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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried