Silk Road Studies Program
Department of Eurasian Studies
In cooperation with
the Swedish Defence College
"New Trends in Turkish Foreign Policy"
February 22, 2007
Prof. Dogu Ergil
Chairman, Political Behavior Department
President, Foundation for the Research of Social Problems
Thursday, February 22, 2007,
Sverigesalen, Swedish National Defence College,
Drottning Kristinas väg 37, Stockholm.
Event Summary by Per Häggström, Coordinator, Turkey Initiative
For PDF version please click here
Professor Ergil started out by pointing to the divide that he finds in today’s Turkey, “united in space but divided in time and lifestyles”. He spoke on the need to analyze Turkish society in a sociological framework were the analysis is based on the interrelations between ideologies of society and levels of social existence. Ideologies of society was defined as kinship, religion and nationalism and levels of social existence as four tiers from a personal level via social-cultural to a public level and with the state as the highest level.
Prof. Ergil then went on to define three levels of religion and in the case of Turkey, Islam. “The first level is personal Islam were the different ways of practicing the Muslim faith is one’s personal life: what you believe, how you dress, how you practice, how your life is organized etc. The second level is civic Islam were different organizations in society try to promote Islam through non-political means: activities in public service such as philanthropy and education. The third level is political Islam which aims at shaping public law and public policy according to Sharia law, the Koran being the only guide.”
Prof. Ergil spoke of the potential problems that political Islam and sharia law may pose to a society such as Turkey’s. “Whatever their source is (sharia) laws are (1) man made, (2) made for a society at a historical junction, (3) being of divine source, they can not be changed or questioned, implying no checks and balances and no separation of powers. (4) Whoever makes them and applies them becomes and remains unaccountable, irreplaceable and constant.
But according to prof. Ergil, societies change and therefore laws need changing too, otherwise they cease to be the source of stability and instead become the reason of instability. He then went on by posing the question why people in Turkey turn to political Islam or the politization of religion? His answer is that as the secularist state invades social spaces, it politicizes these social levels of existence and thereby renders any opposition movement political. “The secular state controls religion by interpreting Islam to its ideology that is Nationalism. “
According to prof. Ergil, secularism in Turkish society has however been diluted in recent years, mainly caused by urbanization. Prior to 1980, more than 60 percent of Turks lived in the countryside whereas after the great urbanization waves of the 1980s, more than 60 percent now live in cities.
“These migrants took up a place in the market mechanism were they had no access or influence on capital and business. They had to compete with domestic and foreign economic agents and reinvent themselves. For this they needed to organize, create and have access to resources and influence decision making.”
Prof. Ergil argues that this led to the creation of center-right political parties influenced by Islamic ideals prevailing in the countryside. These parties all competed to brake the hegemony of the old Turkey represented by the statist establishment, whereas the new Turkey will be represented by civil society. “However this transformation will not be solved through elections alone, but rather through the establishment of a new and more inclusive social contract that addresses the cultural diversity of Turkey with a wide participatory base. However the power elite is fighting a desperate rear guard action to suppress civil society in order to preserve its own historic privileges.”
He continued by speaking on the current developments in Turkish society were he sees that Turkey is simultaneously undergoing economic and political liberalization, as well as an Islamic and ethnic revival.
“Nevertheless, neither the process of secularism nor that of Islamic revivalism will have a lasting impact on society because neither the process of Islamic identity formation resides in a specific textual locality nor in a particular person or party. Rather it is found in a vibrant set of networks that are constantly negotiated and rearticulated by Turkish Muslims.”
Prof. Ergil said that Islamic revival in Turkey is the consequence of a broadening of “opportunity spaces” in Turkish society defined as a forum of social interaction that creates new possibilities for networks of shared meaning and associational life. This is true especially for the conservative semi-rural people mentioned above, and political parties identifying themselves as Islamic have arisen in the context of a series of broader social economic and cultural transformations that have been underway since the 1960s, including urbanization, capitalist development and revolutions in mass media. On this issue, Prof. Ergil thinks that “Islam should be seen as a cultural depository for new models and ways of understanding Turkey’s ethnopolitical and socioeconomic realities and problems.”
According to prof. Ergil two seminal field studies conducted in 1999 and again in 2006 support the view that religiosity is on the rise in Turkey. People considering themselves very religious had gone up from six percent to 13 between 1999 and 2006. In the same way, people considering their primary identity to be Muslim had also risen, from 36 percent in 1999 to 46 percent in 2006. Nevertheless, prof. Ergil does not think that this means that the Turkish secular system is on the decline.
“Turkish people do not perceive secularism to be a threat be replacing the present regime with Sharia law. There is no obvious inclination for supporting a religious state. When asked if they were in favor of Sharia state, those in favor has declined from 21 percent in 1999 to nine percent in 2006.”
Continuing prof. Ergil spoke on the number of people who fear that fundamentalism is on the rise in Turkey. According to his survey 32 percent felt that fundamentalism is on the rise in Turkey and 23 percent felt that there were no major threat to Turkish secularism. Also worth noting was that those feeling that religious people were oppressed had declined from 43 percent in 1999 to 17 percent in 2006. He then concluded the discussion on the field studies by pointing to the fact that 77 percent of Turks believe that democracy is the best form of government and that secularism can best be protected by democratic means.
“The role given to the military in this respect is insignificant. Those who are critical of the role of the military in Turkish politics and support civilian control of the executive branch are densely found not among the conservative, religious masses of lower socio-economic standing but rather among the left-leaning socio-economically better off and well educated groups.”
Prof. Ergil continued by speaking on the issue of the role of women in the relation between religion and politics in Turkey. According to him the percentage of women who cover themselves in public spaces is declining and that the issue of covering of women is not a priority issue, not even among AKP voters. Rather, economic issues and employment are at the top of the popular agenda. Uncovered women are more likely to be found among the urban, relatively better off and better educated segments with a leftist ideological leaning. “Secularists say women cover as a sign of participation in a political movement. Research findings, however, point to the contrary. It is more of a cultural thing. There is group socialization and pressure, although not openly admitted.”
Prof. Ergil summed up his speech by talking about the Islamist appeal. His opinion was that the Islamic movement not only resolved problems of identity and conservative angst, it also became a channel to political power, social status, intellectual prestige and economic wealth for people who in one way or another had been marginalized by the existing top-down statist system. From within these circles, a new generation of politicians and businessmen is emerging who differ from their likes in the secular elite in their conservative values at the core of which lies religion. “From within this movement, a counter- or alternative elite has arisen. Paradoxically, as Islamists entered the political-economic center, with their own values and life styles, prospects for radical Islam have become dimmed.”
Professor Dogu Ergil is the Chairman of the Political Behavior Department at Ankara University. He is the author of several works on the Turkish political system, nationalism, conflict, and conflict resolution. He is also the President and founder of the Foundation for the Research of Societal Problems (TOSAM).
For registration and queries concerning the lectures please contact Per Häggström, Coordinator for the Turkey initiative and the lecture series: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org +46-(0)18-471-16-30 / +46-(0)733-50-24-29.