Sunday, December 2, 2012

Jenny White

Jenny White's new book is Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks. From her Q & A with Today's Zaman:

What does Islam mean in Turkey?

There are so many different ways of expressing that. There is a female sheikh [Cemalnur Sargut] on Bağdat Caddesi in İstanbul who does not cover her head and attracts a lot of professional women who are secular. The question is why? I think it's because if you don't know what it is to be a Muslim, if you don't know what it means to be Turkish anymore, then this happens. For a lot of youth, it is important to get ahead; they are not interested in sacrificing themselves for the state. Now, the state is mixed in with the government; it used to be separate. Despite the polarizing rhetoric, identities are less clear. You still want to be Turkish, but what does that mean? People are searching for authenticity. This female sheikh may be catering to this search for Turkish authenticity because I am told that she emphasizes that Islam is something Turkish and it appeals to people who are lost among international logos in malls. People feel unsettled and seek their roots. Where are their roots? Are they in the blood, in the flag? Maybe not so much anymore. Are they in Islam? Are they in possessions?

In your book “Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks,” you deal with issues related to Turkey's national identity and if the identity has been redefined?

Yes, in fact, the whole book is about that. Kemalism was very much based on race, blood and lineage -- you hear the word “soy” [lineage] used all the time. A year or so ago, a minister spoke at a university to a group of scientists to encourage them to improve the standard of Turkish science. In his speech, he said that this was important so that we can be aware of dangers like importing tomato seeds from Israel -- if you grow tomatoes from these seed and people eat them, it could negatively affect Turks' genetic lineage. This statement led to an explanation by the minister of agriculture that Turkey imports only 4 percent of its tomato seeds from Israel. Another example is that during the 1999 earthquake, one of the ministers rejected blood donations from Greece because he did not want to mix blood. This relates also to liberals who can be perceived as mixing everything and having no boundaries. They have no single group that they belong to. That's one reason why liberals are not so powerful. Who listens to the liberals here? The power is in the hands of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue