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.

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks