- Police, Provocation, Politics: Counterinsurgency in Istanbul by Deniz Yonucu
Police, Provocation, Politics is a groundbreaking contribution to the anthropology of policing, surveillance, and resistance. It combines long-term ethnographic research conducted in one of Istanbul's many revolutionary neighborhoods inhabited mainly by urban working-class Turkish and Kurdish Alevis with archival research and oral history narratives. The book's great strength lies in Deniz Yonucu's ability to situate counterinsurgency practices of Turkish police from the 1960s onward within a global context, revealing how these practices aim to create and maintain conflict in and among dissident communities. Policing in this book concerns itself not only with maintaining social order based on capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and colonialism but also with generating disorder. In doing so, the book illustrates various provocative and divisive counterinsurgency techniques applied by the Turkish security state and informed by global counterinsurgencies. It also brilliantly shows how Turkey's racialized, marginalized, and oppressed populations continue to participate in revolutionary activities despite violent counterrevolutionary practices that have targeted these communities for decades.
Even if the book does not exclusively focus on gender issues, its intersectional analysis offers great insight into the gendered dimensions of political resistance and counterinsurgency practices and opens the ground for masculinist and moralistic forms of "mimetic policing." Since society and gender are co-constructed, "there is nothing in social life that is not to be understood through gender constructs" (Strathern 1988: 32). This book shows us that we do not need to focus exclusively on gender issues to talk about gender, women, and masculinity. Yonucu, while describing the organization of the neighborhood, the political activities of its inhabitants, and the counterrevolutionary practices of the police, keeps the gendered dimension of politics and the police in constant critical sight. In chapter 1, for instance, drawing on the Arendtian and Rancierian [End Page 104] frame of politics, Yonucu shows how the people's committees organized by neighborhood residents in the 1960s were a world-building practice that allowed subaltern women to address and challenge unequal and oppressive gendered relations. Here the racialized and impoverished women are seen not as passive victims of capitalism and patriarchy but as active political agents who engage in "de facto feminist politics" (42). The people's committees are described as political places or "subaltern counterpublics" (Fraser 1990: 67) where women contributed to the political organization with a higher consciousness of the marginalized (Collins 1986). The hierarchy based on the class differences between the neighborhood residents and bourgeois outsiders reproduces a further gendered hierarchy between men and women who were subjected to double marginalization, first as Alevis and second as women, not only by the police but also by their male comrades, both Alevi inhabitants of the neighborhood and bourgeois outsiders. Yonucu's analysis of the interviews with the research participants shows how women attempted to challenge patriarchy nourished by male and class domination by bringing up conventionally private issues (such as male violence in the domestic space, excessive alcohol consumption by men, and sexual harassment) in public debate and by taking their husbands or male neighbors to people's courts created by community members. In an era where gender issues are considered secondary by male revolutionaries, to be addressed after the revolution, the growing presence of women and their active participation in the political life of the neighborhood introduced significant awareness and pushed for a feminist practice.
The people's committee experience, however, was a short-lived one. Such worldbuilding practices became the main target of Turkish counterinsurgency. In the following decades, as Yonucu shows, the counterinsurgency focused on opening the ground for revolutionary counterviolence, containing violence and counterviolence in the spaces occupied by working-class Alevis and Kurds. The intensification of drug dealing and gang activities in these neighborhoods by the early 2000s, along with violence-provoking counterinsurgency strategies, was effective in strengthening moralistic and masculinist vigilante practices. Chapter 4, for instance, shows how the selective targeting of the most community-minded and collaborative activists by antiterror laws in the first two decades of the 2000s paved the...