Islamic Revivalism and the Nation-State Project :: Competing Claims for Modernity ::


I – Introduction

Turkey inherited an Islamic legacy of nationhood from the Ottoman Empire. However, with the establishment of the Turkish nation state in 1923, the Kemalist project introduced a secular concept of nationhood. This provoked an often factional anti-Kemalist Islamic resurgence. The establishment of the multi-party political system in 1945 incorporated an Islamic element in politics. During the early 1970s Turkey experienced many popular Islamic political movements. These counter movements against the Kemalist trajectory of nation-making, during the 1980s, resulted in the institutionalization of a "Turkish-Islamic synthesis" ideology in the state structure. The current shift to an Islamic conception of nationhood, I will argue, has its origins in the Ottoman Empire and now aims to re-establish Ottoman-Islamic sources of nationhood in Turkey.

The meaning of this shift is difficult to determine. A simple account could be that the end of the Cold War has also meant the end of the universalizing ideology of modernization and the rejection of Western ideas of secular nationalism by non-Western cultures. Some argue that we are witnessing a proliferation of particularistic, religious-oriented political identities (Juergensmeyer, 1993). This is clearly expressed in the view which regards the Islamic revival as a traditionalist opposition to the "modernization" process (Youssef, 1985). Behind this position are ahistorical notions of Islamic culture and the West which postulate unchanging cultural essences for both. At the same time, by attributing a universal status to modernity, this position does not allow for various conditions of possibility and/or complex processes of its construction; nor the possibility of its transformation.

My point is that the Islamic revival is far from a traditionalist desire to return to a "golden age". Rather, the political rise of Islam should be seen as a political struggle for state control in a mutually constitutive interaction with the changed (or, changing) circumstances of the nation-state project. This involves economic and strategic-political dimensions of power which operate both within the social space of the state and in a world historical setting. The central question, then, is how to explain the relationship between the nation-state and the industrial economy in a non-western historical setting which, according to Sayer (1991) and Giddens (1990), constitute two distinct organizational features of "modernity".

What I wish to do in this paper is examine the politicization of Islam in Turkey by exploring the historicity and specificity of the Kemalist trajectory and the emergence of the Islamic political movement within it. In so doing, my focus will be on the complex processes of interaction between secular and Islamic ideologies, as well as the economic and political struggles involved in articulating populist-nationalist discourses over the meaning of modernity. These struggles have taken the form of a "politics of nationhood". The search for a new Islamic ideology of nationhood involves transnational politics and the economy of Islam. The most important link here is the Naqshbandi and Nurcu religious orders. I follow this line of inquiry by concentrating on: 1- the Ottoman legacy; 2- the Kemalist trajectory; 3- Islamic reassertion; and 4- Islamic internationalism.

II – The Ottoman Legacy

The Ottoman Empire was a cosmopolitan, multi-national and multi-religious empire. The Ottomans granted partial autonomy to the Muslim, Christian and Jewish millets and emphasized religious differences between various cultural groups. The millet system allowed the accommodation of religious and regional particularisms by the center (Karpat, 1976: 10; Gibb and Bowen, 1962: 207; Mardin, 1973: 171). However, the legitimating ideology of the Ottoman power structure was Islam (Karpat, 1972, 1974; Mardin, 1962: 97-108). Islam justified a hierarchic division between rulers and ruled on the basis of divine rule (Inalcik, 1964 and 1994). However, the state did not seek an ideology of nationhood through Islam. The community cultures of various subject people continued to exist independent of the state and constituted the "little" cultures of the imperial system, while the ideological unity between Islam and the state formed the imperial "great" culture of the Sultan and his ruling cadres. There was no unifying ideology of nationhood between the rulers and the masses, nor there was a desire to constitute one.

A series of reforms undertaken between 1839 and 1878 (known in Turkish as the Tanzimat reforms) marked the first institutional transformation of the Empire. The Tanzimat reforms included an effort toward constituting an Ottoman nation in which citizens would benefit from identical civil rights, automatically conferred with citizenship and not dependent on religious affiliation (Mardin, 1962; Davison, 1963; Findley, 1982). Theoretically, this would also mean the dissolution of the millet system.

Tanzimat reforms, however, were bound to lead to a contradiction. The secularizing elite had no way of legitimizing these reforms (Davison, 1963: 238-250; Findley, 1982: 166). Islam became the ideological weapon of the opposition which perceived these shifts in state structure as the penetration of alien, western influences (Islamoglu-Inan, 1987).

The resolution of this contradiction was to be found in the creation of an ideology of unity under Islam. During the rule of Abdulhamit (1878-1908), the Islamic concept of Ottomanism became the ideology of nationhood. In the process, the Naqshbandi tariqa received the Sultan’s patronage, was reorganized by the state and became instrumental in organizing the popular basis of Islamic Ottomanism (Gunduz, 1983; Sapolyo, 1964).

The political role played by the Naqshbandi order was a direct result of a successful organizational strategy developed over its long political life (Atasoy, 1995). The strategy was to organize small community-based networks and to link them into a centrally organized structure. This organizational strategy defined the ways in which knowledge was to be acquired for the mobilization of Muslims – this knowledge being defined as the pursuit of self purification, to be achieved through absolute conformity with the teachings of the shaykh. There were three sources of knowledge: 1- book knowledge, 2- the use of memory and 3- the practice of Rabita (linking the heart of the follower with the heart of the shaykh). Once the link between the shaykh and the follower was organizationally established, a chain of linkages producing a Naqshbandi network of information flows begun to evolve. It was this system of interpersonal linkages which set the organizational strategy for the Naqshbandiya and underpinned its political success.

Abdulhamit’s Islamist attempt to develop an Islamic ideology of Ottoman nationhood had implied Ottoman unity despite the multiplicity of religious cultural groups in the empire. This strategy faced enormous difficulties, however. Not only Christians but also the Muslims were searching for a nationhood of their own. It was within the context of recognizing the futility of Ottomanism that a group of intellectuals, known as the Young Turks, developed an alternative strategy – the advancement of a rival Turkish ideology of nationalism (Behar, 1992: 60-85; Berkes, 1959). The abandonment of Islamic Ottomanism by the Young Turks gave way to growing religous opposition. Virtually all political revolts of the period [2] were organized and supported by the Naqshbandi shaykhs (van Bruinessen, 1992a: 90-97; Aksin, 1980: 91-93; Tunaya, 1962).

III – Kemalist Trajectory for Modernity

The Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 with Mustafa Kemal as its first president. Throughout the single party period (1925-1945) and especially during the 1930s a series of reforms was carried out which articulated a secular conception of nationhood. The "Nation" was presented as the primary source of loyalty and solidarity, while the respective claims of Islam for nationhood were weakened. In the process "The Turk" was invented to replace "The Muslim" as a historical subject.

This approach bypassed Islamic and Ottoman sources of nationhood. The Kemalist nationalists viewed the creation of a unified Turkish nation as a manifestation of, or "uncovering" of, a pre-Islamic cultural essence. The possibility that the "Turks" were largely unaware of a separate Turkish culture and history outside the scheme of the Ottoman and Islamic sources was totally ignored despite the fact that the Turkish speaking populations of Anatolia were in general identified with the Anatolian peasantry which was marginalized into the heterodox elements of Islam (Keyder, 1993: 20-21; B. Toprak, 1981: 24-31; B. Lewis, 1988, 1968: ch. 10). M. Kemal’s solution to this was to achieve a linguistic unity among mixed populations of Circassians, Lazes, Arabs, Kurds, Turks and other Muslim cultural categories living within the territorial boundaries of Turkey. All the Muslims of Turkey were considered Turks while the non-Muslim Greeks, Jews and Armenians were defined as minorities.

In terms of the ways of life fostered by the great transformative agencies of modernity in the West (namely, the nation-state and industrial economy), M. Kemal saw modernity as westernization. The question of whether modernization necessarily involves westernization is problematic. In the practice of Kemalist ideology, however, modernity and westernization were considered identical. This openned the way for Kemalism to produce a system of oppositions in the construction of a national political space. Secular nationalism came to be seen as modern and western, and, therefore, internal to the nation-state project; anything which was associated with Islam was presented as backward, reactionary and eastern, and, therefore, external to modernity. Within this framework, Kemalism displaced Islam from the public arena controlled by the state.

One interesting aspect of the Kemalist trajectory of change concerns the way in which "the West" was perceived. Kemalism was marked by an ambivalence on how to determine Turkey’s relationship to the west and to westernization. The ambiguity of Kemalism was characterized by great admiration for western modernity, on the one hand, and, on the other, by a rejection of western cultural-ideological domination of non-western societies as "imperialistic". The Kemalist admiration for western modernity revealed itself in the industrial economic development project which aimed at catching up with western economies. The "imperialistic" image of the west, on the other hand, constituted a very significant part of Kemalist nationalism in so far as it worked toward creating a distinct "Turkish" folk culture. That is to say, the unique ideological combination of national economic development and a claim for a distinct folk culture underpinned the Kemalist trajectory in its attempt to unify the national political space that it constructed as oppositional.

The strong Naqshbandi shaykhs and other politically highly influential religious figures shared the Kemalist perception of the West as "imperialistic". In a fashion similar to that of the Kemalists, they conceived the War of Independence (1919-1922) as an Islamic jihad [3] (Misiroglu, 1992: 285-286; Sahiner, 1979: 236-249) and granted their support for the Kemalists. What they were opposed to was not the project of modernity per se, but the Kemalist trajectory of constructing "the nation" in a specific manner that was linked to a certain European trajectory of the nation-state. They advocated Islam to constitute a national culture distinct from western cultural values. In so doing, they thought they would resolve the Kemalist ambiguity in relation to the west and westernization.

The Sufi religious orders, in general, and the Naqshbandi and the Nurcu orders, in particular, have played, and continue to play a major role in altering the relationship between Islam and the nation-state project. The first moment of this attempt consisted of making Islam the only possible organizing framework of national unity in opposition to the militant secularism of Kemalism. In this attempt, they were opposed to the dictatorial means adopted by the government to close a multiplicity of reflections on the everyday life experiences of individual citizens under the influence of the westernization process. Because of the political importance of his followers to present-day Turkey, I briefly review the political ideas of Said Nursi, one of the most influential Naqshbandi- trained and educated religious leaders. I will also touch on the famous Turkish poet N. F. Kisakurek.

3.1. Said Nursi and the Kemalist Project of Nationhood

As an Ottomanist, Said Nursi saw the Ottoman empire as the last and most powerful Islamic state, one capable of unifying all Muslims under one nation, regardless of cultural-linguistic origin (Said Nursi, 1990a: 113, 123; Said Nursi, 1990b: 247).

After the break-up of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI, Said Nursi joined the Kemalists, took part in the organization of the War of Independence and became a parliamentarian in the Grand National Assembly, upon M. Kemal’s request. He understood the nation as an Islamic-cultural unity of various communities of Muslims within the territorial boundaries of the state. He opposed the abolition of the Caliphate as he rejected other aspects of the secularization process initiated by M. Kemal. According to him, the abolition of Islamic principles would give way to internal disturbances and, thereby, to disintegration of the national society. He defended the idea that only Islam could secure a unified conception of nationhood among various cultural-linguistic communities within Turkey (Misiroglu, 1992: 287-292). M. Kemal strongly opposed the idea of Islamic solidarity. Understanding the impossibility of persuading him, Said Nursi left parliament and returned to Van, his homeland in Eastern Anatolia, where he devoted himself to the cultivation of an intense Islamic inner life. During his seclusion in Eastern Anatolia he was accused of inciting the shaykh Said revolt of 1925 among the Kurds, though there was no evidence of his connection with the revolt. He was exiled to Burdur in Western Anatolia.

Said Nursi was a Kurd who rejected Kurdish nationalism just as he rejected Turkish nationalism. He never endorsed separatism among the Kurdish speaking population of Turkey. For him, nationalism of any kind was a tribalist secular political movement which would brake Islamic bonds among Muslims (Said Nursi, 1990c: 303-305; van Bruinessen, 1992b: 141-143).

During his years of exile after 1925, he devoted his teachings to the interpretation of the Qur’anic revelation through his risales. His aim was to demonstrate that knowledge generated by the natural sciences was present in the Qur’an.

Said Nursi did not establish a religious order nor did he define himself as a shaykh. Rather, his writings became the core of his teachings (Algar, 1979: 321; Mardin, 1989: 34-39). In his writings he brought forth the Qur’an as the only guide in order to develop natural laws. In this effort there was no place for the personalism and the flexible re-interpretation by a shaykh of the Prophet’s Sunna. He saw himself as a religious preacher concerned with the re-interpretation of universal Islamic knowledge under modern conditions. This effort was a response to M. Kemal’s conviction that Islam was an incongruent model for the development of an industrial economy because of its alleged resistance to rational (instrumental) thinking.

Said Nursi rejected the Kemalist trajectory as a cultural-political project for the creation of a nation on the basis of the totalizing representations of westernization. His aim was to strengthen the morality and ethics within the frame of faith set by the Qur’an. In so doing, he drew a line dividing between the "evil" influences of Western civilization and the "good society" of faithful individuals. Said Nursi wrote about western civilization:

"Its point of support is force and aggression; its aim is benefit/profit making and self interest; its principle of life is conflict; its tie between communities is racism and negative nationalism; its fruits are stimulation of the appetites of the soul and increasing the needs of human kind … Western civilization has brought bad consequences for human kind like: wastefullness, poverty, idleness, egoism and cast the great majority like 80 per cent, into wretchedness" (Quoted in Canan, 1991: 197, 201).

In addition to the influence of Said Nursi, an Islamic intellectual agenda also began to develop in opposition to secularism and westernization as they became the dominant discourse within the Kemalist nation-state project. Among those intellectuals involved was Naqshbandi-affiliated poet N. F. Kisakurek (1904-1983). His writings promoted the cultural greatness of the East and the moral decay of the West. He also wrote about the wide-spread anxiety of feeling meaningless, empty and homeless in a seamless and structureless whole which, he argued, Kemalists constructed as a nation.

3.2. Islam and the Peasantry

As Keyder (1993), Cakir (1990) and Toprak (1981) have argued, the Islamic movement did not reject the concept of modernity understood as a nation-state and economic development project. However, it developed as a political protest against the Kemalist policies. Islamic opposition to Kemalism found very fertile ground for growth among the peasantry – the most disadvantaged group under the Kemalist modernity project. This, cannot be seen as a matter of "false consciousness" on the part of the peasantry. Peasant culture was regarded by the modernizing leaders as a potential danger to the secular principles of the nation-state, because of its alleged "backwardness". Peasants were expected to abandon their cultures and accept a Western way life. This was what the peasants had become increasingly troubled with.

More specifically, it was the financial burden of industrialization imposed on peasants which was the source of greatest resistance. They were expected to increase food production for internal consumption and finance the economy in the government’s attempt to foster private industrial capital (Boratav, 1982; Birtek and Keyder, 1975). Especially during WWII, peasants were subject to compulsory labour, compulsory crop contributions, and the confiscation of animals and household utensils (Bianchi, 1984; Pamuk, 1988). Under these material conditions the peasants could not understand why a policy of secularism was good for them.

IV – The Dilemma of Industrialization and Islamic Reassertion, 1945-1970s

After the transition to a multi-party political system in 1945, Islamists started to use the concept of "democracy" while they became part of the political alliance structure of the multi-party political system. Their claim was that secularism was a means for Kemalists to displace Islam from the public arena (Jaschke, 1972: 83)

The reassertion of Islam during the 1950s had to do with the invoked and disputed bases of national unity. The Democratic Party (DP), which came to power in 1950 introduced the possibility of defining a new conception of citizenship. This redefinition of citizenship consisted of, first, reconstruction of the workings of the Islamic culture as the "little" cultures of the people, and, second, integration of this culture with secularism.

The DP’s Islamic project consisted of a greater economic mobilization of the peasants by integrating them and their cultures into national politics. The idea was to construct the ideology of cultural unity in such a way that Islam would be part of the nation-state project, rather than being external to it. This was part of its populist ideology which preached a pluralist consensus on the agricultural economic development strategy. Massive state subsidies, price and credit policy, expansion of land under cultivation, mechanization of agriculture and increased use of fertilizers were all building blocks in the DP’s economic strategy toward consolidating the economic role of the small producing peasantry in the national economy.

However, once the export earnings from agriculture began to decline in 1954 due to a sudden and significant drop in agricultural output,[4] Turkey began to experience a trade deficit. As a response, the DP shifted its economic policy from agricultural economic development toward industrialization (Krueger, 1974: Ch. 2; Keyder, 1987) – one which was to be financed through external loans (Atasoy, 1995). The consequence of the economic policy shift was the beginning of a depeasantization process within the small producing peasantry and a massive rural to urban migration (Senyapili, 1978; Kartal, 1983; Karpat, 1976). These depeasantized farmers turned into a marginal economic category in the cities who could not be absorbed in the formal sector of the economy.

Now the DP faced the challenge of political accommodation of these peasants recently migrated to the urban areas. This challenge was further complicated during the post-DP era of the 1960s and 1970s when the Justice Party (formed in 1961 to replace the DP after it was outlawed by the military coup) held power for most of this period. The government strategy initially was to export labour to Western Europe, and to Germany in particular. Worker migration was beneficial for maintaining social peace in the country on two grounds. First, it consisted of exporting social problems abroad. Second, it assisted in the financing of industry through workers remittances. However, due to the recession in Europe, labour migration declined during the mid-1970s and an increasing number of unexportable labour began to join either the informal sector of the economy or gain employment in small manufacturing as unorganized labour. This compromised national economic stability, thus increasing political tension over the ideological principles of the Kemalist nation-state project. The challenge was further intensified by the fact that in the international political and military conjuncture of Detente (1970) and the Cyprus War (1974) there was no mechanism for the government to negotiate long term external loans and economic aid. The government’s capacity to increase annual domestic job creation was thus impaired.

During the late 1950s the DP’s response to the depeasantization problem was to coopt Islam to serve national ends. A similar strategy was also adopted, during the 1960s and 1970s, by various center-right governments of the Justice Party facing employment problems. Islamic cooptation worked through the integration of religious courses and schools into formal secular education. A sudden increase in the number of mosques and Imam-Hatip schools (schools for Hocas and Preachers) accompanied these changes.

4.1. Religious Education, 1950s-1970s

Between 1951-1952, seven middle-level and lycee-level Imam-Hatip schools were opened by the Ministry of Education. By 1958, their number had increased to 18 with 2476 students. In 1961 the Higher Islamic Institute was opened. That same year, the Department of Religious Education was established within the Ministry of Education. The students of the religious schools were mostly from the families of rural small-producers and urban lower classes (Gokce, et al. 1984: 123).

In addition to broadening the scope of religious education, the DP also expanded the budget of the Directorate of Religious Affairs in order to build new mosques and and maintain the old ones, and to increase the living standards of religious personnel. Between 1950 and 1960 15,000 new mosques were built (B. Toprak, 1981: 80-81).

Between 1965-1969, the Justice Party established three more Higher Islamic Institutes and 40 more middle level Imam-Hatip schools (Dincer, 1974: 66-67; Yavuz, 1969: 63-64). During the academic years between 1963-1964 and 1971-1972, the number of Imam-Hatip school students grew 611 per cent. The growth of all other technical and non-technical vocational students, on the other hand, was only 127 per cent (State Planning Organization, 1973: 755).

The expansion of religious education and institutions could not be described as an articulation of a counter Islamic ideology. It did, however, allow the state to establish its ideological control over large segments of the population. The graduates of these schools were to be prayer leaders and preachers employed exclusively by the state. Religious schools established the link between religion and the state by offering a blend of Islamic and secular courses. On the other hand, this process produced results which were not entirely consistent with Kemalist objectives. In fact, the intellectual development fostered in these schools was effectively directed toward an Islam-based modernity project with its own unique agenda.

4.2. Religious Orders and the Economy

Religious orders began to articulate Islamic ideology with reference to the organizing principle of national economic development strategies pursued by various governments. What they were rejecting was the stimulation of mass consumerism by a particular economic development strategy imposed by the West. The ideology of mass consumerism, they argued, created conditions of poverty among human kind instead of bringing prosperity to larger segments of the population. They took up this concern on the basis of what Said Nursi wrote in 1959:

"Since wastefulness and vice have predominated over frugality and contentment, and laziness and the desire for comfort over endeavour and service, it has made wretched humankind both extremely poor and extremely lazy … In the primitive state of nomadism (for example) people only needed three or four things. And those who could not obtain these three or four products were two out of ten. The present tyrannical Western civilization has encouraged consumption, abuses and wastefulness and the appetites, and, in consequence, has made nonessentials into essential, and has made this so-called civil person in need of twenty things instead of four. And yet he can only obtain two of these twenty. He still needs eighteen. Therefore, contemporary civilization impoverished humankind …" (Said Nursi, Emirdag Lahikasi, 1959: 98).

In addition to the growing political sensitivity of Said Nursi and his followers to the economic dimension of modernity, a parallel concern can be found in the work of Naqshbandi Shaykh Mehmet Zaid Kotku.

Shaykh Kotku showed a remarkable success in capturing the discourse of secular intellectuals and understanding the problems of modernity. His emphasis was on the development of a national heavy industry. He encouraged N. Erbakan to establish a model Islamic industrial plant which led to the founding of a factory making irrigation pumps (Mardin, 1991: 134). He advised his followers to refrain from using imported customer goods, particularly in food and clothing, and to establish a national industrial development plan in order to maintain the distinctiveness of Islamic culture and overcome the "dependent" status of Turkey in the world economy (Kotku, 1984a and 1984b). This led his followers working in the State Planning Organization to formulate strategies for heavy industrialization in Turkey. Ersin Gurdogan’s work during the 1960s in the State Planning Organization is an apt example of this strategy (Gurdogan, 1991).

4.3. The Pro-Islamic Political Party and the Economy

How is the rise of Islamic modernism in the national political agenda to be explained? An explanation may be found in the articulation of a particular kind of nationalism by a political party. This party appeared on the parliamentary scene in 1970 with the establishment of the pro-Islamic National Order Party (NOP). Following its closure by the Constitutional Court, the NOP was replaced by the National Salvation Party (NSP) in 1972 which was founded on the basis of an alliance between the Naqshbandi and the followers of Said-i Nursi (Cakir, 1990: 214-222).

The NSP ideology built on Islamic modernism – a concept which captures an articulation between the nation-state principle and industrial economic development goal. This is a modernist project. What makes this project of modernism an Islamic one is that it incorporates production and consumption patterns in the national economy through a policy of Islamic regulation of social life that would eventually guarantee the constitution of a "virtuous" society. In this view, production would be planned by the state in accordance with Islamic consumption norms.

The NSP formulated this project by incorporating region and capital based conflicts in its political alliance structure. After labour migration to Western Europe came to an end, there was an increase in urban unemployment levels accompanied by an increase in active political participation among the urban masses (Agaogullari, 1987). Political rivalry grew over the recruitment of these potentially migrant urban workers. Small and medium size industry, which provided employment oppurtunities for these workers, was the focus of the Islamic political project. According to the former leaders of the pro-Islamic NSP Emre (1973: 5-6) and Erbakan (1975: 29-40), the Anatolian industrialists and commercial groups of small and medium size were discriminated against in the state allocation of foreign exchange currency and credits, though they were the most widespread in the manufacturing industry. The Anatolian small and medium size manufacturing interests and their potentially migrant labour, in turn, enabled the Islamic political project to rise in national politics.

Erbakan and other party members repeatedly pointed out their commitment to the development of capital goods producing heavy industry via state involvement in production as well as private small manufacturing of consumer goods. State regulation of consumption patterns was to be the basis for the heavy industrialization project which was thought to be the root of state autonomy both from large industrial and trading interests of Istanbul region, who Erbakan defined as "comprador-masonic minority" (Saribay, 1985: 98-99), and from the Western economic and political domination (Oguz, 1994: 105-117).

This brings us to a consideration of the specific place of Islam in the complex relations of the transnational economy, state system and nationalism. Here the argument is that Islamic political ideology rejects the complementarity of economies within an international order governed either by the U.S or Western Europe, but favours another possibility that would be organized by the cooperation of Muslim states.

V – Islam and Internationalism

Since the 1980s Turkey has shifted its development trajectory from an import substituting industrialization model to a transnationalist market-oriented one, and pursued a pro-West economic liberalism. An ideological shift to a Turkish-Islamic Synthesis [5] also began to replace the Kemalist principle of secularism. This articulation between pro-west economic liberalism and the ideology of a Turkish-Islamic Synthesis may appear to be anomalous. What appears to be an anomaly, however, can be seen as a coupling between the transnational expansion of market forces and domestic legitimacy. The ideology of Turkish-Islamic Synthesis aimed at strengthening the nation-state.

How do we explain the interplay between the economic policy shift and the change in state ideology? The answer to this question can be found in the escalation of political-military conflicts in the state system during the late 1970s. The most important ones are the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In the course of these conflicts, the old positional advantage of Turkey, which disappeared during Detente and the Cyprus War, re-emerged. Especially in the absence of a clear military alignment with the oil producing Middle Eastern states, it was of critical importance for the U.S to rescue Turkey from the fate of Iran (Washington Post, March 2, 1988; Milliyet October 15-30, 1988). The state of fear on the part of American policy makers was rooted in the possibility of the growth of Shiite power in the region (Momeri, 1985). This brought about two policy alternatives: 1- to grant Turkey’s status as an important player in the Middle East – a status contingent upon the provision of American economic aid; 2- to grant Saudi Arabia the leadership role in the emergence of a "moderate Sunni Islamic bloc" in the region – a policy initiative which was played out by the growing international circulation of Saudi capital among the Muslim nations of the Middle East (Atasoy, 1995). The specific combination of these policy initiatives produced the shift in domestic economic policy (American aid was conditional to structural adjustment program) while it encouraged closer economic ties with the Muslim countries of the Middle East. As a result, Turkey experienced a spectacular increase in exports unparalled by any country between 1980-1985 (Senses, 1990; Balkir, 1993: 135-159; World Bank, 1987). Middle East trade was responsible for 45.5 per cent of the total increase in manufactured exports (Senses, 1990: 64-65).

The simultaneous occurrence of these events turned out to be the most powerful factor in the political rise of Islam in Turkey, yet it was not the intent of the U.S policy makers. This process worked through the articulation of transnational Islamic institutions and Saudi capital to Turkish politics. Here the linkage is provided by the emergence of a group of large exporting companies with a strong connection to the Naqhsbandi and Said-i Nursi movement – a process which intensified interest cleavages between import substituting and exporting private capital groups while it worked at the expense of small and medium size companies producing for the domestic markets.

The first example of the transnational Islamic institutions is the Islamic Conference that convened in Pakistan in 1976, which is also known as the International Shari’a Congress. The Islamic Conference and/or the International Shari’a Congress was organized and financed by a Saudi Arabian Institution – the Rabitat al-Alam al-Islami (the Muslim World League) (Mumcu, 1987: 174-175). The Conference advocated the establishment of an international Islamic organization to coordinate the economic activities of the Muslim nations. Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation (known in Turkey as ISEDAK) was created. The linkage between the Shari’a Congress and the ISEDAK was established through the Saudi finance institutions – the Rabitat al-Alam al-Islami (Rabitat, in short), the Dar al-Maal al Islami, and the Al Baraka Group. An important part of the capital of these institutions is provided by ARAMCO. It is estimated that the Rabitat capital is made up by 2.5 per cent of ARAMCO’s capital (Mumcu, 1987: 176).

These Saudi Arabian finance institutions in their joint ventures with the politically highly significant Naqshbandi businessmen mediated the inflow of Saudi capital to Turkey. The Faisal Finance of Turkey and the Al-Baraka Turk are the most important Saudi-Naqshbandi joint ventures (Mumcu, 1987: 177-180; Yeni Gundem, 15 February 1987). Saudi capital was involved in founding several wakfs and autonomous Quran schools [6] through the Faisal Finance of Turkey and Al-Baraka Turk. Among these wakfs are the Bereket Vakfi (the Al-Baraka Wakf), established by the Topbas Family, and the Ozbag Vakfi, established by Korkut Ozal and his business partners.

VI – Conclusion

I have argued previously that the Kemalist project of nation-making was based on an ambiguity and indeterminacy with respect to its attitude toward the West and westernization. The politicization of Islam was embedded in this aspect of Kemalism and aimed to emphazise the distinctness of "the Nation" by incorporating Islam into a new ideology of nationhood.

The Kemalist project did not envisage a relationship between religion and culture. The difficulty of the Kemalist trajectory of nation making was embedded in the political and social structure Turkey inherited from the Ottoman Empire. The multi-religious cultural communities of the Ottoman Empire made it difficult to envisage and transform a Turkish cultural category into a nation. It is not because Turks of the Empire lacked a culture based on history, language and religion – but because the concept of nationhood overlapped with the wider meaning of Islamic culture, loyalty and Ottoman identification. The Kemalist trajectory as a nation-state project, following the Tanzimat legacy of the Ottoman Empire, tried to conceptualize an imposed uniformity as a way of levelling out cultural differences. In the process, Islam was defined as external to the nation-state project.

After the transition to the multi-party political system, Islam began to be re-incorporated into the state structure. I have argued that this concerned the disputed bases of national unity invoked by the DP’s populist ideology in achieving a pluralist consensus on its economic development strategy. In this way, Islamic opposition to the Kemalist project gradually began to be part of the political alliances of the multi-party regime. I have also argued that the cooptation of Islam by the government instituted an elaborate relationship between economic development and Islamic institutions, not entirely controlled by the state.

The Naqshbandi-affiliated exporting companies benefited from a transnationalist market-oriented economic model. The growth of religiously oriented business has been part of the Islamic political agenda which has advocated national planning in strengthening the state in Turkey, though it should be consistent with Islamic principles. Private small capital as well as urban marginals provide the political basis of this project. Working on the same premises of the Ottoman Pan-Islamic movement, the NSP advocated the revitalization and recovery of Ottoman history as the most fundamental element in the re-formation of national consciousness and moral-spiritual development. At present, Islam has become rearticulated in nationalist/populist discourses in a way that the Kemalist state ideology of cultural unity is unable to determine the lines of inclusion and exclusion with respect to the dominant form of sociability in Turkey.

Once again, it must be noted that the current wave of Islamic revivalism cannot properly be seen as a traditionalist desire to return to a "golden age", nor can it be seen as a "fundamentalist" rejection of modernity. What we are witnessing in today’s Turkey is a religiously inspired nationalism which betrays simplistic notions of a homogeneous cultural and political reality. There is no unified Islamic ideology. Rather the pro-Islamic party articulates different and often contradictory interests and incorporates them into a nationalist popular program.


[1]. My most immediate debt is to Prof. R. J. Campiche, President of the Editorial Committee of Social Compass for editorial comments on the original version of this paper. I am also greateful to Prof. J. Zylberberg for encouraging me in this endeavour. Special thanks to Ken Jalowica for suggestions and comments on an earlier draft.

[2]. Among these revolts was the Kor Ali revolt of October 1908 (Aksin, 1980: 91-93) and the Dervis Mehmet revolt of April 13, 1909, known in Turkish history as the 31 March Incident.

[3]. The idea that the War of Independence was an Islamic jihad was also propogated by M. Kemal himself in his call for the openning of the Grand National Assembly in 1920. He defined the Grand National Assembly as the place where Muslims were to gather to discuss and decide on the strategies for the restoration of the sovereignty of Islam(Document numbered 363 in the Harb Tarihi Vesikalari Dergisi (Journal of the War History Documents), 1955).

[4]. In 1954 Turkey experienced a sudden drop in agricultural production. Overall agricultural output and exports declined by 15 per cent (Singer, 1977: 193-195) while drop in wheat production was 20 per cent from 1953 to 1954 (Krueger, 1974: 8). This was due largely to climatic factors. Export earnings also declined due to falling wheat prices in the world markets. The conjuncture within which world wheat prices declined was due to subsidized US exports in the form of food aid under public law 480 of 1954 (Friedmann, 1982).

[5]. In 1954 Turkey experienced a sudden drop in agricultural production. Overall agricultural output and exports declined by 15 per cent (Singer, 1977: 193-195) while drop in wheat production was 20 per cent from 1953 to 1954 (Krueger, 1974: 8). This was due largely to climatic factors. Export earnings also declined due to falling wheat prices in the world markets. The conjuncture within which world wheat prices declined was due to subsidized US exports in the form of food aid under public law 480 of 1954 (Friedmann, 1982).

[6]. The number of students enrolled in these schools is more than 200,000.

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