Civilizing Islam, Islamist civilizing? Turkey's Islamist movement and the problem of ethnic difference

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The Islamist critique of the post-1923 regime in Turkey centres around the deconstruction of the Republic's civilizing mission. Here the modernization of the rump of the Ottoman Empire undertaken in the name of the universality of western civilization (with the consequent attributing of backwardness to Islam) is problematized: Islamist discourse converges with other postmodern critiques in proclaiming the exhaustion of modernity as a project of emancipation. Islamist politics celebrate the return of the Muslim actor and identity. And yet the making of an Islamist movement is threatened by the mobilization of other political identities similarly suppressed by the Turkish state's modernizing project. This includes in particular Kurdish subjectivity, long a target of assimilation in the name of the universality of the greater Turkish nation. This paper examines the fragmenting of the Islamist movement in Turkey, as well as Islamist attempts to head off Kurdish nationalism. The Islamist suppression of difference within its own ranks in the name of an Islamic universalism betrays it too as a descendant of Enlightenment discourses and a modernizing movement in its own right.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-98
Number of pages16
JournalThesis Eleven
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Turkey
  • Islam and politics
  • Kurds
  • Ethnicity
  • alternative modernity
  • assimilation
  • Islamism
  • nationalism


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