MESA Banner
Making and Unmaking the Nation

Session IX-12, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
  • The Directorate of Religious Affairs (DRA or Diyanet) is one of the most controversial institutions in “secular” Turkey. It is a state agency that continues, to this day, to execute its mission “to educate and enlighten society on religious matters and administer the places of worship.” In 2020, the Diyanet’s budget appropriation was $1.7 billion, exceeding the combined budgets of the Ministries of Commerce; Foreign Affairs; Energy and Natural Resources; Internal Affairs; Culture and Tourism; Industry and Technology and Environment and Urban Planning. The elevation of the agency’s institutional standing, expansion of its social and geographic reach and budget in the past two decades are well-documented. Recently, observers and scholars have pointed to Diyanet’s increased power under Erdogan’s rule as evidence of the backsliding from secularism and the unprecedented influence of religion in politics. While there is some merit to this view, it tends to be premised on the religious/secular binary. In historical reality, religion/religious arguments shaped the making of the nation-state and its secular/izing reforms, institutions, and sensibilities in the formative years of the Republic. Moving beyond the secular/religious binary, how do then we make theoretical sense of the relationship between religion, secularism and nationalism in the Middle East? This article discusses religion, secularism and nationalism as different kinds of ideologies. My analysis of fifty-one Friday sermons that the DRA published in 1927, in Turkish (as distinct from Arabic) for the first time, demonstrates that Turkish secularism was not “hostile” to religion. Nor did nationalist reformers view Islam as an impediment to Turkey’s modernization. I show that Kemalists rearticulated religious concepts and practices to create a modern Turkish Muslim morality. Employing a neo-Gramscian theoretical approach on ideology, and moving beyond the dichotomous view of religion and secularism, I develop the concept of “hegemonic morality” to refer to the moral dimension in ideological struggles to help explain the relationship between religion, secularism and nationalism in the modern Middle East.
  • This paper offers a close reading of "Iran-e naw" and its advertisements. "Iran-e naw" was among the most renowned newspapers published in Iran in the second constitutional era, and reportedly enjoyed the largest circulation of all papers published in Tehran at a time when political factions had emerged and politics had become more polarized. Published from 23 August 1909 to 19 December 1911, it is best known for its affiliation to the Democrat party (Ferqeh-ye demokrat-e Iran), a political faction with a social democratic agenda. As a result, historians have considered it primarily as an important source for its discussions of social reform as well as its heated debates with the organs of other political factions at this time. However, politics aside, "Iran-e naw" was also important in and of itself, in terms of the innovations that it introduced in the domain of journalism. It was for example, the first newspaper to appear as a broadsheet and also to include a range of commercial advertisements. The presence of advertisements in "Iran-e naw" marked a change from the practice of the earlier newspapers of the first constitutional era (1906-1908). That is, while the more long-lasting newspapers in the first constitutional era did include some advertising, there were few and far between, and had to do mostly with the publication of books or newspapers, which one could argue was in keeping with the widely-held belief by the reform-minded at this time that learning in general and the printed word in particular could bring about progress. In other words, in the first constitutional period, when newspapers were concerned with generating a new kind of politics, raising money by means of advertising was considered almost vulgar. Majd al-Eslam Kermani, the editor of "Neda-ye Vatan," who tended to give voice to the financial struggles involved in the running a newspaper, was often accused by contemporaries of being interested in only making money. By contextualizing "Iran-e naw" and comparing the advertisements that appeared in its pages with those that were published in the first constitutional era, this paper explores not only the socio-cultural changes that were afoot at this time, but it also brings attention to the new journalism that was taking shape, both in terms of the readership that was cultivated as well as the idea of what it meant to publish a newspaper.
  • For at least the last seven years Lebanon has been in a deep economic and political crisis that has sparked several mass demonstrations in the heart of Beirut. The demonstrations, starting with the ‘garbage crisis’ in 2015 and preliminary culminating with the protests after the big explosion in 2020, were joined by up to more than a hundred thousand demonstrators with vast participation from all sites in the Lebanese society. None of the demonstrations have succeeded in substantially changing the political system. Manipulations by power elites crushed the demonstrations, pandemic and other reasons kept demonstrations away, but many also lost faith in them and stayed home. Why is that? This paper argues that when analysing the state in Lebanon, it is necessary using other tools than those post-Westphalian Weber concepts to understand the structure and political dynamic of the relations between state and society in Lebanon. Further, to develop a conceptual framework the paper firstly explores the discourse on secularization. It does so from two angles: a philosophical one analysing the debate between Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) and the philosopher Jürgen Habermas, known for his thesis that a well-functioning democratic state must be based in a secular-liberal state. This thesis is deconstructed in the analysis of the debate. The second angle is a reading of the history of secularization and sectarianism from the time of the French colonization to current debates. The paper concludes that the demand of secularization is as much the reason for sectarianism than the solution to the problem. This paper argues that it is necessary to use concepts of the state other than the post-Westphalian Weber concepts to understand the structure of Lebanon. It investigates the discourse on secularisation and concludes that it is not the solution to the political crisis. It introduces the concept of worldview and argues that a new relation between state institutions and religious communities is needed to provide new perspectives for Lebanon
  • This presentation addresses the rise of the issue of Arab perception of time in the post-1967 War (al-Naksa) which constitutes an important and understudied component of the culturalist answers of the period to the causes of the military defeat and its political consequences. Thinkers such as the Syrian Marxist Yassin al-Hafiz (1930-1978), the Moroccan structuralist Mohammed Abed al-Jabri (1935-2010), and the Syrian Poet Adonis (b. 1930) spoke of the problem of Arabic Islamic time which is characterized by heterogeneity, event-centeredness and discontinuity. For these thinkers, Arabic Islamic time impedes the development of the modern sense of linear progress in secular history. As such, it disallows the proper formation of the historical sensibility of the Arab subject and of rational prognostic thinking in the Arabic cultural sphere. In this presentation, I survey the operative concepts and origins of this culturalist account and stage my intervention in tow ways. First, on a philosophical level, I argue that these thinkers impose a modernist discursive ideal of linear homogenous time on Arabic organic expressions of lived and theorized temporality (which is per force heterogenous and event oriented) creating as such a false problem. Linear homogenous time is a discursive ideal specifically because it structures a mechanistic vision of life which is nowhere to be found outside the institutional sites and discourses of modernizing states and elites, of factories and of markets. As such the false problem lies in the pronouncement that Arab time is uniquely heterogeneous while Time (with capital T) is universally heterogenous. Second on a philological level, I argue that the post-Naksa discourse of Arab discontinuous perception of the temporal order derives from no empirical findings but has roots in orientalist scholarship and its racial paradigms. The findings and sub-arguments of the post-Naksa discourse on Arab time significantly intersect with the nineteenth and early twentieth century theory of the atomistic worldview of the Semites. A consideration of the history this theory reveals its logical fallacies and its contradictory irreconcilable conclusions. As such, the post-Naksa culturalist critique of Arab time resuscitates a theory which is not only explicitly racist but blatantly illogical.
  • While debates within Islamic law scholarship have focused on a particular moment of transformation or rupture when European-modeled codification redefined law in nineteenth-century Egypt, the aim of this paper is to explore the underexplored shifts that took place on the ground in law throughout this central Ottoman province on the eve of this fateful transformation. Transformations in law do not take place in a vacuum. With respect to the question of equality before the law, that transformation would leave an indelible mark on a new society that came to define its laws. For it is this society (al-hay’a al-ijtimāʻīya) that late nineteenth-century Ottoman legal thinkers and writers heralded as being “comprised of individual members who were equal before the law.” This was a groundbreaking concept within Ottoman domains where subjects had for centuries belonged hierarchically within a Circle of Justice in which everyone fit within a certain order, both conceptually and legally, according to the Islamic legal tradition. Still, as critical as this concept of society became in unfettering the traditional hierarchies to which Egypt’s subjects had disparately belonged and redefined how they now stood before a modern law, this article digs deeper to investigate how this concept of society became a historical reality and subsequently redefined law in modern Egypt. Specifically, it investigates whether and how the Tanzimat reforms that hallmarked the late Ottoman Empire affected the equal treatment of Egypt’s subjects across the nineteenth century before newly budding state councils (majālis) conceived within an expanding administrative khedival state. In exploring this latter question, this article considers, in tandem with these inflected top-down Tanzimat reforms, whether there was already a dynamic local experiment begun towards attaining an equal or more equitable treatment of Egypt’s local subjects before their administrative khedival state? Furthermore, in uncovering this local experiment, who were its key scientists: was it solely Egypt’s khedival rulers and their administrators, or rather, did Egypt’s subjects who petitioned, plead, demanded, and insisted that their interests be heard and that they be seen on a more equal footing before this state and its intractable institutions, shape the contours of social justice and their equal treatment before the law? These are indeed large questions that this paper does not purport to answer fully, but rather to sketch some answers building on existing, and suggesting further, areas of historical research.