Caught between Islam and the West: secularism in the Kemalist discourse

Çarmikli, E.S. 2011. Caught between Islam and the West: secularism in the Kemalist discourse. PhD thesis University of Westminster School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages

TitleCaught between Islam and the West: secularism in the Kemalist discourse
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsÇarmikli, E.S.

This thesis identifies the defining signifiers for the Kemalist discourse as the West and Islam. Kemalism mainly related to the West through the hegemonic discourse of Orientalism, and the Kemalist attitude towards Islam was characterised by its peculiar brand of secularism. Orientalism portrayed the East as irrational in all aspects of the economic, political and social realms. In contrast the West was rational, enlightened, scientific, determined to keep its destiny at its hands, hardworking, honest, and efficient... There was an essential difference between the two realms, which prevented the East to progress. The numerous aspects of the West-East dichotomy are investigated in detail by utilising a number of Western sources including newspaper stories, travel accounts, and diplomatic correspondence and a plethora of Kemalist texts. The documentary analysis in the thesis is based on original research. The Orientalist view even prescribed a recipe for Turkey’s progress, and Kemalism is defined in the thesis as a discourse whıch argues that Turkey must adopt Western civilization in its totality, including music, dress, alphabet, etc, and completely erase its past as symbolized by Islam.

The Kemalist reform agenda amounted to a utopia, to transform Turkey in such a radical manner that Turkey would appear indistinguishable from the West, in its script, dress, music, political organisation, etc. However, this meant a total re-activation o f t he ‘ the s ocial’ i n T urkey a nd everything becoming part of ‘the political.’ But then, Kemalism never acknowledged the antagonistic and conflictual nature of the political. The relationship between ‘Kemalism and Orientalism’ and that between ‘Kemalism and secularism’ have been studied by various authors, however the originality of this work lies in its emphasis on the relationship between ‘the social’ and the political,’ and its careful analysis on the total re-activation of the social through the Kemalist reforms.

In its ambitious project, Kemalism regarded Islam, which represented the Ottoman Turkish tradition, as the ‘main problem’ with the potential to nurture formidable opposition. Hence, Kemalist secularism was first and foremost an attack against Islam. Secularism, supported by a strong belief on the power of science and rationality to organise human life, and a strong aversion towards the religious and the traditional, was the central pillar of Kemalism. The thesis shows how Kemalism was caught between Islam and the West, and argues that secularism is the most important aspect of Kemalism, because Kemalism is an ‘Orientalism from within.’

PublisherUniversity of Westminster
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