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Reviewed by:
  • Islamism, Democracy and Liberalism in Turkey: The Case of the AKP
  • Metin Heper
Islamism, Democracy and Liberalism in Turkey: The Case of the AKP, by William Hale and Ergun Özbudun. London and New York: Routledge, 2010. xxi + 158 pages. Notes to p. 189. Sources to p. 192. Bibl. to p. 204. Index to p. 214. 72 BP.

Perceiving Turkey having a foot both in democratic and Islamic camps, this book studies the ideological agenda of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as well as that party’s performance in office with special reference to political reform and cultural, economic, and foreign policies. The purpose of the book is that of examining how the AKP has dealt with such divisive questions as to whether citizens should be allowed to wear dress reflecting their religious preferences in public spaces in Turkey. With this goal in mind, the authors tackle some critical issues on which people in Turkey have long been deeply divided. The following are some significant conclusions the authors have arrived at concerning such issues.

The AKP takes secularism as a sine qua non of democracy. It is against the exploitation of religion for political purposes. The party is a champion of “passive secularism,” i.e. acting neutral toward various religions and allowing the public visibility of religious symbols. The AKP displays the old center-right tradition; it does not adopt Islam as a political ideology. The AKP does not subscribe to “active secularism”; consequently the party does not tend to interfere with the manner in which people live their religions. In the view of the AKP leaders, there is no conflict between Republicanism and democracy. In Turkey, however, there is no consensus on the true meaning of secularism.

The AKP is in favor of pluralistic democracy; it considers the strengthening of the civil society organizations as necessary. The party has a positive view of the West.

The [1982] Constitution does not allow the Constitutional Court to review the compatibility of a constitutional amendment with the first three Articles of the Constitution, which cannot be amended. It follows that the recent decision of the Court that abrogated a constitutional amendment on the grounds that it violated the first three Articles in question not only overlooked its earlier rulings, but it also amounted to a “usurpation of power.” The Court decision was a violation of the explicit text of Article 138. The source of the secular establishment’s threat perception is primarily the alleged Islamist identity of the AKP. The threat perception in question has led the secularist state elites to resort to acts of dubious democratic legitimacy. [End Page 491]

As compared to the past and present center-right parties, the AKP seems to have a stronger commitment to liberal and pluralistic values, and displays deeper sensibilities to religious values. The latter attitude in no way works against the former one. In any case, in Turkey economic factors play a far more important role than religious ones. Moreover, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the AKP and Prime Minister, has a charismatic personality and a “man of the people” image; these two factors also shape the votes of the people.

This reviewer concurs with the authors’ above-mentioned observations, but differs from the authors on some other matters. The authors raise the question of whether or not Necmettin Erbakan and Erdoğan attribute only an instrumental role to democracy or see democracy as an end in itself. They conclude that various statements made by these leaders lend support to the former view. In the case of Erdogan, it is not difficult to disagree with the authors. It is true that Erdogan once pointed out that for him democracy was a means, not an end. Yet, he has also been of the opinion that Islam, too, is a means, not an end. According to Erdogan, what was important was the purpose for which people opted for democracy and/or Islam, He has argued that one may use democracy in order to come to power for one’s personal ends or to serve the people, and that one may exploit religion for political purposes or take Islam simply as a belief system...


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pp. 491-492
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