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Reviewed by:
  • Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey: The Paradox of Moderation
  • Sena Karasiphai (bio)
Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey: The Paradox of Moderation, by Gunes Murat Tezcur. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2010. $60.

The book under review is an important and timely contribution to the comparative study of recent Islamic reformist thought and movement in Iran and Turkey. More specifically, it examines the Reform Front (RF) in Iran and the Islamist rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey from the early 1990s to the present times within the framework of moderation theory by focusing on the leading reformist Muslim political elites. The author seeks answers to several questions by applying moderation theory:

Why did the strongest Muslim political reform movements in the contemporary Middle East emerge in Iran and Turkey, which substantially differ from each other in terms of political rule, religious establishment, socioeconomic structure, cultural past, and international linkages? Why did the evolution of Iranian and Turkish Muslim reformers follow a similar trajectory? And in what ways did moderation of the Islamists contribute to the democratic opening-up in Iran and consolidation in Turkey?

(pp. 3-4)

Tezcur is skeptical about the effect of moderation theory on democratic progress. He contends that although the Turkish and Iranian Muslim reformers have undergone a process of moderation and been considered as the leading examples of Muslim democrats in the Islamic world, they did not cause a wholesale democratization. In other words, Tezcur asserts that "moderation that entails compromise, commitment to electoral rules, and reconciliation may actually hinder the expansion of political rights, the establishment of a culture of human rights, and the making of political power accountable and transparent" (p. x).

After analyzing the conditions which are conducive to the emergence of the Muslim reformers in both countries in the introductory part of Chapter 1, the author draws our attention to the non-existence of a solid empirical proof that their ascendance is followed by an eclipse of the Islamists (p. 19).

In later parts of the book, particularly in Chapters 2, 6, 7, and 8, Tezcur explains and examines the details of the moderation theory by implementing it on RF and AKP cases. In Chapters 3 and 4, the linkage between Islam and democracy and the Muslim experience of secularism and democratization is debated from an historical viewpoint. In Chapter 5, the author thoroughly elaborates the structure and nature of the guardianship and the electoral politics in Iran and Turkey.

Consequently, in the conclusion, the author argues that "the critical task for Muslim reformers is building institutions and developing the organizational capacity to make political power more accountable, more equally distributed and less hegemonic" (p. 214).

The book under review not only analyzes and explains the emergence and evolution of the Muslim reformers in Iran and Turkey but also enriches our knowledge of the political history of Iran in the post-revolutionary period and Turkey since the revival of political Islam in the early 1970s. He thereby also provides comprehensive information on the evolution and nature of Iranian Shi'ism and the dynamics and characteristics of the political and electoral system in the Islamic [End Page 168] Republic of Iran and Turkey.

Lastly, the book under review is a well researched work composed of primary as well most of the existing secondary sources including macro-level socioeconomic and demographic data. Tezcur produced a scholarly work with a sound theoretical background and qualitative as well as quantitative methodology, which entails ethnographic observations, interviews and electoral results. Overall, this book is a useful and informative guide for those who are interested in the evolution and moderation of the Islamist politics in Iran and Turkey.

Sena Karasiphai

Sena Karasipahi is the author of Muslims in Modern Turkey: Kemalism, Modernism and the Revolt of the Islamic Intellectuals.



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pp. 168-169
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