Ahmet T. Kuru and Alfred Stepan (eds.), Democracy, Islam and Secularism in Turkey, Columbia University Press, New York, 2012, pp. 224.
Reviewed by Mr. Nikos Christofis (PhD Candidate, Leiden Institute for Area Studies (LIAS), Leiden University, Netherlands)
The present volume is a welcome addition to recently burgeoning body of literature about the Justice and Development Party (AKP). AKP, which can “no longer be considered as an Islamist party […]”, but rather, is described as a “conservative democratic party inspired by faith-based values in social and cultural values” (p. 69), questioned some of the basic Kemalist principles on which the Turkish society was built, and managed to create new social and political dynamics. The volume, edited by Ahmet T. Kuru and Alfred Stepan, is the product of two conferences held at Columbia University in 2008 and 2009, contributors to which shed new light on old issues, such as the army, and most of the essays adopt a comparative perspective, demonstrating how fruitful such an approach to historical analysis can be.
The volume begins with two essays that deal with the distinct legacies of contemporary Turkey; the Ottoman Empire and Kemalism. The Ottoman legacy and the issue of Ottoman “toleration” is dealt in Karen Barkey’s article, who shows how the Ottoman Empire managed to create a system in which different religions could be facilitated, only to be abandoned later during the Turkish Republic to give space to a homogenizing Turkish nation, especially, after the 1982 Constitution. According to Barkey, the Ottoman example can be used in Turkey to adopt a more tolerant approach towards religion (p. 28), and at the same time, utilize many of the Copenhagen criteria.
“The Historical Roots of Kemalism” is the subject of a long chapter by Şükrü Hanioğlu, whose highly critical treatment of Kemalism is both well-balanced and comprehensive. Hanioğlu focuses on three intellectual movements that he claims link the Ottoman Empire to Kemalism: scientism, Westernism and Kemalist Turkish nationalism. All three movements have their origins in the Ottoman Empire but are now questioned by the AKP government, and Hanioğlu shows that multiple secularisms can and do exist in Turkey, a point also highlighted by the book’s editors.
The next article is by Ergun Özbudun , who, like Hanioğlu, puts at the core of his analysis the six Kemalist principles to show how the Ottoman Empire, from a multi-ethnic Empire became a homogenous state with a monolithic state structure. This structure is questioned by the AKP, which, according to Özbudun, seems to be the only true national party with significant support all over Turkey (p. 88). The issue of secularism, and laïcité , a particular conception of secularism, is handled by the editors of the book. The comparative approach of laïcité in Turkey, France and Senegal, as well as the introduction of terms such as “assertive” and “passive” secularism, and the “separationist” and “respect all, support all” models, help the authors categorize, analyse and explain variations of laïcité and to conclude that only in Senegal was a religion-friendly laïcité introduced and implemented.
Umit Cizre’s essay deals with the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF). Her analysis highlights the restrictions upon the TAF (p. 127) and the disadvantageous position in which it found itself due to AKP policies. Interestingly, while the AKP seems to represent the interests of the private sector, the TAF “has come to view society as the central front in a battle to maintain support for its guardian mission” (p. 138). In other words, due to the limits on the TAF’s authority, the military is struggling to play a political role in the system, and is mobilizing supporters and establishing associations such as the Quamingos (quasi-military non-governmental organizations) to question the AKP’s role in Turkey’s political system and society.
Özbudun, in his second contribution, seems to blame the 1982 Constitution (p. 149) for the lack of democratic principles in Turkey and for the strengthened authority of the state, but his analysis goes beyond that. He shows very eloquently how the state used the 1982 Constitution and the mechanisms deriving from it, to protect itself against the actions of its citizens. Additionally, he shows the extent to which the Turkish state acted unconstitutionally in its promotion of national and territorial unity (pp. 151-153) and of the AKP’s anti-secular activities (p. 160). Ultimately, Özbudun seems to believe in AKP, although there are other forces that make it put a halt on the reforms.
Özbudun’s optimism seems to be shared by Joost Lagendijk, whose analysis focuses on Turkey’s accession to the EU. Lagendijk presents not only AKP’s account of Turkey’s accession application to the EU, but also the other side of the coin; the EU’s stance towards Turkey. The author divides the period 2002-2009 into three parts; a) the rapid acceleration of reforms, b) the halt of the reforms because of the reactions towards AKP, both domestically by the Kemalist circles, but also by the EU, compounded by the poor handling of the Cyprus question, and, c) he argues that only in 2009, the AKP started some initiatives, which, if implemented, will also signal that the AKP does not have a secret agenda of Islamizing the country (p. 182). The last essay is by Stathis Kalyvas, who argues that the “Turkish model”, a combination of moderate Islamism, liberal reforms and democratic consolidation, is not unique if viewed in comparative perspective (p. 192), since it shares several elements with the Catholic mobilization of nineteenth-century Europe.
The present volume is at once highly readable and insightful, and each essay presents a historical background that will help experts on Turkey and non-experts alike. Perhaps most importantly, it sheds light to a country from a different, non-stereotypical perspective incorporating Turkey in comparative political and historical studies, and all contributors use Turkey in their analysis in a broad and informative context. I highly recommend it for scholars, graduate students, and anyone else interested in Turkish politics.