Islamist Mobilization in Turkey

A Study in Vernacular Politics

Jenny White

  • Published: 2002
  • Subject Listing: Middle East Studies; History
  • Bibliographic information: 304 pp., 23 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Studies in Modernity and National Identity
  • Contents

Winner of the William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology

The emergence of an Islamist movement and the startling buoyancy of Islamic political parties in Turkey - a model of secular modernization, a cosmopolitan frontier, and NATO ally - has puzzled Western observers. As the appeal of the Islamist Welfare Party spread through Turkish society, including the middle class, in the 1990s, the party won numerous local elections and became one of the largest parties represented in parliament, even holding the prime ministership in 1996 and 1997. Welfare was formally banned and closed in 1998, and its successor, Virtue, was banned in 2001, for allegedly posing a threat to the state, but the Islamist movement continues to grow in popularity.

Jenny White has produced an ethnography of contemporary Istanbul that charts the success of Islamist mobilization through the eyes of ordinary people. Drawing on neighborhood interviews gathered over twenty years of fieldwork, she focuses intently on the genesis and continuing appeal of Islamic politics in the fabric of Turkish society and among mobilizing and mobilized elites, women, and educated populations.

White shows how everyday concerns and interpersonal relations, rather than Islamic dogma, helped Welfare gain access to community networks, building on continuing face-to-face relationships by way of interactions with constituents through trusted neighbors. She argues that Islamic political networks are based on cultural understandings of relationships, duties, and trust. She also illustrates how Islamic activists have sustained cohesion despite contradictory agendas and beliefs, and how civic organizations, through local relationships, have ensured the autonomy of these networks from the national political organizations in whose service they appear to act.

To illuminate the local culture of Istanbul, White has interviewed residents, activists, party officials, and municipal administrators and participated in their activities. She draws on rich experiences and research made possible by years of firsthand observation in the streets and homes of Umraniye, a large neighborhood that grew in tandem with Turkey's modernization in the late 20th century. This book will appeal to anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and analysts of Islamic and Middle Eastern politics.
Jenny B. White is associate professor of anthropology at Boston University.
The Political Economy of Culture
Religion and Politics in the Everyday
The Institutional Expression of Islam
Generation X and the Virtue Party
Populism: Democracy is Peace of Mind
Civil Society: In Whose Service?
Islamist Elitism and Women's Choices
Secular Activism in Umraniye

"Jenny White's book is a timely contribution to our understanding of the recent success of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey's parliamentary elections. The book provides fresh insights into the resilience of Islamic activism in Turkey, despite the government's continuous efforts to suppress it and to ban the political parties inspired by this movement . . . . [White] grounds her analysis in rich ethnography that brings to life her informants and their daily struggles."
-Middle East Journal

"The most important contribution of White's study is found in its rich exploration of the daily lives, beliefs and attitudes, and aspirations of the citizens of the Umraniye district of Istanbul. White takes great care in carrying out this meticulous research and presents the reader a wonderful insight into these people's environment..An excellent analysis in cultural anthropolgy and sociology."
-International Journal of Turkish Studies

"Anthropologist White has presented a gripping study of Islamization in contemporary Turkey. . . . With it's engaging style and fascinating people, conversation, and events, White's book will appeal to students and the educated public, as well as to those specifically interested in Turkey, Islam, politics, gender, and civil society."
-Religious Studies Review

"Islamist Mobilization in Turkey offers a rich ethnographic study of the grassroots Islamist mobilization in urban Turkey."
-H-Net Reviews in the Humanities and Social Sciences