Plural Islamism in Plural Modernities

By Yildirim, Ergun | Insight Turkey, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Plural Islamism in Plural Modernities


Yildirim, Ergun, Insight Turkey


Islamism is an approach that emerged under the influence of political, intellectual and historical developments of the past two hundred years. Various debates, movements, acts of violence, ideologies, policies and positions surround the concept. In Turkey's political and intellectual life, too, Islamism continues to be a significant element. As both Turkey and the broader region undergoe large-scale transformation, Islamism also receives its share of change.

At a historical junction where the Arab Spring sweeps across the Islamic world, democratic Islamic movements bloom and chaos and conflict takes place, Islamism once again moves toward crucial diversification. At the same time, Turkey continues to experience a major transformation under the Justice and Development Party (JDP). All these bring up the following questions: Have we reached the end of Islamism? Is this already the time for post-Islamism? Or is a new type of Islamism emerging? These claims all bear considerable importance.

In this paper, I argue that Islamism's diversification -as opposed to its end-leads the movement to survive as pluralities that result from structural changes stemming from global and plural modernities' interaction with societies. In this context, I claim that Islamism's ideological and normative aspects have been transformed as part of the movement's historical experiences, even though a considerable part of its contents relates to ideology and an ahistoric discourse. In line with social and political organizations' pursuit of violence, poverty, challenge, reconciliation and alliance, I make the case that Islamism too is being plurally reconstructed.

The Problem of Defining Islamism: Reductionist and Exclusionary Interpretations

As debates on Islamism gain increasing visibility, Islamism in turn becomes harder to define and describe as a result of the increase in knowledge, approaches and different studies. At the same time, however, there emerges a need to develop a standard definition of Islamism to facilitate political analyses. Such clarity is needed, given that Islamism continues to influence politics, professional networks and values of those that interpret it. However, Islam's frequent association with conflict and terrorism, particularly in the post-9/11 period, as well as terrorists' frequent referencing of Islam to increase attention to their acts, has resulted in Islamism being discussed using the most exclusionary and reductionist paradigms possible.

Due to some political positions and individual agenda, it is common for observers to view Islamism using reductionist lenses. In this sense, Islamism tends to be understood as a political program, a religion's instrumentalization toward political ends, and a quest for theocratic state: "... a form of instrumentalization of Islam by individuals, groups and organizations that pursue political objectives. It provides political responses to today's societal challenges by imagining a future, the foundations for which rest on reappropriated, reinvented concepts borrowed from the Islamic tradition." (1)

The reductionist interpretation defines Islamism as an approach that assigns Islam an instrumental role in a political project. This perspective seems to dominate recent accounts by Western observers. It is a reductionist interpretation that ignores the intellectual pursuit behind the idea, reduces over two centuries of the history of the idea to just the post-Cold War period, and centers itself exclusively around its political perspective. These reductionist accounts of Islamism can be seen in the descriptions of the political goals of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and other Islamic movements that have filled the ideological void in the post-Cold War Middle East. Furthermore, these accounts see Islamism as an unchanging, normative idea.

The reductionist approach has not only solely defined Islamism as an ideological project but has also developed an exclusionary position as it also sees Islamism as an "other. …

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