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september, 2024

01sep00:0000:00Virtual EventMESA (Middle East Studies Association) 2024 Panel Presentations - IICounter-Hegemonic Articulations of "Decentering the West" in the Islamic Intellectual Field in Turkey

Group Details


Panel II: Counter-Hegemonic Articulations of “Decentering the West” in the Islamic Intellectual Field in Turkey

Organizer: Gizem Zencirci
Chair/Discussant: Mohammed Bamyeh


This panel examines several Islam-based intellectual currents in Turkey that voice an alternative or critical perspective vis-à-vis official conceptualizations of “decentering the West” that are prevalent in the Islamic Intellectual Field (IIF). “Decentering the West” refers to intellectual and political attempts to break free from what is perceived as the hegemony of European systems of thought that dismiss, exclude, or denigrate non-Western and particularly Islamic knowledges. The ruling AKP government has been using these claims  to justify its attempts to hegemonically establish itself as the only agent of Islam that can carry out the struggle against coloniality/modernity, end the domination of Western thought, as well as defeat domestic West-oriented secularist groups. However, there are also other movements in the IIF who seek to provide an alternative to hegemonic and authoritarian interpretations. This panel examines the ways in which these centrifugal intellectual groups challenge the authority of official conceptualizations of “decentering the West” by focusing on questions about state power, economy, nationalism, gender, and urban life. Like their dominant counterparts, these Islam-based intellectual movements see Turkey’s secular founding ideology, Kemalism, as a form of “internal colonialism” due to its adoption of Western-centric modes of modernity and criticize the oppression of Islam-based ways of thinking. But, at the same time, these intellectual movements also challenge authoritarian, patriarchal, and restrictive interpretations which are supported and disseminated by the AKP. The main goal of this panel is to examine the production of knowledge by these lesser known, yet influential, dissident groups whom the state actively tries to silence. The first paper looks at the intellectual corpus of Hamza Türkmen who has developed a Quran-based approach that departs from previous articulations of Islam-based politics in Turkey. The second paper examines the ways in which contemporary Muslim anarchist groups criticize the bureaucratization of Islam in the hands of AKP-friendly intellectual circles. The third examines Cihan Aktaş’s theorization of Islamic urbanity which questions androcentric notions of modernity and instead calls for an alternative interpretation that centers on Muslim women’s experiences of urban modernity. The fourth paper focuses on the Muslim feminist Havle Association as an example of Islamic feminism which condemns both AKP’s conservative gender ideology and Euro-centric notions of women’s empowerment. The last paper analyzes Islamic criticisms of the AKP’s “pious business” rhetoric which overemphasizes a neoliberal interpretations of Ottoman ahism (craft guilds) at the expense of concerns over economic justice.


Panelists and Abstracts:

Islamic Decoloniality and Dissident Readings of Ottoman Economic Heritage by Gizem Zencirci

One of the key claims of the AKP’s civilizational discourse in Turkey has involved an emphasis on the “revival” of Ottoman-Islamic economic institutions. Among these, ahism (Ottoman guilds) have been frequently referred to as an indigenous, authentic, and Islamic model for governing economic affairs. Reviving the Ottoman ahi heritage is argued to potentially improve a variety of issues, ranging from the organization of business associations to the management of customers, and from the delivery of economic growth to the establishment of a balance between the haves and the have-nots. In this vision, the ahi heritage has been marked as one that successfully combines Islamic values and capitalist ethics, therefore presenting a decolonial alternative to the Western economic system. Despite this portrayal, the seemingly liberatory discourse of ahism, however, has often operated to justify AKP’s politics of Islamic neoliberalism with negative implications about class relations, economic inequality, and the alleviation of poverty. In the past decade, the AKP regime and pro-government business groups, civil society organizations, think-tanks, and higher education institutions in Turkey have disseminated similar claims about ahism, promoting the view that reviving the socio-economic heritage of ahism was akin to the restoration of Ottoman-Islamic civilization. But the state-sanctioned definition of ahism has also been fiercely criticized by various actors and groups within the Islamic intellectual field. This paper maps these criticisms with an eye towards understanding the points of contestation about the economy among Islam-based perspectives in Turkey. Specifically, I focus on two dissident Islamic intellectual groups: the Labor and Justice Platform (Emek ve Adalet platformu) and Insubordinates (Itaatsiz). Both groups question AKP’s reading of Ottoman ahi heritage by pointing out its inconsistencies and power-laden assumptions. Further, they provide alternative interpretations of Ottoman-Islamic economic heritage by borrowing from leftist and anarchist currents of thought. Analyzing these alternative readings of Islamic decoloniality in relation to matters of economic governance is the paper’s primary goal. Evidence is drawn from a close-reading of Ahism-related publications of these two Islamic intellectual groups published since the early 2010s.


Decentering the West: Muslim Anarchism and Counter-Hegemonic Activism in Turkey’s Islamic Intellectual Field by Kadir Can Çelik

Looking at the Islamic Intellectual Field (IIF) in Turkey, it is possible to see how different groups conceptualize decentering the West, referring to Islam-based political and intellectual movements that promise to break the hegemony of West-centric knowledge production, which silences, excludes, and denigrates non-Western Islamic knowledge production. While the concept of decentering the West from native knowledge production initially aimed to emancipate from Western epistemic colonialism, the ruling AKP government has co-opted this narrative to establish and impose its truth regime over both Islamic and non-Islamic movements by promoting a form of nativism. Besides, the AKP positions itself as the sole agent of Islam to counter Western thought and Turkey’s secular founding ideology, Kemalism, which it portrays as a form of “internal colonialism” that suppresses Islam-based knowledge production. In contrast, Muslim anarchists oppose the AKP’s monopolistic application of native thought, which marginalizes and silences other Islamic and non-Islamic movements. They also challenge the West-centric epistemological dominance in anarchist thought, which often excludes religious anarchists. Muslim anarchists critically engage with enlightenment-based, anti-theist modern anarchism that denies spiritual and religious elements, especially Islam-based knowledge production. Their primary stance is to achieve complete autonomous emancipation of knowledge production in Turkey, opposing the AKP’s hegemonic approach and decentering Western hegemonic knowledge production by developing an independent intellectual network. This paper investigates contemporary Muslim anarchists who develop a Qur’an-based anarchist theory and movement opposing private property, the state, capitalism, and all forms of macro- and micro-authorities, institutions, and religious orders. By examining their online monthly periodical “itaatsiz” (disobedient), published since 2013, and conducting interviews with prominent figures like Dilaver Demirağ and Alişan Şahin, this paper explores how Muslim anarchists interpret Islam, the Qur’an, and Sufism, and how they associate the idea of decentering the West through them. Understanding how Muslim anarchists construct a nativist movement in today’s Turkey is essential to grasp the diverse manifestations of Islam-based intellectual activism and to unpack the relationship between Islam and politics as viewed through a counter-hegemonic lens.


A Muslim Agora: Challenging Modern Urbanity in Two Fronts in Cihan Aktaş’s Work by Fatma Murat Elmacioglu

With the rapid urbanization of Turkey starting in the 1950s, modern urban life has long been problematized in the Islamic intellectual field in terms of its compatibility with Islam. Conceptualizing Islamic urbanity in juxtaposition with the modern Western city and taking a conservative stance against urban modernity, many Islamic intellectuals have made a call for the revival of Islamic urban tradition. Despite their critical engagement with the West, the scope of these accounts was mostly limited to the built environment and architectural features, thereby not breaking away from the hegemony of earlier studies on the “Islamic city” by Western scholars. Cihan Aktaş, a prolific intellectual and architect, making her debut in the late 1980s and known for her remarks on Islam and gender, distinguishes herself from these mainstream Islamic accounts by her skeptical approach to tradition and her broader perspective on urbanity, highlighting the everyday urban experiences in her books titled The Homelesness of Modernity and the Vitality of Family (1992) and The Urban Eclipse (2016). This paper suggests that Aktaş challenges modern urbanity in two fronts. First, Aktaş states that the secular nature of modernity makes space bereft of any divine meaning, failing to respond to the moral troubles of modern humans and ailing them with a sense of homelessness. Her second criticism is based on two premises, first, she argues that modern Western urbanity views the “white man” as the norm and universalizes the Western male urban experience. Relatedly, she asserts that Muslim intellectuals perpetuate the universalization of male urban experience while also expecting Muslim women to be the agents of Islamic resistance against modernity by confining them to private sphere in the name of tradition. Finding this burden overwhelming, Aktaş calls for a change in the organization of public sphere, which she refers to as agora, a conceptualization that makes the division between public and private spheres less manifest, facilitating the move in between them. Through this change, Aktaş aims to incorporate the urban experience of Muslim women into the conceptualization of Islamic urbanity. Thus, this paper discusses Aktaş’s agora as an alternative theorization of Islamic urbanity trying to break away from the hegemony of both modern Western urbanity and the conservative intellectual accounts on Islamic urbanity.


A Muslim Feminist NGO in Turkey: The Case of Havle Women’s Association by Zeynep Önal Aytaç

This study focuses on the Islam-based feminist stance of Havle Women’s Association (HWA) and its intellectual offerings and unique place in Turkey’s feminist movement. A newcomer to Turkey’s feminist movement, HWA was founded in Istanbul in 2018 by former members of various Islamic women initiations like “Muslim Initiative Against Violence Against Women” and “Women in Mosques” and framed itself as “the first Muslim Feminist Women’s Association in Turkey”. The paper examines HWA as a case study of Islamic decolonial feminism in Turkey. By engaging with Islamic feminism and decolonial feminism literature, the study aims to investigate whether HWA produces new feminist direction in Turkey, how does HWA formulate its identity towards both authoritarian AKP rule, Western stereotyped feminism and Sunni-orthodox Islam understanding. To answer the main questions of the study, I employ qualitative research methods, which rely on textual analysis and thick description. Specifically, the paper investigates HWA’s “Localization of Feminism in Turkey” ideal by examining their case studies, reports, and policy recommendations. Also, their activities like Havle Meetings, Havle School and workshops is analyzed in addition to their postings on the official website and Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. The paper examines this empirical material around three key themes, namely LGBTI+ rights, Istanbul Convention (European Convention on Combating Violence Against Women) discussions and the indigenousness approach. By using these three themes, the paper examines how the association challenges various local and global socio-political currents while HWA perceives them as Eurocentric women & feminism illusion, which is boosted by republican ideology and hegemonic, Sunni – orthodox Islam perspective, which is mostly imposed by AKP in Turkey. Specifically, I claim that by challenging AKP’s enforced domination about gender roles and political implications. HWA produces an alternative framework for thinking about women’s issues from an Islam-based perspective. Parallel to this, the organization also serves as the first and only initiation to the practice of modern and global Muslim feminist conceptualization in Turkey. Besides, by challenging mainstream Islamic and secular interpretations of feminism in Turkey, the organization shows the possibility of bringing feminism home by resisting Islam-referenced patriarchy, AKP’s hegemonic domination on gender-related matters and embedded modernization and westernization stereotypes in Turkey. Under the light of these, this study discusses HWA as a new and alternative way to Turkey’s feminist movement.


The Making of Internationalist Islamism in Turkey: The Case of Hamza Türkmen by Ismail Yazıcı

The second half of the 1960s witnessed the emergence of a new wave of Islamism in Turkey through the proliferation of translated works of Islamist ideologues such as Sayyid Qutb and Abu Ala Mawdudi. This new wave of Islamism espoused a scripturalist/Quran-centered epistemological stance through the reinterpretation of foundational texts while advancing Islam as a comprehensive and all-embracing universal political project and worldview. The intellectual transfer of Arabic and South Indian Islamist thought to Turkey brought about the formation of a new anti-nationalist, anti-statist, revivalist, and cosmopolitan Islamist discourse. Hamza Türkmen, a leading Islamist thinker, has been the vocal exponent of this intellectual movement since the late 1980s. He is the founder of both the monthly Haksöz, an influential Islamist journal published since 1991 advocating the Qutbian perspective, and the Islamic NGO Özgür-Der one of the first faith-based organizations dedicated to human rights in Turkey. Inspired by the vanguard figures of Islamic revivalism, he calls for cleansing religion from what is perceived as the prevalence of jahiliyya—defined as the conditions related to the pre-Islamic era. He claims that Ottoman-Turkish Islamism is an extension of the system of jahiliyya and his Quran-based approach poses a direct challenge to the official orthodox conceptualizations prevalent in the Islamic intellectual field in Turkey. This paper examines Hamza Türkmen’s writings published in Haksöz Journal since 1991. It investigates how Hamza Türkmen takes a critical stance against the Islamic intellectual field in Turkey. Based on a text-based analysis of his writings, this study focuses on Hamza Türkmen’s critical approach to three key issues: the question of genuine Islam, the limits of state power, and parameters of national identity. This study argues that Hamza Türkmen articulates an anti-systemic and internationalist Islamist stance by adapting the Qutbian perspective to questions that are central to the Islamic intellectual field in Turkey. It has two interrelated dimensions. First, he depicts Kemalism as a modern form of jahiliyya. Second, he criticizes the Islamic Intellectual Field in Turkey for failing to construct a genuine Islamic revival due to its allegedly statist, nationalist, rightist, Ottomanist, and traditionalist characteristics. Thus, Hamza Türkmen’s alternative Islamic thought exemplifies how the intellectual agenda of internationalist Islamist thought provides a salient framework for contending intellectual movements in the Islamic intellectual field.



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