- Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement
Toward the end of the 1990s in Turkey, the historically embedded friction and uncompromising opposition between secularists and Islamists showed signs of abatement partly due to the heavy-handed state suppression of the Islamic voice in politics in the 1997 military crackdown and partly to the growing pluralism of social forces within both camps. An increasing number of Turkish secularists were distancing themselves from the hard-line laicism of the Kemalist establishment, believing that it reinforced the illiberal, authoritarian features of the regime. Among Islamic actors, there was a growing conviction that the system-challenging tactics of the pro-Islamic Refah Party were leading to a narrowing of opportunities for Islamic social actors to participate in the public sphere. Supporters of normalizing state-society relations on a liberal democratic basis emerged from both groups.
Turam’s book aims to elucidate these transformational developments by challenging the cliché that Turkish Islam and secularism are unbendable absolutes. Instead, she argues that the relationship between Turkish Islamic actors and the secular state has been subtly shift ing from confrontation to cooperation. To elucidate the mutability of boundaries, she adopts an ethnographic approach that seeks to capture everyday encounters between the state and participants in the Gülen movement, an influential Islamic social movement espousing interfaith dialogue and [End Page 100] tolerance of others that is headed by Turkish Muslim modernist Fethullah Gülen, and in Turkey’s moderate reform-oriented pro-Islamic AKP government (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, or Justice and Development Party). Her book is a welcome addition to studies of Islamic movements and brings attention to a neglected aspect of state-Islam interactions, that of non-confrontational encounters.
Turam distinguishes between political inclusion, which suggests or implies an element of cooptation, and the object of her study, the politics of engagement, which she defines as the everyday, non-confrontational (and therefore less visible), yet highly constructive linkages between the Turkish state and Islamic actors. She argues that such alternative channels surfaced during the state’s growing tolerance of Islam in the 1980s, and that the intent of “non-defiant Islamic actors” is to oppose the authoritarianism of the Turkish Republic and not to threaten the Turkish nation-state. The assertion that Turkish Islamists are in effect patriots is controversial since a key obstacle to naturalizing political pluralism in Turkey is the belief among secularists that Islamists practice dissimulation (takkiye), namely that they have a hidden agenda to take over the republic, thus there can be no common ground between secularists and Islamic actors. This book will be favorably received by those who dispute this view. Ethnographic research always presents the problem of accepting information at face value and, as Turam points out, Fethullahists welcomed and facilitated her study while secularists treated her with mistrust and suspicion.
Chapter 2 examines the emergence of sites of engagement between the state and Islam through the lens of the author’s participation in the activities of the Gülen movement. She observes that the movement publicly embraces secular democratic values, while in its “back stages” or private, communal sites, followers are pressured to conform to restrictive moral codes. She argues that this compartmentalization of private and public life has allowed for non-antagonistic relations to develop between the movement and the state. The pattern of avoiding confrontation with the state is further engineered through the creation in the public sphere of what Turam terms “window sites” that are consciously designed to demonstrate to the state that the movement is harmless and benign. These “window sites” take the form of visible public events and the noticeably secular curriculum design of the Gülen schools established within Turkey and across Central Asia. [End Page 101]
In chapter 3, Turam takes up the issue of contestation between Islamic organizations and the secularist umbrella group, United Civil Society Organizations (Sivil Toplum Kurusluşlarý Birliği, or STKB), over whether or not the vision of each for the future direction of Turkish republicanism is compatible, and...