Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks

Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks

Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks

Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks


Turkey has leapt to international prominence as an economic and political powerhouse under its elected Muslim government, and is looked on by many as a model for other Muslim countries in the wake of the Arab Spring. This book reveals how Turkish national identity and the meanings of Islam and secularism have undergone radical changes in today's Turkey, and asks whether the Turkish model should be viewed as a success story or cautionary tale.

Jenny White shows how Turkey's Muslim elites have mounted a powerful political and economic challenge to the country's secularists, developing an alternative definition of the nation based on a nostalgic revival of Turkey's Ottoman past. These Muslim nationalists have pushed aside the Republican ideal of a nation defined by purity of blood, language, and culture. They see no contradiction in pious Muslims running a secular state, and increasingly express their Muslim identity through participation in economic networks and a lifestyle of Islamic fashion and leisure. For many younger Turks, religious and national identities, like commodities, have become objects of choice and forms of personal expression.

This provocative book traces how Muslim nationalists blur the line between the secular and the Islamic, supporting globalization and political liberalism, yet remaining mired in authoritarianism, intolerance, and cultural norms hostile to minorities and women.


Soon after my arrival in Turkey in January 2008 for a year’s research stay, the country was abuzz about a group of twenty high school students from the city of Kirşehir in central Anatolia that had painted a Turkish flag with their own blood—a broad red field about eighteen inches wide, with a white sickle moon and star at center. The students had presented it to Turkey’s top military chief, General Yaşar Büyükanıt, as a gift to commemorate the deaths of twelve soldiers killed in clashes with Kurdish separatist PKK guerrillas two months earlier. The general displayed the flag to journalists and praised the students, pointing out that not only had they made a flag of their blood but had also given him a petition to “please take us immediately as soldiers.” “This is the kind of nation we are,” he said, visibly moved. “We are a great nation. Truly our martyrs have died for a holy purpose. That holy purpose is to protect the country we live in as one and undivided.” The young people, boys and girls, posed with the framed flag for an adoring media, and the right-wing newspaper Tercüman distributed promotional copies of the blood-flag to its readers.

Some voices in the media expressed qualms about the potential health risks— the children, after all, had injured themselves, drawing blood from their fingers with pins. A few protested on moral grounds. Psychologist Serdar Değirmencioğlu pointed out that “in countries where militarism is intense, blood is not seen as something to be treated carefully, but something to be spilt.” Political scientist Baskın Oran argued that it was dangerous to condition children in primary school to believe that the Turkish nation is based on bloodlines. “We saw the recent attacks by young people directed at Christian priests,” he added, drawing a parallel between Turkish blood and Muslim identity. In her column in the centrist newspaper Radikal, journalist and writer Perihan Mağden condemned the general’s approval of the blood-flag and the “militarist, war-mongering and violent atmosphere” that had inspired the children’s act. Another journalist, Ece Temelkuran, wrote in Milliyet, “If only this noise, which makes flags out of children and dead children out of flags, would end.”

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