On 4th February, Jenny White gave a talk in the British House of Commons as part of the Westminster debates held and organized by the Centre for Turkish Studies. The audience was a mix of politicians, scholars, students, and other interested people. The talk was moderated by Dr. Pelin Kadercan, of Reading University. A video of the event is now available to view here.
In her recent book Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks, Jenny White argues that the polarization in Turkey isn’t due to an Islamist/secularist split as it is often portrayed, but rather is a result of the rapid transformation of society and consequent insecurity and search for new identities and meanings, particularly among the younger generations, regardless of whether they are secular or pious. The danger to Turkey comes not from Islam, which for many has become a lifestyle and object of choice, rather than an ideology, but from 20th-century habits of political autocracy that mirror familiar patriarchal authoritarian relations in the family that promise protection and stability.
In her talk at the House of Commons, Professor White brought these ideas up to the present, suggesting that the discourse that posits a father state protecting his citizen children from outsiders aiming (with the help of traitorous insiders) to destroy the integrity and honor of the nation reappeared in the rhetoric and actions of both the prime minister and protesters during the Gezi protests of summer 2013 and in the Turkish government’s response to corruption allegations and other recent events. She explained why this discourse still works to mobilize major elements of the population, while other parts of the population now categorically reject these affiliations and patterns of political and personal relations. Turkey is at a tipping point between these forces.
This spring sees the publication of the paperback of this important book. Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks will be reissued with a new afterword in which White analyzes the latest political developments, particularly the mass protests surrounding Gezi Park, their impact on Turkish political culture, and what they mean for the future.
Image credit: Centre for Turkey Studies