destinations for university education. In other words, 80 percent of all Turkish students dream of having a university education in a total of 10 overwhelmingly Christian countries, with virtually no one mentioning a desire to study in a Muslim country, including their own.

Is it not amazing that it is the same youth who say they idolize Mr. Erdoğan also have a powerful wish to leave the country that their ideal leader rules?