TURKEY: Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement

By Toprak, Binnaz | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

TURKEY: Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement


Toprak, Binnaz, The Middle East Journal


TURKEY Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement, by Berna Turam. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007. xi + 164 pages. Notes to p. 200. Bibl. to p. 216. Index to p. 223. $21.95 paper.

Reviewed by Binnaz Toprak

Berna Turam's book is one of the best to have been published recently on the interaction between Islam and the secular state in Turkey. Although Turam, in her conclusion, does discuss the wider context of democratization in the Middle East, her study stands as an excellent analysis of what one might call "Turkish exceptionalism." As such, it is must reading for anyone who wishes to understand contemporary Turkey and the implications of the Turkish experience for omer Muslim-majority countries.

Between Islam and the State is an ethnographic study that takes up the Gülen movement and the Justice and Development Party (JDP) to illustrate an emerging new style that is superseding the historically conflictual relationship between Islam and the secular state. Being careful not to take sides in the long-standing conflict between the "Islamists" and the "laicists" in Turkey, Turam brilliantly demonstrates how Islamic actors contest, negotiate, or cooperate with the state in "everyday encounters" that, in turn, have radically transformed both Islamism and the official state ideology of Kemalism. She argues that this new style, which she calls "the politics of engagement," has not only opened up space for moderate Islamists to integrate into the system, thus preventing the radicalization of me movement, but also has helped further the process of democratization in Turkey. She is careful to point out, as anyone familiar with Turkey should, that the emerging modus vivendi is partial. Witness, for example, the reemergence of conflictual politics regarding the issue of the 2007 presidential election, which has led major newspapers in the West to talk about "two Turkeys."

Turam is also careful to point out mat the seeming commitment to liberal democracy of the Giilen movement and the JDP should be approached with caution, as it is unclear whether either has a deep understanding of individual freedoms. During her research of the Giilen movement, for example, what struck her most was the movement's "public sites of display" versus the private realm. Whereas the movement portrays its public image in its discourses as toleration, pluralism, and gender equality and does indeed organize mixed-gender meetings, the women in these public sites are mostly "outsiders" whereas insider women are given, and have internalized, the "duty as housewives and mothers" and engage only in activities that are removed from power positions. …

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