Ümit Cizre, Secular and Islamic Politics in Turkey: The Making of the Justice and Development Party (Routledge Studies in Middle Eastern Politics), (London and New York: Routledge, 2008, 238 pp.) ISBN-10: 041539645X ISBN-13: 978-0415396455
This edited book is a promising attempt to provide guidance for assessing the place of the AKP within Turkish political system and Islamism. It offers four chapters, devoted respectively to the historical evolution of the AKP, the secularist veto players against AKP reformism, the EU dimension both legitimating and demotivating the AKP, and the social bases of the AKP movement. The most significant contribution of the work is its specification of the AKP movement within political Islam in Turkey.
In their illuminating article, Cinar and Duran explain that Turkish Islamism is distinguished for numerous reasons: the weakness of the ulema institution, the predominance of Sufism tradition that prevents radicalization, low receptiveness towards the internationalist Islamist movements, the absence of a previous colonization experience that could reinforce a negative image of the West, pluralism and diversity among Turkish islamist movements (national outlook, Nurcu movement, Gulen movement), the existence of significant segment of secularized elite and people (through education) as well as the political competition between Islamists and other rightist parties. In sum, Turkish Islamists do not reject the idea of the state, generally participate in Turkish politics and attempt to distance themselves from fundamentalist violence.
In this framework, Yildiz and Duran develop the argument that there are two major tendencies within Turkish political Islam. The first is represented by National Outlook Movement (abbr. NOM, Milli Gorus in Turkish) led by Erbakan, which is known as anti-Western. It accuses modernism and the West of being the sources of poverty, degeneration, and social illnesses in the Islamic world.
The second type of Turkish Islamism is the reformist movement led by Erdogan. Contrary to NOM, reformists refer to originally Western values such as human rights, civil society, and democracy. They claim to reconcile Islamic civilization with modernity. Rather than Islamist, AKP claims that it is ‘conservative democrat’ and that it embraces secularism. However, it makes clear that its understanding of secularism is different from the Turkish establishment. Its interpretation of secularism entails greater freedoms for Muslims. Unlike NOM, it gives explicit support to Turkey’s EU membership.
Cayir also suggests two different philosophies within Turkish Islamism through his study of both political discourse and the literary works of Turkish Islamists. Thus, the previous Islamist logic that he calls ‘collective Islamism’ sought to expand an anti-Western interpretation of Islam in 1970s and 1980s. It has been replaced by a ‘self-critical Islamism’ that encourages Islamic actors to embrace modern lives and see themselves as pious individuals rather than committed ‘soldiers’ of Islamic community.
Cinar criticizes the depiction of AKP as a consistent and liberal Islamic movement. He emphasizes the inconsistencies within the discourse and policies of AKP government and claims that the AKP government lacks a practical democratization agenda independent from the EU membership requirements. It is to be noted that Cinar accuses also the secular establishment of reinforcing the already existing divisions within Turkish society and violating liberal democratic principles.
Cizre concentrates on the relationship between the Turkish army and the AKP government and questions whether the army has been an important factor in slowing down the AKP reforms. She concludes that the Turkish army is still too significant within Turkish political system and undermines the AKP government’s self-confidence in continuing EU-oriented reforms.
Usul investigates the relationship between the AKP government and the EU to find that ‘euro-enthusiasm’ was replaced by ‘euro-fatigue’ due to the increasing opposition to Turkey’s membership from among Europeans as well as the EU’s emphasis on the enhancement of the status of Kurdish people, non-Muslim minorities and Alevites rather than Muslim’s rights as contrary to what AKP expected.
Finally, Aydin and Dalmis discuss the voter profile and the social basis for AKP electorate, and come up with interesting results. Accordingly, the social bases of AKP derive not only from the NOM but also from another rightist party, ANAP. Besides, the AKP voter profile is best described with three characteristics, namely ‘religious, rightist, and conservative’. Their findings are compatible with the extant literature, in particular with the recent publication edited by Carkoglu and Kalaycioglu (2007) suggesting that rather than religiosity by itself, the AKP voters are distinguished for their demands for further religious freedoms.
Overall, the book as a whole is well edited, and manages to maintain a consistent approach across its eight papers. However, in line with the promising title of the book, it would be useful to provide background information about the normative bases and the historical evolution of Turkish secularism for the readers that are unfamiliar with Turkish politics. Depicting Turkish secular elite as a unified front that resists democratization and Europeanization would be misleading.
Reviewed by Didem Buhari-Gulmez, PhD candidate in Royal Holloway, University of London
Carkoglu, Ali and Kalaycioglu, Ersin (2007) Turkish Democracy Today: Elections, Protest and Stability in an Islamic Society, London and New York, I. B. Tauris.
The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author/s who retain the copyright.
Note: A fuller review of the book is published by European Journal of Turkish Studies, December 2010.