‘The Rise of Political Islam in Turkey: Urban Poverty, Grassroots Activism and Islamic Fundamentalism,’ By Kayhan Delibaş
Islamism in Turkey has been represented in the formal political arena by the political parties of the Milli Görüş (National View) movement since 1970. In the mid-1990s, the third political party of the movement, the Welfare Party (RP), won the municipalities of major cities and gained access to government as a major coalition partner. This successful electoral performance, as well as the secular establishment’s sharp reaction to it, has attracted the attention of many scholars in and out of Turkey. Consequently, a vast body of academic literature helping us to understand the various aspects of the rise of political Islam has emerged in a short relatively period of time. Kayhan Delibaş’s belatedly published book aiming at discovering the sociological dynamics behind the rise of political Islam in Turkey is a welcome contribution to this literature. The book is based on the author’s PhD dissertation, for which fieldwork research on Islamist grassroots activism was carried out in 1999. Then, the RP was replaced by the Virtue Party (FP) due to the former’s closure by the Constitutional Court as part of the ongoing secularist crackdown on Islamism, known as the Feb. 28 process.
Delibaş’s emphasis on “sociological dynamics” is contrary to some essentialist or orientalist approaches that see the rise of political Islam as an inevitable result of the allegedly political nature of Islam. It is in this respect that the terms “revival” or “resurgence” of Islam, or Islamic fundamentalism, are found misleading for they link the thisworldly phenomenon of political Islam to the script of Islam and not to the socio-economic and political conditions within which they operate. Delibaş identifies the failure of Turkey’s centrist political parties to address problems springing from the neoliberal restructuring and rapid urbanization of the 1980s and the consequent disillusionment of the public with them as the underlying cause of the rise of political Islam in Turkey. But, for him, what really turned these underlying causes into electoral victories for political Islam was strong grassroots organization and activism. It was the Islamist grassroots activism that enabled the RP and the FP to make the most of worsening socioeconomic conditions and the continuing political inertia of rival parties. The argument develops in two stages. In the first stage, the socio-economic and political context of the rise of political Islam is laid out. In the second stage, the findings of the fieldwork research into the FP’s grassroots organizations in two sub-districts of Ankara are shared to help us understand the aspects of Islamist grassroots activism in Turkey, as well as the vitality of it for electoral success.
The first chapter briefly
DELIBAŞ’S EMPHASIS ON ‘SOCIOLOGICAL DYNAMICS’ IS CONTRARY TO SOME ESSENTIALIST OR ORIENTALIST APPROACHES