CENTRE FOR MIDDLE EASTERN
Bergen Studies on the Middle East and Africa : 4
Camilla Trud Nereid:
In the Light of Said NursiTurkish Nationalism and the Religious Alternative
The Turks are a human cancer, a creeping agony in the flesh of the lands which they misgovern, rotting every fibre of life ... I am glad that the Turk is to be called to a final account for his long record of infamy against humanity
The fall of the Ottoman Empire was applauded by the Western world, and Mustafa Kemal, who established the Turkish Republic in 1923, was expected to cure 'the sick man of Europe' once and for all. But the therapy he prescribed, known as the Six Principles of Kemalism; Republicanism (cumhuriyetçilik), Nationalism (milliyetçilik), Populism (halkçilik), Etatism (devletçilik), Secularism (laiklik), and Revolutionism (inkilapçilik), had unexpected and, from the doctor's point of view, undesirable side effects.
The Kemalist principles met by considerable resistance both within and outside the political system. The most fundamental criticism of the Kemalist regime was articulated by the religious leader Said Nursi (1876-1960), who became the symbol of religious opposition against the secular Turkish nation-state.  His criticism focused on the state's implementation of secularism and nationalism.
Said Nursi was committed to restoring the Islamic faith by renewing the understanding of religious knowledge as presented in the Holy Book. Thus Islam could become the framework for the encounter with the modern world. His methods were nonviolent and individualist in character, but the state responded with persecution throughout his life. He was harassed by the police and the military, prosecuted by the courts and proclaimed a heretic by the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet Isleri Baskanligi, the Directorate). The actions against him were sanctioned by the legal authorities, who took him to court for violation of the Constitution and of the Penal Code against such violations, including the crime of organized religious opposition.
One way of seeing the conflict between Said Nursi and the Kemalist authorities is to view it as an expression of a general conflict between religion and secularism. On this basis, I expected to find that the Turkish state showed a similarly negative attitude towards all religious movements. But this turned out to be wrong. At the same time that Said Nursi and his followers were being persecuted, members of another religious group, the Naksibendi brotherhood, held important positions in parliament and in the state bureaucracy of the Republic.
This contrast in the state's attitude towards Said Nursi's Nurcu movement on one hand and the Naksibendi brotherhood on the other has not been focused on or discussed before.  Thus, in Serif Mardin's monograph on the Nurcu movement, the most substantial to date, this theme is not discussed.  The present study will thus focus on this discrepancy. How was it that some religious groups were proclaimed enemies of the state while others were considered as allies?
HistoriographyThis case study of Said Nursi and the Nur movement raises several questions of importance for the general understanding of the relationship between state and religion in an Islamic context; how was secularism and nationalism understood and practised by the Turkish authorities? What was the relationship between the two principles of secularism and nationalism, within the general framework of Kemalism? What were the results of Mustafa Kemal's secularist and nationalist policy; did it promote, prevent or create an Islamic revival?
During Mustafa Kemal's lifetime (1881-1938), presentations of early Turkish Republican history, both foreign (Allen, Armstrong, Webster, Kinross, Lewis) and Turkish, were dominated by a general sympathy for and belief in his policies. To foreigners, Kemalism appeared as more western, modern, democratic and less threatening than the Ottoman Empire, and the history written by Turkish historians themselves is likely to have further influenced the views of their foreign colleagues. It is therefore worthwhile to take a glance at the major lines in Turkish historiography before discussing the reliability and limitations of the material used in this thesis.
In 1930, Mustafa Kemal established the Turkish History Association (Turk Tarih Kurumu) with the explicit aim of contributing to the establishment of the new Turkish identity by documenting its roots in the pre-Islamic history of Turks. This was the history writing of an anti-imperialist, secular, nationalist ideology, in contrast to the still influential Ottomanist approach exemplified by Namik Kemal's Osmanli tarihi ('Ottoman history') whose aim was to create an Ottoman identity by revealing the uniqueness of Ottomanness. Namik Kemal's book was a reaction to the official historiography of the Ottoman Empire which disregarded the pre-Islamic history of Turks and incorporated Turkish history into the history of Islam.  But it was also a reaction against Western orientalism.
European Orientalist historiography (Rambaud, Iorga and Gibbons) disregarded the Ottomans' legacy of an Oguz and Selçuk background and treated the Turks as devoid of history before their meeting with the Byzantines. They saw Turkish history as the continuation and projection of Byzantine history in an Islamic context.
Kemalist historiography, which aimed at establishing a foundation for the Turkish nation, was based on the ideas of such writers as Ziya Gökalp (1876-1924)  and Yusuf Akçura (1876-1935). In the concept of Turkism presented in Ziya Gökalp's book Turkçulugun Esaslari ('The principles of Turkism'), religion is conceded to have an important position in Turkish culture. Yusuf Akçura, on the other hand, opted for secular pan-Turkism.  One of the founders of 'Turk Tarih Tetkik Cemiyeti' (Turkish History Research Society, the predecessor of the Turk Tarih Kurumu), Akçura played a crucial role in defining the new nationalist paradigm of Turkish historiography.
Later, this tradition underwent a process of myth elimination as a result of the systematic empiricism of Fuat Köprulu (1890-1966). He combined historical data with the findings of complementary disciplines such as archeology, literature and Turcology, and established empirically that the turning point in Turkish history was the turcification of Anatolia under the Anatolian Selçuks. Köprulu is thus considered the first convincing opponent of the western Orientalist paradigm. One of Fuat Köprulu's major works is Turkiye Tarihi ('The History of Turkey').
Thus, Turkish history writing went through several stages; from the official Ottoman version of Turkish history as being a part of Islamic history, through the stages of Ottomanism and pan-Turkism to the nationalist historiography of Kemalist Turkey.
Mustafa Kemal's leadership and authority was unquestioned in the country and was not criticised until long after his death in 1938. In fact, open criticism of his overall principles is taboo even more than fifty years later. The official version of Turkish history as sanctioned by Mustafa Kemal was based on a special interpretation of the Ottoman past, which held religion responsible for the lack of Turkish unity and the decline of the Empire.
The first step towards a revised version of early Turkish Republican history was to give a new presentation of its Ottoman past. The pioneers of this tradition were Ömer Lutfi Barkan (1902-1979) and Halil Inalcik who can be categorized as Ottoman particularists; they stressed the differences between Ottoman and European historical development, and thus the analysis of the former could not be conducted correctly with analytical tools developed for analyzing European history. They maintained that social and economic institutions such as feudalism, mercantilism and capitalism did not exist in Ottoman history in the sense they did in Europe, and that there were other types of social and economic organizations which were functional in the Ottoman context, different from but not necessarily less advanced than those of Europe.
Turkish Muslim intellectuals formed another group of writers who have contributed to a more nuanced view of early Turkish republican history. Writers such as Sadik Albayrak (1942),  Kadir Misiroglu (1933) and Bekir Berk (1926) must be appreciated for the valuable factual information they give by including a vast number of primary documentation such as telegrams, letters, parliamentary speeches and official but unpublished reports. These sources are also used by Muslim propagandists who present a completely different view of the Kemalist revolution; giving an image of Mustafa Kemal as a dictator of a one-party state, who ruthlessly enforced his ideology against the will of the majority of the population.
Marxist historians, although having their roots in Ottoman historiography, became influential only after 1960, in particular among mulkiyeliler (graduates from the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Ankara). The important names of the initial phase of this tradition are Sefik Husnu, I.H. Tökin and H.A. Sanda. Their worked from the idea of a universal sequence of stages of development for all societies. Their main concentration was on the Kemalist, nationalist and etatist history of the Republic. This tradition shares the anti-religious and pro-nationalist sentiments of Kemalism, and because of this, some leftist writers were held in high esteem by the authorities, as for example Çetin Özek (1934), one of the Nurcus' most ardent critics.
Some writers are more difficult to categorize than others, and the most influential of all Turkish scholars today, Serif Mardin (1927), is one of these. Mardin has a very broad approach to the development of modernity which he interprets as the emergence of a civil society. He sees modernization as a process which comprises sequences leading to the emergence of civil society. Thus 'continuity' is a key concept in his approach.
Notes1. Quoted from a speech by the British Prime Minister, D. Lloyd George, 10 November 1914, cited in H.W.V. Temperley (ed.), A History of the Peace Conference of Paris, Oxford 1969, VI, 24. [*]
2. The political opposition is treated in a book by Erik Jan Zurcher, Political Opposition in the Early Turkish Republic, Leiden 1991. [*]
3. The Kemalist government was also challenged by other groups such as the Kurdish nationalists under their leader Seyh Sait in 1925. See Chapter Five. [*]
4. A comparison of the Nurcus and the Naksibendis with respect to their relationship with the state cannot be found in any of the sources, primary or secondary, used for this study. The many Nurcus interviewed during my stay in Turkey (Izmir, Ankara, Istanbul) were unwilling to comment upon the question. [*]
5. Serif Mardin, Religion and Social Change in Modern Turkey, New York 1989. [*]
6. Referring to the texts of the Ottoman vakanuvis, who were state officials paid to write the official history. [*]
7. Ziya Gökalp's contribution to Turkish nationalism is presented in more detail in Chapter Five. [*]
8. Akçura is the author of Turk Tarihinin Ana Hatlari (The Major Lines in Turkish History) and Turkçuluk (Turkism). [*]
9. Sadik Albayrak graduated from Istanbul Yuksek Islam Ensititusu in 1966. From 1970 he worked as an expert at Istanbul Muftulugu Serí Siciler Arsivi, where he stayed for eight years. He started to work as a writer for the Milli Gazete in 1979. He has written more than thirteen books on religious topics. Turkiye'de Din Kavgasi came in 1973 and is concerned with the status of religion as the Ottoman Empire changed into the Turkish nation-state. [*]
10. The effects of Marxist methodology was reflected as a materialistic approach to Turkish history in Ahmet Vefik Pasa's Hikmet-i Tarih, Mustafa Celalettin Pasa's Les Turcs: anciens et modernes, and Suleyman Pasa's Tarih-i Alem. [*]
(From the Introduction)
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Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies