Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Towards an Islamic Liberalism? the Nurcu Movement and Fethullah Gulen

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Towards an Islamic Liberalism? the Nurcu Movement and Fethullah Gulen

Article excerpt

Often, analysis of Turkish politics and society concentrates on the polarization between political Islam as represented by the Welfare (Refah) and Virtue (Fazilet) Parties, and the secularist Kernalism of the state establishment and the military. This article concentrates on the experience of an Islamic-based movement which has sought to combine a modern interpretation of Islam with Turkish nationalism and statism. The article examines the original Nurcu movement of Said Nursi and the "neo-Nurcu" movement of Fethullah Gailen. The latter is an important force, with its network of schools in Turkey and in Central Asia and the Balkans, and its powerful presence in the media.

Turkey's political arena is fragmented along ethnic and religious lines, and by refusing to open new spaces for diverse societal forces, the Kemalist state has narrowed its social and political legitimacy. Its major instruments for maintaining a sense of "nationhood" are either fear or favor. The state-invented fear of the "Sevres syndrome," that the West is about to partition the country, is creating an aggressive Turkish nationalism. I In order to keep its hegemonic ideology and institutions intact, the state represents Islamic and Kurdish challenges as enemies of the nation. The state favors and supports only those groups that closely adhere to its Kemalist ideology. Despite these exclusionary and delegitimizing efforts, a gradual yet profound social transformation has been taking place at the grassroots level as a result of the emergence of new alternative social, cultural and economic public spaces. The late President Turgut Ozal's (Prime Minister 1983-89, President 1989-93) economic and political liberalization accelerated the formation and expansion of such spaces. The Muslim groups have used these alternative spaces to create their own "parallel society" to attract culturally and economically excluded groups. For instance, deregulation of broadcasting has empowered Islamic voices to express themselves on diverse radio stations, television channels, magazines and newspapers. Moreover, a growing Anatolian bourgeoisie, commonly called Anatolian "tigers," has formed its own association, called Mastakil Sanayici ve if Adamlari Dernegi (Independent Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, Mi@SIAD).2 New alternative spaces, such as MU SIAD and the new TV stations, have served to empower Islamic groups in Turkey.

Turkey's future depends on these alternative public spaces and the consciousness they help to raise, to shape everyday life. By analyzing the dynamics of these networks, one can predict the orientation of Turkish domestic and foreign policy. Briefly stated, there is no stable and democratic future for Turkey if its dynamic voices are excluded from politics. This article will argue that Islam in Turkey operates as a source of social stability and a motivational force rather than as a radical political project. It begins by arguing that religious ideas are not fixed in practice but are protean and open to change, by examining the sources and the context of the Nurcu movement, a religio-social movement that takes its name from its founder, Said Nursi (1873-1960).3 The case of Said Nursi illustrates the ability of religious traditions to absorb global discourses of democracy, human rights and the market economy. Second, the article will examine the evolution of Fethullah Gulen's neo-Nurcu community, focusing on the new modus vivendi between Islam and the Kemalist legacy. This section further points to the limits of religious solidarity and the rising power of nationalism in Turkey. Finally, the article will examine the transformation and fragmentation of the Nurcu community along ethnic and class lines to illustrate the contextual and relational nature of Islamic identity.

THE LIFE OF SAID NURSI Said Nursi, who wrote several volumes of Qur'anic exegesis, known as the Risale-i Nur Kulliyatt (The Epistles of Light), was the founder of the most powerful text-based faith movement active in Turkey. …

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