Friday, June 28, 2013

Beyond the Religion-Secular divide in Occupy Gezi and a paper on Turkish University Students

by Salman Hameed

The unrest in Turkey continues. I have two articles below. The first one deals looks beyond the usual secular-religious divide when discussing Turkey, and the second looks at the role of social identity in the formation of attitudes towards Turkish foreign policy. First here is an article by Ateş Altınordu on The Immanent Frame:

Does the actual picture of Occupy Gezi confirm the existence of a deep fault line between secular and religious citizens that Erdoğan and the New York Times alike posit? It is true that most religious-conservative citizens are not participating in Occupy Gezi, and it is rather safe to assume that many maintain their support for the AKP and for Erdoğan himself. However, there are many significant crosscurrents that complicate this picture. First, Occupy Gezi brings together many different groups, including Kemalists, liberal-minded secular citizens, environmentalists, revolutionary socialists, anarchists, feminists, LGBT groups, highly politicized activists, and young people who simply oppose police brutality and the government’s authoritarian policies. As opposed to what Erdoğan has repeatedly implied, Occupy Gezi is fundamentally different from the Republican Rallies of 2007, which were organized by militant secularist organizations and aimed to prepare the ground for a military coup against the AKP government. While Kemalist groups may chant “we are the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal” during the demonstrations, calls for the military to intervene in the political process are hardly ever heard. Moreover, all participants in the movement seem to share a general respect for religious citizens.
On June 4, the day after newspapers close to the AKP started to advance Erdoğan’s agenda by depicting Occupy Gezi as an anti-religious movement, movement participants announced that alcohol should not be consumed on the park’s premises that day as a sign of respect for the Miraç Kandili, a Muslim holiday commemorating the prophet’s ascent to heaven. Throughout the day, volunteers offered thousands of traditional kandil bagels to anyone entering the park. 
More importantly, while constituting a minority in the movement, many pious Muslims, AKP voters, and some Islamic organizations have participated in the protests. One social justice-oriented Islamic group in particular, Anti-Capitalist Muslims, has been part of the campaign against the destruction of the park from the very beginning and has a major presence in the movement.
And here is the broader outlook:

The liberation theology of the Anti-Capitalist Muslims shows that it is difficult to categorize the religious circles in Turkey as a single, uniform bloc under the unbreakable spell of Erdoğan’s AKP. The same is true for secular people, many of whom have learned to respect the religious practices of their fellow citizens, including their right to wear headscarves in public institutions. The transformative potential that emerges from the respectful coexistence of different political orientations and social groups in Occupy Gezi should not be underestimated, both in the park and in the movement more broadly. As soccer fans who use homophobic epithets in their slogans against Erdoğan are learning from the LGBT groups in the park why this is problematic, and as many Turks in the movement increasingly seem to empathize with the Kurds now that they are also experiencing indiscriminate police violence and witnessing the indifference of the mainstream media, a transformation is likewise taking place in the relationship between secular and religious citizens who together protest the authoritarian policies of the government and the violent practices of the police. The careful respect that the mostly secular participants in the movement exhibited on Miraç Kandili, voluntarily giving up drinking in public—although they vigorously defend their right to drink in public—and Eliaçık’s statement of solidarity with alcohol drinkers are manifestations of this rapprochement. 
What is happening within the confines of the Gezi Park has its limits, of course, in terms of its wider ramifications, but it is indicative of larger political learning processes in a society increasingly suffering from the authoritarian tendencies of the government, Erdoğan’s paternalistic style of rule, and the disproportionate use of force by the police against groups as diverse as soccer fans, university students, and environmental activists.
Read the full article here.

Here is an interesting article in the latest issue of International Journal of Middle East Studies: Social Identity and Attitudes toward Foreign Policy: Evidence from a Youth Survey in Turkey by Sabri Ciftci (you probably will need subscription to access the full article). Here is the abstract:
This paper focuses on the relationship between social identity based on national, religious, or international affiliations and attitudes toward foreign policy in the Turkish context. Evidence is drawn from an original survey conducted among university students in Turkey. The results show that students' social identity has a significant correlation with their perceptions of foreign policy. Most Turkish university students provide conditional support for the new directions in Turkey's foreign policy, but those with an Islamic identity appear to be more supportive of the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi's (Justice and Development Party) policies. Most university students believe that Turkey's future lies in the European Union and the Central Asian Turkic republics rather than in the Middle East. Overall, the perceptions of educated youth toward foreign policy are shaped by both social identity and their conceptions of national interest.
His sample of 800 university students from Cumhuriyet University in central Turkey span a broad spectrum of political, ethnic, and religious identities.   So couple of things I wanted to highlight. First, it seems that less than half of these students think that Turkey should be a member of the EU:

Second, this is how these students define themselves in terms if their national and international identity:

But when you look at their perceptions of Turkey's future, most of them see it in terms of EU and/or the  Turkic Republics:

Ciftci concludes this part of the results as follows:
Moving beyond these general perceptions, the young and educated segment of the Turkish electorate believes that Turkey's future lies in the EU or the Turkic republics. Only a small fraction of the respondents has an orientation toward the Middle East or the Islamic world. It appears that individuals develop attitudes differently about the goals and the future of foreign policy. When it comes to the former, most educated youth appear to emphasize foreign policy strategies that are more in line with a nationalistic perception of state identity. This view is compatible with Davutoğlu's strategic depth approach, which favors a multidimensional policy exploiting multiple identities. Since Davutoğlu has implemented his foreign policy vision as Turkish foreign minister, the finding shows that university students carry orientations that are in line with this theoretically inspired policy framework. Furthermore, students' orientations appear to be in line with the scholarly approach explaining foreign policy activities with notions such as balance of power, geopolitics, and economic interests rather than with accounts describing the new directions in Turkish foreign policy as an axis shift or Middle Easternization.
This paper was published before the Gezi protests. Nevertheless, it provides an interesting window into the identity perceptions of Turkish university students.

Ceftci, S. (2013), Social Identity and attitudes toward foreign policy: Evidence from a youth survey in Turkey
International Journal of Middle East Studies / Volume 45 / Issue 01 / February 2013, pp 25-43. DOI:


Douglas Tooley said...

I imagine the Syria situation makes this dynamic even more intellectually volatile, the scientific rationale behind the west's alliance with some of the worst aspects of the 'arab spring' not being particularly stable either.

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