The Awakening of Turkish Society: Between Secularism and Religion/ Turk Toplumunun Uyanisi: Sekulerizm Ve Din Arasinda

By Eksi, Betul Balkan | Civilacademy Journal of Social Sciences, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Awakening of Turkish Society: Between Secularism and Religion/ Turk Toplumunun Uyanisi: Sekulerizm Ve Din Arasinda


Eksi, Betul Balkan, Civilacademy Journal of Social Sciences


Introduction

While the Western world today is mainly concerned about the radicalization of Islam and its posing a severe challenge to civil liberties as well as democratic states all over the world, the Muslim countries are confronting the bipolarities within themselves. One of the most manifest forms of the conflict in various Muslim countries today takes place between the secular and Islamic discourses. While the secular wing of the debate is oftentimes represented by the state elites, media and/or the army, the Islamic discourse best manifests itself among religious social groups and, if the chance given, in the political parties within the state structure. In a country like Turkey with a secular state and a large Muslim population, the degree of conflict and cohesion between secularism and religion needs special attention of scholars. This paper analyzes the extent to which Islam as a social phenomenon and a political tool poses a challenge to secularism that is part and parcel of Turkish Republic. I will deal with the relationship between the secular and Islamic discourses firstly by looking at the battle between them in the social sphere and then by examining the place of pro-Islamic parties in political life.

Society as the Battleground for Discourses

Secularism in Turkey starts off as the modernization project of Turkish Republic in the process of nation-building. In order to understand the rising clash between secular and Islamic discourses, it is of utmost importance to elaborate on the significance and relevance of modernization theories. Modernization theories usually force us to accept the universal definitions of things that are already determined by the West and put it out there for the use of the rest of the world. This kind of approach to modernization negates time and space dimension, and the contribution and creativity of local cultures under varying degrees of influence of the West or under no influence of it. Because such an approach suggests that modernization is closely blended with Westernization and anything outside of Western is pre-modern (Gole, Qnar), the Western-oriented modernization approach despises the alternative modernization projects that pose a challenge to the already existing modernization project in a society. Nilufer Gole argues "Distancing oneself from universalistic approaches to modernization permits one to examine the subjective construction of meaning and cultural identity" (Bozdogan, Kasaba, 1997, 81). For this reason, she calls to study the contemporary Islamic movements outside of the Eurocentric perspective. In this respect, she believes the study of contemporary Islamic movements challenges the assumed binary oppositions between tradition and modernity (Gole, 1997, 82). Like Gole, Alev Qnar too contends that "the pervasive presence of modernity in non-Western contexts is the result of neither servile imitation nor an inorganic imposition from outside or above, but rather the product of "creative adaptation" (Qnar, 2005, 2). The Turkish secularism as well as the Islamic revival, as Lewis phrases it, that poses a challenge to the former could both be considered as different modernization projects according to Qnar and Gole since Islamism like Turkish secularism attempts to transform society for the better future. Although I agree that Turkish secularism is not a mere imitation of that of the West due to its particular local features I mentioned in the preceding chapter and despite its rejection of the local cultures to a great degree, I do not believe that Islamic revivalism is an alternative modernization project. I rather suggest that Islamism in Turkey is another post-modern movement that struggles to create a room for itself among other pluralities.

Unlike Turkish secularism, Islamism, which is often regarded as in direct opposition to secularism, can not undertake to transform society as a whole owing to the heterogeneity of the Islamic movement in Turkey.

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