Islamic Political Identity in Turkey: Rethinking the West and Westernization

İhsan D. Dağı, METU/ODTÜ

CPS International Policy Fellowship Program
Central European University

This research is an attempt to understand the shifts in the identity shaping perception of the west prevalent among the Turkish Islamists. While observing that modern Islamic identity in Turkey has been shaped by an opposition to the west, western political values and westernization policies of the republic it is argued that understanding of the west by the Islamists was not locked in the late 19th century. In recent years it can be observed that in a ‘unique’ way the Islamists have departed from their conventional position and seemed to engage in a process of ‘rethinking’ the west, modern/western political values as well as westernization. What I call rethinking the west and westernization have its roots in recent political developments in Turkey, which will be explained in detail in the forthcoming pages. The changing discourse of Turkish Islamists presents an important move not only for the spread of modern political values among the Islamists of Turkey but also for a possibility of rapprochement between Islam and the west in the post-September 11 context. Thus the objective of this research is to assess the depth of Turkish Islamists’ rapprochement with the west and westernization, and evaluate whether this discursive shift is circumstantial or substantial with an impact on the identity formation of modern Islamists. The paper will therefore address at political and intellectual background of the roots and elements of ‘rethinking’ the west, ‘western/modern’ values and westernization by explaining the themes and terms of the Islamists’ debate, and evaluate its outcomes and impacts.

To conclude it can be asserted that the Islamists in Turkey have had more problems with westernization and the Kemalist secularization than the west itself. Therefore as the Kemalists seemed to have abandoned westernization in recent years the Islamists have moved in advocating further westernization that meant democracy, closer integration with the EU and a lesser Kemalist state. A democratic state that could be formed by the support of the west was expected to be a non-ideological state leaving the Islamists free from the interventions/exclusions of the Kemalists. That is to say that the Islamists’ attitude towards the west was rather ‘situational’ determined by the pro-westernism of the Kemalists. As the situation changed so did the positions of the Kemalists and the Islamists. The Islamists seem to have determined their position of the west on the attitude of the westernizers. This new situation provided an opportunity for the Islamists to rethink the west and western values.

Then a fundamental question emerges; what is to be left of Islamism as a result of the rethinking process? As rejection of the west and westernization was the very basis on which modern Islamist identity was built the rapprochement with the west and westernization shakes the very basis of Islamist identity. What is left is not an Islamist identity as we know it. A political movement that embraces modern political values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and advocates integration with the EU, and manages to get votes from all segments of society can hardly be called Islamist, that is the break away Ak Party. Transformation of the NVM shows how the movement gave birth to a new political party (Ak Party) with a liberal, democratic and pro-western identity and politics as a result of its changing discourse on democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the EU membership. It is a case proving that a discursive shift may be followed by a fundamental change in the identities under certain circumstances. A departure from rejecting the west and westernization seems to have transformed the Islamic self in Turkey with a tremendous impact on the relationship between Islam and the west.
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Full-Text/Tam Metin (55p/s)
http://pdc.ceu.hu/archive/00001804/01/Dagi.pdf
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