Islamic Political Identity in Turkey

Islamic Political Identity in Turkey

Islamic Political Identity in Turkey

Islamic Political Identity in Turkey

Synopsis

In November of 2002, the Justice and Development Party swept to victory in the Turkish parliamentary elections. Because of the party's Islamic roots, its electoral triumph has sparked a host of questions both in Turkey and in the West: Does the party harbor a secret Islamist agenda? Will the new government seek to overturn nearly a century of secularization stemming from Kemal Atatürk's early-twentieth-century reforms? Most fundamentally, is Islam compatible with democracy?

In this penetrating work, M. Hakan Yavuz seeks to answer these questions, and to provide a comprehensive analysis of Islamic political identity in Turkey. He begins in the early twentieth century, when Kemal Atatürk led Turkey through a process of rapid secularization and crushed Islamic opposition to his authoritarian rule. Yavuz argues that, since Atatürk's death in 1938, however, Turkey has been gradually moving away from his militant secularism and experiencing "a quiet Muslim reformation." Islamic political identity is not homogeneous, says Yavuz, but can be modern and progressive as well as conservative and potentially authoritarian. While the West has traditionally seen Kemalism as an engine for reform against "reactionary" political Islam, in fact the Kemalist establishment has traditionally used the "Islamic threat" as an excuse to avoid democratization and thus hold on to power. Yavuz offers an account of the "soft coup" of 1997, in which the Kemalist military-bureaucratic establishment overthrew the democratically elected coalition government, which was led by the pro-Islamic Refah party. He argues that the soft coup plunged Turkey into a renewed legitimacy crisis which can only be resolved by the liberalization of the political system. The book ends with a discussion of the most recent election and its implications for Turkey and the Muslim world.

Yavuz argues that Islamic social movements can be important agents for promoting a democratic and pluralistic society, and that the Turkish example holds long term promise for the rest of the Muslim world. Based on extensive fieldwork and interviews, this work offers a sophisticated new understanding of the role of political Islam in one of the world's most strategically important countries.

Excerpt

Having grown up in a small town in Turkey's Black Sea region, I have been disturbed by the negative accounts of Islam and Islamic movements frequently encountered among the Turkish Republican elite and also in some Western intellectual forums because my understanding of Islam and its role in Turkish society has been very different. In rural and provincial Turkey, dominant religious organizations and ritual activity were shaped by the Nakşibendi Sufi order, although in my hometown of Bayburt they were shaped by the Nur movement. In Bayburt, the small shops around the main public square, known as Saat Kulesi Meydan1, hosted the reading circles of the devotees of the founder of the Nur movement, Said Nursi. One often would see the "red books" (k1rm1z1 kitaplar) of Nursi in the hands of shop owners or state employees who came to chat in these shops. They were not only centers of trade but also places of ideas and discussion. People would open the books of Nursi and start to read, interpret, and debate. The debate eventually would move to totally different topics of discussion, but the idioms tended to be similar. I realized that this version of Islam and the eclectic teaching of Nursi often served for the townsmen as a philosophy of everyday life. My curiosity never died down, and I always wondered: Why Islam and this particular tradition? Could the Muslims of Turkey meaningfully discuss and engage in social, ethical, and political issues if they did not seem to share this common religious and cultural idiom? Could there be a social consensus outside Islam in modern Turkey? How did these fairly typical lower-middle-class provincial citizens reconcile their attachment to their religious traditions with their loyalty and devotion to the modern Turkish Republic and its political and military leaders, who often represented an ideological antithesis?

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