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Islamic political identity in Turkey pdf

Islamic Political Identity in Turkey
  • Book Title:
 Islamic Political Identity In Turkey
  • Book Author:
M Hakan Yavuz
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On June 28, 1996, for the Wrst time since the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Turkey’s prime minister was a leader whose avowed political philosophy and personal identity was based on Islam.

By winning 21.3 percent of the total vote, along with 158 seats in the 550-seat Parliament, the Welfare Party (RP: Refah Partisi), after intensive maneuvering, was able to form a coalition government with the True Path Party (DYP: Do;ru Yol Partisi) of Tansu Çiller.

This coalition between the pro-Islamic prime minister Necmettin Erbakan and the Europhile-secularist Çiller aptly reflected the dualistic tensions inherent in contemporary Turkish identity and held promise for the dawn of a new era in state-society interactions in Turkey.

However, this promising start at reconciling the deep social measures introduced by the radical secular reforms of Mustafa Kemal and his followers was derailed abruptly by the military-bureaucratic establishment’s “soft coup” of February 28, 1997.1 The soft coup plunged the Turkish state into a renewed legitimacy crisis.

 Not wanting to cede power to civil society, the Kemalist military-bureaucratic establishment once again had launched a counterattack against what it considered “enemies of the state,” this time focusing intensely on politically active Turkish Muslims rather than Alevis and leftists.

This Kemalist (those who espouse Mustafa Kemal’s ideas of nationalism and secularism) effort to preserve authoritarianism, however, confronts the law of diminishing returns.

The Turkish state faces the imperative of liberalizing its economy to meet global demands—a process begun under Turgut Özal (1980–1993)—and over the long term cannot avoid liberalizing its political system as well.

However, traditional Western and Turkish scholarship, overly influenced by the Republican establishment, has presented the Kemalist state elite not as authoritarian but rather as an engine for “reform” and Westernization against a recalcitrant and “reactionary” traditional Islamic society.2

Since the mid-1980s, writers such as Nilüfer Göle, 8smail Kara, 6erif Mardin, and Mete Tunçay have challenged this view, arguing that Islamic social movements are central agents for promoting a democratic and pluralistic society and that the Turkish example holds long-term promise for the rest of the Muslim world as well.

How can we account for the construction of Islamic political identity, and what does this modern construction of identity suggest for the legacy of Mustafa Kemal’s radical secularizing reforms of the 1920s and 1930s, especially since the post-1982 era of burgeoning political and economic liberalism? We begin by addressing the question of why the Islamic identity movement assumed such significance in contemporary Turkey.

I argue that Islamic idioms and practices constitute a set of social, moral, and political cognitive maps for the Muslim imagination. Three complex processes foster the modern construction of Islamic political identity in Turkey.

After the foundation of the Republic in 1923, the secularizing, state-centric elite failed effectively to penetrate and transform traditional society, and was similarly unsuccessful in developing an alternative value system and associational life for the rural population of the country.

This failure was underscored further when political and economic development inevitably raised previously muted social questions of identity, justice, and participation. Islamic social and political groups of diverse backgrounds and agendas were able to step into this vacuum and articulate viable alternative social and ethical paradigms.

These paradigms differed from those provided by official Kemalism, which hitherto had failed to supply ideas and guidance convincingly for the newly urbanized poor and the emerging Anatolian middle class. Finally, the success of the Republican elite’s policies of socioeconomic development and the subsequent shift to political and economic liberalization in the 1980s inevitably con-tributed to the political participation of hitherto excluded social groups.

In this sense, Islamic movements in Turkey are not fueled by a deep-seated rage and frustration with the authoritarian policies of the secular elites, as is the case in Algeria and Egypt. The Turkish example of Islamically oriented political and social movements committed to playing within a legal framework of democratic and pluralistic parameters points to a potential model for less-developed Muslim countries confronting Islamically based demands for social and political change.

The construction of an Islamic political identity and the emergence of the renascent Turkish-Islamic ethos raises one of the paradoxes in the study of developing countries, namely, that of a people experiencing both the processes of rapid socioeconomic development and the reimagination of religion within new political and cultural spheres.

Contrary to the expectations of earlier modernization theory, in the Turkish case secularization recast and inadvertently revitalized the very religious and cultural idioms and identities that it was sup-posed to have eliminated.3 It may be noted that Turkey is not unique in experiencing this global paradox where modernity resides in tension between the forces of orthodoxy and heterodoxy, universalism and particularism.

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