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Sociology of Islam and Muslim Societies
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From: Vernon Schubel
Sociology_of_islam
 
 
Dear Joshua:
   Thanks for a remarkable and insightful post. i would absolutely agree that this is not Tahrir in that Erdogan is elected and that this is representative of a polarization in Turkey.  People I am talking with in Ankara do frame this as a reaction to Erdogan's growing authoritarianism. People in Ankara are telling me that the protests there have spread out from Kizilay (which is a downtown district for those of you who don't know Ankara) into suburban areas.  These demos are taking place at night and attracting people across the political spectrum. Lots of educated middle class folks and people coming as families. I think that is significant.
Best,
Vernon
 
   

On Mon, Jun 3, 2013 at 10:44 AM, Joshua Hendrick <jdhendrick@loyola.edu> wrote:

Dear Colleagues (and onlookers) - 
In an effort to contribute to this conversation about the ongoing uprisings in Turkey, I wanted to send along my observations to this list from the ground.  My views overlap with many shared already by Tugrul, Esra, and others.  And on that note, I caution anyone who attempts to compare what is happening in Istanbul to the events in Cairo or Tunis, and, even more emphatically, to anyone who attempts to designate those involved in the protests as "racist."  I also agree with Vernon that although often insightful, Dr. Kalin is indeed a top advisor to PM Erdogan, and thus his postings on this academically oriented list do little to further the cause of a sociological critique of mass protest, resistance to power, and social critique/dissent. 
The scene here in Istanbul is nothing short of amazing.  What started as 50 people protesting the razing of a park in the city's town center (Gezi Park in Taksim) has blossomed over the past 6 days into a citywide and now countrywide protest of like minded people against what they perceive to be an increasingly more powerful single-party government, and more specifically, to what they perceive as the increasing power of that government's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  50 people very quickly morphed into a mass protest movement of 100s of thousands in direct response to the initial use of overwhelming force by the police (i.e., tear gas and water cannons) to disperse what was one a very small number of protesters, and in direct response to the Prime Minister's outright mocking of the protesters by challenging all of them to match his ability to rally the Turkish masses (On June 1, PM Erdogan announced that if the protesters were able to mobilize 100,000 people for their cause, he could respond by amassing 1 million in support of his).
However much the international media frames the issue as a "protest against authoritarianism" or a protest between "the secularists" against "the Islamists," or even worse, as something comparable to the "Arab Spring" in Tunisia and Egypt), in my opinion, what is happening is a grassroots revulsion against the governing party's 10-year process of neo-liberal reform and development.  This is not an uprising against an authoritarian dictator, however much this type of language is used.  He is many things; but Erdogan is neither an authoritarian nor is he a fascist. Indeed, the AKP won three consecutive elections and has spearheaded another three popular referendums.  Despite some critique, according to international standards all six of these national polls were, for the oct part, fair and free.  Also, albeit a flawed parliamentary democratic system (e.g., a 10% threshold for party participation, etc), the Turkish democracy is not comparable to Mubarak's Egypt or to Ben Ali's Tunisia. As far I understand them, those revolutions were very much about an entire population that perceived of itself as "left out" of the patterns of change underway in the global era - a 21st century Egyptian/Tunisian population that longed to do away with their 20th century regimes.  Those revolutions were society-wide and cross-class.   Inversely, much of the discontent expressed here in Turkey, at least so far, is not cross class, nor it is "society wide." Quite the contrary, those protesting here are part of one side of a broad divide that views Turkey's experience in the 21st century global era as resulting in too much change - too much globalization, too much construction, too much advertising…this is an uprising against neo-liberal privatization, empty consumerism, loss of green space, etc, but it's coming from a youth population that DOES NOT hail from Turkey's working classes, or from its conservative social groups.  The people I am observing and with whom I am speaking with are university educated young people who view "their Turkey" as under siege by a socially conservative, economically liberal government, and by the global forces of privatization and austerity. (Incidentally, the similarities between those who support the ruling party here, the AKP/JDP, and those who support the US Republican Party are striking - market liberals who blend free market ideology with social conservatism and a particular variation of what might be termed, "moral nationalism").
All said, contradictions are clear.  Many of the protesters are wearing "anonymous" and "Scream" masks all made in China; many are wearing T-shirts and backpacks that display a certain taste for US-style bourgeois consumerism (North face, Low Alpine, Nike, etc), and ALL of them are using the technologies of the global ICT era to disseminate their message and to rally the masses.  
Notwithstanding, Istanbul is now awash with cranes and ubiquitous construction; many historical sites have undergone demolition (most of these "pre-Islamic/pre-Ottoman sites) to make way for office parks, skyscrapers, shopping malls, hotels, etc.  A rapidly growing new consumer elite of social conservatives who support the governing party have moved into Istanbul into recent years, and together with the construction going on everywhere, have truly transformed the face of this city.  The protests that are underway are indicative of a boiling point that has been reached. The plights and yearnings of the children of the so-called “old elite" (that is, of the populations who the international media simplistically dub, "secularists") perceive of their city (and their country) as under siege by the unfettered processes of economic globalization (and by the demographic changes that these processes have produced). 
This is all compounded by recent reforms enacted by the governing party to curb public displays of intimacy (i.e., kissing), and to limit the consumption of alcohol in public and, after 10pm, anywhere outside of private homes.  The last reform went into effect less than 2 weeks ago, and many of the protesters are publicly drinking beer, holding their bottles high, to highlight the connection. Many are also very conspicuously displaying their affections for one another by kissing in front of cameras, dancing, playing music, and expressing jubilation in general.  Indeed, once the police were ordered to retreat (at least from Taksim), the feelings among those at the center of protests quickly morphed into overt expressions of joy.  People who I am observing are not only smiling, they are holding hands, laughing, and are clearly filled with pride.  It is difficult not to be moved by this illustration of human spirit and desire for change, however contradictory their discourse might be.  
According to several protesters with whom I spoke with yesterday, "they are winning, the world is listening."  One protester interjected, "our Turkey has been stolen,"  and another said that the point was to "bring back istanbul," and to "return Turkey to the people."  These were in addition to regular mass chants - "Hukumet Istifa" Tayyip istifa" ("Government, Resign, Tayyip, Resign). 
In the pictures I took of the protests yesterday, I encourage everyone to notice several things: 1) the protesters are overwhelmingly young (of course, not all; but most are approx. 25 years or younger, and many are in their teens. Very few appear to be older than 40 - Note the picture filled with white TGB banners, the left-leaning Turkish Youth Union); 2) the setting is a mass construction zone in Istanbul's epicenter (Taksim Sq), which has made this very populated area of the city difficult to say the least. 3) Social identity in terms of gender and sexuality is emerging as central to the protests as well. 
Peace to all,
JH
 
On Jun 3, 2013, at 7:54 AM, Edward Ryan Moad wrote:
I think the better comparison is between Taksim and the reaction of disenfranchised racists to the civil rights movement in the American south.
 
They also could claim that the federal government was imposing rules autocratically on them.  And they also rejected integration of the schools, just as most of these Taksim demonstrators oppose lifting the ban on hijab in universities.  
 
Also, the racial undertones of their self-description as "white turks" (Europeanized, secularized), as opposed to "black turks" are evident.  And, the attitudes of Kemalist Republicans vs the Kurds is not incomparable to that of the racists in the American south. 
 
The sum of total of the supposed likeness between Taksim and Tahrir is that the police used tear gas.  
 
But tear gas does not make all causes equal.
 
I highly doubt that most of those protesting in Taksim now, would have identified their cause with that of the Tahriri protestors opposed to Mubarak.  Only now that the target of Tahrir is Morsi, would it have crossed the minds of the Taksim protestors to draw such a relation.
 
 
On Sun, Jun 2, 2013 at 2:49 PM, Vernon Schubel <schubel@kenyon.edu> wrote:
Vernon James Schubel
​Indeed Taksim is like Tahrir... ​Taksim Square is for Turkey what Tahrir Square is for Egypt. Considering that Tahrir Square events were the extension of the protest movement that started it all from Tunisia, it follows that the turmoil in Turkey is similar to the so-called Arab Spring. But most observers and media analysts are dismissing Taksim Square movement arguing that Turkey’s uprising is not similar to the Arab Spring because Erdoğan and his party are democratically elected and that Erdoğan has governed over a period of unprecedented economic prosperity.
 
Turkish Prime minister Erdoğan, too, mockingly rejected calls for him to resign saying that he cannot be called a dictator because he was democratically elected. He accused his political opponents of using the street to topple his government. He argued that the protesters are ideologically motivated and threatened that for every 100,000 protesters, he will bring out a million from his party.
 
While it is true that the circumstances of Turkey are different from those in the Arab world, one could also argue that the circumstances of Tunisia were different from those in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Yet, each of these countries was affected, in varying degrees, by the protest movements of this decade.
 
The wave of protest movements ignited by Elbouazizi is about one central theme: dignity. Certainly, in the long run, these rebellions are not about a vender harassed by police officers in Sidi Bouzid in the case of Tunisia or about several trees cut in Taksim Square in Turkey. Those events are simply the sparks that ignite the flames that have been burning underneath. The feeling of being made irrelevant, powerless, and insignificant by an arrogant leader elected, or otherwise, is the real force that breaks the wall of fear and galvanizes people to reclaim their dignity.  
 
Indeed, democratic rulers, like dictators, are prone to overreaching and abuse of power. In a dictatorship, it is easy to identify abuse of power because that abuse generally comes from a single source: a dictator or the ruling party. In a democracy, where power is shared, blame tends to be shared as well, making it hard to identify the source of abuse. But in the end, if the people, or a significant segment of society, feel that their dignity is abused, be it on the hands of a dictator or an elected leader, they will rise up.
 
Erdoğan, though he is elected, has shown alarming authoritarian tendencies. His hubris is appalling and his arrogance is offensive to many Turkish citizens and people in the region. Elected leaders are not immune to hubris and arrogance especially when they have a limited understanding of how democracy works.
 
Being elected democratically does not grant one unchecked sovereignty and powers, especially when the country does not have strong and established civil society institutions. In fact, since his rise to power, Erdoğan has done all that he could to consolidate power and undermine civil society institutions. He targeted and/or undermined journalists, academicians, artists, judges, human rights activists, and NGOs. When his opponents opposed him, he threatened elections and used demagoguery and his popular base to stifle dissent. Where Arab dictators used tear gas, jail, torture, and guns to silence opponents, Erdoğan used demagoguery and majoritism as tools of oppression. Is there a difference between such a democracy and dictatorship if the outcome is the same: Oppression of minorities, dissenters, and the vulnerable?
 
Erdoğan and his political party are reducing democracy to a tool of control. They are ignoring the fact that democracy works best when it is adopted in an environment that celebrates dissent and diversity. Without vibrant, free, and thriving civil society institutions, elections are only a path to authoritarianism, especially in a country full of supermajorities and superminorities.
 
The Turkish Spring is similar to the Arab Spring and in some ways a bit different. While most Arab protesters wanted to overthrow the established order (Isqat al-Nizam) because they are corrupt beyond repair, Turkish protesters want Erdoğan to resign, not overthrow the system. It might be in the interest of the ruling party to force Erdoğan to resign to preserve their achievements and to plan for a future of shared governance. Erdoğan’s threat to bring to the street a million people from his party for every 100,000 of protesters is divisive, arrogant, partisan, and unbecoming of a leader who is supposed to represent all the Turkish—not his party.

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