Essay About Secularism In Turkey

This short book covers a broad range of topics. Organized chronologically, it starts with the pluralism of the classical Ottoman period and ends with a detailed discussion of modern-day constitution making in Turkey. It deals with many significant issues between these two periods: Kemalism, secularism, civilian-military relations, European Union politics, and the rise of the Justice and Development Party. The contributors, who are affiliated with either American or Turkish universities, represent diverse disciplinary backgrounds: history (M. Şükrü Hanioğlu), political science (Ahmet T. Kuru, Alfred Stepan, Ümit Cizre, and Stathis N. Kalyvas), constitutional law (Ergun Özbudun) and sociology (Karen Barkey). The volume also includes a chapter by a former politician (Joost Lagendijk) on Turkish-EU relations.

These collected essays bring together the leading revisionist scholars, who have since the mid-1990s equipped students of Turkish studies with the resources to challenge received truths. According to the narrative of Turkish "exceptionalism," the enlightened Kemalist elites have been mainly responsible for sustaining Turkish secularism and modernity (with the help of the military) against pro-Islamic elites who have constantly attempted to mobilize the pious masses to undermine modernity and replace it with sharia. Revisionist scholarship has successfully challenged this narrative.

The contributors to this volume continue their challenge; they demystify Turkish secularism and modernity to show that there is nothing very exceptional about the Turkish case. To this end, the contributors follow two strategies. They either provide a detailed analysis of a particular issue in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey or place Turkey in a comparative perspective. Most chapters follow the first strategy by focusing on specific ideas and institutions and providing rich descriptions of political and ideological struggles. For example, Hanioğlu analyzes the historical roots of Kemalism, Cizre focuses on civil-military relations, Özbudun examines the 1981 Constitution, and Lagendijk evaluates Turkish-EU relations. The contributors reveal the complexities and paradoxes of Turkish politics. Hanioğlu shows that, contrary to the claims of its supporters, Kemalism is neither original nor a systematic ideology. Rather, it is an eclectic and often inconsistent set of ideas that can be traced back to the Young Turks. Özbudun describes how "Westernist" and secularist groups have ended up espousing authoritarian, pro-military, anti-pluralist and anti-EU positions. Cizre details the paradoxical place of military support in Turkey.Turks, in general, did not oppose — and some even actively supported — military interventions, but they did not support parties backed by the military and have often sided with the parties the military cautioned them against. Lagendijk shows how pro-Islamic conservatives became the leading supporters of the EU and carried out the required reforms while the Republican People's Party, the historical supporter of Westernization, has objected to some of these reforms. Collectively, these chapters show how Turkish secularism and modernity can be explained by political and ideological competition shaped by historical and external factors rather than by a Manichean struggle between the forces of good and evil.

Some chapters challenge Turkish exceptionalism by offering a comparative perspective. This is not a new approach, but most scholarly works compare Turkey with Arab countries to suggest the exceptional character of Turkish secularism. Kuru and Stepan, two political scientists, challenge this view. They compare three variations of laïcité, the separation of church and state. In Senegal, another Muslim-majority country with a system of laïcité, the government is very respectful towards religions and attentive to the needs of religious people, in contrast to the situation in Turkey. Even in France, where anti-clericalism and assertive secular laws abound, laïcité is not as discriminatory as it is in Turkey. Another political scientist, Kalyvas, argues that it is highly likely that the Justice and Development Party would follow the pattern of European Christian democrats: the electoral success and political and economic context in which the Justice and Development Party operates will bring pro-Islamic conservatives to liberal democracy, just as European Catholic political groups were brought to Christian democracy in the second half of the twentieth century.

The volume's analysis of the complexities and paradoxes of various Turkish political actors is insightful. I have, however, two concerns. First, although the contributors question the dualism that pits "enlightened" Kemalists against "reactionary" conservatives in Turkish politics, some chapters implicitly — if not explicitly — commit a similar dualism by pitting "authoritarian" Kemalists against "pro-democracy" Muslim conservatives. For example, Stepan and Kuru's ideal-type categories identify a broad array of Kemalist actors and institutions as assertive secular (and thus authoritarian) and identify the Justice and Development Party as passive-secular (and thus democratic). Moreover, although assertive and passive secular are helpful categories for understanding debates about religion and politics in Turkey, they miss the complexity of Turkish secularism. Stepan and Kuru's discussion leaves the reader uncertain about the role of important actors such as the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

Second, the volume contains some noteworthy omissions. Alevis and Kurds are overlooked, though some chapters have brief discussions of these groups. Even if one considers the Kurdish issue marginal to debates about secularism and Islam, a chapter on Alevis could bring a new perspective to the debate on issues like the place of Diyanet in Turkish secularism.

Overall, this volume is a significant contribution to Turkish studies. In addition to scholars of Turkey, those interested in democratization, religion and Middle East politics would benefit from these analyses of the Turkish experience with secularism, modernity and democracy.

Book Description:

While Turkey has grown as a world power, promoting the image of a progressive and stable nation, several choices in policy have strained its relationship with the East and the West. Providing historical, social, and religious context for this behavior, the essays in Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey examine issues relevant to Turkish debates and global concerns, from the state's position on religion to its involvement with the European Union.

Written by experts in a range of disciplines, the chapters explore the toleration of diversity during the Ottoman Empire's classical period; the erosion of ethno-religious heterogeneity in modern, pre-democratic times; Kemalism and its role in modernization and nation building; the changing political strategies of the military; and the effect of possible EU membership on domestic reforms. The essays also offer a cross-Continental comparison of "multiple secularisms," as well as political parties, considering especially Turkey's Justice and Development Party in relation to Europe's Christian Democratic parties. Contributors tackle critical research questions, such as the legacy of the Ottoman Empire's ethno-religious plurality and the way in which Turkey's assertive secularism can be softened to allow greater space for religious actors. They address the military's "guardian" role in Turkey's secularism, the implications of recent constitutional amendments for democratization, and the consequences and benefits of Islamic activism's presence within a democratic system. No other collection confronts Turkey's contemporary evolution so vividly and thoroughly or offers such expert analysis of its crucial social and political systems.

Contributors: Karen Barkey (Columbia University) • Ümit Cizre (Istanbul Sehir University) • M. Sükrü Hanioglu (Princeton University) • Stathis N. Kalyvas (Yale University) • Ahmet T. Kuru (San Diego State University) • Joost Lagendijk (Sabanc University) • Ergun Özbudun (Bilkent University) • Alfred Stepan (Columbia University)

eISBN: 978-0-231-53025-5

Subjects: Political Science, History, Religion

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