The Rising Tide of Conservatism in Turkey
by Ali Çarkoğlu and Ersin Kalaycıoğlu
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, 192 pp. $84.95
Reviewed by Rasim Özgür Dönmez
Abant Izzet Baysal University Bolu-Turkey
Middle East Quarterly
Çarkoğlu and Kalaycıoğlu, both professors of political science at Sabanci University in Istanbul, document the social, demographic, religious, and economic processes of Turkey's geopolitical transformation from Ottoman Empire to a modern, secular, republican nation-state.
This particularly Turkish reinvention saw a central, secular state making accommodations with Islamic conservatism, an arrangement now under pressure in the post-Cold War world, in which Turkey has become a predominantly urban society. The authors show how urbanization and market reforms displaced the rural masses and propelled them into urban environments without a welfare-security network. Islamic patronage networks filled the gap, a process explaining the success of the current ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Although Turkish society is secular by law, it remains, nevertheless, highly religious. For example, a 2007 survey quoted in the book indicates that 75 percent of Turks believe that they can overcome difficulties if their religious beliefs are strong, and 60 percent object to their daughters marrying non-Muslims. This has caused and continues to cause clashes with the Kemalist elite, led by the military, which assiduously advocates secularism and state-centered nationalism. This conflict is illustrated by issues such as the controversy surrounding the wearing of the Islamic veil in public.
Another source of conflict between the AKP and the Kemalist-military elite is Turkey's regional-international position. Çarkoğlu and Kalaycıoğlu contend that while AKP followers are relatively supportive of strengthening Turkey's relationship with NATO and with the European Union, the centrist government has had to respond to demands from the West for the resolution of conflicts with and discrimination against the minority Kurds and 'Alevis. Meanwhile, anti-Americanism and anti-EU sentiment has increased in general Turkish society with the rural masses tending to pull Turkey toward involvement with the predominantly Muslim states to the north, south, and east rather than with the West.
The authors use social surveys and other data to illustrate their contentions although such data are perhaps limited in their ability to portray the Turkish conservative mindset. Complementary methods are called for to explain, for example, why the Justice and the Development Party and its electorate can afford to be more liberal than the traditional elite were in their approach to the Kurdish problem. Similarly, while the authors stress the AKP's authoritarian perspective, they do not adequately describe its seemingly contradictory role in inculcating Western political values, such as democracy and tolerance, in the electorate, as part of its efforts for greater recognition by the West. The AKP is ambiguous on these issues, and Turkey continues to represent a dichotomy between secular Kemalism (the official ideology) and elements of conservative values deriving from Islam (and Islamism).
Overall, the book provides a comprehensive understanding of the varieties of Turkish conservatism and successfully presents the reasons behind the nation's current political instability.
Related Topics: Turkey and Turks | Summer 2010 MEQ
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