Books: Turkey carved up in slices

THE TURKISH LABYRINTH: Ataturk and the New Islam by James Pettifer Viking pounds 18 TURKEY UNVEILED: Ataturk and After by Nicole and Hugh Pope John Murray pounds 25

When, in 1923, Mustafa Kemel Ataturk established the Republic of Turkey and began to lead it towards an industrialised, pro-western secular state, every aspect of Turkish life was influenced by Ataturk's reforms. He forbade the fez and all other Islamic attire in favour of western suits and hats. He encouraged the appreciation of western culture, particularly dance music. He replaced Islamic law with the Swiss civil code and Mussolini's penal code. He introduced the Latin alphabet, launched a nation-wide literacy campaign and instructed everyone to adopt a surname. Most significantly, he legislated that the army be constitutionally bound to uphold the secular foundation of the state, which still leads some to the delusion that the army are the defenders of some kind of "democracy".

When Russia was the threat, Turkey was bolstered by the west as a barrier against the growth of communism. Now, with the new Great Game centred on Iran (the Middle Eastern country most likely to emerge as a regional superpower), Turkey has been co-opted in the Americans' economic fight against the spread of radical Islam. Internally, the army is at loggerheads with the Welfare Party, which has formed Turkey's first Islamic government.

The rise of Islam is the excuse for these latest books on Turkey, which reveal a country disastrously failing to live up to Ataturk's social and economic ideals, and beginning to question his legacy of pro-western policies. Despite Ataturk's reforms, Turkey is 95 per cent Muslim; since the Welfare Party seeks to spread democracy, to integrate Turkey into the Muslim world, to restore the authority of parliament and so to shift power away from the generals, it isn't likely to last very much longer.

James Pettifer's The Turkish Labyrinth offers a highly intelligent perspective on the problems of Ataturk's legacy and the sort of Islam the Welfare Party has adopted in its attempt to solve them. Pettifer is particularly good at outlining the reasons why younger Turks, especially in the cities, increasingly find themselves drawn to Islamic ideas and culture, and hostile to what they see as western exploitation. Welfare's Islam is best described as a sort of social programme, centred of course on the mosque, an institution which traditionally provides educational and medical as well as religious facilities.

The Turkish Labyrinth charts the tide of migration to the cities by those whose families for centuries lived on the land, followed by their inevitable disillusionment as they find themselves trapped in shanty towns. Among these people there is, as Pettifer puts it, "a profound yearning for the stability of Islamic rural societies", fuelled by the ruthless exploitation of workers by western multinationals. Their lot is typical not just of the poor in Turkey, but of those in all emerging industrial countries from Latin America to Eastern Europe and South-east Asia.

The difference with Turkey is that it is intent on joining the European Union. Turks are convinced that it is primarily prejudice against Muslims that has kept them out; but it is difficult, as Pettifer makes clear, to argue that there are any real benefits in letting Turkey in. What can this poor, mismanaged country give in return for what it will get? Since it is already an integral part of NATO and a keen follower of American Middle Eastern policies, as well as offering western companies plenty of incentives to exploit its cheap labour force, it seems to have left itself without a trump card. But now, the Welfare Party has announced that it is going to concentrate on building up economic and cultural ties with its Muslim neighbours, an idea made problematic by the fact that Turkey has fractured relations with all of them.

Nicole and Hugh Pope, in Turkey Unveiled, say they were motivated to write the book after experiencing the wonderful complexities of Turkish life and meeting the famously hospitable Turks during their years of living in and reporting on the country. Though Turkey Unveiled is a thorough, and thoroughly useful, history of Turkey from its origins to the present, its intention of going beyond the human-rights issues "to examine a country still grappling with a proud but traumatic history" sounds a little sentimental, particularly in light of late chapters on the Kurdish question and the three recent military coups.

Pettifer less naively insists on the importance of taking account of the complicity of ordinary Turks in their country's problems, particularly their fierce, often unthinking nationalism and their political apathy. It is very difficult to meet a Turk, for example, of whatever class, political party or faith, who will hear a good word said about the Kurds, or even entertain the idea of there being such a thing as "Kurdistan".

Both The Turkish Labyrinth and Turkey Unveiled end with chapters that envisage Turkey developing closer ties with the Muslim world and rediscovering its own Muslim roots. The cover of Pettifer's book claims that "the secular heritage of Ataturk is threatened by Islamic government", which is unforgivably inaccurate: Welfare is totally committed to keeping Turkey secular, and, in any event, is a secular dictatorship preferable to an Islamic democracy? This unfortunate comment reveals the sort of stereotypes - about Turks and Muslims - Pettifer makes it his business to challenge.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions