Yankee need not go home

Yankee need not go home

As I was revising my American government and politics syllabus for the Sabanci University Summer School class, a seasoned colleague chimed in with a comment: “it is way too American, you need to make adjustments for Turkish students, remember the levels of anti-Americanism in Turkey?” Yes, I replied, of course I remember. My American foreign policy class has a whole section on different types of anti-Americanism for that reason. So I decided I needed to do a quick survey amongst Turkish academics and pundits from different fields, as well as international educators to see what the Turkish college students need. As you will see, a simple twist of faith provided me with refreshed memories that my all-American syllabus should stay all-American.

Some of my friends suggested I should underline the difference between the presidential and parliamentary systems, because that was the main issue. Then, several colleagues suggested I should explain the CIA every time I mentioned intelligence agencies. The CIA was only one of many, but one colleague raised his voice and said: “Damn it! All that really matters is the CIA.” Another friend suggested I was trying to Americanize the Turkish student body. She was adamant that I could not sell this American propaganda in Turkish schools. I looked at my syllabus again, (My syllabus is online, for the awfully curious), the president, the congress, the Supreme Court, it read, and the Constitution. She scorned at me, saying: “What are you trying to do? Soon they will be questioning abortion, prohibition and slavery.” Just as I was about to give up and rewrite the whole syllabus, I was saved by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. I must extend my personal heartfelt thanks to him for this coincidence. After Erdoğan made his now very famous statement on abortion, “abortion is murder,” I decided I needed to keep my syllabus as was, because in no time everyone in Turkey would be commenting about American abortion laws.

I would strongly urge all social science faculties to offer “American government” classes as one of the core courses. Turkish students are in desperate need of it. For one, there is very high level of misinformation. Even on the part of expats who have lived in the U.S. you can hear wild and unrealistic statements on the U.S. The issue is that the depth of interest and the level of knowledge do not match. America remains a mystery. What America is, what America does, what America represents is of great interest to the Turkish public. Therefore, we need at least to give a better chance to understand how America functions, the ideas America was based upon, and the process that produces the decisions of American foreign policy.

There are so many topics in the current Turkish political platform that have a resemblance to those of the U.S. that we cannot help but yearn to know more about the U.S. For now, it is the constitution and federalism. The United States has a very short constitution which has survived for centuries. It also has a federalist system that is very difficult for many Turks to accept. Next are the issues - from abortion to alcohol bans, from the way the Supreme Court functions to term limits - much talked about but little properly understood in the Turkish media. Most U.S. laws are reported out of context, which presents a false picture of the U.S. in Turkey.

Therefore, if Turks are so interested in all things American, it is only fair that they first educate an elite that can understand the nooks and crannies of the U.S. system. Just to be the devil’s advocate then, I would suggest that the “Yankee go home” slogan should be altered to “Yankee need not go home, but rather should be studied.” Particularly at a time when the U.S. is shifting its focus to the Pacific, we are hearing criticism of its absence in Syria. I was perplexed to hear so many Turks expressing the desire to see American boots on Syrian soil. Maybe the new slogan that no one dares to scream is: “Yankee, please do not go home.”