Report: Seminar “Secularization, Religion, State” 10th session

9 October, 2009 HANEDA Masashi, WATANABE Shoko, Secularization, Religion, State

On October 5, 2009, we held the tenth session of the seminar “Secularization, Religion, State”.

In this session we discussed Fumiko SAWAE’s work, Democratic Politics and Islam in Contemporary Turkey [Gendai Toruko no Minshu Seiji to Isulamu] (Kyoto: Nakanishiya Shuppan, 2005). The presenter was Mr. Kiyohiko HASEBE, research fellow at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

SAWAE’s book is divided into three parts: In the introduction, “Islam and Politics”, and in part 1, “Islamic Parties in the Secularist Regime”, she examines existing conceptions of the relationship between politics and religion. She also suggests a historical revision of this relationship, through an analysis of Kemalism, the Turkish ideology of nation-building, based on a strict Secularism. According to her view, Turkish politics, which revolved around the idea of a Kemalism-based Secularist State, as well as the Turkish society, were always sensitive to Islamic discourse and identity. In spite of the apparent conflict between the secularist regime and Islamic revival tendencies, Turkish politics remained nothing but “Turkish Muslim Politics”. Both sides mobilized nationalist and Islamic symbols, “competing and fighting with each other in order to monopolize the meaning of these symbols, and to dominate a system that defines and articulates social values and norms.” For example, SAWAE estimates that Islamic parties, whose first appearance was the Milli Nizam Partisi in 1970 and the Milli Selamet Partisi in 1972, played the role of anti-establishment parties, emphasizing Islamic values within the “Secularist regime.” However, according to her, the character of these parties “cannot be called program parties [namely parties with defined ideologies],” but rather pragmatic parties.

In the second part of the book, “Islamic parties in the age of liberalization and democratization,” the author summarizes the changes in State ideology after the military coup-d’état of 1980, followed by the rise of the Islamic parties. According to SAWAE, the coup brought about an integration of Islam into national identity, formulated as “TIS: Turk-Islam Synthesis.” During the Ozal administration that followed this period, the old “Secularist regime” changed into the “Ozal model”, which consisted of the cooption of Muslim identity into the framework of secularism, and of pragmatic policies aiming for economic and political liberalizations. This model influenced Islamic parties, which became very active competitors under this political liberalization. However, when one of these Islamic parties, the Refah Partisi, finally came into power as part of a coalition government in 1996, the military launched the “campaign on February 28th”, and the party became illegal in 1997. The Islamic parties were oppressed by the military that regarded them as “reactionary.”

The author notes that this event was a “pseudo-coup d’état” by the Secularist regime, which canceled the TIS ideology of the 1980’s and clearly declared the return to the original State ideology, that is, the trinity of Modern Civilization, Westernization and De-Islamization. This crisis also revealed the dilemma of the Turkish Secularist regime under the age of democratization. If the regime intended to proceed to a real political liberalization, they should have given up the old Secularist dogma and the tradition of “Turkish Muslim Politics” behind—which they did not. This dilemma shows well the “limits of Turkish democracy”: “The Secularist regime should abandon either of the two ideals: Turkey as a secular and westernized state, or Turkey as a democratic and developed state.”

In the third part, titled “the Islamic revival in the 21st century,” the author provides insights on future perspectives for Islamic parties, dealing with the relationship between the Islamic revival and civil society.

In our discussion, students agreed that this study is valuable, providing concrete analyses on the activities of Islamic parties in Turkey based on detailed research and fieldwork, which makes the book very original. The participants also appreciated the author’s attempt to establish a new analytic framework that criticizes classic concepts such as “democracy”, “separation of church and state” and “individual liberty”—concepts which have been taken for granted during the age of modernization, but are now criticized for being western-centered and ambiguous. On the other hand, some students pointed out the insufficiency of the historical and theoretical analysis of Kemalism, which remains the secularist ideology of the regime until today. This analysis should have been all the more important because this state ideology serves as the center of gravity around which all Turkish party politics evolves. Other students discussed the possibility of comparing the Turkish case and other countries like Iran.

Reported by Shoko WATANABE

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