Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement

By Kanci, Tuba | Insight Turkey, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement


Kanci, Tuba, Insight Turkey


Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement

By Berna Turam

Stanford University Press, 2007, 223 pp., ISBN 0804755019

In the aftermath of 9/11, relations between Islam and the secular state have increasingly become a matter of scholarly interest. Between Islam and the State is one of the many recent studies analyzing state-Islam relations, in this instance focusing on the Turkish case. In this insightful piece of political ethnography, Berna Turam argues that everyday interactions between "Islamic" actors and the state have resulted in vertical networks which provide linkages between these two sides. In addition to actualizing an increasingly non-confrontational relationship between Islamic and state actors, these networks have also led to mutual changes on both sides that are oriented toward democratization. Regarding the Islamic actors, Turam focuses both on the Gulen movement, which is the largest Islamic movement in Turkey with international networks and influence, and on the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, or AKP), which has been the ruling party since the 2002 general elections. Although there is no direct overlap between the movement and the party, Turam notes, they share a cooperative attitude toward the state.

Turam defines "engagement" as everyday interactions "ranging from contestation and negotiation to accommodation, cooperation and alliance" (p. 13). The first chapter of her book introduces the Islamic actors and a concept of civil society drawn from de Tocqueville. The following chapter, after providing a brief overview of state-Islam relations in late Ottoman and Republican times, discusses the Gulen movement and its encounters with the state in general. Chapter 3 concentrates on the schools and universities founded and administered by the movement both in Turkey and abroad. The focuses of chapters 4 and 5 are the nationalist policies of the movement in the Central Asian Turkic republics, and the patriarchal gender order of the movement, respectively. An analysis of the AKP and its engagements with the state actors constitutes the sixth chapter. Turam's concluding chapter discusses the pros and cons of promoting the "Turkish model," and argues that Turkey's is a historically contingent and contextually specific case.

Turam, drawing on the work of Joel Migdal, conceptualizes the state as "a multi-layered social organization made up of branches, officials, offices and diverse agendas" (p. 11). It is considered an everyday actor rather than a monolith abstract. Accordingly, neither the state nor the Islamic movements are regarded as homogenous. This is indeed one of the major strengths of the book; neither the state nor the Islamic movements are reified in a monolith category. However, Turam pays insufficient attention to the state, providing little information on the part of state actors in the everyday engagements she describes. Instead, Turam focuses extensively on the Gulen movement. Looking into the various aspects of the movement's undertakings, such as education, gender issues, and ethnic and international politics, she argues that the movement forms "window sites" both in Turkey and abroad in order to "exhibit the movement's civic goals" (p. 57). These window sites are the "planned beneficiary activities and project-based civil society action" which are engineered by the movement to "ensure transparency and accountability, both to the public and to the state" (ibid). Turam's participatory observations show that these undertakings differ from the lives of the movement's followers in the private sphere, i.e. the homes and the dorms. She posits that trying to "revive Islam under secular democratic political institutions" has brought about this new compartmentalization of faith-based activities (p. 29).

The engineering of window sites and the compartmentalization of faith-based activities in and by itself does not necessarily yield cooperation with the state. …

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