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Islamic Political Identity in Turkey

By M. Hakan Yavuz



In November of 2002, the Justice and Development Party swept to victory in the Turkish parliamentary elections. Because of the party's Islamic roots, its electoral triumph has sparked a host of questions both in Turkey and in the West: Does the party harbor a secret Islamist agenda? Will the new government seek to overturn nearly a century of secularization stemming from Kemal Ataturk's early-twentieth-century reforms? Most fundamentally, is Islam compatible with democracy?

In this penetrating work, M. Hakan Yavuz seeks to answer these questions, and to provide a comprehensive analysis of Islamic political identity in Turkey. He begins in the early twentieth century, when Kemal Ataturk led Turkey through a process of rapid secularization and crushed Islamic opposition to his authoritarian rule. Yavuz argues that, since Ataturk's death in 1938, however, Turkey has been gradually moving away from his militant secularism and experiencing "a quiet Muslim reformation." Islamic political identity is not homogeneous, says Yavuz, but can be modern and progressive as well as conservative and potentially authoritarian. While the West has traditionally seen Kemalism as an engine for reform against "reactionary" political Islam, in fact the Kemalist establishment has traditionally used the "Islamic threat" as an excuse to avoid democratization and thus hold on to power. Yavuz offers an account of the "soft coup" of 1997, in which the Kemalist military-bureaucratic establishment overthrew the democratically elected coalition government, which was led by the pro-Islamic Refah party. He argues that the soft coup plunged Turkey into a renewed legitimacy crisis which can only be resolved by the liberalization of the political system. The book ends with a discussion of the most recent election and its implications for Turkey and the Muslim world. Yavuz argues that Islamic social movements can be important agents for promoting a democratic an d pluralistic society, and that the Turkish example holds long term promise for the rest of the Muslim world. Based on extensive fieldwork and interviews, this work offers a sophisticated new understanding of the role of political Islam in one of the world's most strategically important countries.


Abbreviations, xiii
Introduction, 3
1. Islamic Social Movements, 15
2. The Enduring Ottoman Legacy, 37
3. The Tempering of the Kemalist Revolution: The Emergence of Multiparty Politics, 59
4. The Political Economy of Islamic Discourse, 81
5. The Role of Literacy and the Media in the Islamic Movement, 103
6. The Matrix of Turkish Islamic Movements: The Naksibendi Sufi Order, 133
7. Print-Based Islamic Discourse: The Nur Movement, 151
8. The Neo-Nur Movement of Fethullah Gülen, 179
9. The National Outlook Movement and the Rise of the Refah Party, 207
10. The Securitization of Islam and the Triumph of the AKP, 239
Conclusion, 265
Appendix, 275
Notes, 277
Selected Bibliography, 317
Index, 325

Product Details

351 pages; 1 map; 6-1/8 x 9-1/4;

ISBN13: 978-0-19-516085-7

ISBN10: 0-19-516085-1

About the Author(s)

M. Hakan Yavuz is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Utah.


Editorial reviews

"...this is an excellent book and should be required reading for those interested in modern Turkey, the history and politics of Islamic activism in the Middle East, relations between Turkey and the West, and the complex negotiations between the secular, the religious, and the modern state."--Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies


"This is an important book, which not only examines the relation of Islam to politics anew and from a very different perspective but also provides a fresh look at Turkish politics. For those who are interested in state-society relations, it provides a wealth of information with historical depth of direct relevance to the theoretical discussions on the subject." --Comparative Politics

"This is the most comprehensive book I have seen on Islam in the public sphere of Turkey in recent years. Yavuz not only provides a succinct religious map of Turkey but also examines the dynamics of religious change within social and political context. His detailed study of the content and context of Islamic movements in Turkey is a major contribution. The book provides excellent connections between the opportunity spaces and shifting boundaries between Islam and secularism, public and private, and global and local." --Umit Cizre, Bilkent University, Ankara

"M. Hakan Yavuz, a leading scholar of Turkish politics, has written richly documented and valuable comprehensive analysis of Islamic social movements in Turkey . This book will becoms must-reading for both scholars and students of contemporary Islamic democratization in Turkey and the rest of the Islamic world." -- Middle East Policy Council

"For a very long time, we were accustomed to thinking that Islam in general and political Islam in particular were fundamentally opposed to the realization of the basic aims and ideals of Turkish modernization. The social and political transformations that took place in Turkey in the 1980s and the 1990s have shown, however, that far from constituting a contrary force, Islam now plays a decisive role in the success of Turkish modernization in the broader and universal sense of the term. In this important book, Hakan Yavuz explains how Islamic identity came to occupy such a central place in modern Turkey. The first hand observations and interviews with leading intellectuals and community leaders give this book an original and engaging quality that is sure to make it an indispensable source for understanding modern Turkey." --Resat Kasaba, University of Washington; author of The Ottoman Empire and the World Economy

"Professor Yavuz's sterling work illuminates recent republican Turkish history and society far more comprehensively and insightfully than do any recent works in either English or Turkish which have come to my attention. His impressive interdisciplinary research is likely to prove profoundly influential in its analysis of the increasingly important role of Islam in Turkey, and in its broader comparative scholarship for its more general theoretical and practical significance in the study of Islamic movements in other modernizing societies in the Muslim world." --Howard A. Reed, Professor of History, Emeritus, University of Connecticut; co-founder, Turkish Studies Society, Honorary Member, Turkish Historical Society



Various online reviews

Re-contextualizing Turkey
"M. Hakan Yavuz's book Islamic Political Identity in Turkey claims that the reconstitution or re-imagining of identity is not contingent upon historical context and political forces, but rather constructed by them. Islamic movements in Turkey has developed when the state liberalized, filling the space by politicizing religion and changing the terms of politics to be applicable to their context. Yavuz offers an informative and readable scholarly work, but his re-contextualization of Turkish Islamic identity ultimately muddles his constructivist claims.

The historical background for the thesis is plentiful, though not always objective. Yavuz explains that the autocratic Kemalist regime of Ataturk embarked upon a modernization and secularization program that did not impact rural, traditional identities. Indeed, the state appeared to be completely hostile to religion and its thwarting of attempts at political and religious organization in the early days of the republic. Islam was initially a way of challenging the imposed secularism of the government and it remains "a debate about the boundary of state and society, the public and private" (31). Furthermore, economic and political liberalization over the history of Turkey allowed for "opportunity spaces" where "identities and lifestyles are performed, contested, and implemented" (24). Within these spaces, mechanisms such as the modern press, educational institutions and the Internet allowed for Islamic identity construction. Islam was also, at times, used as a tool of the parties in power, such as the military in the 1980s, who developed an Islamist-Turkish synthesis. Yavuz explains that Islamic groups articulate their version of "the good life" in a constant give and take with what the state offers. He does not suggest that Islam filled the so-called opportunity spaces because of piety and ethical concerns alone -- in fact, his schema for classifying movements seems to disapprove of internally focused groups who do not make social change their objective.

Yavuz's organization of the book, particularly his introductory chapters, were helpful for advancing the framework necessary for his conclusion, with the exception of some confusing technicalities. He claims his academic work is beyond the "essentialist" and "contextualist" scholarship that preceded it but goes on to give a period by period account of the politicization of Islamic identity in Turkey. In this sense, at least the first three chapters are "contextualist." That the historical context is a crucial factor leading up to his explanation of Islamic groups is evidence that the method is useful.

Yavuz's scholarship on Turkey seemed legitimate, though he could have used a bit more theory regarding identity construction rather than interspersing it repetitively within each case study. Also the text often borders on polemic when it discusses Kemalism and Yavuz repeats the same factors in the dissemination of Islamic groups information and growth and ends up with some superfluous discussion of print in Islamic discourse. The book could have been shorter, though it is still worthy of reading if one is an academic interested in an interdisciplinary take on the evolution of Islamic groups. It might be an arduous task for a person without an academic interest in Turkey. The book would also be particularly helpful for students looking for a unique take on Turkish modernity, provided they are prepared for Yavuz's subjectivity on Kemalism.

Yavuz's depiction of Kemalism is such that the state appears homogenous and monolithic while religion is described ad nauseam as fluid and evolving. Perhaps Islam in Turkey is more open to change than the state apparatus and ideology, but it is necessary to note that the re-imagination of which Yavuz speaks also operates in response to a state-controlled, political level when the government allows for intermittent democratization. The evolution of the Kemalist state seems a closed, well-defined project when it was really a mix of policies, sometimes ad-hoc, aimed at modernization. The beginning of the program certainly had specific objectives (the "Six Arrows") which profoundly impacted some elements of Turkish society, but the irony is that the evolution of the republican establishment was instrumental in the construction of the pluralistic Islam Yavuz applauds.

Thus the most memorable element of Yavuz's entire book in my opinion was not the Islamic political movements, but rather the impact of the Ottoman state and the continuity of state tradition aimed at rationalizing and homogenizing Turkey throughout the Kemalist regime. This lends itself not so much to the conclusion that Islamic groups are beneficial for society, but that they have developed uniquely in one particular case as the result of a continual history of cooptation and exclusion by the state. When identity is defined in the same political space as such a state, the difference between causation and construction is less straightforward. As in Said Arjomand's book, the Turban for the Crown, a government-led modernizing project appears to be the nexus around which social movements come into being and evolve, whether in opposition or in filling open space delegated to them by the government.

Leading theoretical work on Islam, politics, and democracy
The illiterate readers, (considering their spelling and grammar),who gave this path breaking book negative reviews obviously have some axe to grind while lacking any graduate level training in political science or contemporary Turkish politics and society. While the bookshelves are filled with the pap produced by third rate journalist and instant pundits on Islam and politics, this contribution is a serendipitous discovery. Yavuz is the first to have conducted indepth field work on the gamut of Turkish Islamic political and social movements. He has obviously mastered the theoretical literature on political development and transitions to democracy. He applies these insights in a novel fashion in being the first Western based scholar to predict the rise of the current AKP party of PM Erdogan into power. Yavuz shows the conditions under which oppositional Islamic movements can move toward the promotion of democratic reforms and pluralism and liberalism more generally. Given the present mess in the Middle East and Iraq, the theoretical insights of this book are absolutely vital in discerning the conditions under which Islamic political and social movements may achieve compatibility with liberal democratic norms and modernity. In addition to scholars of modern Turkey and the Middle East, this book should be required reading for all American policy makers dealing with the wider region.

A promising but a weak title
The title gives you an idea of having a very promissing book, but after you read, it doesn't make any sense at all. The book is a repetition of Resat Kasaba, Nilufer Gole, John Esposito, Graham Fuller etc. So, instead of wasting $50 bucks and days of torture of reading, I would suggest to go for the scholars that are more relevant with the topic.It seems that Yavuz looks at every Islamic movement through "political" glasses even the fact Gulen and Suleymanci movements have nothing to do with it. Or seing every single movement in Turkey through Naksibendi Sufi Order mind might be because he couldn't produce any idea but stick with his PhD thesis as a promising future(!).Besides, the book was just released but it's already outdated with the fast changing pace of Turkey.The Gulen movement is not "national" and "Turkish" anymore or the RP's fast up-and-down move is not possible to explained with Yavuz's "constractivist" ideology, even he tries to cover that with AKP's success in the last chapter. He should get more help from his Pol-Sci students if he really want be a well-known scholar.

A window into Islamic movements in Turkey
Hakan Yavuz takes his reader's into a detailed journey into the largely unknown aspects of Islamic movements in Turkey. So far Islamic movements both in Turkey and elsewhere have been discussed with a bias on political movements. Yavuz' book is important in the sense that it also covers social Islamic movements, most specifically the Nurcu movement in Turkey. What I like about this book is its theoretical framework that takes on the traditional modernist perspective's dichotomous understanding of modernity and tradition. highly recommended to any student of Islam and Turkey.

Interesting and intelligent discussion on islam in Turkey
A well-crafted comprehensive look at the role of Islam in Turkey. The book offers some original and compelling explanations regarding the social transformation that Turkey has experienced since the 1980s. Specifically, the author mentions the role of opportunity spaces in the evolution of Islamic movements and ideas as a result of economic and political liberalization.I think anyone who is interested in Turkey, Islamic movements, and the relationship between Islam and modernity would get a great deal out of this book.