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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Gülen interview

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Fethullah Gulen: Powerful but reclusive Turkish cleric
Tim Franks; BBC News; January 27th, 2014

Fethullah Gulen has been called Turkey’s second most powerful man. He is also a recluse, who lives in self-imposed exile in the US.

An apparent power struggle between his followers and those around the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has reached a new pitch of intensity and loathing.

Since arriving in the US in the late 1990s, Mr Gulen, 74, has not given a single broadcast interview. What rare communication there has been with the media has almost exclusively been conducted via email.

But now, the BBC has had exclusive access to the Muslim cleric. I travelled with Guney Yildiz from the BBC Turkish Service to a remote part of Pennsylvania to meet the man.

Written by M. James

January 28, 2014 at 12:12 am

Posted in News, Politics, Religion, Turkey

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Gökalp on ümmet, devlet, and millet

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Though this particular problem may be historical, the general problem is a timeless one. What follows is a brilliant exposition of the three central concepts surrounding early Turkish modernization, and the three groups who fought for ownership of those concepts:

Gökalp, Ziya, “The Ideal of Nationalism: three currents of thought,” trans. Niyazi Berkes, Nationalism in Asia and Africa, ed. Elie Kedourie

When we look at social realities, we cannot fail to see that an Islamic ümmet, an Ottoman state (devlet), a Turkish or an Arab nation (millet) do exist. However, if this statement corresponds to any reality, the term “ümmet” must denote the totality of those people who profess the same religion, the “state” all those who are administered under the same government, and the “nation” all those who speak the same language. The statement will be valid and will correspond to reality only if the above definitions are accepted. It seems, then, that those who do not accept this statement deny it, not because its meaning does not correspond to reality, but because they do not believe that these words are suitable for denoting the respective meanings.

The Islamists say that the word “nation” [millet; Arabic milla] denotes what we cover by the word “ümmet.” The term “milla,” they say, means “sect” in Arabic. The perfection of a language means the existence of a meaning for every word and a word for every meaning, and also the existence of words expressing several meanings. Even if we ourselves do not do this, the language itself will. It is for this reason that the current [Turkish] language uses the word “ümmet” for those who belong to the same religion, and the word “millet” for those who speak the same language. As the majority of the people uses them with these specific meanings, we too must accept them. There is no use creating difficulties on questions of terminology.

The Ottomanists, on the other hand, believe that the “state” and the “nation” are synonymous. To them, the sum total of the citizens of a state constitutes a nation. This might be true, if we disregarded reality and took only the logical relation between the concepts into account. As a matter of fact, to have a state composed of peoples who speak the same language, or to make only those peoples who speak the same language an independent state, seems more natural and most desirable. But are existing states formed that way? If not, then how is it justifiable to disregard that which is existing and to believe that what ought to exist is really existing?

The Turkists, on the other hand, criticizing the theses of these groups, come to the following conclusions: (a) the ümmet and the nation are different things; (b) the nation and the state are also not the same. One may object to these conclusions, but only in so far as they do not correspond to sociological realities, and not by insisting that these realities should not be so. We must fit our concepts to the realities and not the realities to our own concepts!

Written by M. James

November 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Incorporation in Islam

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A similar phenomenon to the absence of Western state-theory:

Stern, S.M., “The Constitution of the Islamic City,” The Islamic City: A Colloquium

THE ABSENCE IN ISLAM OF CORPORATIONS IN GENERAL

I should like to put forward the idea that one of the striking differences between the society of medieval western Christendom and Islamic society was this: that whereas in the former all sorts of corporate institutions proliferated, in the latter, they were entirely absent. The propensity to organize institutions in the form of corporations was not in the West something primeval, but arose, if I am not mistaken, sometime about the eleventh century. I am not competent to give a reasoned account of this development or to try to determine its causes, but shall perhaps not stray too far from the mark if I suggest that the example of the religious orders with their highly developed constitutions had a great deal to do with this; a secondary factor may be the existence in Roman law of the idea of legal associations and juridicial persons.

. . .

Written by M. James

November 18, 2013 at 5:57 pm

The Turkish state-construction complex

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I’ve made only passing remarks about the tentacles of the Turkish construction industry before, so here’s something more in-depth from an insightful Turkish ABD in Germany.

And having spent a good deal of time in Ankara, I can attest to the accuracy of not only the attitudes toward gecekondus, but also TOKİ’s cringeworthy, unaesthetic response.

The abstract follows. Read the whole article.

Islamists, State and Bourgeoisie: The Construction Industry in Turkey
İsmail Doğa Karatepe; Neoliberalism in Turkey (conference); Oct. 28, 2013

Abstract

This short study is designed to explore the three crucial elements of construction boom that Turkey has experienced since 2002, when the islamist/conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to the power. I claim that the construction boom and its impacts in general appear to be outcome of the certain composition of following elements. First element is the regarded relation between GDP and the construction industry with its supposedly strong linkages with other industries such as transportation, manufacturing etc. The second element is the waxing involvement of subsequent AKP governments. Since AKP swept the victory in Turkey’s parliamentary elections with an overwhelming majority, the governments’ direct involvement into the construction industry has been drastically expanded. Concerning the increasing government activities in the construction industry, a public agency, the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKI) deserves special attention. The administration, which had been initially established to carry out social housing projects in the year 1984, became a significant actor in the construction industry. Last but not least, clientelistic networks between AKP and certain bourgeois fraction have been conducive to rapid construction wave. The clientelistic networks as such favor certain capital groups that are ideologically close to islamist/conservative politics. However, discussing these three elements does not mean that some structural elements are neglected while evaluating the boom. In contrast, it is argued that financially dependent accumulation pattern of Turkey, and increasing role of finance in the construction industry along with the tendencies towards restructuring/recommodifying of urban areas at global level has constituted the suitable structural circumstances for the boom.

. . .

Written by M. James

November 2, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Breaking the Muslim Brotherhood

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It is tempting to see the Egyptian military’s violent reaction to recent protests as a function of the interim government’s fear or weakness. After all, it would seem that those in transitory power need only sit idly by and wait for the rabble to acknowledge their de facto legitimacy—if they were in fact legitimate.

Legitimacy is a misleading word in these circumstances, however, and gauging political “legitimacy” in Egypt is nearly as meaningless as arguing whether Morsi’s ouster was a coup d’état or not. The facts of the matter are unchanged, and the fact of the matter is that the military is still in control.

So, as long as we refrain from reverting to our ever-present Disney caricatures of megalomaniacal villains, starved for motherly love and secretly insecure; we are left with a strange, perhaps unintuitive, calculation by the Egyptian military elite. Indeed, conventional wisdom says that shooting and bulldozing the opposition only enrages and unites them, so what could possibly be the military’s aim here?

The answer lies in the unique, and wretched, current circumstances of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. It could have been said of the Brotherhood in the ’50s and ’60s that they were the unfairly maligned political group, the victim of Arab socialist autocracy. Brutally suppressed, the Brothers were never given a chance to govern. It was thus that they remained beyond reproach, and their reputation remained relatively untainted. It was also thus that they remained united.

But that has since changed, and Morsi’s decisive failure—contrived though it may have been—has resulted in a crisis within the Brotherhood itself. Robbed of their long-awaited victory, the Brothers must now choose between violent resistance and patient acquiescence; and for an organization so long maligned and so recently delivered from its decades-long torment (only to be returned), further patience will not come naturally.

The Egyptian military is exploiting this historic juncture. By inciting anger and violent responses, the military turns this crisis within the Brotherhood into an ideological rift. Many of the once-hopeful, especially the youth, will arm themselves out of despair and join the violent resistance. They will be killed or marginalized, and to the extent that they fight in the name of the Brotherhood, they will defame the organization further. Those who silently acquiesce will either fall by the political wayside or, if they are truly patient, crystallize into a more mature, smaller organization capable of another shot at democratic governance. But this time, with a modicum of restraint.

This is, I should emphasize, merely an extension of what I’ve already described as a deliberate “pruning” process by the Egyptian military elite and a few necessary international collaborators. It was a foregone conclusion that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was in no condition to lead the country post–Arab-Spring, and their painstakingly demonstrated failure was not only a deliberate blow to the Brotherhood itself, but also a clear message to other illiberal organizations and would-be ruling parties—”you’re doing it wrong.”

As the military consolidates its claim to the future of Egypt in this way (for better or worse), it is worth noting, I think, the irony of the Arab Spring’s once-hopeful appeal to the “Turkish model.” Today’s Turkish AKP—which still has ample trouble with the concept of “liberalism”—was itself born out of a long, bloody history of military intervention. Why should its imitators expect differently? If any Arab Islamists saw a model in Turkey, they are now seeing—or experiencing—exactly what that model entails.

At this point, I would have said, “You gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet.” But I decided not to turn this post into an extended egg metaphor. You’re welcome.

Written by M. James

August 17, 2013 at 5:03 am

Posted in History, News, Politics, Religion, Turkey

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Secular state, Islamic nation

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As my next week will not be spent near a keyboard, I will leave readers with a thought from the late Peyami Safa—to which I will unavoidably return in the future:

 

Türkiye bir Islâm Devleti olmaya gitmiyor, Türk Milleti bir İslâm milleti olduğunu bügün daha iyi biliyor. Çünkü bugünkü Dünya’da lâik devletler vardır, fakat lâik millet yoktur. Columbiya Üniversitesinde lâiklik üzerine araştırmalar yapan bir İngilizin bana dediği gibi “Ancak devletler lâik olabilirler, milletler lâik olamazlar.”

Tercüman, 1 Mart 1960

 

Turkey is not becoming an Islamic State, but the Turkish nation today knows better that it is an Islamic nation. The reason being, in today’s world there are secular states, but there are no secular nations. Like an English researcher on secularism at Columbia University said to me, “Only states can be secular, nations cannot.”

Tercüman, 1 March 1960

 

Written by M. James

July 17, 2013 at 12:21 am

State theory in Islam

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An excerpt from Şerif Mardin‘s Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought, p. 302:

All considered, Namık Kemal’s political system is based on a peculiar idea of the state as a rather amorphous entity, but some of the peculiarity of this approach vanishes when its origins are investigated. The Islamic roots of this attitude can be stated as follows: Nothing in the Koran indicates that a state is to be formed which has been granted the right to protect itself or foster its own growth qua state, i.e., without reference to the individuals who make it up. One of the things that never permeated Islam was a real theory of the state. This is the meaning of Namık Kemal’s use of the term “community” when European writers would have used the term “state.”

And from Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Alternative Paradigms, p. 192:

The philosophical foundations of the Hegelian nation-state were absolutely alien to Madinan political imagination because it is impossible to mention the existence of a transcendental and abstract understanding of state which is independent from the existence of the society and superior to it in this first political society in Islamic history. Institutionalization of power was assumed as a political instrument to realize the ethical and social ideals of the belief system. Hence, political mechanisms to control individuals and society on behalf of the state could not emerge and exist within the framework and environment of this political mentality.

Written by M. James

March 23, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Duygu the agnostic

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An example of a foreigner’s casual Turkish encounter, for the uninitiated:

I struck up a conversation with a young Turkish woman in the copy room. I figured it would have been awkward if I didn’t.

Her name was Duygu. We proceeded to discuss mundane things—like telephones, apartments, and the weather. I told her I was from the United States. She was from Bursa. We talked about New York and Bursa. Her father was a lawyer. She showed me his picture.

Five minutes passed. I started to excuse myself, but she needed a smoke, so we went outside. She offered me one of her Winston Blue Super Slims. I declined.

And then, without the slightest change of expression, tone, or posture, “Do you believe in God?”

So we talked about God for a while. Then we talked about mineral water. Then Turkish etymology.

An hour later—she is supposed to take me to a Fenerbahçe match, show me a neighborhood in Ankara, and introduce me to her father.

Written by M. James

October 31, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Posted in Culture, Religion, Turkey

Tagged with ,

Muslim communitarianism

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For some reason, The New York Times ran a decent article on the “Innocence of Muslims” fiasco and its black-swan backlash.

Here’s an interesting bit:

When the protests against an American-made online video mocking the Prophet Muhammad exploded in about 20 countries, the source of the rage was more than just religious sensitivity, political demagogy or resentment of Washington, protesters and their sympathizers here said. It was also a demand that many of them described with the word “freedom,” although in a context very different from the term’s use in the individualistic West: the right of a community, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish, to be free from grave insult to its identity and values.

That demand, in turn, was swept up in the colliding crosscurrents of regional politics. From one side came the gale of anger at America’s decade-old war against terrorism, which in the eyes of many Muslims in the region often looks like a war against them. And from the other, the new winds blowing through the region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, which to many here means most of all a right to demand respect for the popular will.

“We want these countries to understand that they need to take into consideration the people, and not just the governments,” said Ismail Mohamed, 42, a religious scholar who once was an imam in Germany. “We don’t think that depictions of the prophets are freedom of expression. We think it is an offense against our rights,” he said, adding, “The West has to understand the ideology of the people.”

Even during the protests, some stone throwers stressed that the clash was not Muslim against Christian. Instead, they suggested that the traditionalism of people of both faiths in the region conflicted with Western individualism and secularism.

Read more.

Written by M. James

September 18, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Culture, News, Politics, Religion

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Nursi on sincerity and brotherhood

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Or “How to Regain Imperial Power”

I was handed a neat little booklet titled “Sincerity and Brotherhood” not too long ago. It was all in English, and claimed to be from Said Nursi‘s Risale-i Nur Collection. Having just been implored by a Turk to read Nursi in English rather than Turkish (significantly better, in his opinion), I was delighted to run across the booklet. And so, on yet another unpleasantly long bus ride (not an uncommon phenomenon), I began to read some Nursi.

It was not at all what I expected.

One thing was made clear to me from the outset: Nursi is very political, and very much a product of his times (late Ottoman Empire). There are two parts in the booklet: One on “Sincerity” and one on “Brotherhood.” But they really aren’t about sincerity or brotherhood—they are about how sincerity and brotherhood are instrumentally useful for delivering Muslims from their humiliation and disgrace as a civilization. In fact, the whole booklet reads like an apology for the collapse of Islamic civilization.

Here’s how it begins:

The agreement among the people of misguidance is on account of their abasement, and the dispute among the people of guidance is on account of their dignity. That is to say that the people of neglect – those misguided ones sunk in worldly concerns – are weak and abased because they do not rely on truth and reality. On account of their abasement, they need to augment their strength, and because of this need they wholeheartedly embrace the aid and co-operation of others. Even though the path they follow is misguidance, they preserve their agreement. It is as if they were making their godlessness into a form of worship of the truth, their misguidance into a form of sincerity, their irreligion into a form of solidarity, and their hypocrisy into concord, and thus attaining success. For genuine sincerity, even for the sake of evil, cannot fail to yield results, and whatever man seeks with sincerity, God will grant him it.

From this excerpt, it is not entirely clear what “attaining success” means, but it seems to me that Nursi is speaking of imperial power—the imperial power that has been lost by the Ottoman Empire and gained by the godless Europeans.

What surprised me was that, immediately before explaining the success of the “people of neglect,” Nursi accuses them of being “sunk in worldly concerns.” In order to avoid calling Nursi a hypocrite himself, we can only assume that imperial power is either (1) not a “worldly concern,” or (2) a “worldly concern” that only Muslims are allowed to have.

The implications of this view—if it has been conveyed to me accurately by this booklet—are enormous. From the man who is regarded as perhaps the most notable Turkish-Muslim Sufi in history, this is not what I was expecting.

Written by M. James

August 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm