Triple book launch at Gleebooks
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Islamic Neoliberalism and Its Discontents

by Gorkem Altinors on April 9, 2019

Most commentators on Turkey mark 2013 as a turning point in terms of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) transition from a liberal, democratic, and ‘yet’ pro-Islamic government to a more heavy-handed and authoritarian one. Even in 2010–12, the AKP was praised by some in the mainstream-liberal intelligentsia as a transformative and progressive power that would consolidate democratic values and civil liberties. However, in June 2013, following the Gezi Uprising which started in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the AKP abandoned its progressive role and transformed into a regressive power that rules the country in a more authoritarian manner. The same mainstream-liberal intellectuals then began to question whether the AKP’s leader, then-Prime Minister R. T. Erdoğan, is a dictator or not. Such a transformation surprised many and brought both the Gezi Uprising and the AKP under close scrutiny.

Gamze Yücesan-Özdemir’s edited volume, The Road to Gezi, offers a critical and alternative reading of the Gezi Uprising and it challenges not only the myth of 2013, as the year Erdoğan had turned into an authoritarian leader, but also the hegemonic Islamist-secularist divide as the main reason of the upheaval. In this collection, the contributors collectively argue that the Gezi Uprising did not happen precipitously. Rather, it originated from various working-class movements and different resistance practices of multiple social forces (e.g. women’s movements, student movements, movements against urban transformation, social media activism, new forms of journalism, and protests of both blue- and white- collar workers). Notably, another anthology was edited by Gamze Yücesan-Özdemir and Simten Coşar and published by the same publisher in 2012. Entitled Silent Violence: Neoliberalism, Islamist Politics and the AKP Years in Turkey, it argued that the articulation of Islamist politics with neoliberal capitalism that defines AKP rule should be understood as the basis of transformation within neoliberal capitalism involving various forms of suppression and exploitation along axes of class, race, and gender. A combined reading of these two volumes provides an original, unique and challenging overview of the political economy of contemporary Turkey since the AKP came into power in 2002.

Ten contributions plus an introduction and conclusion in Silent Violence discuss three main elements of political economy in the pre-2013 period: the relationship among the state, society and the law; the politics of social policy, citizenship, and gender; and political economy and international relations. Dichotomies such as ‘democracy versus authoritarianism, laicism versus anti-laicism, secularity versus religiosity, and civilian versus military politics’ are neither denied nor essentialised in understanding the modernisation paradigm. Rather, the book ‘takes issue with the economic, political, and ideological structures, in which these dichotomies are rooted’ (9–10) and discusses ‘the silencing of violence in neoliberalism through Islamist politics in Turkey’ (17). Collectively, it is argued that the silencing of the violence in neoliberalism works through Islamist politics in two ways. One is the domestication of neoliberalism via an appeal to Turco-Islamic lifestyle, customs, beliefs, and networks, that specifically targets the grassroots of the AKP (i.e. the religious and conservative electorate). The other is the liberalisation of the Islamist politics in order to reach a wider societal network for survival which aims to domesticate both Islamism and the secularist understanding of Islamism and instrumentalise neoliberalism for the construction of a liberalised discourse on Islamist politics (301–302).

The Road to Gezi takes the case from this point and delivers a critical analysis of the counter-movements that are articulated around the silencing of violence in neoliberalism through Islamist politics. It is discussed in the book that although there are analyses available on the Gezi movement, they are predominantly focusing on its class characteristics and historical-spatial structures. It is imperative that ‘the road’ to the uprising should be understood in order to avoid conceptualising the movement without its social and historical context and limiting it to a mere single time and space. To do so, Yücesan-Özdemir argues that it is crucial to start with the AKP’s silent violence where neoliberalism and political Islam are intertwined and embedded (8–9). The economic (marketisation, commodification, precarisation and different forms of precarity), political (the governance of poverty and social policies), and ideological (individuality and the abolishing of collective structures, the direct attack on the connection of place and identity) bases of the silent violence of the AKP are also scrutinised in the book (10–12). Following the identification and conceptualisation of the silent violence of the AKP, the book provides an analysis of counter-movements as historical responses to the silent violence within two tendencies. First, to say ‘no’ to the practices of silent violence (e.g. the Gezi uprising, TEKEL resistance, and resistance against the urban regeneration projects etc.), and second to endeavour to develop alternative practices as opposed to the silent violence, such as the creation of neighborhood forums, organising via social media, and new journalism (13–14).

The book is divided into two halves. The first half focusses on the resistance practices against Islamic-neoliberal publics. Seven chapters in this section study a variety of resistance movements along the class, race, and gender lines from the ideological structures of Gezi uprising to the background of TEKEL movement, from university students’ movement to the ‘sisterhood’ of rural resistance against dam projects, from the struggle of the urban poor against the gentrification of cities to the teachers’ struggles, and to the varied characteristics of feminist movements in Turkey (such as Islamist and Kurdish). The first half of the book thus usefully provides a snapshot of the current state of resistance in Turkey from a wide perspective.

The second half is interested in the struggle and the development of counter-publics against the Islamist-neoliberal practices of the silent violence. Five chapters overview the making of alternative exercises in Turkey which have flourished lately but are also historically rooted in society. These chapters investigate multiple fragments of the counter-resistance movements from organised labour to local practices, from social media and hacktivism to new journalism and digital media. Yücesan-Özdemir concludes with an afterword where she discusses the willpower of the working class and the question of a unified movement in Turkey. She seeks answers to three questions in this epilogue. First, whether ‘different strata of the working class show enormous differences in terms of their labour processes, everyday life experiences, identities, and cultures’; second, the political form the movement should take, in terms of organisation, willpower, protagonism, and spontaneity; and third, the language and discourse that would be the most effective for such a movement (235–7).

The Road to Gezi is a diligently edited book with twelve well-written chapters. Yücesan-Özdemir succeeds in her goal of delivering an alternative and critical account of the resistance movements in Turkey. The contributions in the book are empirically rich and theoretically consistent around the theme. Considering Turkish politics historically and focusing on the 2002–2019 period, I find the arguments in the book plausible and credible. All in all, The Road to Gezi is a noteworthy book in international political economy, social movements, and area studies.

Gorkem Altinors
Dr Gorkem Altinors is an Assistant Professor in politics at Bilecik Seyh Edebali University. He holds a PhD in Politics from the University of Nottingham where he was a research assistant at the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ). His research interests include Critical IR/IPE, neoliberalism, authoritarianism, populism, Eurocentrism, Islamism, and MENA politics. His contributions are published on Mediterranean Politics, Turkish Studies, Political Studies Review, Capital & Class, Progress in Political Economy, and LSE Middle East Centre Blog. His forthcoming book The State and Society in Modern Turkey: From Kemalism to Islamism will be published by Brill, Historical Materialism Book Series.

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