The cultural political economy of regime change
The second focal point of this volume is concerned with the cultural transformation project that both undergirds the AKP and is pushed forward by the party. The subject of this project is symbolized by the declaration of intent to raise a “pious and furious generation” (dindar ve kindar nesil), thereby further disrupting secular and republican traditions. The prospects of success for this project have recently been debated in the context of a series of polls that indicated popular resilience. In particular, lifestyle surveys triggered a debate about the failure of Islamization politics by measuring a decrease in the religiosity of the population (e.g. KONDA, 2018a; 2018b). When these surveys were met with the lamentations of some theologians - according to which, deism was spreading among the youth at theological schools - commentaries from within oppositional circles as well as by Islamists affiliated with the AKP immediately mushroomed. Accordingly, the youth has become “religion fatigued” (Bohiirler, 2017); “many Turks are losing faith in Islam” (Akyol, 2018) and are disillusioned by demonstrations of piety by authoritarian and corrupt figures, which allegedly conflict with the sense of justice and honesty among the “pious” population (Aktan, 2019; Bilici, 2019).
The declaration of the political leader of the project - State President Erdogan - that they have had trouble achieving social and cultural dominance seemed to prove these commentaries.2 Indeed, such an ambitious project aiming for the transformation of the cultural practices of a society that comprises diverse traditions beyond conservative Islam(ism) may well be confronted with setbacks.
Indications of popular resilience may imply boundaries - and thus opportunities for political intervention. However, jumping to general conclusions about the failure of Islamization politics may also distract from the goals already achieved and the status quo shaped by 18 years of AKP governments (cf. Babacan, 2020). Moreover, it may obfuscate that the merging of Turkishness with conservative Islam in the shape of the Turkish-lslamic Synthesis unfolded as a long-term project reaching far beyond the AKP. Contemporary governments pursue this project through an ever-growing budget for the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Di.yan.et), the opening of a great number of schools with a theological focus (Imam^Hatip schools) and the promotion of religious organizations of various shades and kinds.
In his article entitled “Hegemony and privileges: reproduction of Islamism in Turkey”, Errol Babacan discusses the status quo of this dynamic from a Gramscian perspective. According to Babacan, the neoliberalization process induced several hegemony projects that differ primarily due to cultural and political articulations of neoliberal developmentalism. His study implies that the Islamic hegemony project is quite effective in the suppression of alternative economic policies to neoliberalism in the period of financialization. While taking into account the critical literature on the AKP, his conceptualization strives to build a bridge between class-oriented approaches, which localize the project within the relations of production, and its exclusionary dynamics directed against dissident cultural practices. Bahacan draws attention to religion within the Islamic project as more than an ideological instrument to assert control over the working classes. He argues that the institutionalized sites of Sunni Islam build a “gravitational centre” that integrates economic, cultural and political elements. His article concludes that Islamism constitutes a double-sided movement that organizes hegemony and advances a religiously articulated structure of privileges.
This interdependence of organizing hegemony and granting privileges seems to stabilize the project rather than produce a failure in Islamization, as it raises the attractiveness of adopting a Sunni-Islamic identity across class positions. It could subsequently be discussed whether the apparent decline in secular-republican resistance against the empowerment of Islamic-conservative institutions is rather a failure in secular politics. These politics are still commonly associated with the Republican People’s Party (CHP). However, the political strategy of this party has increasingly been characterized by the abandonment of secular positions against the empowerment of religious institutions as well as by an adaptation to Islamic-conservative discourses (Cosar &. Ozman, 2020). This policy shift suggests that secular politics are under more pressure than ever in republican history.
Also heavily pressurized within the same process are women’s rights, as recent objections to the “Istanbul Convention on Preventing Violence against Women and Domestic Violence” by Islamist agents close to the AKP once again has demonstrated. In her article entitled “Regime change in Turkey: old symbols into new settings”, Simten Cosar delineates that such contestations characterize a new mode of patriarchy within the implementation of the presidential regime. She argues that the evolution of the regime could be captured by the term “fascistic track”, whose features - namely, securitization policies, anti-intellectualism and anti-feminism - particularly shape the ongoing transition from a neoliberalconservative to a personalistic-religious patriarchy. Cosar argues that the new mode of patriarchy works through women’s involvement in anti-women’s rights, anti-gender equality and anti-feminist policy. Her article concludes with a critical assessment of the prevailing strategy of the women’s movement in recent times. Accordingly, AKP governments have demonstrated the ability to colonize and distort women’s movements’ tactics through the selective and temporary involvement of women’s organizations. A holistic approach involving struggles against exploitation and structural violence, the subsequent conclusion suggests, could have achieved sustainable shifts in power relations in favour of women’s rights. As the conditions for such a struggle did not improve, Cosar’s article raises the question of which kinds of tactics women’s organizations should pursue in order to interrupt or even push back the “fascistic track”.
The third study in this part is a contribution by Ismail Doga Karatepe. His article entitled “Recent right-wing lurches what do they have in common for India and Turkey?” unfolds from the argument that a comparative approach could serve for a better understanding of the reasons for the rise of authoritarian religious movements in different parts of the world. Karatepe operationalizes the Cultural Political Economy approach by comparing the Islamist AKP in Turkey and the Hinduist BJP in India through political and economic commonalities and parallels. He argues that the rise of both movements can be traced back to the initial nation-building process, since the foundation for contemporary “majoritarian politics” was laid in this stage. Karatepe also reveals the parallel journey of both countries in terms of their economic policies. Accordingly, this journey played out through a “catching-up imaginary” that invoked desire for economic development. Karatepe’s contribution underlines that the neoliberal order has facilitated the rise of authoritarian movements that took on a religious character through cultural settings rooted in long-standing identity politics. His findings on the primary constituencies of both parties, which are made up of an aspiring bourgeoisie that owes its rise to a growth-oriented economic program as well as patronage relations, parallels Kutun’s findings on protectionism as a characteristic feature of the new regime. The comparative framework introduced by Karatepe may well inspire further elaboration, since the rise of religious rightwing movements as a global phenomenon points to the need for analysis on a global scale.