Islamic Political Identity in Turkey By M. Hakan Yavuz (USA: Oxford University Press, 2003. 328 pages.)

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Shiraz A. Sheikh



During the events that led to the “soft coup” of the Erbakan-Çiller coalition
government in 1997, the Turkish military declared that the number one
threat to national security was not Kurdish separatism, but Islamic radicalism.
Despite this shift in security strategy, the Justice and Development
party, which was born from the ashes of Erbakan’s openly Islamist Refah
party, won a decisive victory at the polls in November 2002. These series
of events from Turkey’s recent history have raised many questions in the
minds of observers, both international and domestic, as to the nature and
strength of Islamic political and social movements in the Republic of
Turkey – a state that since its birth in 1923 had undergone a systematic program
of westernization and secularization.
In his Islamic Political Identity in Turkey, M. Hakan Yavuz attempts to
answer these very questions by providing a comprehensive analysis of the
main Muslim social groups that have come to dominate Turkish-Muslim
society, namely, the Nakshibendi Sufi orders and the Nurcu movement.
These groups have made significant inroads into Turkish civil society, crossing
class, regional, and ethnic lines, by taking advantage of new opportunity
spaces in the market, the print media, and education. This was a direct
result of the political and economic liberalization policies of the Özal government
during the 1980s.
As the author argues, “the secularizing, state-centric elite failed effectively
to penetrate and transform traditional society, and was similarly
unsuccessful in developing an alternative value system and associational life
for the rural population of society” (p. 4). Thus, the social and ethical vacuum
created by the Kemalists was appropriated by a diverse group of Islamic
social movements that were then urbanized by way of the gecekondus, the
shanty-towns built overnight by rural migrants to the big cities during the
1960s and 1970s. These movements, which were silently germinating in the
Anatolian countryside, underwent what Yavuz aptly terms the “vernacularization ...

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