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Vernacular politics links neighborhood networks with local civic and national political institutions. Through these institutional links, different social groups coordinate their interests and move together seemingly in the same direction. In this chapter, I will discuss the diversity of religious belief and expression in Turkey at the institutional level. I will examine the background to the blossoming of the Islamist movement in general since 1980, and the reasons for the Welfare Party’s electoral success in the 1990s in particular. It is important to note here that the discussion of institutionalized Islam in this chapter is meant as a mise en scène to put vernacular politics in a more systemic and historical perspective. This brief overview is not meant to be exhaustive; much has been written about the various actors on the Turkish political stage and references are provided to guide the interested reader further. Yet, however exhaustively we describe the vehicles for Islamic participation, an explanation of how this particular political process works is ultimately to be found in vernacular, not official, politics. Despite the seeming convergence of religious interest and opposition around certain issues and symbols, Islamist institutions are extraordinarily diverse, both in organization and orientation. They are often structured hierarchically, even where they are allied with THE INSTITUTIONAL EXPRESSION OF ISLAM 3 more egalitarian, horizontally organized networks. Their particular understanding of Islam and the role of Islam in national political life falls in a broad range from liberal to conservative, moderate to radical , and is linked with nationalism or pluralism as variously defined. A variety of positions on women’s roles and economic practice are represented. All these positions, like the institutions that represent them, are subject to change. This diversity, in part, is simply emblematic of the heterogeneity of Islamic beliefs and practices that characterize the region, and a reflection of the characteristics and motivations of the different social groups that support these institutions. It is also the result of a complex history of state suppression, control, and deregulation of Islam that has brought about a proliferation of institutional bases for Islamic engagement in the political arena. There is a long tradition of couching opposition to the state in Islamic terms. Before the introduction of multiparty politics in 1945, Islam was the only channel for protest, since the Republican state monopolized all legitimate political expression and left no room for the development of an independent civil society. This pattern is not unique to Turkey, but applies more broadly to the Middle East. Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Iran all have pursued a national ideal in which the state monopolized the right to represent the interests of an organically conceived nation. In Turkey, the means by which the masses could pursue their interests broadened with Turkey’s first multiparty elections. In 1950, Ataturk’s party, the Republican People’s Party, was soundly defeated and, for the first time, an opposition party, the Democrat Party, came to power. In the period before and after the election, rural areas were galvanized by extensive grassroots organization and political participation . Villagers quickly took stock of the advantages of the new multiparty democratic system in which they could play parties off against one another to make them “heed our voices” (Lerner, quoted in Kasaba, 1997, 31). Unlike the Republican People’s Party, the Democrat Party had a more populist approach. It appealed to the Islamic sentiments of the people and, thus, was able to gain the allegiance of rural religious leaders. These were able to influence the votes of their followers. This was a populism rooted in patron-client relations between landlords and peasants, religious sheikhs and their followers, and politicians and their constituents. Patron-clientilistic relations of hierarchy and dependence were, and in some respects still are, a power104 · The Institutional Expression of Islam ful feature of rural life. In many rural areas, particularly in eastern Turkey, tribal leaders and big landowners in effect “owned” the villages in their region. These powerful families served as patrons to the villagers, assisting them materially, mediating with the authorities, and administering their own form of justice. Loyalty, labor, and obedience were expected in return. Rural elites, like leaders of religious brotherhoods, could deliver blocks of votes at election time. The Democrat Party government, in return, brought electricity and other services to hitherto isolated villages and connected them to market towns and cities with new roads and bus service. Thus began the mutual transformation of country and city as villagers rode the buses to town...


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