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The Third Generation of Islamist Intellectuals and AK Parti

Open Panel

Abstract

In the 1980s Turkish society and the political environment radically changed. Better communications, the majority of the populations living in urban areas, higher level of education, and the emergence of elites coming from the periphery created new expectations among citizens. The three years of military regime and a process of liberalizations lead by a liberal and mild Islamists shaped new balances and struggles among state institutions. In this environment new Islamist intellectuals started to discern on ways for creating political consensus, compromise with the secular establishment, strengthen Muslim economic and cultural elites. The failures of the Refahyol government, after a first euphoria, showed how weak was the Islamist movement intellectually and materially. Intellectuals were furthermore incentivized to create a new ‘local’ Islamist formulation. The 28 February process taught also to Islamist politicians that mass politics and a new ideological formulation was the only possible way to win power and secular resistance. My paper intends to show the cultural change of Turkish Islamist intellectuals in the post-1980 era. It will focus specifically on four of them that—in different areas—marked ideological shift and showed to the political elite new ways to broader their support. Ali Bulaç, Hayrettin Karaman, Fethullah Gülen, and Sabahettin Zaim respectively influenced media, law, education, and economy, which are the new sources of the strength and popularity of the AK Parti. These intellectuals were all able to depart from other models coming from the area and the ideological contraposition of the 1970s. There examples will help us in understanding how articulated, complex the new trends of Islamist ideas are in Turkey. Furthermore, it will demonstrate how—despite some unresolved issues—the intellectual debates create premises for a new democratic understanding in Turkey.