Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

TURKEY: Nostalgia for the Modern: State Secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

TURKEY: Nostalgia for the Modern: State Secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey

Article excerpt

TURKEY Nostalgia for the Modern: State secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey, by Esra Ozyiirek. Durham, NC and London, UK: Duke University Press, 2006. xi + 182 pages. Notes to p. 198. Bibl. to p. 216. Index to p. 227. $74.95 cloth; $21.95 paper.

Reviewed by Jenny B. White

In her book Nostalgia for the Modern, Esra Özyürek grapples with the political and social uses of nostalgia and memory. The author argues that, as a result of the neoliberal economic policies of the 1980s, contemporary Turkish citizens have developed a new relationship to the state. According to Özyürek, the past relationship had been based on a paternalistic, authoritarian, governmentorchestrated identity that was modern and secular. As a result, citizens had the experience of a synchronous, collective national identity requiring obedience and respect for the symbols and rituals of the state.

Özyürek argues that Turkish citizens' new relationship to the state is based on individual choice, emotional connection, and voluntarism - something she calls neo-Kemalism. Citizens have become individuals who carry symbols of the state voluntarily into their homes, make them part of their personal narratives, and express nostalgic, emotional attachments to national principles. These principles are embedded in symbolic commercial artifacts, the life histories of early Republican families, public exhibits of their lifestyles, national festivals organized by civil society instead of stateorchestrated rituals, and the consumption of pictures of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic, which show him as a human being, rather than a stern, mythical figure.

Özyürek makes the excellent point that, while this new relationship to the state appears to be an expression of the popular will and is experienced by individuals as free choice and free association, in actual fact it continues to reflect official state ideology. This becomes clear when she analyzes what and who is left out of the festivals and discourse. Devout Muslims, ethnic minorities - anyone considered outside the official ideological definition of modern, secular citizen - continue to be excluded and, at times, explicitly silenced. The new element of free choice and voluntarism, however, makes this appear to be the will of the people, not state ideology. She also describes the oppositional use of nostalgia and rituals by Islamists who are producing revisionist versions of early Republican life. This is an important book that will undoubtedly become a classic analysis of modern Turkey.

Yet, the author's compelling argument is only marginally contextualized historically, socially, and politically. …

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