- The Centrality of Gender to Understanding Turkish Politics
The books analyzed in this review contribute to gender studies in contemporary Turkey in various ways. When taken as a whole they deal with gender as a central concept to understanding power in its relations to nationality, religion, and class. Most of these studies use recent fieldwork, enriching existing research and challenging discussions on contemporary Turkey that depend on opinions rather than data. The books under review also point to issues that are given less importance in scholarship, such as violence against transgender individuals, rural Islam and gender, and patriarchy in minority communities.
In Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks Jenny White aims to sketch the nationalist nature of the new Muslim majority and the gendered nature of this nationalism. By not going into the gendered nature of Islam, she remains quite objective in describing a very polarized sociopolitical atmosphere. White has a long history of working on Islamist mobilization and women’s labor in Istanbul. [End Page 325] She talks with villagers and barbers, feminists and politicians, minorities and businesspeople—sometimes people who are all of these at once—and observes how seemingly Islamic themes relate to nationalism. She also observes that women and minorities are more likely to question these nationalist tendencies. While she does not objectify her research subjects, her contact with the people interviewed seems a bit incidental methodologically. For example, one questions how women are less nationalistic than men: has she talked to women from different classes? Even one of her interviewees says that her husband shares her opinions. White studies people from the same religious sect or cemaat but leaves analyzing the cemaat aside and focuses on men and women. Especially revealing are the one-to-one interviews with Bedrettin Dalan, with his paranoid nationalism, and Ishak Alaton, a Turkish Jewish businessman who describes how minorities in Turkey are seen as foreigners. The group interviews with villagers and feminist-academic women reveal their healthy doubts about nationalism.
The national identity that White analyzes is not an easily observable one. She looks through the polarized air to make a dialectic analysis of the Kemalists versus the “new Turks.” She finds the latter more liberal and transnational but as patriarchal as the former. However, her analysis does not break down the “new Turks” based on their different sects. This flexible and inclusive approach works except when it comes to the women in this little-defined multitude. There it becomes ambiguous. She focuses on women more than men in the book but names the book after the terms developed for the men analyzed: the new Turks, the Muslim nationalists. She leaves out women in the title, although she observes them to be much less nationalist.
Gendered Identities: Criticizing Patriarchy in Turkey is a collection of nine articles edited by Rasim Özgür Dönmez and Fazilet Ahu Özmen. The authors examine patriarchy’s relations to democracy modernization, developmentalism, capitalism, militarism, secularism, and Islamism. The meaning of patriarchy is not discussed. Rather, the authors frequently use and cite others’ definitions of the term. The editors argue that democratization requires that patriarchal structures be deconstructed (x).
In his chapter, Dönmez argues that democratization has been problematic in Turkey because of the masculine nature of the state. He conceptualizes military interventions as attempts to restore hegemonic masculinity But he also argues that the governing Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP), which positions itself against military interventions, embodies a different type of hegemonic masculinity and sustains authoritarianism at the expense of...