The Reckoning of Pluralism: Political Belonging and the Demands of History in Turkey

The Reckoning of Pluralism: Political Belonging and the Demands of History in Turkey

The Reckoning of Pluralism: Political Belonging and the Demands of History in Turkey

The Reckoning of Pluralism: Political Belonging and the Demands of History in Turkey

Synopsis

The Turkish Republic was founded simultaneously on the ideal of universal citizenship and on acts of extraordinary exclusionary violence. Today, nearly a century later, the claims of minority communities and the politics of pluralism continue to ignite explosive debate. The Reckoning of Pluralism centers on the case of Turkey's Alevi community, a sizeable Muslim minority in a Sunni majority state. Alevis have seen their loyalty to the state questioned and experienced sectarian hostility, and yet their community is also championed by state ideologues as bearers of the nation's folkloric heritage.

Kabir Tambar offers a critical appraisal of the tensions of democratic pluralism. Rather than portraying pluralism as a governing ideal that loosens restrictions on minorities, he focuses on the forms of social inequality that it perpetuates and on the political vulnerabilities to which minority communities are thereby exposed. Alevis today are often summoned by political officials to publicly display their religious traditions, but pluralist tolerance extends only so far as these performances will validate rather than disturb historical ideologies of national governance and identity. Focused on the inherent ambivalence of this form of political incorporation, Tambar ultimately explores the intimate coupling of modern political belonging and violence, of political inclusion and domination, contained within the practices of pluralism.

Excerpt

The politics of pluralism is an oxymoron, at least within a certain imaginary of modern political community that has been dominant in Turkey for much of the past century. Within this imaginary, political communities are isomorphic with territorially circumscribed nation-states, and nation-states in turn are imagined as internally homogeneous. Whatever differences—of culture, religion, ethnicity, gender, and class—may exist within such communities, they are supposed to be sublated to a feeling of common purpose that would bind a people together in fraternity and ensure their equal treatment. Politics, in this framing, is a field of action that transcends the pluralities that would otherwise fracture a polity. It is grounded in the sense of a shared past and a collective destiny. As with many nation-states in the past two centuries, the Turkish state sought to cultivate this conception of political belonging by standardizing the language and history of the nation.

In Turkey today the issue of pluralism ignites explosive debate, particularly when it takes form in a historical register. Various social actors, organizations, and international political bodies claim that, from its founding, the Turkish state has policed the uses of language and regulated the writing of history in ways that have promoted discrimination rather than fraternity or equality. These groups denounce the forms of historical erasure, of cultural domination, and of political violence that were deemed necessary to build the nation-state. They prompt questions about the very legitimacy of the modernist project that emerged in the early twentieth century, after the collapse of the multi-religious and multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire. the Turkish Republic . . .

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