CEFTUS Westminster Debate ‘Turkey at a tipping point’
Tuesday, 4 February 2014
Committee Room 8, House of Commons
Keynote speaker: Dr Jenny White, a writer and social anthropologist and Distinguished Visiting Professor at Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies and a professor at Boston University.
Chair: Dr Pelin Kadercan of University of Reading
This CEFTUS debate was kindly hosted by Diane Abbott MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
The Centre for Turkey Studies was delighted to have Dr Jenny White as a keynote speaker. Dr White gave an insightful speech in which she analysed the long standing background to the Gezi protests and its implications on the current politics. Her speech was followed by an engaging Q&A session in the packed committee room.
Please see below for Dr White’s full speech.
Highlights of Dr White’s speech:
Polarisation that Turkey is currently experiencing has not begun since the Gezi protests, but was present in politics before that, in the last ten years.
Laicism in Turkey, unlike secularism, is not the separation of state and religion, but “a secular lifestyle within a system of state sponsored Sunni Islam”.
Turkish identity is “religio-racial identity” that Turkish blood and being Muslim are crucial parts and non-Muslims remain outside the Turkish identity. Non-Muslims can be citizens, but not Turks. The rhetoric of inside and outside enemies of Kemalist discourse stems from this and despite PM Erdogan’s non-Kemalist stance, he applies the same rhetoric as seen especially during the Gezi protests.
Belonging to a community which could be a political party or even a football club is crucial and essential for social survival and social identity in Turkey.
Muslimhood is not Islamism and a pious leader governing a secular democracy is not contradictory according to Muslimhood ideology. Muslim nationalism roots itself to Ottoman imperial period and is based on culture rather than ethnicity. This nationalism has broken the taboos of the Republican past.
The Gezi protests was a step towards civic nationalism where protection of rights are based on citizenship rather than being a member of a certain group.
“Turkey is at a tipping point, held in the balance, almost 50/50, if you look at the polls, between those seeking losing the rings and those unsettled by the chaos of liberalism and desiring order. Just at the moment of greatest possibility of moving democracy forward, the balance in Turkey is being tipped back toward autocracy by men wedded to power and fortune who appear willing to jettison a decade of much heralded democratic reforms in order to maintain their hold.”