|ISLAM AND POST-MODERNISM: LOCATING THE RISE OF ISLAMISM IN TURKEY, PART-2|
|Published by tislam|
|Saturday, 10 December 2011 22:36|
ISLAM, STATE AND DEMOCRATIC TRANSITIONS IN TURKEY
With the transition to a multi-party system in 1946, the above Islamic groups and individual leaders formed covert and overt alliances with the ruling centre-right Democratic Party (1950–60). During this period, the regime provided certain concessions to the religious demands of the periphery as part of a strategy to incorporate the rural masses and stay in power. One of the most important religious concessions was to re-open the imam–hatip schools that were closed down in 1933. Within a very short time, the number of imam–hatip schools skyrocketed: in 1951 there were only 7 imam–hatip schools, yet by 2001 Turkey had 604 ‘middle’ and 558 ‘high’ imam–hatip schools. Not surprisingly, enrolment in these institutions also increased from 876 (‘middle’) and 889 (‘high’) students in 1951, to 219,890 and 134,224 respectively in 1999.
In the same period, the number of teachers rose from 27 to 15,922.Contrary to the original intention of the Kemalist republican regime, the imam–hatip high schools developed from being strictly vocational schools for training preachers into an alternative educational system in which pupils attended both religious and secular courses while redefining an identity at odds with the official, state-imposed one. Indeed, these schools played a critical role in the Islamicization of Turkish society and the state. In time, this generation of imam–hatip graduates came to occupy important public positions, constituting a religious middle class capable of competing with the secularist intelligentsia in economic, cultural and political realms. In a country where intellectuals had previously been equated with the left, the emergence of this new avowedly Muslim intelligentsia would be a significant element in the construction of Islamism as a hegemonic alternative. Soon these schools became the main source of tension between the Kemalist army and Islamist parties. Having forced Erbakan, chief of the Welfare Party and the then-Prime Minister of Turkey, out of office in 1997, the military controlled NSG
(National Security Guard) swiftly introduced a draconian law that significantly curtailed the opportunities of imam–hatip graduates to attend a normal university courses. As a result only 2000 students applied to these schools in 1997, compared with 35,000 in 1995. The number of students decreased from 396,677 in 1998 to 71,583 in 2002. With the incorporation of civil liberties provisions in the 1961 constitution, these and other Islamist orientated groups began to operate legally (though their activities were still technically banned). The Islamists invested most of their efforts during the 1960s in three domains: education, organization, and publishing. In the late 1960s there emerged the first Islamist party: the National Outlook Movement, or Milli Goruz. However, until Necmettin Erbakan established the National Order Party (soon renamed the National Salvation Party or NSP), in January 1970, Islamists either formed conservative factions in a centreright party or remained underground. With the NSP, the Islamists had for the first time an autonomous party organization through which they could campaign for their agenda. NSP established itself as the party of the urban poor and the provincial middle class, becoming a permanent, although by no means dominant, fixture in parliament during the 1970s. In addition, a major boost to the expansion of associations and foundations came during the leadership of Turgut Ozal (1983–93) and helped to give the Islamic groups public visibility. Thus, between 1980 and 1995, a total of 39,369 new associations were established, compared with only 24,272 in the entire period from 1926 to 1980. A good number of them are associated with Islamic religious organizations. At this juncture it is important to mention that owing to an uneven pattern of development, a characteristic of many Third World countries, Turkey witnessed a major demographic transformation in terms of mass migration to urban cities during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1950, only 25 percent of the population lived in cities; by 1993, this figure had increased to 59 percent. As the state failed to provide the necessary services and support (housing, safe drinking water, medical facilities, roads, electricity etc.), the low income migrants built squatter housing or gecekondu (‘built overnight’), illegally occupied state land without construction permits. As a result, over 70 percent of the population of Ankara resides in squatter housing; the figure is 55 percent for Istanbul, Izmir, and Adana and 40 percent in the case of Erzurum and Samsun. In 1985, 30 percent of the total urban population lived in the gecekondu of the shanty towns.27 Soon these areas became important centres for political parties seeking to mobilize their support. Additionally, the trend of migration to cities decisively affected the composition of Turkish national bureaucracy, which had so far been dominated by ex-Ottomans, mostly immigrants from the Balkans. Gradually the central Anatolian Turks, who remained more committed to religious traditions and customs, came to be over-represented in the national bureaucracy and indirectly helped in the weakening of the secular hegemony of the Turkish Republic. Islamic political movements have flourished in these squatter towns, which in the 1970s were breeding grounds for left-wing movements. Part of the reason for the success of Islamic organizations, mostly affiliated either to the NakZibendi or the Nurcu tradition, lies in their provision of cheap and free social, educational and medical services and support for the urban poor. Within the shanty towns, Islamic rites and teachings are reinterpreted in these new conditions to provide the cognitive means to understand the social and political world of an unfamiliar and unsettling urban life. In this context, Muslims use Islam as a medium of communicating standards of meaningful conduct and a repository of traditions that can regulate everyday life. One example of the growing acceptance and public assertion of Islamic institutions and norms is that between 1973 and 1999, the number of mosques sharply increased from 45,152 to 75,000 and thus punctuated Turkey’s landscape.
The 1980 military coup was a turning point in the state’s relation to Islam. The military government used Sunni Islamic symbols and organizational resources to crush the challenges from the left as well as to enhance its legitimacy within Turkish society. The regime of 1980– 83 persecuted anyone who had been involved with any socialist or social democratic organization or party in the 1960s and the 1970s. Large numbers of intellectuals, students, artists, and politicians who had taken part in left-wing politics were imprisoned for long periods. A total of 650,000 people were arrested; 1,683,000 cases were prepared; and 517 people were sentenced to death, although only 49 of the sentences were carried out. In addition, 30,000 people were fired from their jobs for holding objectionable political views, 14,000 had their Turkish citizenship revoked, and 667 associations and foundations were banned. The military government thus effectively liquidated the left-of-centre organizations, eradicated their patronage networks in the major gecekondu districts of the metropolitan areas and their rural offshoots, and thus rendered the left incapable of mobilizing the masses for a long time to come. This situation provided the opportunity for the Islamists and ethnic Kurd nationalists to fill the political space vacated by the left. Simultaneously the ruling bloc initiated a series of controlled religious concessions to Sunni Islamic groups who were afforded increased public visibility, under the protection of the state. During the coup the regime produced a three-volume work, Ataturkculuk (Ataturkism), in order to demonstrate the compatibility of Islam and Kemalism. The definition of ‘Turkishness’ in the 1982 Constitution included unprecedented references to Islam. Further, the same constitution (Art. 24) brought the provision of compulsory religious and moral education in the country’s elementary and secondary schools under the supervision and control of the state. These concessions, along with the slogan ‘the best Turk is a Muslim Turk, the best Muslim is a Turkish Muslim’ were turned into a state strategy to contain and defuse the appeal of the left, the Iranian Revolution and of socially radical Islamism at home. In effect, the 1980 coup leaders emphasized for the first time on an official level that the religious component of the nation and state was important and worthy of respect. The alliance between nationalism and Islam is what differentiated the 1980 coup from previous military interventions.
Following the first parliamentary election in 1983 after the coup, Turgut Ozal’s Motherland Party (ANAP) came to power. Ozal served as prime minister between 1983 and 1989 and then as president from 1989 until his death in office in 1993. One of the most far-reaching legacies of the Ozal years was the official legitimization of radically new perspectives on the role of Islam and the Ottoman heritage in contemporary Turkish society. His minister of education, Vehbi Dinc¸erler, a known NakZibendi disciple, prepared a new curriculum focused on rewriting the presentation of national history and culture. In the new curriculum, the term ‘national’ (milli) was often used in a religious sense. In addition, Ozal was the first Prime Minister of the Republic era to make the pilgrimage to Makka and to be open about his religious practices. Another significant legacy of Ozal’s rule was his policy of economic liberalism that opened the Turkish economy to wider competition, both from within and from outside. The economy had so far been dominated by the Kemalist national oligarchic bourgeoisie (Association of Turkish
Industrialists and Businessmen, TU¨ S5AD) who enjoyed state patronage.
The main support for a market economy came from small-scale provincial business owners and the petit bourgeoisie of the larger cities. This petit bourgeoisie consists of peddlers, dealers, small constructors, restaurant owners, small industrialists, textile factory owners and food processors. This sector finds in Islamic symbols and ethics useful weapons for fomenting public opinion against state regulation of the economy and against the big industrialists who enjoy state patronage. The Ozal government also supported the small and medium size producers in overcoming opposition from TUSAD. The lucrative trade and large remittances by Turkish workers in the Gulf countries following the oil boom of the 1970s also helped this sector of society to consolidate the gains made through the market economy. In 1983 the Ozal government provided legal grounds for charitable donations to be used for religious purposes in Turkey. The government introduced tax reforms that exempted financial institutions which operated according to Islamic principles forbidding interest payments. Soon the provincial bourgeois—or the ‘Anatolian tigers’—became visible on the national map of Turkey, forming the Istanbul-based Independent Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (Mustakil Sanayici ve Zadamlari Derneg˘ i), with branches in 41 Turkish cities to oppose the rival group, TU¨ S5AD, and big business in general. MUSAD’s literature enthusiastically promotes the virtues of free market capitalism. It has produced an Islamic economic manifesto that is derived from its booklet, Homo Islamicus. According to a report there are more than 4,000 pro-Islamic corporations in Turkey; about 203 out of 385 major corporations are owned by interests aligned with Fethullah
Gulen.The next generation of Muslim economic actors also are shaping a new social and cultural landscape in Turkey through Islamic literature, television stations, newspapers and an Islamic conception of leisure. In short, as a result of economic policies during the 1980s, two distinct bourgeoisies have emerged in Turkey. Not only do they compete over market share, but, more importantly, they compete over the country’s ideological and cultural orientation. The new Anatolian bourgeoisie is less dependent on the state and more embedded in Turkish–Islamic culture and demands a limited government, larger political space and freedom for civil society.
It was in the aforementioned context that during the 1980s the Islamists won the economically backward regions like Central Anatolia, the Black Sea region and (especially) the East, not only by glorifying religious values—in a way that the centre-right has always done in Turkey—but also by integrating the ex-provincial masses into the expanding urban centres, transforming the cities themselves in the process. Additionally, they worked more consistently for the integration of Central Anatolian capitalists into world markets. However the Islamic capitalists who benefited from the liberal policies of the 1980s represent only one privileged section of the broader Islamic movement in Turkey.
In the long term, the structural adjustment policies of the Ozal government did not solve Turkey’s chronic inflation (which hovered around 70 percent in the late 1980s and early 90s), high interest rates or mounting external debt (which had reached US$70 billion by 2000). This became a major source of tension in the interpretation of Islamism in relation to issues of social justice, equity and economic redistribution. Thus those who benefited, such as the NakZibendi and Nurcu groups, supported parties of the centre-right (ANAP and DYP) that favour economically liberal policies and stress a cultural and ethical Islam, as opposed to a more overtly political one. On the other hand, those who bore the negative brunt of the 1980s economic policies tended to support the RP of Erbakan because it allowed for social mobility through Islam and stressed a platform of social justice and state-led economic redistribution. Notwithstanding this internal division within the Islamic groups, this was the decade when a fully mature and intellectually sophisticated Islamist discourse took over the intellectual leadership of the periphery at the expense of the secular nationalist intelligentsia. As a result the Islamists emerged as the dominant force in the 1990s.
The Islamic Welfare Party (Refah) scored an impressive victory in the municipal elections in 1994 followed by the parliamentary polls in 1995, in which it emerged as the single largest party in the Turkish Parliament. Lacking a majority of its own Refah subsequently entered into a coalition with Tansu Ciller’s ‘Truth Party’ and Mesut Y|lmaz of Motherland, the premiership rotating between the three of them. However, the internal contradictions of coalition politics and certain political moves by the Refah party (while in government), including its insistence on lifting the ban on veils and realignment of Turkey’s foreign policy with other leading Muslim countries greatly disturbed the Kemalist establishment. Matters came to a head in early 1997 when a pro-Hizbollah speech by the Iranian ambassador that had been sponsored by the Refah mayor of a provincial town snowballed into a national event after the military sent tanks into the town and arrested the mayor. Subsequently, the military forced the Refah government to resign.
Within a year the Constitutional Court also outlawed the Refah party, forcing it to reconstitute as the Virtue Party, with much the same membership and social base, with Erbakan remaining in control from behind the scenes.
Within Welfare itself, tensions began to emerge between the conservative faction led by Erbakan and a ‘reformist’ faction that wanted to remake the party in the image of Europe’s Christian Democratic parties—a divide that would become highly significant around the time of AKP’s formation. The reformist faction led by Erdog˘an and Abdullah Gul within the now-banned Virtue party broke with Erbakan’s conservative movement to form a new party called Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2001. One year later in November 2002 the party shocked the world with a landslide victory, gaining two-thirds of the seats in parliament. In the 2007 elections, it repeated the same electoral performance with an increase in the share of votes.
ISLAMISM AND POST-MODERNISM IN TURKEY
In explaining and understanding the ‘political success’ of Islamic political formations in general and AKP in particular one needs to combine the aforementioned factors, context and process with the post-modernity of these Islamic political formations. Islamic discourses throughout the
1980s in Turkey challenged the foundations of a monolithic, absolute, official Republican Turkish identity and in the process prompted debates on identity. Islamic identity therefore must be seen as a terrain of contestation rather than a fixed ideological or behavioural understanding across time and space. Islam as a discursive framework affects the way people re-imagine and understand their private and public lives. The post-modern features of Islamism in Turkey, as mentioned at the beginning of this piece, are evident from the policies, actions and ideological positions that Islamists have taken over a long period. This may be narrated as follows: They decisively reject the tradition of apologeticism and in the process attempt to de-centre the West in their epistemology. Theirs is a view of ‘the century through the lens of Islam rather than interpreting Islam through lens of the modern era’.33 This trend is represented by Ali Bulac¸
(1951–), Rasim O¨ zdeno¨ ren (1940–) and 5smet Ozel (1944–). In a series of articles Bulac¸ and many others debated the rejuvenation of the principles of the Madina Contract which envisaged (and enabled) the coexistence of various groups with different religious convictions, secularists, and atheists in political unity. In other words, the new Muslim intellectuals do not try to reconcile Islam and modernity, but rather they are critical of the premises of modernity itself. When these two characteristics are combined, the new Muslim intellectuals can be distinguished by their critique of modernity along with numerous references to both Western and traditional Islamic historiography. The new Muslim intellectuals opt for the reconstitution of an Islamic way of life that does not mean creation of an Islamic state. In restoring Islam as an alternative discourse, they draw it into the polemical terrain of modernism.
Indeed, prominent Muslim intellectuals such as Ali Bulac¸ affirm that ‘if the meaning of political Islam is to establish a theocratic state, it is finished’, pointing out that, once a site of conflict and polarization, Islam is now a base for reconciliation.34 Similarly, Islam, for Gulen, is not a political project to be implemented. He strongly states that ‘Islam does not propose a certain unchangeable form of government or attempt to shape it. Instead, Islam establishes fundamental principles that orient a government’s general character, leaving it to the people to choose the type and form of government according to time and circumstances’. Gulen usually uses words like ‘consensus’, ‘compromise’, and ‘dialogue’ in his statements. He has referred to ‘globalization’ in his statements by which he implies a dialogue among representatives of other world religions. He does not represent an anti-United States, nor an anti-European position. He has questioned the West’s exclusive rights over modernity. There are shades of Westernism, Easternism, localism, secularism, modernism, nationalism and Turkism in his brand of Islamism.
It is this inclusive construction of Islam that explains why the appeal of Islamism resonates across class and regional barriers in Turkey, particularly among the upwardly mobile lower-middle class periphery families and (relatively) backward regions of the country. In particular, what predisposed these sectors to the call of Islamism was their need for a vocabulary in their ‘inherent ideology’, Islam, to express their valuebased discontent with the political regime. As Hakan Yavuz puts it: In the transformation of the Islamic movement in general, and the electoral victory of the AKP in particular, a ‘new’ urban class, consisting of horizontally connected solidarity-based groups with rural origins and shared Islamic ethos, played an important role. This ‘new’ urban class has been excluded culturally and economically by the Kemalist elite. The excluded segment of the population utilized Islamic idioms and networks that facilitated this group’s integration into modern opportunity spaces and offered it a hope for social mobilization. The social imagination of this excluded social group was captured by Erdog˘an’s calls for ‘conservative democracy’—an attempt to reconcile Islamic values with the legacy of Kemalism.
Secular nationalism, on the other hand, could not serve as a ‘master frame/signifier’ for mobile youths, because it lacked both the ‘empirical credibility’ compared to Islamism when it called people to embrace the regime despite its evidently anti-Islamic character, and ‘credibility of the framers’, when the framers turned out to be less knowledgeable in Islam than the people themselves. Apparently the framing by Islamist thinkers resonated with people because it carried the weight of a ‘master frame’ that was inclusive (Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Muslims—all included in the Islamist project, unlike the Kemalist nationalism that sought to construct an exclusive, homogenized society in terms of one people, one culture, one religion, one nation, one God in the manner of European nation states), flexible and had a wide interpretive scope and cultural resonance.
Halil 5brahim Yenigun, who wrote a Masters dissertation on ‘Islamism and Nationalism in Turkey’ found, during the course of the surveys and interviews on ethnic issues he conducted in Turkey, that the Islamists maintained a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural view of society, while the
‘society-based’ movements are mostly nationalist and align themselves with Kemalism’s assimilative definition of ‘Turk’.37 This inclusive outlook of Islamist parties and other forces partly suggests why the Islamist political formations including AKP have managed to win over large segments of the Kurdish population and other sectarian and ethnic minorities since the 1991 elections. The mainstream Islamists do not seek the abolition of the Kemalist state but rather a negotiation and dialogue on the role and status of Islam within the Kemalist secular order. Thus, the political programme of Milli Goruz—considered an extremist fundamentalist organization—mainly concentrated on strengthening ethics and morals in education and upbringing, fighting usury, abolishing articles in the constitution and criminal law that penalized the political use of religion, and freeing religion from the state. The Kemalist principles of equal rights for men and women—such as voting rights for women, dating from 1934, and equal rights regarding education and employment—were untouched. State secularism was accepted as the point of departure; freedom of conscience and expression were seen as the basis of democracy and human rights. Erbakan’s Virtue Party, after the post-modern coup of February 28 1997, was forced to reconsider modernity, democracy and multiculturalism as universal values rather than seeing them as extensions of Western domination. In parallel with the emergence of a new ‘Anatolian capitalist class’ and with efforts to evolve into a mass political party, their slogans included ‘pluralist society’, ‘basic rights’ and liberties, ‘more democracy’, ‘privatization’, ‘decentralization’ and ‘globalization’.
AKP represented a similar trend but in more advanced form and style. It succeeded in projecting itself as a Muslim political formation against Erbakan’s ‘old school Islamism’ that respects Islamic values and standards but lacks an explicitly religious programme. Hence, for those whose sense of public was normatively derived from religion, but who had little interest in the idea of an Islamic political order, it made great sense to desert Erbakan’s ‘old school’ Islamism for the more moderate and inclusive shores of the new party. The AKP victory, then, represented ‘a clear mandate to redefine the political centre in terms of societal values’ under a political party that was promising to create a space within which Muslim values can express themselves, but [without] pushing an Islamist legislative agenda.’ For this reason, Nasr hailed the victory of AKP in Turkey as the dawn of ‘Muslim democracy’, not ‘Islamic democracy’. Further, the AKP employs a conciliatory and moderate approach in aiming to solve the problems of Islamic identity through a consensus with the secular establishment. As a matter of fact, it rejects the possibility of a non-negotiable absolute truth in a democratic regime and recognizes the necessity of dialogue, compromise and consensus for democratic rule.42 It is through this approach that
AKP has succeeded in such acts as permitting imam–hatip students to attend university, allowing women to wear the headscarf in colleges and universities and other reforms that were once considered anathema to the secular establishment of the Turkish Republic. The current AKP government even proposed a bill against discrimination against homosexuals and got it through parliament.
In fact, the confrontation between the state apparatus, including the army and upper section of judiciary on the one hand and the Islamic parties on the other, revolved around the two different interpretations of secularism: one where the state has dominance over religion and another, where both are autonomous domains on an equal footing. The principle of separation of state and religion is a broadly accepted fact of political life in Turkey, and its roots run deep. Therefore it is not surprising that from NSP to AKP, all the parties, while in government, emphasized the role of ‘Muslim subjectivity’ but repeatedly advocated the principle of separation of religion and politics. (It is true that there are Islamic movements in Turkey that want to establish a theocracy, but their support base is miniscule.)
Their polemics of de-centering the West does not mean they reject all things Western, but rather resist Western hegemony and seek a negotiating space on their own terms and conditions. This explains why the successive Islamist governments in Turkey have never called for a breaking of ties with the Western world, particularly with the United States, but rather strengthened their relationship while maintaining an Islamic/Muslim face. This theory can be demonstrated by glancing over the foreign policy orientation of Islamist governments in Turkey. Thus, for Islamists, there is no contradiction in becoming a member, and later assuming Presidency, of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and retaining membership of NATO. On issues such as the American invasion of Iraq, the Iranian nuclear situation, the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, and the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Islamist governments took a stance that did not displease the Western nations. At the same time AKP did not hesitate in dispatching Turkish troops to northern Iraq to deal with the Kurdish threat, despite the objections of the American government. Rather, the Western governments found the Islamic governments in Turkey a ‘moderate Islamic partner’ in West Asia to support their agenda. Further, more than the Kemalist establishment, it is the Islamists, particularly AKP, who are at the forefront of negotiating Turkey’s entry into the European Union (EU). There appear to be two reasons why the Islamists, particularly the AKP, are aggressively pursuing the policy of Turkey’s integration with the EU. First, a vast majority of people in Turkey are eager to join the EU, are open to dialogue with other people from different cultural and religious backgrounds and do not see a clash between Islam and modernity. A nationwide survey conducted in July 2004 confirmed this trend by showing that among the conservative nationalist sectors of society, supporters of the AKP are the least anti- EU.43 Second, the process of integration with the EU, according to the AKP, necessitated the alteration of the state-centered Kemalist paradigm and the redefinition of democracy in such a way that inalienable rights, pluralism and non-electoral participation (of civil society organizations) are institutionalized. In fact, all the reforms that the AKP has introduced were made within the framework of fulfilling the Copenhagen Criteria, a condition for the start of accession negotiations with the EU. Hence, by adopting the pillar principle of Kemalism in a modified way the AKP combined reformism with a removal of the emphasis on political ideology and conflict, overcame the conservative and immobilizing opposition, and initiated a process of altering the Kemalist paradigm without clashing directly with its guardians.
By way of conclusion I would like to set out the theoretical implications of this paper which assist the comprehension of the nature of the discourse of Islamism in Muslim societies in general, and in Turkey in particular. First, it calls into question the modernist understanding of religion and its applicability to Islam and offers an alternative understanding of Islam as a discursive process. It is this inter-discursive character of Islam that allows it to operate in different contexts and facilitates the process for Islamists to dominate the general field of discourse by constructing Islam as a master signifier, to which other discourses must refer. It is this latter approach that explains the salience of Islam in contemporary history and politics in Muslim societies including Turkish society, as argued in this paper. In addition, within this broad context the paper shows, with reference to Turkey, that the modernization framework needs to be combined with the post-modernist vision in order to understand the multilayered features of Islamism in Turkey. To this extent Islamism as a discourse is a product of modern conditions which have post-modern features. Third, the trajectory of the emergence of Islamism from its underground location during the heyday of Kemalism to the centre-stage in Turkish politics since the 1980s defies the popular conception of Islamism as monolithic, anti-secular, anti-West and pro-Shar;6a rule. Unlike the Islamic movements in the majority of Muslim countries, mainstream Islamism in Turkey attempts to reappropriate the Kemalist legacy, negotiate the space, role and status of Islam within the Kemalist secular order and prove the point that there is no inherent contradiction between having pro-Western policies and maintaining the Muslim identity of the Turkish Republic. In other words, mainstream Islamism in Turkey seeks a critical engagement with Kemalist modernity, not the rejection of the Kemalist secular order.