29 Ekim 2010 Cuma

Nur Yalman’s “Some Observations on Secularism in Islam: The Cultural Revolution in Turkey”

Nur Yalman is a social anthropologist who tries to explain Kemalist Revolution and the nature of Turkish Republic from a cultural point of view. Yalman begins his article by explaining traditional-modern dichotomy which is produced according to Weberian ideal type approach and helps scholars by providing simplified models of social reality. Traditional authority refers to a divine legitimacy which was thought as it has been always existed. In traditional authority, the past (history) and the continuity with the past (traditions etc.) play very crucial roles. Yalman says that anthropologists prefer to call this as structure. Modern or rational -in Weber’s words- authority on the other hand, is generally accepted as a successful, rationally organized society with sustained economic growth and political stability. Yalman says that this definition of modern leaves ethics, values out of the picture from a Weberian perspective.

Before passing to the analysis of the nature of Kemalist regime, Yalman spends time with Islam and culture in general. He mentions about the reflection of modernization theory in the Islamic lands and tells us how some scholars began to theorize Islam as a barrier for modernization. According to Yalman, in Turkish political and academic life also this positivist Comteian mentality is dominant. Even the name of the “Union & Progress Party” comes from Comte’s famous motto “Order and Union”. In his idea, India and Japan are examples of gradual transition in which traditional elements were successfully interwoven to reforms whereas Turkish example is more like a cultural revolution. Yalman calls this as “radical attempts at social surgery” and asserts that this creates social cleavages. Charles Gallagher also defines this as a “serious attempt to enter and participate in another civilization”.

Nur Yalman later moves on to explain some views of Claude Lévi-Strauss. In his idea, Strauss was able to alter the deeply imagines behaviorist bias in anthropology. Strauss basically claimed that structure did not exist at the level of action and behavior but only at the level of thought. Lévi-Strauss was able to find mental processes of primitive peoples without being concerned with their sociological realities. Contrary to Marx, Strauss claimed that superstructure and substructure or infrastructure can affect each other both. Strauss’ contribution helps us to understand the continuity in social relations but what about discontinuity?

At this point Yalman introduces folk Islam and asserts that people’s continuing attachment to the symbols and rituals of Islam through Sheikhs and religious brotherhoods continued to exist. Although Ottoman Empire had been trying to get modernized starting from the early 19th century and made many reforms, there was still the social reality of Islam. Yalman thinks that basically there are 2 types of culture models: modern and traditional. Traditional ideological states like Pakistan are trying to return to their old traditions and to arrange everything according to Islam, according to Sharia. Modernist ideological states like Communist countries are also trying to do the same towards modernity. Both views accept that they are in transition that is why Pakistan does not use the term “Islamic Republic” and say “Islamization” or Communists use “Socialist”. In other words, the fundamental difference between two is that whereas communism is future-oriented, Islam is essentially past-oriented. In addition, as a past-oriented culture model Islam offers conservatism whereas communism offers self-righteous radicalism.

Yalman talks about Marxist approach to religion as the “opium of people” which was caused by reactionary mode of production and historical stage. Taking examples from Soviet dominated Turkic states, Yalman claims that culture change does not come alone rather it comes in the context of politics and power relations are of the essence. It comes organized with groups, cadres, education system, charismatic leaders or personality cult etc.

Yalman further mentions that in Turkic states’ or Pakistan case, colonial domination plays an important factor. However, Turkey is different from these 2 cases. By quoting Prof. Tunaya, Yalman also mentions that Ottoman reformers were elites whereas ordinary people were considered as reactionary because of their opposition to reforms. In Yalman’s idea we see the same thing in Secular/Islamist dichotomy. Yalman talks about whole bunch of reforms made after the Kemalist Revolution starting from alphabet to dressing. Ancien regime was tried to erase from memories and from lives. They introduced western lifestyle and nationalism. In short, Kemalist regime tried to make a cultural revolution by erasing the past and pointing the future direction. But this surgery was a difficult task because it created social cleavages especially on the religion issue. So, whenever Atatürk tried to form an opposition party it became a problem for the system. Yalman finds some common points between Chinese and Turkish cultural revolutions. In Yalman’s idea, Turkey is hesitating between two extreme wings, political restoration like in Pakistan and yearning fro Marxist-Leninist scientific rationality.

In Yalman’s idea the strengthening of socialist movement in Turkey is not coincidence. The revolutionary character of Kemalism and the alliance between enlightening university-bureaucracy-military elite led to the empowering of socialism like in the 19th century Europe. Yalman by quoting Gallagher classifies different revolutions. There are basically 3 types of revolutions:

- Mere change of personnel without change in institutions

- Colonial revolution (nationalist reaction to imperialism)à may turn into traditional culture model

- Cultural revolution in the Turkish or Chinese case (Social institutions are pulled out from their very roots, and new values, new ideas, new blueprints are inculcated in new man).

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