Part of The Best Books of 2012 on the Middle East

Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks

Even for those already familiar with contemporary Turkey, this sometimes disturbing book will be an eye opener. Drawing on four decades of direct observation of Turkish society, White explores the complexities of evolving notions of Turkish identity. She focuses mainly on the Muslim nationalists who have emerged since 1980. They are a rambunctious lot, full of seeming contradictions: for example, according to a 2009 study that White cites, 38 percent of young people who support the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party nevertheless describe themselves as “Kemalists”—that is, admirers of Kemal Atatürk, the stringently secularistic founder of the Turkish republic. White also explores the foibles of contemporary Turkish secularists: their obsession with racial purity, their fear of debasement through interaction with outsiders, and their sacralization of the republic’s borders. The new Muslim nationalists, in contrast, are more open to diversity, support Turkey’s association with the eu, and seek ways to include ethnic Kurds and minority sects in the body politic. They have also embraced neoliberal economic thought to a surprising degree. Alas, all these competing visions of modern Turkey relegate women to a subordinate status.

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