Panel 7b. Liberation through the Lenses of Islamic Actors in Turkey

Chair: Michelangelo Guida, Istanbul 29 Mayis University

The Conservative Turkish Media Confronting Gezi
Michelangelo Guida, Istanbul 29 Mayis University

The Gezi Parkı protests have been one of the biggest demonstrations in Turkey’s republican history, followed with great interest by Western media and academia. Many have interpreted the protests as a Turkish variant of the “Arab Spring” or as an opposition to Islamist politics. Others perceived the Gezi simply as a natural consequence of the ruling party’s totalitarianism. All these interpretations presupposed that the demonstrations aimed to “liberate” Turkish society. However, the conservative press—generally sympathetic to the incumbent government—interpreted the event differently, sometimes criticising the brutality of the police and the mistakes made by the government, sometimes overtly supporting the government hardliners and labelling the protests as just another attempt to overthrow the legitimate government. My paper will study the perceptions of the Gezi by some of the most notable columnists in three major conservative newspapers of Turkey: Star (Koru), Yeni Şafak (Karagül and Selvi) and Zaman (Bulaç and Ünal). The analysis of their writings will show us how Islamist opinion makers understood the events and reveal their fear from certain segments of Turkish population. Even though every columnist assumed different positions which highlight the complexity of contemporary Turkish Islamism, it will be clear that rather than “liberation”, the events were commonly seen as a possible return to the days of the oppressive secularism of the late 1990s. Finally, this paper will help us understand the inadequacy of the concept of “liberation” in the context of Turkish politics.

Liberation, Revolution and the Anti-Capitalist Muslims: A Divergent Islamic Perspective from Turkey
Oguzhan Goksel, Istanbul 29 Mayis University

A noteworthy development of Turkish politics in recent years has been the emergence of the “Anti-Capitalist Muslims” and the growing popularity of Islamic thinker, İhsan Eliaçık, whose ideas inspired the formation of this social movement. The movement began to receive wide interest from the media particularly after its participation into the anti-government Gezi Park protests of 2013. This study focuses on the implications of the rise of the Anti-Capitalist Muslims on the scholarly literatures on political Islam and democratisation. For many years, İhsan Eliaçık has studied the ideas of “revolution”, “democracy” and “social change” within the Qur’an, arguing that the liberation of Muslim societies lies in revolting against capitalist modernity and the authoritarianism of governments and mainstream Islamic groups. Influenced by Eliaçık’s worldview based on what he terms the “revolutionary and libertarian Islam” (devrimci ve özgürlükçü İslam), the Anti-Capitalist Muslims joined the Gezi Park protests. This paper will compare and contrast the ideology of the Anti-Capitalist Muslims with the understandings of “liberation”, “liberal democracy” and “social democracy” in the Western political thought. The ultimate objective of this study is to explore if, and to what extent, this variant of Islamism diverges from other Islamic groups and the Eurocentric theories that have long perceived Islamic thought as incapable of creating its own democratic modernity models. The research will be based on the review of Eliaçık’s numerous works, analysis of the Anti-Capitalist Muslims’ activities during the 2013 Gezi Park protests and interviews with Eliaçık and several activists of the movement.

Civil Islamic Actors versus the State in Turkey: The Structural Transformation of Islamic Non-Governmental Organisations
Lutfi Sunar, Istanbul University

Islamic NGOs in Turkey are organisations that conduct educational activities, take part in the distribution of welfare across the country, and struggle to create an alternative public sphere to the one controlled by the Kemalist ideology. Their general mission is to overcome social problems and spread an Islamic worldview. Particularly in the last decade, with considerable aid from various public welfare initiatives and the supportive attitude of a conservative government, there has been a widening of the range of their activities within the context of globalisation and an active Turkish foreign policy. At the same time, there have been significant changes in their organisational structures, functions and activities. The most notable element of the transformation of Islamic NGOs is that they have shifted from being anti-state actors towards entering into a close relationship and cooperation with the government. As a result, the very rationale behind their activism has changed over the last decade. In this paper, I will analyse the nature of this transformation of civil Islamic actors in Turkey based on in-depth interviews conducted with presidents and managers of 40 pioneering Islamic NGOs and on the results of questionnaires completed by over 400 executive board members from 80 NGOs. I will argue that the emergence of a “state-friendly” Islamic civil society requires a revision of the conventional perception of the NGOs, as their role should no longer be seen as “perpetual challengers of state authority” but as the primary promoters of “liberation” and “welfare” in contemporary Turkish society.

On Human Rights, Islam and Freedom: A View from Turkey
Fabio Vicini, Istanbul 29 Mayis University

The paper explores ideas of “human rights”, “justice” and “freedom” in Islamic-inspired organisations in Turkey through the case of Mazlumder. Mazlumder was established in 1991 with the purpose of defending the rights of women who were being intimidated and prosecuted for wearing the veil at public space. In time, it has evolved into a broad platform for the defence of civil rights against all kinds of oppression, particularly those ascribable to the Turkish state’s tradition of top-down, paternalistic and aggressively secularist policies. Based on fieldwork in the Istanbul branch of Mazlumder, the paper shows that though the volunteers of the organisation frame their activities within the context of a global discourse of “human rights”, they also challenge the monopoly of Western world over this concept and others such as “justice” and “freedom”. Mazlumder activists, in fact, generally derive their tropes from an Islamic reformist political vocabulary that rejects the idea of the modern nation-state. Not fully adhering to this mainstream tradition of thought, however, Mazlumder also redefine the limits and potentialities of Islamic discourse in different ways, which often leads them to collide with other Turkish Islamic actors. A notable example was Mazlumder’s condemnation of the Turkish police’s behaviour during the Gezi Park protests of 2013, which shows that Mazlumder’s stance on civil rights and justice converge to a large extent with the “liberation ideals” of their secular counterparts; at least more so than the tired dichotomy of “religious versus secular” forms of civic engagement would suggest.

The New Antinomies of Islamic Movement in the Post-Gezi Turkey: Islamism vs. Muslimism
Halil Ibrahim Yenigun, Istanbul Commerce University

The third term policies of the ruling JDP (Justice and Development Party) in Turkey, in particular certain post-Gezi developments and the catastrophic breakup between the Gülen movement and the JDP, have posed enormous conundrums for students of Turkish Islamism: do the ongoing top-down Islamisation policies as well as the increasing pan-Islamist tone in Turkish foreign policy signify a return to Islamism? In this case, is “post-Islamism” a failed political project or is it a worn-out analytical tool? This paper will explore the new faces of Islamic opposition among the religious youth to the ruling JDP’s economic, social and political positions and take some steps to theorize their significance for Turkish Islamism. By deploying Abdelwahab el-Affendi’s (2008) distinction between the Medina and Damascus models, this paper aims to distinguish between diverse forms of Islamically-motivated political actions. Accordingly, I will draw attention to a distinction between “conventional Islamist politics”, which was motivated by a quest for power, and new forms of Islamism that are more concerned with a search for justice and liberation. Therefore, I suggest that the recent developments in Turkish politics enable us to disentangle Muslimism/“Muslim nationalism”, as a quest for power, from Islamism that is rather a quest for justice. By comparing how the JDP government and the old-style Islamists, in contrast to the oppositional religious youth in Turkey, responded to several recent critical incidents, I will make the case that it is time we conceptualise Islamism and Muslimism separately.

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