Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement

Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement

Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement

Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement


Throughout the Middle East, the clash between Islamic forces and authoritarian states has undermined many democratization efforts. But in Turkey, Islamic actors- from the Gülen movement to the pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party- have been able to negotiate the terms of secular liberal democracy. This book explores the socio-political conditions and cultural venues in which Islamic movements cease to confront and start to cooperate with secular states.

Though both the Gülen and JP have ambivalent attitudes toward individual freedoms and various aspects of civil society, their continuing engagements with the state have encouraged democracy in Turkey. As they contest issues of education and morality but cooperate in ethnic and gender politics, they redraw the boundaries between public sites and private lives. Showing opportunities for engagement between Islam and the state, from Turkey to Kazakhstan to the United States, Between Islam and the State illustrates a successful means of negotiating between religion and politics.


During the NATO summit in Istanbul in June 2004, downtown city life was incapacitated, and most offices were closed due to the blocked traffic. the shutdown—conducted by the Turkish military and the police backed up by American air forces—was primarily a safety precaution against the perceived threat of what was being called “global Islamic terror.” My neighborhood in Istanbul, Teşvikiye, where most of my family lives, was less than a mile from the nato summit meeting. During those days, I spent a good deal of time watching the American aircraft and chatting with local people who crowded the Euro-cafés of Teşvikiye. the usual small talk on fashion, leisure and Istanbul life seemed to be replaced by heated discussions of Turkey's potential membership in the European Union and which role the Islamic party in government was to play in that process.

During the summit meeting, Tayyip Erdoğan, the pro-Islamic Prime Minister of Turkey, and the President of the United States, George Bush, shook hands and spoke on friendly terms. Bush looked at the picture on the wall of the founding father of the secular Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and commented: “Very elegant man.” Dressed similar to Atatürk in a Western-style two-piece suit, Erdoğan replied: “He is our leader.” During the summit, the neighborhood hosted political leaders from across the world and local actors in close proximity, debating and negotiating the future of Turkish society and polity. What was Turkey's role going to be in the world order? As a Muslim majority state with an authoritarian secular state tradition and a procedurally functional yet illiberal democracy, which direction would Turkey go? How was one to make sense of the current pro-Islamic government that, as the secular founders of Turkey did eight decades ago, was engaging Western democracies rather than the Middle East?

Upon the fall of the Soviet Union, Islam began to be singled out as the new source of fear in world politics. However, contrary to the expansion of . . .

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