Ottoman Ulema, Turkish Republic: Agents of Change and Guardians of Tradition

By Amit Bein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
Ottoman Memories,
Republican Realities

The end of World War II signaled the beginning of a period of major political change in Turkey. On the backdrop of Turkey’s efforts to secure American backing during the early years of the Cold War, the RPP government felt compelled to implement measures of democratization and liberalization that gradually brought to an end its long one-party rule. The restrictive secularist policies of the interwar period also had to be at least moderated if Turkey was to be accepted as a card-carrying member of the Free World, which was, after all, led by a nation that contrasted its trust in God with the godlessness of Communism. In Turkey, the volatile international situation and the anxieties it engendered fueled, for the first time, official campaigns against an alleged internal “red danger.” The new political circumstances of the time, which included the transition to democracy and attacks on the Communists’ atheism—opened new public spaces for those from religiously conservative circles who had been silenced and often ignored since the mid-1920s. In this context, the desirable form of secularism in a democratic regime and the future of Islamic institutions in the republic became topics of heated controversy. The urgency and liveliness of these debates, and the range of new possibilities that appeared to be opening, bore resemblance in some respects to the periods that followed the Young Turk Revolution in 1908 and the end of CUP rule in late 1918. Just like at these earlier junctures, it appeared quite clear that state and society were about to be taking a new turn in their history, but it remained uncertain in what direction and under whose leadership and terms.

The post-World War II period was also a time of accelerating generational shifts in Turkish politics and public life. The generation that came of age around the time of the Young Turk Revolution began giving

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