The Impact of Globalization on Islamic Political Identity: The Case of Turkey

Article excerpt

When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the general elections held in November 2002 in a landslide and consequently formed a single-party government, Turkey became the first democratic Muslim nation to be governed by a party with roots in political Islam. Although the political Islamic movement in most other Muslim countries was pushed to the sidelines, Turkey, despite its democratic deficiencies, was able to co-opt the Islamists. Turkey was able to allow Islamists participation in politics due to its staunchly secularist state ideology. Although the AKP's rise to power was not without skeptics who believed this amounted to a victory of fundamentalist forces, international and Western political centers and financial markets reacted surprisingly positively to the election results and viewed the new government as promising stability. It was indeed due to this international confidence that political Islamists were tolerated within the domestic system.

Rapprochement between Turkish Islamists and the Western world has emerged, featuring increased positive interaction between the two. The meaning of the West, as well as global institutions, has changed in the Islamist political vocabulary; instead of viewing global politics as a zone of civilizational wars, Islamists have started to see integration within global and regional institutions as a golden opportunity to expand their interests. Turkey's religiously oriented societal actors are eagerly interested in utilizing the opportunities presented by globalization rather than assuming a defensive or offensive posture against it. Islamists have benefited from this process to mobilize themselves and exert their presence as economic, political, and social actors on the global level. The outcome of this process of interaction between Islamic forces and the outside world has been transformation of their entire set of perceptions.

The article examines the emergence of a new Islamic political language within the context of domestic liberalization and globalization. It argues that identity transformation of Islamic social actors in Turkey has become possible through a process whereby their upward social mobilization is accompanied by participatory institutions both at the domestic and global levels. The rapid mobilization of Turkish societal forces, which were traditionally on the periphery of the political and economic system, coincided with the political and economic liberalization of the domestic system. Turkey's limited participation in the European integration process has provided further opportunities for societal forces to expand their political and economic interests, aiding and softening the process of upward social mobilization. Turkish Islamism has emerged as the language of rapidly mobilizing societal forces seeking further opportunities in the global marketplace to become a force of modernization and Westernization. Through a modification of Huntington's model of political institutionalization, this article examines the structural conditions of identity transformation. In so doing, it proposes a research agenda to examine impact of globalization on Islamic identity with relevance to other cases in the Islamic world.


Globalization is often studied, under neoliberal lenses, exclusively with reference to its impact on market transactions and market-state relations. In this view, globalization empowers international markets at the expense of state power, eventually creating a borderless world. (1) What is often neglected in this description, however, is the impact of globalization on social relations and social identities, particularly in the developing world. As Jan Aart Scholte explains, globalization describes a process, whereby "social relations become less tied to territorial frameworks," and "territorial distance and territorial borders hold limited significance in these circumstances. …