The Neoliberal Landscape and the Rise of Islamist Capital in Turkey.

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By: Balkan Neşecan,
Erol Balkan,
Ahmet Öncü, Editor

Publisher: Berghahn Books

New York: Berghahn, 1st ed., 2015. 314p. $95.00, ISBN 978-1782386384.

Volume: 3 Issue: 12

December 2015

Review by:

David Mason, PhD

Zayed University

Abu Dhabi, UAE

For scholars or observers of Turkey who ask questions such as: 1) if democracy is predicated on the idea that individuals vote for their own advantage, why is it that a great percentage of the working class, who suffer from AKP anti-labor policies and practices along with its cuts to health care and education, continue to vote for Erdoğan and the AKP?, or 2) how is it that after the Gezi Park protests, which developed into a wide ranging general protest against the government that was met with extreme prejudice, Erdoğan and the AKP continue to win at the polls?, or 3) based on Erdoğan/AKP economic policies that appeared successful initially, but have been shown to be unstable at best (Turkey is now considered one of the “fragile five” economies), why does the AKP continue its hegemony?, or 4) how is it that Erdoğan is able to continue in power after his authoritarian and dictatorial nature is on near constant display?, The Neoliberal Landscape and the Rise of Islamist Capital in Turkey is a must read.

The publishers clearly made an obvious effort to advance this book through the publishing process quickly because, as some of the contributors mention, with the speed of change in Turkey, they fear that it might be considered dated. While it is true that some of the prognostications of the book have not come to pass—one example being that the Gezi Part protests of Spring 2013 would lead to the end for Erdoğan, and not only has that not yet occurred but polıtıcal maneuverıng by Erdoğan/AKP during the Summer of 2015 helped them to overcome a relative defeat in the June 2015 election and storm back with another majority in the November 2015 election. So, in some ways this book may be considered to be dated (though I think that the predictions are very accurate and it is just the timing that was mistaken), but I think that we should see this book for what it is. This book is a very strong analysis of Islamic capital in Turkey provided through the provision of a strong background in the history of Islamism in the Muslim World. It goes on to analyse the complicated path of development of Islamist political parties and business interests in Turkey to which they eventually attain a level of significant political influence. In addition, this book elucidates the watershed moments of this development (examples include the 28 February military memorandum, the “Erbakan Event”, the significance of the coup of 1980 to Islamism, and the Dolmabahçe meeting, etc.). By assessing this work for what it is, it is clear that it is a very important work. In addition to giving a highly nuanced account of the development of Islamist capital in Turkey, this work both compiles the prevalent ideas used to explain its development and also, when possible, provides alternative theses to understand these developments. Of course, it ends at a point, but that is the nature of works of politics. It gives the scholars and observers of Turkey a strong basis for understanding current political developments in Turkey and allows them to go forward by keeping up with these developments through the media. I recommend this book to university libraries, historians and political scientists whose interest is the Republic of Turkey, and lay observers who are interested in the never-dull political world of Turkey.

That said, I do have some questions. First, I wonder why there is almost no reference to İmam-Hatip schools, from which the inner circle of the AKP graduated. The work of Özgür (Islamic Schools in Modern Turkey) analyses the İmam-Hatip network and ability to form a bloc and would have provided an additional lens through which to view the question had it been incorporated in the book. Second, this book would have benefitted from better internal referencing. By this I mean that chapter authors need to provide the reader with better/more in-chapter references to later chapters where a given topic will be further explored. Finally, and this is not a shortcoming of this text, but the book leaves the reader to ponder the reasons for the AKP’s electoral success and perhaps it should call for sociologists and psychologists to do more qualitative work on that question.

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