‘Mo­bi­liz­ing Re­li­gion in Mid­dle East Pol­i­tics: A com­par­a­tive Study of Is­rael and Turkey,’ By Yusuf Sar­fati

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - ASST. PROF. RA­MAZAN KILINÇ, Univer­sity of Ne­braska at Omaha.

In “Mo­bi­liz­ing Re­li­gion in Mid­dle East Pol­i­tics: A Com­par­a­tive Study of Is­rael and Turkey,” Yusuf Sar­fati ex­am­ines the causes and con­se­quences of po­lit­i­cal mo­bi­liza­tion of re­li­gion through an in-depth anal­y­sis of the Shas Move­ment in Is­rael and the Milli

Görüş (na­tional view) move­ment in Turkey. Sar­fati deals with two ma­jor ques­tions in the book: how can the suc­cess of re­li­gious po­lit­i­cal move­ments in Is­rael and Turkey be ex­plained; and how does the in­creas­ing role of re­li­gious po­lit­i­cal ac­tors in­flu­ence the qual­ity of democ­racy? Draw­ing on so­cial move­ment the­ory, Sar­fati ar­gues that the in­ter­ac­tion among po­lit­i­cal op­por­tu­nity struc­tures, fram­ing pro­cesses and so­cial net­works ex­plain the suc­cess of po­lit­i­cal mo­bi­liza­tion by the re­li­gious ac­tors. He de­vel­ops his ar­gu­ment in three steps.

In the first step, Sar­fati dis­cusses the his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tion of so­cial

cleav­ages in Is­rael and Turkey, politi­ciza­tion of th­ese so­cial cleav­ages, and how Shas Move­ment in Is­rael and Na­tional View move­ment in Turkey emerged in the con­text of th­ese cleav­ages. Although Zion­ist elites ac­com­mo­dated dif­fer­ent Ju­daic groups in or­der to gain support of all seg­ments of so­ci­ety in the for­ma­tive years of the state of Is­rael, the early Zion­ists, most of whom were left-wing Ashke­nazi Jews and came from Euro­pean coun­tries, dis­crim­i­nated against Sephardic Jews, most of whom came from Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries and had a strong re­li­gious iden­tity. La­bor Zion­ists aimed to “rad­i­cally trans­form the life of the Jews in Pales­tine ac­cord­ing to the prin­ci­ples of so­cial­ism, equal­ity, na­tion­al­ism, and sec­u­lar­ism” (29). Sim­i­larly the Ke­mal­ists in Turkey, who aimed to cre­ate a West­ern­ized sec­u­lar so­ci­ety through a rad­i­cal mod­ern­iza­tion pro­gram, dis­crim­i­nated the pi­ous Mus­lims from so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal life. The Ashke­nazi/Sephardi di­vide and cen­ter/pe­riph­ery di­vide con­sti­tuted the ma­jor so­cial cleav­ages in Is­rael and Turkey re­spec­tively. In 1970s, when the par­ties of th­ese so­cial cleav­ages came into closer con­tact due to mi­gra­tion and new gov­ern­ment poli­cies, the griev­ances of the marginal­ized groups be­came more acute, ul­ti­mately lead­ing to their politi­ciza­tion.

In the sec­ond step, Sar­fati demon­strates how re­li­gious ac­tors in Is­rael and Turkey uti­lized the op­por­tu­nity struc­tures that stemmed from their in­cor­po­ra­tion into the gov­ern­ment struc­tures and fur­thered their in­ter­ests through po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age. Shas par­tic­i­pated in most of the coali­tion gov­ern­ments since its in­cep­tion in 1984. Shas’ par­tic­i­pa­tion in the gov­ern­ments pro­vided the party the op­por­tu­nity to dis­trib­ute state ben­e­fits to its so­cial base through its net­works in var­i­ous state bod­ies in­clud­ing In­te­rior Min­istry, Health Min­istry, Re­li­gious Af­fairs Min­istry, and Min­istry of La­bor and So­cial Wel­fare. Po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age helped Shas to boost its popular support. Sim­i­larly, Na­tional Sal­va­tion Party be­came coali­tion part­ner in three gov­ern­ments in the 1970s and used its ac­cess to gov­ern­ment struc­tures for po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age. After the 1980 mil­i­tary coup, the state in­cor­po­rated re­li­gious ideas and in­di­vid­u­als to the gov­ern­ment and this al­lowed many pi­ous Mus­lims to be­come in­flu­en­tial in the

con­ser­va­tive wing of the Moth­er­land Party (ANAP), which ruled the coun­try in the years fol­low­ing the coup. While pa­tron­age helped re­li­gious ac­tors in­crease their in­flu­ence on gov­er­nance, cri­tiques against the ANAP’s in­stru­men­tal use of re­li­gion led emer­gence of a re­li­gious-based Wel­fare Party (RP).

In the third step, Sar­fati ex­am­ines how Shas and Na­tional View framed the griev­ances of their fol­low­ers and trans­lated them into an ap­peal­ing po­lit­i­cal mes­sage to gain popular support, an­a­lyzes how th­ese move­ments mo­bi­lize their fol­low­ers by pen­e­trat­ing the so­ci­ety through their for­mal and in­for­mal net­works, and eval­u­ates how re­li­gious po­lit­i­cal mo­bi­liza­tion in­flu­ences demo­cratic gov­er­nance in Is­rael and Turkey. Shas ap­pealed to dif­fer­ent Sephardim pop­u­la­tions by ad­dress­ing their marginal­iza­tion and by forg­ing a re­li­gious iden­tity grounded in a glo­ri­fied Sephardi her­itage. Through its civil so­ci­ety arm, Shas reached out to the marginal­ized seg­ments of the so­ci­ety and met their every­day needs. Sim­i­larly, Na­tional View ap­pealed to the pe­riph­eral pop­u­la­tions such as ur­ban poor, peas­ants, Kurds and small business own­ers by ad­dress­ing their marginal­iza­tion by the sec­u­lar and na­tion­al­ist elite. Na­tional View de­vel­oped an Is­lamic iden­tity that trans­lated the griev­ances of the pe­riph­eral forces into a strong po­lit­i­cal mes­sage that em­pha­sized jus­tice, re­li­gious val­ues, and hon­esty. Thanks to its wide­spread net­work, the party or­ga­ni­za­tion and civil so­ci­ety wing of the Na­tional View reached large pop­u­la­tions in an ef­fort to help al­le­vi­ate their griev­ances and mo­bi­lize them po­lit­i­cally.

Sar­fati also dis­cusses the re­la­tion­ship be­tween re­li­gious po­lit­i­cal mo­bi­liza­tion and demo­cratic qual­ity. To him, on the one hand, po­lit­i­cal mo­bi­liza­tion of re­li­gious ac­tors has con­trib­uted to democ­racy in both coun­tries; re­li­gious po­lit­i­cal par­ties helped the in­cor­po­ra­tion of the marginal­ized pop­u­la­tion into the demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. On the other hand, the fre­quent uses of ex­clu­sion­ary po­lit­i­cal dis­course by re­li­gious po­lit­i­cal par­ties weak­ens demo­cratic qual­ity be­cause this dis­course threat­ens di­a­logue among ac­tors and po­lar­izes so­ci­ety.

“Mo­bi­liz­ing Re­li­gion in Mid­dle East Pol­i­tics,” a well-writ­ten book that is based on an ex­ten­sive field­work and three decades of archival re­search in Is­rael and Turkey, is a sig­nif­i­cant piece of con­tri­bu­tion for many rea­sons. First, the book, that em­ploys so­cial move­ment the­ory, has a strong the­o­ret­i­cal foun­da­tion with­out los­ing from em­pir­i­cal rich­ness. In con­trast to sev­eral an­a­lyt­i­cally strong stud­ies that are less at­ten­tive to em­pir­i­cal nu­ances in case coun­tries, Sar­fati com­bines the­o­ret­i­cal rigor with em­pir­i­cal depth. He suc­cess­fully demon­strates how po­lit­i­cal op­por­tu­nity struc­tures in both coun­tries were ripe for re­li­gious mo­bi­liza­tion, how re­li­gious ac­tors framed griev­ances of their so­cial base into po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal, and how th­ese ac­tors dif­fused into dense so­cial net­works in con­nect­ing th­ese frames to the every­day life of their con­stituen­cies. Sec­ond, the book con­trib­utes to lit­er­a­ture on so­cial move­ment the­ory by test­ing two sig­nif­i­cant cases from a nonWestern con­text. Although there is an in­creas­ing in­ter­est in so­cial move­ment the­ory, only a few stud­ies have been con­ducted that em­ploys this the­ory in non-Western con­texts. “Mo­bi­liz­ing Re­li­gion in Mid­dle East Pol­i­tics” ex­tends the scope of the cases and fur­ther tests the so­cial move­ment the­ory. Fi­nally, Sar­fati’s book con­trib­utes to the lit­er­a­ture on re­li­gion, sec­u­lar­ism and demo­cratic con­sol­i­da­tion. By sys­tem­at­i­cally show­ing the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive im­pacts of re­li­gious mo­bi­liza­tion on demo­cratic con­sol­i­da­tion, Sar­fati’s re­search not only sheds light on re­li­gion and democ­racy in Is­rael and Turkey but also on the fu­ture of po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments in the broader Mid­dle East in the wake of the Arab rev­o­lu­tions.

“Mo­bi­liz­ing Re­li­gion in Mid­dle East Pol­i­tics” speaks to a wide au­di­ence. Any­one in­ter­ested in re­li­gious po­lit­i­cal par­ties, re­li­gion and democ­racy, so­cial move­ment the­ory, and Mid­dle East pol­i­tics will find the book in­valu­able. Its ex­cel­lent prose and an­a­lyt­i­cal strength make the book rel­e­vant for both gen­eral read­ers and schol­ars.



The book looks at re­li­gious po­lit­i­cal move­ments in Is­rael and Turkey.

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