The Hizmet movement and participatory democracy

GÖKHAN BACIK
GÖKHAN BACIK


Date posted: February 9, 2014

GÖKHAN BACIK

The differences between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Hizmet movement have become critically important since the graft probe of Dec. 17. The government quickly declared that there was no corruption. According to the government, Dec. 17 saw an organized attack meant to topple the government. However, almost all public surveys confirm that at least 65 percent of Turkish people disagree with the government, and believe that the graft probe that was made public that day addressed a corruption issue.

However, to see how the Hizmet movement and the AK Party differ requires an analytical perspective. The Islam versus Kemalism binary of the previous decades shadowed an equal binary between Islamism (political Islam) and the Hizmet/Gülen movement (social Islam). The theoretical bases of these two trends are different. Their harmony during the past decade forged their artificial alliance in response to the Kemalist “threat.” Personally speaking, the separation of the two is positive, despite some short-term fluctuations.

Indeed, the AK Party government is a legitimate power, despite its serious authoritarian tendencies. However, the Hizmet movement’s objection to the AK Party’s rising Islamism is an important analytical factor in understanding the formation of the policies in Turkish politics. For example, the Hizmet group argues that Turkey should have good relations with the major Western institutions, such as the EU. It does not propose that the state should be an agent of Islamization. It does not endorse the government’s cutting relations with some states. One could propose a longer list of differences.

Meanwhile, the Hizmet movement’s objections make an important contribution to the formation of participatory democracy in Turkey. So far, Turkish democracy was a game among political parties in the absence of a strong civil society and market actors.

Political theorist Benjamin R. Barber, who is known for his participatory-democracy approach, defines strong democracy as a democratic theory that advances the role of robust democratic citizenship over formal constitutional mechanisms and is particularly attentive to civic participation, civic education and a vibrant civil society.

On this line of thinking, the rise of the Hizmet movement is a key positive factor in enhancing a participatory model of democracy in Turkey.

So far, the conventional argument requires the establishment of a political party that proposes arguments about Turkish politics. Yet that is in fact what has made Turkey a graveyard of parties, all of them small groups that had believed they should become parties to talk about politics. The Hizmet movement stands as one of the first civic movements that are not organized along a political-party format.

Moving in parallel with the conventional argument, some argue today that the Hizmet movement should establish its own party. I disagree. A strong civil society movement that changes its political-party affiliations is better. The competition between political parties can sometimes radicalize their politics. In such cases, influential social movements have important roles.

Each political party in Turkey has its affiliated unions, media and professional unions. Thus the rise of new, autonomous social movements that reject full affiliation with a political party is rare in Turkey. That is why some have difficulty with understanding the Hizmet movement’s position in contemporary Turkish politics.

There is also the issue of transparency. The Hizmet movement’s activism creates a huge public debate about itself. In practice, there are many other religious social movements in Turkey that are also influential, but they lack an equal level of transparency. As an oft-debated movement, the Hizmet movement is under the pressure of regular interrogation. In other words, debating the Hizmet movement is good, as that puts it under pressure that calls for more transparency. Activism creates public interest and debate that require more transparency of any social movement.

Source: Todays Zaman , February 9, 2014


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