- Contextualizing Turkish Islamism and Masculinities
- The Formation of a New Masculine Islamist Political Subjectivity
- Masculinity in Islamist Discourse and Practice
- Emotion and Self-Control: The Islamist Masculine Habitus
During the second half of the twentieth century, Turkish Islamists framed the Westernizing reforms in their country as an emasculating process, for its result – in their view – was a weak and passive individual in a cultural and political climate that subordinated itself in the face of the West. It was up to a reformed and strengthened Muslim male subject to reverse all this, regain historical agency, and thus contribute to a resurgence of the Muslim Turkish nation and Islamic civilization. Offering a new concept of manhood was thus fundamental to Islamism. Islamist politics and activism in Turkey were an almost exclusively male domain. Only after the transformation of Turkish mainstream Islamism into a mass movement during the 1990s did a broad women’s grassroots activism begin to grow. Even during this phase, however, male Islamists retained and defended their prerogatives within the movement. Islamist discourses aimed at a male audience, and their very basic themes implied a male agent. Against this backdrop, exploring the historical development of Islamist masculinity means exploring a missing key factor in the understanding of Turkish Islamism while also contributing to the broader picture of how Islamist movements engaged with subjectivity and everyday culture.
I argue that an interplay of pathos and discipline represents the core of a Turkish Islamist mode of masculinity disseminated within the movement during the five decades of its existence as a distinct and cohesive entity. Leading intellectuals of mainstream Turkish Islamism established the ideational backbone of this Islamist masculinity from the 1950s onwards. Masculinity in social practice developed in a more peculiar way from the 1970s onwards as the Islamist movement broadened its social base. Pathos constructed emotional depth, gravitas, and meaningfulness as masculine virtues. Discipline demanded determination, commitment, and self-sacrifice for the cause; later, it also introduced strict guidelines for everyday behavior. After giving some contextual information on Turkish Islamism and masculinities in the first part, I will secondly demonstrate how Islamist thinkers constructed a new male political subjectivity in the Islamist imagination of a politically dynamic, consciously Muslim youth, heavily relying on notions of pathos and discipline. Thirdly, I will trace aspects of masculinity in Islamist discourse and practice, such as the usurpation of Islamic propers, Islamist novels, and everyday social practice, which again interacted with pathos and discipline. Finally, I will dissect how the two notions were instrumental in forming a new Islamist male habitus. Interrelated with pathos and discipline was a productive ambivalence between a self-fashioning of individuals as righteous victims, oppressed but upright defenders of an authentic cultural self, and a re-foundation of a strengthened self, also including a sense of entitlement as the true masters of the nation. Establishing a myth of victimhood was directly related to the Islamist claim for political power – and vice versa. The new Islamist masculine self would emerge victoriously out of victimhood and lead a Turkish-Islamic renaissance.
In order to develop these arguments, the article engages mainly with printed sources such as novels and normative works (Quranic commentary, Fatwa collections, catechisms, etc.) alongside material from Islamist magazines – the most important tool in the Islamist effort to connect with audiences. Last but not least, the article argues that understanding mainstream Islamist masculinity can explain the great personal and organizational continuity within Turkish mainstream Islamism since an embodied Islamist masculine habitus proved able to bridge political and ideological divides. This continuity was based on the undivided personal loyalty of leading activists ranging from the first formation in small cells during the 1950s to a new generation emerging in the 1970s that formed the social base of Islamism’s upsurge during the 1980s and 1990s and later filled the leading ranks of today’s governing AKP party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, Justice and Development Party, founded in 2001).
In this article, I follow a common understanding of Islamism as a set of ideological currents, political organizations, and worldviews that reinterpreted Islam as a holistic order comprising the political system, culture, economy, social interaction, private life, and personal conduct. Accordingly, Islamism rejects any separation of religion and state. Furthermore, Islamism formulates a Manichean separation of the Muslim and non-Muslim that seeks to purify and ›re-Islamize‹ Muslim culture according to an imagined pristine Muslim community, thereby ridding it of Western influences. Islamism asserts that Islam, as a perfect, God-given order, is superior to all other systems or worldviews. Delegitimizing Israel and strongly relying on antisemitic codes and conspiracy narratives is another common element of Islamist movements. Islamists seek the political unity of Muslim nations and aim to reestablish the political, economic, scientific, and military might of the global Muslim community (the Ummah) or parts thereof that would lead the global Islamic renaissance. Turkish Islamism developed within a unique tradition, stemming from a relatively Turkey-centric view and strongly referencing Ottoman-Islamic history.
The Islamist outlook fundamentally differed not only from secularist views in Turkey, which sought to create a rationalist, modernized, largely private Islam, but also from conservative Islamic views, which placed a high value on religion as both the basis of lifestyle and identity as well as the guiding ethic for morals and social cohesion but did not feature any of the above. Islamists, on the other hand, believed that Islam provided a precept for every aspect of human life and aimed to apply those precepts in their totality. Any practices deemed not authentically Islamic were to be expunged. Islamists used a variety of methods and strategies to re-Islamize various aspects of life: violent or non-violent, ideational and activist, and organized either in small intellectual circles, in party politics, or as a broader social movement.
Developing mostly independently from Arab, Iranian, and other counterparts, Turkish Islamism had a specific genealogy and unique features. Its mainstream, which remained a stable, distinct current over the course of five decades, was a socially conservative, non-revolutionary, and non-violent Islamist current from the outset. Compared to other Islamisms, it was largely self-contained and Turkey-centric. At the same time, it identified with historical, traditional Islam, especially orthodox currents of Sufism and Ottoman Islam (rather than an imagined ahistorical, ideal early Islam). A key aim of Turkish Islamism was to advance a renaissance of Turkish-Islamic political, economic, and cultural potency against perceived Western predominance. Turkey would then regain Ottoman glory and might. To achieve this goal, Turkish Islamists emphasized individual discipline and exemplary behavior, which they saw as epitomizing the state of the Muslim Turkish nation in general.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Turkish Islamists first organized in small circles at the time when a new Islamism that had adapted to the republican setting began to slowly emerge after Turkey’s transition from Kemalist one-party rule to democracy. During these decades, a founding cadre laid the organizational and ideological underpinnings of Turkish Islamism’s dominant current, which during the 1970s established itself as the Milli Görüş movement with intellectuals, media outlets, and a growing social milieu close to it. Undergoing a transformation into a mass movement from the 1980s onwards and adapting to ideological change, changing political fortunes, and absorbing contenders, Milli Görüş managed to retain its core structure and leadership until the late 1990s. Parties attached to the movement sought to operate legally within the republican frame, which it aimed to transform rather than overthrow.
Since the contemporary history of Islamism in Turkey was largely tied to its main current, both the analysis and timeframe of my article will outline masculinity within this mainstream of Turkish Islamism. During the period from 1950 to 2000, mainstream Islamist masculinity did not remain static. Rather, it adapted to changing historical circumstances and evolving rival masculinities, from which Islamism sought to distinguish itself while also constantly interacting with it. Characteristically, Turkish Islamism did so without abandoning older models but rather by integrating new elements. This article builds on the advances in masculinity studies that have become part of the social sciences’ standard repertoire, such as Raewyn Connell’s paradigm of hegemonic masculinity and George L. Mosse’s history of masculinities in the Western world. It seeks to understand Islamist masculinity in a multi-dimensional approach in order to gain an analytical comprehension of multi-faceted Islamist masculinity, including conceptions of masculine ideals, inner-movement gender politics, and everyday performances that culminated in a specific male habitus of Islamist men. I will employ insights into Islamist masculinity to better understand Turkish Islamism itself. Masculinity opens this window due to its sheer pervasiveness in different aspects of Islamism and the way it linked theory and practice, ideology, and everyday life.
Not including the broader field of Muslim masculinities, research about gender in Islamist movements worldwide almost exclusively focuses on women’s activism, Islamist female intellectuals, ideological stances on women, and the political practice of gender regimes. This holds true for studies on Turkish Islamism as well. While a range of works is available on female participation and aspects of Turkish Islamism concerning women, only a handful of academic research – in the English as well as the Turkish language – is available on male activism, male aspects of Islamism or the modes of masculinity Islamism fostered or demanded. This scarcity of academic interest, in a way, reproduced the Islamists’ own preoccupation with femininity, especially the regulation of female bodies and behaviors. Masculine Islamism was implicitly deemed as the ›factory setting,‹ not inspiring further scrutiny. Female ventures into the male field, however, were regarded as anomalies requiring explanation. In this way, many key aspects of Islamism in Turkey remained unquestioned.
This imbalance is, however, also symptomatic of the relative novelty of interest in masculinities within the historiography of modern Turkey. Studies on women and gender have produced critical accounts, for example on the gendered nature of modernization and the Kemalist regime, and thereby also on aspects of masculinities. Yielding very promising results, the field of masculinity studies is quickly expanding, but still lacks coverage of many key areas.
Islamism as a distinct political current emerged during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire as a reaction to the Empire’s decline and the West’s political, technological, and intellectual hegemony. After the foundation of the Turkish republic in 1923 under the leadership of secular-nationalist cadres, Islamist opposition soon found itself marginalized. A new brand of Islamism reemerged only in the climate of the 1950s after Turkey had undergone a transition to democracy. The newly elected government adopted a more lenient stance towards Islamist efforts in line with anti-communist agitation in the emerging Cold War setting. It was in those years that Turkish Islamists first developed the main intellectual foundations and gained a small social base for the nascent movement. The current that emerged during those years managed to retain its position as the mainstream of Turkish Islamism for five decades to come.
This founding generation came up from a small circle formed within a Sufi confraternity in Istanbul. It consisted of a handful of intellectuals from an urban, well-educated background and a small group of young followers, mostly students hailing from provincial cities, who later graduated as engineers, doctors, or lawyers. This cadre and the Islamism it founded not only pioneered the field but also continued to dominate it during the coming decades in terms of setting a hegemonic discourse, gaining wide followership, and having an impact reaching beyond its core social base. One of the key narratives of this newly emerging Islamism was the prosecution and injustice its predecessors had endured during the Kemalist era. Facing occasionally intensifying state pressure but also feeding on their own characteristic proneness to conspiracy theory and Antisemitism, Turkish Islamists continued to view themselves as outcast victims of the republican status quo’s elites from left to right, which they portrayed as conspiring with foreign powers and Freemasons (in their view representing Jewish capitalists or ›Zionists‹) during the decades to come.
During the 1970s, Turkish Islamism ventured into organized party politics with a continuous series of parties that were founded from within what was now known as the Milli Görüş movement. These parties were repeatedly outlawed and founded again under a different name. The liberal constitution of the 1960s and 1970s allowed for the Milli Selamet Partisi (National Salvation Party) to exist between 1972 and the military coup of 1980. After transnational Islamist thought and the global Islamist upsurge in the late 1970s and 1980s had made its impact in Turkey, an activist Islamist youth movement, mostly drawing students from a conservative, rural background, formed in the metropoles. Sub-currents on the fringes of this mainstream along with smaller new groups differing in internationalist, intellectual, activist, pro-Iranian, or pro-Kurdish stances proliferated. However, the mainstream absorbed a large part of this activist youth, while smaller, independent currents remained marginal. In particular, the September 1980 military coup had created favorable circumstances, allowing Islamism to flourish into a broad social movement. While the old cadre still sat at the helm and the 1970s generation rose through the ranks, Turkish Islamism’s mainstream now included people from all walks of life. It gathered an especially large following among the urban poor who had migrated into the metropoles during waves of unchecked, rapid urbanization and found themselves economically and culturally marginalized in the new urban setting. In this way, Turkish mainstream Islamism became the most dynamic and self-confident political, social, and cultural movement in the country between the mid-1980s and the late-1990s. At the height of its influence, the Islamist party could muster between 20 and 25 percent of electoral support. After this phase, a transition began to what was often analyzed as the post-Islamist era, during which Islamism integrated with the republican system motivated by political expediency and increasing participation in the country’s neo-liberal economy.
Within this setting in contemporary Turkish history, Islamist masculinity developed in a context with many other foundational elements of manhood present. Works by Serpil Sancar and others analyzed the Turkish republican modernization effort’s implications for masculinities. Officially sanctioned masculinities during the Kemalist era had adhered to the outward signs of the secular order like Western-style clothing and a shaved appearance. They encouraged devotion to state and nation as foundational elements of masculinities. Despite symbolic acts to the contrary, Turkish modernization efforts placed men in a role of active agents of modernization but women in a role of symbols of modernization (a pattern that Islamism would later reproduce unselfconsciously). It exhorted new public visibility of women but nevertheless retained male primacy in the public sphere by relegating women to the role of a modern housewife and a constituent element of the ideal Turkish family. As Ayşe Gül Altınay has shown in her pioneering study, The Myth of the Military-Nation (2004), the military ought to mold Turkish men into disciplined, able-bodied, and diligent ideal citizens of the nation. Turkish everyday culture often referenced military service as a rite of passage from boy- to manhood. Since all Turkish men were – and still are – liable to military service between one and two years, the military had a crucial impact and remained unchallenged all over the political spectrum.
Historian Tanıl Bora and political scientist Ulaş Tol have argued that masculine images and masculinist language were ubiquitous elements of political culture in twentieth century Turkey. At a closer look, this political culture consisted of a variety of socio-political milieus. Especially after the end of Kemalist one-party rule in 1950 (which had monopolized much of the public sphere but arguably only partly managed to emboss its precepts on Turkish society), manifold divisions and allegiances became more visible and entrenched. This was a trend that continued during the next decades. Despite the presence of common elements, it is therefore appropriate to see Islamist masculinity within a contentious relationship with masculinities in other socio-political milieus, each representing its own concept of masculinity and striving for hegemony. This converges with Connell’s proposition that different ›masculinities are in constant interaction, changing the conditions for each other’s existence and transforming themselves as they do.‹
Research on masculinities in different socio-political milieus remains sketchy but can be summarized as follows: Centre-right conservatism merged traditional male primacy with loyalty to the republican system. 1950s conservatism had also relied on masculinist notions in the fight against communism. New masculinities emerged with the increasingly contentious rivalry between the revolutionary left and far-right during the 1960s and 1970s, which left Turkish society politicized and polarized. The ultranationalist or ›idealist‹ (ülkücü) extreme right saw its masculine ideal in an extension of state power embodied in its paramilitary law-enforcement organs, in a self-sacrificing soldier-like mentality, including martyrdom discourses, and in an ethnic status as a proudly Turkish man. As the opposing warring faction of the 1970s, the revolutionary leftist faction, too, heavily relied on a self-sacrificing, soldier-like mentality for the revolutionary cause, which glorified martyrdom. These currents also employed Turkey’s status in NATO as a political metaphor for an emasculating United States colonialism. In opposition to the conservative parties governing Turkey for the most part of the second half of the twentieth century, the secularist center to center-left, in turn, based masculinities on their updated reading of Atatürkist values. These values included basic gender equality as an ongoing project that was made possible by the republican system as well as by the shift away from Islam as an overbearing value-system. Atatürk, however, was too much of a towering founding father figure to be emulated directly. The 1980s and 1990s then saw the rise of Islamism, and the masculinity it propagated started to have an impact beyond its milieu. Popular culture, in turn, offered a complexity of voices from all these socio-political milieus along with many contestations and challenges.
Different aspects of Islamist discourse converged in a complex that contained the core of the mainstream Islamist imagination: their concepts for political and cultural resurgence, their visions for a future Turkey, and their ideal of a new man. In this complex, the main intellectual arbiters of Turkish mainstream Islamism placed all their hope in a new generation of activist and consciously Muslim youth. Because of this key position in the Turkish Islamist imagination, semantics related to youth (gençlik) and generation (nesil) became commonplace references in Islamist speech. All major thinkers relevant to Turkish mainstream Islamism incorporated the notions of ›youth‹ and a ›new generation‹ in their programs. The ›Youth of Asım‹ (Asım’ın nesli), a dictum by the Islamist thinker of the late Ottoman era Mehmet Akif Ersoy (1873–1936), referred to an ideal Muslim character in a poem describing the youth fighting in the Turkish War of Independence (1919–1922), one of the core narratives of national salvation in the Turkish republic. Ersoy was widely read and regarded as an Islamist precursor during the decades after the 1950s. Two highly renowned speeches by Necip Fazıl Kısakürek (1904–1983), the most influential Islamist thinker of the period in question, were his ›Address to the Youth‹ (Gençliğe Hitap, 1947) and ›Declaration to the Youth!‹ (Gençliğe Beyanname!, 1978). His followers often talked of the ›Generation of the Great East‹ (Büyük Doğu Nesli). Islamist theorist Nurettin Topçu (1909–1975) devoted entire sections of his books to the desired qualities and character of the ideal new youth. In 1975, poet and writer Sezai Karakoç (1933–2021) invoked the ›Renaissance Generation‹ (Diriliş Nesli).
While mostly framed in seemingly gender-neutral semantics like ›youth‹ or ›generation,‹ Islamist thinkers nevertheless revealed that what they actually had in mind was a male youth, a new generation of Muslim men. Some formulations as well as the general outlook of Turkish Islamist thinkers, in which women were only present as objects and projections, reveal this gendering. For example, Kısakürek’s ›Adress to the Youth‹ ended with calling a ›young man‹ (genç adam) to duty. And Sezai Karakoç called the ideal individual, embodying the spirit of Muslim-Turkish cultural-political resurgence, a ›soldier of the renaissance‹ (diriliş eri). A 1951 text in Kısakürek’s magazine Büyük Doğu (The Great East), one of the first descriptions of what the new Muslim-Turkish youth had to look like, unequivocally presented a male role model. He was a ›youngster with the strongest personality/firmest character‹ (en şahsiyetli delikanlı) who had roamed the street of earlier ages. The youth should emulate this ideal man and his character down to speech and bodily motion. Not only ›his walking, his talking, his greeting, and his movements‹, but also ›his clothing, his morals/ethics, his self-possession/solemnity, and his veracity, i.e., his faith as the root of all his virtues‹ made him a ›dignified youngster‹ and the ideal ›Muslim Turkish young man of an era experienced on this soil.‹ The agent who would carry out the historical mission was male, as was the imagined interlocutor for behavioral and intellectual advice given out by the movement’s arbiters.
In Turkish Islamism, visions of a new man converged in the masculine features they ascribed to the ideal new generation. The ideal young man would show strength in character and personality, firmness, and self-reliance. He ought to display a calm self-confidence both individually and collectively – demonstrated mainly in a firm stance against the West. In order to do so, the ideal young man would have to develop strength in character and personality. Şahsiyet – the term for this characteristic – became another key concept in Islamist discourse. The young man should then be able to make a real-world impact with his political and social consciousness, direct action in politics, strong sense of mission, and readiness for self-sacrifice. A stable cultural foundation and rooting would allow this. The young man was to be cultured and well-versed, especially in Muslim-Turkish history. He, furthermore, should train his own intellectual, aesthetic, and poetic sensibility using the writings of Islamist authors, many of which were both movement intellectuals and poets. All these features of his character would be undergirded by a firm faith in Islam. In short, he ought to be a fully disciplined individual.
In these formulations of an ideal masculinity, it became evident how much value the aforementioned Islamist thinkers placed on activating the masculine agency of their new ideal generation. The Islamist male ought to be active in political, economic, or cultural pursuits, seeking to reverse the hegemony of the West. With this, they implicitly coded passivity as an emasculating, feminine stance. A passive and disoriented personality, in the Islamist view, was a result of blind cultural mimicry, inferiority complexes, and a subservient self-positioning against the West that was associated with the subject created by Westernization and secular nationalism. In this sense, Islamist masculinity offered an escape from Islamism’s own construction of fragile and emasculated secularist masculinity and from the political weakness Islamists ascribed to it.
On the other hand, Islamist narratives of victimhood remained a central trope. Islamist masculinity thus was both victimized and strong at the same time. A Refah Partisi illustration (Welfare Party – the incarnation of Milli Görüş during the 1980s and 1990s) pithily showed this motif of a downtrodden but resisting masculinity. Resistance displayed agency as opposed to effeminizing passivity or willing Westernization. The masculine allegoric figure is held back by the TRT (Turkish state television), the tabloid press, the usurious capital owner, the reactionary ›Westernist‹ enemy of faith and thought, prostitution – gambling – drugs, and Zionism. The text in the upper right promises to break these chains and calls upon ›the faithful manly brave‹ (inançlı yiğitler) to leave behind the cowards.
In the Islamist mindset, resurgent masculinity thus meant resurgent political power and vice versa. This complex thus constructed the fundamental relation between a disciplined masculine subject and the palingenetic myth of resurrection. An archetypical depiction of this myth of resurrection was visualized on the cover of the March 1951 issue of Necip Fazıl Kısakürek’s Büyük Doğu (The Great East) magazine, one of the seminal publications of Turkish Islamism. A muscular male allegory was depicted crying out (in red): ›Give me back my soul and faith!!‹ The cover illustrated the Islamist ideal that masculine strength could be regained by reconnecting with faith and authentic selfhood, which had been apprehended in the process of Westernization and secularization.
Before emerging as the eminent precursor of Islamist thought in Turkey, Kısakürek had gained notoriety as a prolific poet, publishing several collections of poetry from the 1930s onwards. In 1976, he even released a record with his own recitals. Kısakürek had chosen pieces from Western classical music as a background to his poems. The poet’s voice on these recordings was deep and satiated, employing strong accentuations. Together, this evoked an atmospheric and deeply affective listening experience. The masculine gravitas and pathos exhibited here were common elements of Turkish Islamism’s inner culture. Kısakürek’s undertakings and his combination of a disciplinarily strengthened new (male) subject and emotive pathos in poetry and speech was by no means an exotic outlier but rather the norm within Turkish Islamist circles. Reading poetry was not only a widespread activity among Islamist men but was also a serious and important affair. Leading Islamist poets theorized poetry as a tool to reconnect with the metaphysical and, later, as a means to generate a uniquely Muslim way of thinking, feeling, and perceiving. Poetry was just one marker of a wider pattern within Islamist masculinity: pathos.
While many ideologies in Turkey featured emotive practices, several unique characteristics of Turkish mainstream Islamism explain its proneness towards emotion. Firstly, Turkish Islamists placed intuition and emotion as an antidote against the positivist-rationalist worldviews behind the founding ideology of Turkish secularism. Intuition and emotion were thought of as outsets of an authentic Islamic self, unspoiled by Westernization and secularism, that should therefore be utilized in the reconstruction of that self. Secondly, the constant self-fashioning as the other and the downtrodden of the Turkish republic was a construct that could easily be charged with emotive appeals. Emotion, in this sense, was the cry of the outsider. Thirdly, Islamists cultivated a populist style of politics that distinguished itself from the dry, rigid conduct of some secularist politicians and military figures meddling in the country’s political affairs. Fourthly, Turkish mainstream Islamism’s genealogy originated from the inner culture of Sufi brotherhoods and its traditions of emotive speech and affective religious experience within a male community. Prominent Sufi leaders were known for their emotional style in their oratory. Since a core group of Islamist leaders had been followers of Sufi Sheiks, whom they hailed as their masculine role models, Islamists likely adopted this.
On the discursive and symbolic plane of political subjectivity, only the more revolutionary and intellectual sub-currents of Turkish Islamism granted political agency to women. Such groups emerged during the late 1970s and 1980s. After 1979, particularly those who had been influenced by Iranian Islamism saw women as revolutionary subjects and expected them to participate in the Islamic revolution they hoped would be imminent. The mainstream, in turn, was still committed to a concept of Islamic womanhood that centered on symbolic motherhood, the struggle for the headscarf, and the traditional female role in the family as a homemaker. The notions of pathos and discipline remained masculine while women were granted only supporting roles delineated by men – a construction that redesigned the subjectivity of men while delegating an object status to women. Critique of this male-centric style of thought only emerged during the 1990s when female Islamist intellectuals emerged and began to challenge aspects of male hegemony within the movement. This process signaled an important transformation; however, it remained inconclusive in tangible results that would have changed the internal dynamics of Turkish Islamism. Indirectly, the different roles attributed to women indicated what the masculine part would have to look like: economic and political life was a male affair, as were the activities in the public sphere that were necessary to engage in these fields. Within the Turkish Islamist mainstream, the private sphere remained coded as feminine, the public sphere as masculine – Islamism did not differ radically from older secular-nationalist ideals in this regard.
Outright male domination was also evident in the way in which the Turkish Islamist movement usurped Islamic norms of how to properly act, think, and live as a Muslim. This was especially striking in the genre of Islamic normative literature (catechisms, magazine columns, and printed collections of Fatwa rulings, as well as books with instructions on sexual life, marriage, everyday behavior, and the like). As Islamism grew during the 1970s and 1980s, a distinct group of religious scholars affiliated with the Islamist movement emerged and began to set normative agendas, which then reverberated within a larger milieu and even outside of it. During this time, Turkish mainstream Islamism remained stable as a distinct current, but the notions of discipline it propagated transformed. This was also due to Turkish Islamism adopting micro-disciplinary and holistic notions via translations of transnational Islamist thought, such as the works by Sayyid Qutb (1906–1966) of Egypt and Abul A’la Maududi (1903–1979) of Pakistan, which made the production of normative material a priority.
These discursive arbiters were exclusively male, yet the primary objects of normative attention in these works were women. Works by these authors argued that men and women were created ›equal in principle.‹ However, the books then went on to present masculine primacy in the most crucial social fields, such as politics and economy, alongside female designation for home and family as ordained by natural differences within God’s creation (fitrat) and the demands of religion. Material on women, the female body, and sexual behavior emerging from within the Islamist movement had become so extensive that even secularist circles took note and attempted to refute the Islamist claims. Male behavior, in turn, was dealt with in a few paragraphs.
Only one lone publication by a female writer from within the Turkish Islamist movement explicitly targeted men. In 1988, Islamist journalist and writer Emine Şenlikoğlu published İslam’da Erkek (Man in Islam), an obvious allusion to the flood of normative literature entitled ›Islam and Women‹ at the time. The book itself was more a collection of essays and stories than a typical example of normative literature, quoting heavily from the Quran and the Hadiths. In its introduction, Şenlikoğlu declared that it was intended as a response to the dominant discourse: ›For years, always »Women in Islam« were explained. In Islam, there are men too, but the men were forgotten.‹ Not only in books but also in mosque sermons, women’s duties in Islam were repeatedly made an issue while men went unmentioned, Şenlikoğlu continued. Ten years later, in an article for an Islamist magazine, she expanded her argument. Listing variations of the clichéd titles of advice books on women, she asked, ›Do we have thousands of books, articles, and headlines on men too?‹ Responsible for the ›continuation of this wrong‹ was the continuous commitment to custom as opposed to Islamic science/knowledge (ilim), Şenlikoğlu stated without explicitly mentioning the men of the movement who had contributed to this pattern. She went on to reject a common objectifying trope of Islamist discourse blaming alienation and social ills in modernity on women: ›If the personality/character of society is broken, woman and man were destroyed together.‹ Men were just as responsible for the current state of society as women and needed just as much normative attention. The Islamist community did not follow her plea, and Şenlikoğlu’s attempt remained the only normative work on men. Islamist normative writings thus implicitly followed a pattern diagnosed by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex: maleness was the norm against which femaleness needed explaining, regulating, and disciplining; maleness was then reaffirmed as the norm by keeping constant normative attention on the other sex.
Literary works popular within the Islamist milieu are a window into Turkish mainstream Islamism’s ideal imaginations. Since these novels mostly tell stories of personal salvation narrated within male-female relationships, they also display idealized masculinity in a specific historical context. Peyami Safa’s (1899–1961) 1931 novel Fatih-Harbiye was still widely read in Islamist circles after 1950. In the novel, a young woman is torn between two male protagonists that symbolize tradition and Islamic values (the traditional-religious Fatih neighborhood of Istanbul) and Westernization (the European-style Harbiye neighborhood), respectively. After feeling some attraction to the Westernized man, she ultimately realizes his superficiality and pretentiousness. The novel constructs two contrasting symbolic worlds around the characters with outward signifiers of both worlds: traditional Turkish Sufi music vs. Western music, Ottoman house (konak) vs. modern apartment, Ottoman neighborhood street vs. modern avenue, depth vs. shallowness, rootedness vs. mimicry, and so on. Safa’s outlook was conservative rather than Islamist, but the themes and construction of the novel spoke to later Islamist discourse. In later decades, male characters symbolizing entire lifestyles and worldviews became a standard trope in Islamist novel writing.
Hekimoğlu İsmail’s (1932–2022) 1968 novel Minye’li Abdullah (Abdullah of Minye), adapted for cinema in 1990, narrated the life of Abdullah, a modest porter with a steadfast Islamic consciousness. Set in Westernizing Egypt during the reign of King Faruk (1936–1952), but symbolizing Kemalist Turkey, the main character resists all kinds of challenges by secular state authorities and female figures, thus continuing to spread ›true Islam‹ against the Zeitgeist. Abdullah is sent to prison and loses, but later regains, his wife and family for his uncompromising stances. He then travels to European countries and becomes aware of the falsehoods of imitative Westernization. The book ends with Abdullah seeking martyrdom in fighting the Israeli army. In its idealized display of Islamist masculinity, Minye’li Abdullah presented an oppressed but unbroken masculine resistance against all odds as a parable for the state of the Muslim world, which depended on Muslim men saving individual and collective honor and acting as agents of an authentic cultural self. Masculine righteousness and steadfastness in the novel’s main character appear in situations displaying pathos in solemn and meaningful speech.
Huzur Sokağı (Serenity Street), the prototype novel of a genre called hidayet romanları (Salvation Novels) by female Islamist journalist and activist Şule Yüksel Şenler (1938–2019), became the most popular exhibit of Islamist literature. The 1969 novel emerged as the most widely read book of this kind in Islamist circles with countless reprints, serialized newspaper installments, and a cinema adaptation. Its main female character Feyza is shown as a disoriented young woman leading a Western lifestyle with mixed-sex parties and alcohol. Its main male protagonist Bilal, in turn, is a devout masculine character. As the story develops, Feyza, under the impression of Bilal, realizes her predicament, falls in love with Bilal and adopts an Islamic lifestyle, symbolized by her veiling. Like the book, the movie adaption displayed the Islamist ideal of masculinity in a pure form. In a typical scene (at 24:10), Bilal admonishes Feyza about thoughtless mimicry of foreign ways, ›living a life that is not theirs‹ with empty pleasures such as celebrating birthday parties with drinking, dancing, and foreign music. Bilal refers to people behaving as such as taklitçi (mimic), the same term the Islamist party used to describe secular-republican parties on the left and right.
Huzur Sokağı presented an archetypical masculine ideal that was to be repeated in many Salvation Novels. The consciously Muslim male character was a self-assured, calm, and strong protagonist who held the means and authority to guide others and was rooted in unshakable faith. They were educated and morally upright. In the Islamist novel, the masculine ideal was stable, self-confident, and assertive. These impressive masculine characters could easily inspire change in women who found themselves in personal crisis and disorientation because of their cultural uprooting caused by alienation from Islamic values. Affirming Islamist masculinity, men performed a paternalistic role of superiority over female characters – guiding, saving, protecting them – and also over the secular, Westernized male characters, who were morally weak, deceitful, and led women astray. Exemplifying the core Islamist notions, male characters also embodied discipline in behavior and pathos in speech. Imaginations of Islamist masculinity in these novels thus symbolically anticipated the desired reversal of power within the republican system.
In practice, too, Islamist men took it upon themselves to safeguard cultural integrity and female honor as a masculine mission. During the 1970s, when Milli Görüş first shared power in a governing coalition, Islamist politicians frequently voiced anger at breaches of public morals and made efforts to impede such breaches. These were usually related to female sexuality: female nudity in movies, artwork, and the yellow press, highly scandalized imaginative tales of incidents in female student dorms or female dress on the streets. ›The obscene‹ (müstehcen), the standard phrase in Islamist parlance, was a term ascribed to female wrongdoing that triggered the duty of the upright male to protect Islamic moral standards. Here, Islamist masculinity was transformed into policies toward women. Female bodies and female sexuality were turned into a separate field of political intervention by Islamist politicians. This moral panic could serve as an entry point to Islamist narratives among conservative rural migrants in the metropoles, which could easily be portrayed as abodes of vice within the liberal cultural climate of the 1970s.
Shortly after Milli Görüş leader Necmettin Erbakan (1926–2011) had joined the governing coalition in early 1974, a newly erected statue in Istanbul’s Karaköy district created a crisis in the cabinet. Erbakan and party colleagues were furious about the statue, a female nude symbolizing the beauty of Istanbul. Claiming to speak for popular opinion, they demanded the statue’s immediate removal on account of it being müstehcen. A heated argument ensued in which Erbakan was accused of holding anachronistic views. But the Islamist ministers wielded their full influence, and, one week later, the statue was removed. During the time, the conflict unfolded in fiery speeches, and Erbakan also vowed to fight the müstehcen press and TV. It was only because of necessary compromise in a coalition government, he regretfully voiced in an interview with German media, that his party had not been able to introduce a ban on miniskirts. However, they were able to extend the skirts of Turkish Airlines’ stewardesses by fifteen centimeters, Erbakan was pleased to add. The leading Islamist men of the Milli Görüş movement thus strived to fulfill what they saw as their masculine duty: reestablishing female morality by removing public displays of the female body. Islamists thought of this as assuming the role of the male protector – safeguarding women and society from the disintegrating power of sexuality. The strong male protector, in turn, was part of the Islamist framing of an oppressed but upright masculinity representing an authentic cultural self. Sexuality was also a tool to extend the reach of the disciplinary framework into all corners of everyday life – masculine discipline could be showcased by lowering one’s gaze when passing women on the street, not shaking women’s hands, or leaving doors open when receiving female visitors, patients, etc.
Other parts of Islamist political practice concerned itself with upholding male economic prerogatives. The 1973 election manifesto of the National Salvation Party devoted a section to ›women’s rights‹ that reaffirmed the commitment to the family as the foundation of society. It proposed a nationwide organization that would ›protect our women’s honor and personal dignity‹ and ›prevent women from being employed in functions not suitable to their gender because of economic necessities.‹ In this view, women only worked because they had to, which was keeping them from their real duty. Accordingly, the authors saw the party’s mission in protecting women from circumstances forcing them to work and allowing them to perform their ›sacred, most natural and honorable qualification‹ – motherhood. A few years before the party’s historical election successes in the mid-1990s, the successor Refah Partisi (Welfare Party) reiterated similar lines that it held crucial for the nation’s ›moral development‹ (manevi kalkınma). Women were to participate in erecting the ›Just Order‹ – Milli Görüş’s term for the ideal social order at the time. Women who preferred to do so would be allowed to work. But the party also cautioned that ›with the litany of so-called women’s equality [in socialist and capitalist systems], the family hearth and home was destroyed and women were forced to work in the hardest toils and difficult conditions.‹ In the ›Just Order‹, women ›will be given work opportunities that will not hinder their duties and responsibilities within the family,‹ housewifery will be acknowledged as a profession, and there will be no conflict between the sexes as brought about by the influence of Western culture. All of this was also in line with Islamist ideas on gender relations in an ideal, untainted Islamic society. Again, the vanguard of mainstream Islamism exercised what they saw as their masculine-disciplined duty to administer women’s role in society.
One of the most important concerns of Turkish Islamism that applied to both men and women was the strictly binary-coded relation between the sexes. In his İslam’a Göre Cinsel Hayat (Sexual Life according to Islam), Islamist cleric Ali Rıza Demircan wrote: ›Muslim men and women should take care of their hairstyles and clothing, they should not appear in a way that makes it difficult to distinguish between the sexes at the very first sight. Because such an appearance is a likening to the haram.‹ Men should not leave their hair to grow as long as women’s hair and should wear ›male‹ clothing, which was not specified further. Statements like Demircan’s could be found in all Islamist publications and expressed a general attitude. According to one writer in the Milli Görüş newspaper, it was one of the main symptoms of the crisis of modern men that ›women would emulate men and men would emulate women.‹ Islamism did not allow for even the slightest hint of ambiguity in the assignment and interaction of the sexes.
The strict binary conduct demanded by Islamists found expression in its attitude toward same-sex relationships as well. In this context, Islamists also vilified any expression of homoeroticism and homosexuality. Turkish Islamists, in this regard, resembled their contemporaries of all social, cultural, and political backgrounds much more than the Ottoman forefathers they glorified. In Ottoman Islamic culture, orthodox jurists frowning upon the homosexual stood next to Sufis exalting the homoerotic in treatises and poetry. Ottoman Islamic jurisprudence damned homosexuality but rarely saw it fit for punishment. In practice, Ottomans, for the most part, did not concern themselves with the topic too much and adhered to a laissez-faire approach towards homosexual practices. It was only during the Ottoman modernization that sexuality moved to the center of attention, and the old paradigm was gradually abandoned in favor of a strict heteronormativity with little tolerance for the transgression of boundaries. Heteronormativity thus became an Islamist obsession that had few roots in the authentic Islamic culture they claimed to represent. Instead, it originated from the nineteenth-century Ottoman appropriation of Western discourses on deviant sexualities and Orientalist stereotypes of the Muslim world as an abode of the homosexual.
Islamists were no less determined to stamp out any transgression of binary boundaries. They treated homosexuality as a problem mainly concerning men, perhaps the only exception where (deviant) male sexuality was considered more problematic than female. Islamist normative literature was especially harsh. It interpreted the Islamic sources in a much more punitive fashion, likening homosexual contacts to the most severe sexual offenses such as adultery (zina), which allowed them to imagine severe hadd punishments like execution or lashing. Countless articles presented homosexuality as a social ill, pointing to the decay of Western societies, confusion of gender roles, dissolution of the family, and psycho-moral crisis. Besides this, it was frequently argued that the promotion of homosexuality was a perfidious instrument of Western cultural imperialism to destroy the social fabric of the Turkish-Muslim nation. Long-time Islamist leader Necmettin Erbakan was not only against accession to the European Union because Turkey would have to give up its culture in a ›Christian Club,‹ but also because ›integration with Europe will bring to Turkey homosexuality and deceit, and marriage of men with men.‹ But wherever there was a social problem, Islamists found a remedy in Islam – internalizing Islam would provide young men with a natural ›masculinity consciousness‹ (erkeklik şuuru) that would preclude homosexuality. This was in line with a general belief that Islam held the precepts that allowed men and women to live in unison with their true, God-given nature (fitrat) and find peace of mind in an order based on those precepts.
In the realm of male bodily practice, the most important Islamist preoccupation was the beard. Islamist literature demanded the full beard (sakal) after normative claims became abundant from the 1970s onwards. Besides religious requirements, beards meant demarcation. Unlike boyish appearances, they guaranteed self-evident unambiguousness between the sexes. Outer attribution and an inner sense of maleness would thus increase. A newspaper image published in January 1980 shows a commission of the National Salvation Party (the Milli Göruş party between 1972 and 1981) with a group of men in typical dress, donning a mixture of full beards (sakal) and mustaches (biyik). Such visual evidence suggests that the full beard was only slowly popularized in the Islamist milieu during the 1980s and never fully adopted. Within the Milli Görüş parties, a mustache cut at the length of the lip called badem biyiği (almond mustache) was the most frequent variant. Unlike the strict demand for women to stick to the headscarf, whatever the cost, Islamists were much more pragmatic here. They believed that shaving was necessary to blend in as long as the beard and mustache were still stigmatized in some areas.
Male clothing and appearance adhered to a similar pattern. Only some men, especially followers of Sufi orders, chose to wear ›Islamic‹ clothing – wide trousers accompanied by wide loose mantles, vests, collarless shirts, and often skullcaps (takke). Men affiliated with the Islamist party often were hardly distinguishable in their outer appearance. In public, they often wore suits and maintained well-groomed looks. However, all took great pains not to appear overly sophisticated and too concerned with their looks. The prevalent style was reminiscent of an office clerk: dressing well, but not too well. Islamist men’s attire was neat but demure, with plain, affordable, and somewhat démodé suits. While the movement’s leadership retained this more formal way of dressing that was not too different from the politicians of other currents, Islamist youth during the 1970s developed a more distinct dress code. As exemplified in photographs of this era, such as a scene of a 1980 Milli Görüş demonstration in Berlin, the younger Islamist generation combined suits and sweaters or waistcoats but strictly avoided ties as a symbol of Western and republican elites. Some even adopted the olive parka popular in leftist circles.
The notions of Islamist masculinity did not remain in an abstract, theoretical realm but were applied in social practice, giving shape to a distinct male habitus. One of the most palpable features of Turkish Islamism’s inner culture was a propensity for pathos and emotion. This ranged from a general emotive style of discourse and politics to public displays of emotion and finally to a ubiquitous presence of poetry.
Several prominent male politicians of the Milli Görüş parties shed public tears. Necmettin Erbakan, leader of the movement, did not cry regularly but still did so publicly from time to time. Erbakan made the headlines when he ›cried for four hours, cited hymns and said prayers in tears‹ at the funeral of a Sufi Sheikh in 1987. During the 1990s, party deputy Bülent Arinç and veteran Milli Görüş politician Şevket Kazan also appeared in the newspapers with tearful interludes in speeches. Media also reported of how ›Hoca Erbakan reduced the party members to tears, [and they went on] to shows of love for minutes after the telegraph was read out. Some deputies, party executives, and scores of people cried, not being able to hold back their tears.‹ In the mid-1990s, Istanbul mayor Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cried on several occasions and cultivated an image of an especially emotional leader, which he continued in his later career.
Emotional displays of Islamist leaders were carefully orchestrated and placed in the right context: Situations with Islamist crying involved religious feeling, loyalty within the Islamist community, the suffering of children, and sometimes fateful political events. It did not include ›weak‹ emotions such as displays that would betray an inability to cope with something, private feelings, or selfish disappointment. No public self-fashioning of other male leaders at the time was comparable – be it secularist, nationalist, or pro-Kurdish politicians. Nothing similar could be found in Islamist currents outside of the mainstream.
As mentioned before, the conspicuous presence of poetry was another element in Turkish Islamism’s internal culture that contained masculine emotive pathos. Poetry often accompanied individual adherents’ biographies at different stages of affiliation with the Islamist movement. Poetry readings, attendance of public speeches by one of the Islamist poets, and sometimes personal meetings often stood at the outset of personal conversions to Islamism and, later on, accompanied the deepening of personal loyalties. Islamist intellectuals, often poets themselves, had conceptualized poetic language and its direct, emotional-intuitive appeal as a source of metaphysical inspiration and counterweight to rationalist-positivist worldviews. The intimacy of poetry with its proximity to subjective and emotive perception was an Islamist choice to internalize and educate its modes of selfhood, in other words, to embody an Islamist habitus. Reading and internalizing poetry written with Islamic sensibility meant the education of one’s Islamic senses. Depth of feeling and perception was a way to be more Islamic, offering a way back to what the Islamists considered a lost authentic cultural self. Poetic pathos, in this sense, was an element of a more authentic Turkish-Islamic masculinity.
All of this allowed Islamists to undertake a moral and aesthetic reevaluation of male emotion, coding it as a sign of veracity and truthfulness and thus resolving the tension between masculinity and emotions in their very own way. As pointed out by major works in the history and sociology of emotions, a shift in emotive cultures often accompanied social change and the formation of new subjectivities. In developing a unique culture of emotion, Turkish Islamists managed to form what Barbara H. Rosenwein called an ›emotional community,‹ which was not instantly accessible to the uninitiated. Until after 2000, Islamists remained relatively secluded within this emotional community, open to new adherents but distinct and unintelligible to outsiders not familiar with the emotional codes habitualized in the Islamist milieu.
As analyzed above, Islamist ideas of individual behavior and mentality strongly pushed for discipline as a prerequisite for a new agential subject. Again, this was mostly aimed at male subjects. Between 1950 and 2000, earlier Islamist discourse agitated for discipline understood as devotion to and self-sacrifice for the cause. Within Islamist circles, this was praised as ›loyalty to the mission‹ (dava sadakati) or ›consciousness of the mission‹ (dava şuuru), tellingly often conflated in the designation ›man of mission‹ (dava adamı). After transnational Islamist thought, with its focus on holistic and universalistic provisions, had made its impact in Turkey from the 1960s and 1970s onwards, discipline came to be understood as a tight web of personal behavior and lifestyle choices. Both understandings found their way into masculine Islamist habitus.
The organizational transformation of the Islamist mainstream from small avant-garde cores during the 1950s to party politics with a mass following in the 1990s had to depend to a large extent on extraordinary devotion and self-sacrificial personal commitment. With such committed cadres and volunteer activists, the Islamist party in the 1990s reached an organizational density down to the grassroots level not achieved by any other party. Intellectual arbiters, veteran activists, rank-and-file party members, and higher functionaries often stated that they saw self-discipline as a core characteristic of being Islamist. This habitual self-discipline was rhetorically enforced, ostentatiously displayed, and vigorously demanded within male Islamist circles. Discipline as a form of loyalty and commitment to the cause thus also showed degrees of manliness; the emphasis on discipline and full personal commitment in Islamist masculinity helped to safeguard organizational and political prowess.
Personal discipline had great habitual consequences. During earlier decades, Islamists would regularly smoke or remain indifferent to consuming alcohol. This drastically changed in the younger generations after the 1970s. Being an Islamist man now entailed submission under tight, rigid self-discipline, not only renouncing cigarettes and alcohol but also changing daily routines and behavior – all of which created new demands for ideal masculinity as well. Everyday expressions, greetings, and even bodily conduct changed under the new disciplinary regime. This included a strict code of behavior towards the other sex: refusing physical contact such as handshakes, avoiding eye contact, taking care not to stay in secluded spaces with one woman, and so on.
In 1987, an author for Altınoluk magazine called for the ›Mental Discipline of the Believer.‹ To meet the strict criteria for discipline that God demanded of believers, the conscious Muslim had to question every single element of conduct. A prime objective for the conscious Muslim was ›to discipline our soul (ruh) with Islamic sensibility.‹ This was a central demand that Islam put forward to its followers because: ›Life is an entirety of serial behaviors/conducts. The frame of Islam leaves its mark on all behaviors of the believer. And [Islam] requires that this does not remain a mechanical motion, but rather [it is] to be kept alive in every motion.‹ To ensure the internalization of the behavioral code with each subject, the author suggested constant self-questioning – ›Is what I just did Islamic?‹ – and evaluating oneʼs own doings accordingly. This permanent state of doubting was nothing less than a specific technique of the self that aimed at instilling micro-discipline and facilitating the habitual embodiment of the behavioral code in practice. At least in theory, the grasp of this micro-disciplinary framework was expansive and holistic.
The Islamist masculine habitus also included a specific masculine bodily bearing (or – in Bourdieu’s terms – bodily hexis). In Turkish Islamist novels and movies, several male figures exhibited this bodily bearing in the most idealized form. This hexis embodied personal discipline as virile physical and moral strength and underlined traits of the ideal masculine character: steady, calm movements and slow, insistent, self-assured speech. The Islamist dress code symbolized care for the self within this hexis, especially utmost attention to the Islamic requirements for cleanliness, but also common decency, proximity, and folksiness. One could observe this pattern of style (and the habitus connected with it) in the Islamist media, in civil society organizations, at Islamism-related social events, in religious settings, and in everyday street life.
I propose to analyze this Islamist masculine habitus as a habitus of ›assertive calmness.‹ An Islamist man’s assertive calmness displayed customary self-discipline that was only to be penetrated by pathos – carefully placed displays of emotion at the right time and for the right thing. An ideal Islamist man should never hurry, stress out, or panic. He would know how to react in every possible situation and remain sovereign in mastering all kinds of challenges. His political consciousness and disciplined, tireless advocacy for the downtrodden Muslims would display his eloquence and imposing bearing, depicting him as someone able to lead others on the true path. But he could also tearfully lament the suffering of innocent Muslims, the loss of a great leader of the cause, or get carried away by his strong religious feelings. Calmness, self-confidence, self-containedness, and self-discipline demonstrated gravitas. In this frame, ostensive emotional displays did not disturb masculine gravitas but rather enforced it. A typical example of masculine assertive calmness can be found in the didactic film Müslümanın 24 Saati (A Muslim’s 24 Hours, Dir. Salih Diriklik, 1991). The film presents Uncle Ahmet (in a grey suit) as an exemplary Muslim who, by virtue of his masculine bearing, is able to scold and instruct other males (such as a liquor store owner – scenes at 10:20, 12:34, and 24:07) with moral authority. His advice includes Islamist catchphrases such as ›Islam is a whole. If you take some parts out of it and say I’ll do this, but not that, you break up the whole and destroy the system.‹
The Islamist masculine habitus, centered on pathos and discipline, thus assembled core elements of the Islamist worldview into a new forceful masculinity. This masculinity was Islamism’s answer to the West and the secular modernizers who, in their view, had relinquished Islam’s potencies. Ultimately, the Islamists believed this new man would overcome his downtrodden state and lay claim to what he is entitled to – leadership of community, nation, and the Muslim world.
This article detailed elements of masculinity in the Turkish Islamist mainstream between 1950 and 2000 that culminated in a specific habitus. During those five decades, Islamism grew from a subcultural current to the most assertive socio-cultural force in Turkey. With such far-ranging claims, it mostly positioned itself as a comprehensive alternative to secular-republican masculinity and, in practice, also as an alternative to conservative-traditionalist, far-right ultranationalist, and leftist masculinities. Against this backdrop, the development of masculinities within Islamism can be read as part of a project of self-empowerment that is strongly built on narratives of subjugation and authentic outsiderness, which directly translated into a claim for political and cultural hegemony. The wider context in which these masculinities formed was the Islamist project to develop a hegemonic alternative vision of authentic Turkish-Muslim modernity. Both pathos and discipline befitted the resurgent masculinity paradigm: Pathos was the emotional reaction of the outcast to injustices and the battle cry of those devoted with heart and soul; discipline was the way out of passivity and emasculation. Pathos and discipline also served as complementary notions: the latter being a rule-based, structuring aspect, the former an expressive and spontaneous one. Thus, in the Islamist framing, only Islamist men could be real and authentic men.
Turkish Islamism’s emergence as a movement with a mass following seemed to confirm many Islamist ideas, including Islamist masculinity. However, the rise of Islamism did not take place without transformations in the movement and milieu itself. The broad literature on the emergence of a post-Islamist current – the AKP – out of a reformist wing within mainstream Islamism and its integration with the republican status quo has described the socio-cultural background processes of a transformation that upended not only Turkish mainstream Islamism but also its concept of masculinity: the absorption of the former Islamist milieu in a new, up-and-coming, culturally conservative Islamic middle class; the triumph of political expediency and right-wing populism over ideological purity; and the fading of Islamist visions for profound socio-cultural transformation in the face of transformative non-Islamist policies, such as the entrenchment of neoliberal economics.
While this transformation is outside of the scope of this article, the post-2000 scenario allows a tentative outlook. Contrary to what former Islamist generations had hoped and expected, an inner challenge arose with a younger generation that developed more individualistic and self-reflexive stances and quickly questioned or abandoned core ideological elements. What did this mean for Islamist masculinity? After 2000, pathos remained a foundational element, but rigid discipline gave way to ethical stances and consumerist lifestyle choices. This speaks to the durability of implicit masculinity codes in contrast to ideological aspects. Islamist habitual masculinity was more lastingly embodied than any political or ideological stance. This holds true mainly for the middle-aged political elite of the movement that went on to form the backbone of the AKP cadres and displaced the elders of the movement. Below that surface, the old models began to disintegrate as early as the 1990s and then lost much of their former appeal to a younger generation. As social foundations of Islamism crumbled, the AKP government used state resources to advance the aspects of Islamist masculinity its cadres had embodied during earlier decades: state-financed programs tried to put into practice ideas of a new Turkish-Islamic generation empowered by masculine agency; state-supported culture displayed masculine characters along the lines analyzed here; leading politicians tried to express folksiness and distance towards Western mores of dress (such as refusing to wear tailcoats); and its political style still heavily relied on emotions. In this way, key elements of Islamist masculinity survived Islamism itself but also became entangled in a precarious top-down government effort lacking the social backbone it had previously enjoyed.
1 On this complex, see Fethi Açıkel, ›Kutsal Mazlumluğun‹ Psikopatolojisi [The Psychopathology of ›Holy Victimhood‹], in: Toplum ve Bilim [Society and Science] 70 (1996), pp. 153-196.
2 Concerning the history of the term ›Islamism‹, its content and its alternatives see Mehdi Mozaffari, What is Islamism? History and Definition of a Concept, in: Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 8 (2007), pp. 17-33; Martin Kramer, Coming to Terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists?, in: Middle East Quarterly 10 (2006) issue 2, pp. 65-77; Edmund Burke, III, Orientalism and World History: Representing Middle Eastern Nationalism and Islamism in the Twentieth Century, in: Theory and Society 27 (1998), pp. 489-507.
3 In want of a more precise term, Milli Görüş is commonly translated as ›National View‹. It does, however, convey an older meaning of milli in the sense of ›something belonging to a religious community‹ rather than implying the concept of a nation state.
4 For historical overviews, see M. Hakan Yavuz, Islamic Political Identity in Turkey, New York 2003; Ceren Lord, Religious Politics in Turkey. From the Birth of the Republic to the AKP, Cambridge 2018; Gareth Jenkins, Political Islam in Turkey. Running West, Heading East?, New York 2008.
5 R.W. Connell, Masculinities, Berkeley 2001; R.W. Connell/James W. Messerschmidt, Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept, in: Gender & Society 19 (2005), pp. 829-859.
6 George L. Mosse, The Image of Man. The Creation of Modern Masculinity, New York 1996.
7 Notable exceptions from this general rule include: Shahin Gerami, Islamist Masculinity and Muslim Masculinities, in: Michael S. Kimmel/Jeff Hearn/R.W. Connell (eds), Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities, Thousand Oaks 2005, pp. 448-457; Maleeha Aslam, Islamism and Masculinity: Case Study Pakistan, in: Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung 39 (2014) issue 3, pp. 135-149; Olmo Gölz, Martyrdom and Masculinity in Warring Iran: The Karbala Paradigm, the Heroic, and the Personal Dimensions of War, in: Behemoth 12 (2019) issue 1, pp. 35-51; Shenila Khoja-Moolji, Sovereign Attachments. Masculinity, Muslimness, and Affective Politics in Pakistan, Berkeley 2021.
8 The most important from a larger field: Tanja Scheiterbauer, Islam, Islamismus und Geschlecht in der Türkei. Perspektiven der sozialen Bewegungsforschung, Wiesbaden 2014; Yeşim Arat, Rethinking Islam and Liberal Democracy. Islamist Women in Turkish Politics, New York 2005; Ayşe Saktanber, Living Islam. Women, Religion and the Politicization of Culture in Turkey, London 2002; Aynur İlyasoğlu, Örtülü Kimlik. İslamci Kadın Kimliğinin Oluşum Öğeleri [Covered Identity. Constituents of Islamist Women’s Identity], İstanbul 1994; Cihan Aktaş, Bacıdan Bayana. İslamcı Kadınların Kamusal Alan Tecrübesi [From ›Girl‹ to ›Woman‹. The Public Sphere Experience of Islamist Women], İstanbul 2001; Nazife Şişman, Harf Harf Kadınlar [Women from Letter to Letter], İstanbul 2008; Zehra Yılmaz, Dişil Dindarlık. İslâmcı Kadın Hareketinin Dönüşümü [Female Piety. The Transformation of the Islamist Women’s Movement], İstanbul 2015; Yıldız Ramazanoğlu, Osmanlı’dan Cumhuriyete Kadının Tarihi Dönüşümü [The Historical Transformation of Women from Ottoman Times to the Republic], İstanbul 2000.
9 Hidayet Şefkatli Tuksal, İslamcı Erkekliğin İnşası: Geleneksel Rollerin İhyası [The Construction of Islamist Masculinity: The Recovery of Traditional Roles], in: Toplum ve Bilim 101 (2004), pp. 81-88; Sultan Işık, The Changing Masculinity Identity: Changes in Upper-Middle Class Former Islamist Men after February 28, M.A. thesis, Şehir Üniversitesi, İstanbul 2013; Çimen Günay-Erkol/Uğur Çalışkan, Crisis of Islamic Masculinities in 1968: Literature and Masquerade, in: Knowledge and Politics in Gender and Women’s Studies. Conference Proceedings, Ankara 2016, pp. 233-242; Birsen Banu Okutan, Erillik ve Din. İslamcı Habitus Sorgulanıyor [Masculinity and Religion. Islamist Habitus Questioned], İstanbul 2017.
10 Overviews on masculinity studies in Turkey: Çimen Günay-Erkol, İllet, Zillet, Erkeklik: Eleştirel Erkeklik Çalışmaları ve Türkiye’deki Seyri [Malady, Humiliation, Masculinity: The Progress of Critical Masculinity Studies in Turkey], in: Toplum ve Bilim 145 (2018), pp. 6-32; Hale Bolak Boratav/Güler Okman Fişek/Hande Eslen Ziya (eds), Erkekliğin Türkiye Halleri [Aspects of Masculinity in Turkey], İstanbul 2017.
11 See historical overviews in fn 4.
12 Cihan Tuğal, Passive Revolution. Absorbing the Islamic Challenge to Capitalism, Stanford 2009; Cihan Tuğal, Islam and the Retrenchment of Turkish Conservatism, in: Asef Bayat (ed.), Post-Islamism. The Changing Faces of Political Islam, Oxford 2013, pp. 109-133.
13 Serpil Sancar, Türk Modernleşmesinin Cinsiyeti. Erkekler Devlet, Kadınlar Aile Kurar [The Gender of Turkish Modernization. Men Found the State, Women Found the Family], İstanbul 2017.
14 Ayşe Gül Altınay, The Myth of the Military-Nation. Militarism, Gender, and Education in Turkey, New York 2004, pp. 61-86; Nurseli Yeşim Sünbüloğlu, Erkek Millet Asker Millet. Türkiye’de Militarizm, Milliyetçilik ve Erkek(lik)ler [Male Nation, Military Nation. Militarism, Nationalism and Men (Masculinities)], İstanbul 2013; and complementary empirical research by Burak Şahin, Türkiye’de Erkekliğin Toplumsal İnşasının Tam (Uzun) Dönem ve Kısa Dönem Askerlik Yükümlülüğü Baganda Değerlendirilmesi [The Evaluation of Masculinity’s Social Construction in Turkey in the Context of Full Term and Short Term Military Service], Ph.D. thesis, Mersin Üniversitesi, Mersin 2019.
15 Tanıl Bora/Ulaş Tol, Siyasal Düşünce ve Erkek Dili: Erkeklik Yoklaması [Political Thought and Masculine Language: Probing of Masculinity], in: Tanıl Bora/Murat Gültekingil (eds), Dönemler ve Zihniyetler. Modern Türkiye’de Siyasi Düşünce, Cilt 9 [Periods and Mentalities. Political Thought in Modern Turkey, Vol. 9], İstanbul 2009, pp. 825-836.
16 The scholar of gender studies Cenk Özbay has identified sport, especially football, heteronormativity, leading politicians, religion, class, and popular culture as such common factors in the formation of masculinities in Turkey. Cenk Özbay, Türkiye’de Hegemonik Erkekliği Aramak [Searching for Hegemonic Masculinity in Turkey], in: Doğu Batı [East-West] 63 (2013), pp. 185-204.
17 Connell, Masculinities (fn 5), p. 198.
18 This overview relies on Cenk Özbay/Ozan Soybakış, Political Masculinities: Gender, Power, and Change in Turkey, in: Social Politics 27 (2020), pp. 27-50.
19 Aylin Özman/Aslı Yazıcı Yakın, Anti-Komünist Fanteziler: Doğa, Toplum, Cinsellik [Anti-Communist Fantasies: Nature, Society, Sexuality], in: İnci Özkan Kerestecioğlu/Güven Gürkan Öztan (eds), Türk Sağı. Mitler, Fetişler, Düşman İmgeleri [The Turkish Right. Myths, Fetishes, Enemy Images], İstanbul 2012, pp. 105-135.
20 Özbay/Soybakış, Political Masculinities (fn 18).
21 Alp Yenen, Legitimate Means of Dying: Contentious Politics of Martyrdom in the Turkish Civil War (1968–1982), in: Behemoth 19 (2019) issue 1, pp. 14-34.
23 On the complexities of masculinities in popular culture representations, see Melis Umut, Representations of Masculinities in the post-1960s Turkish Cinema, M.A. thesis, Sabanci University, İstanbul 2007, and Çimen Günay-Erkol, Broken Masculinities. Solitude, Alienation, and Frustration in Turkish Literature after 1970, Budapest 2016.
24 Mehmet Akif Ersoy, Asım, Safahât Altıncı Kitap [Asım the Sixth Book of Phases], İstanbul 1342 .
25 Necip Fazıl Kısakürek, Gençliğe Hitap [Adress to the Youth], in: Büyük Doğu [The Great East] 3 (1947) issue 67, p. 2; Necip Fazıl Kısakürek, Gençliğe Beyanname! [Declaration to the Youth!], in: İslami Hareket [Islamic Movement] 1 (1978) issue 1, p. 8.
26 Nurettin Topçu, İsyan Ahlakı [Ethics of Revolt], in: Hareket [Action/Movement] 3 (1949) issue 39, p. 6.
27 Sezai Karakoç, Diriliş Nesli Amentüsü [Creed of the Generation of Renaissance], in: Diriliş [Revival] 4 (1975) issue 9, p. 42.
28 Kısakürek, Gençliğe Hitap (fn 25).
29 Karakoç, Diriliş Nesli Amentüsü (fn 27).
30 Hüseyin Rahmi Yananlı, Mukaddesatçı Türk Gençliği [Mukaddesatçı Turkish Youth], in: Büyük Doğu 5 (1951) issue 56, p. 4.
31 This term is borrowed from Roger Griffin, The Sacred Synthesis: The Ideological Cohesion of Fascist Cultural Policy, in: Modern Italy 3 (1998), pp. 5-23.
32 Necip Fazıl Kısakürek, Gençliğe Hitabe. Kendi Sesinden Kendi Seçtiği Şiirler [Address to the Youth. Poems Chosen by Himself from his own Voice], LP record, İstanbul 1976.
33 For example, Kısakürek’s Poetika, in: Çile [Ordeal], İstanbul 1992 , pp. 471-499; İsmet Özel, Şiir Okuma Kılavuzu [Poetry Reading Manual], İstanbul 1980; and debates in Islamist literary magazines such as Mavera (1976–1990).
34 Büşra Bulut, Râyet’ten Evrensel Kadın’a: İslamcı Kadınlar Kendi Konumlarını Nasıl İnşa Etti? [From Râyet (Banner) to Evrensel Kadın (Universal Woman): How did Islamist Women Construct their own Positions?], in: Lütfi Sunar (ed.), ›Bir Başka Hayata Karşı‹ 1980 Sonrası İslâmcı Dergilerde Meseleler, Kavramlar ve İsimler, Cilt 4: Yayıncılık ve Dergiler [Issues, Concepts and Names in Islamist Magazines after 1980, Vol. 4: Publishing and Magazines], Konya 2019, pp. 57-86.
35 On this basic spatial gendering, see Meltem Ö. Gürel, Defining and Living out the Interior: the ›Modern‹ Apartment and the ›Urban‹ Housewife in Turkey during the 1950s and 1960s, in: Gender, Place & Culture 16 (2009), pp. 703-722; Selda Tuncer, Woman and Public Space in Turkey. Gender, Modernity and the Urban Experience, London 2018.
36 Jan-Markus Vömel, Global Intellectual Transfers and the Making of Turkish High Islamism, c. 1960–1995, in: Deniz Kuru/Hazal Papuççular (eds), The Turkish Connection. Global Intellectual Histories of the Late Ottoman Empire and Republican Turkey, Berlin 2022, pp. 247-269.
37 The exclusively male group of Islamic scholars affiliated with the Islamist movement who produced normative works included names of some notoriety in Turkey: Hayreddin Karaman, Hüsnü Aktaş, Ali Rıza Demircan, Bekir Topaloğlu, and Faruk Beşer. Some of the most widely sold and influential books were Hayreddin Karaman, Günlük Hayatımızda Helâller ve Haramlar [The Permissible and the Prohibited in Our Daily Life], İstanbul 1979, 4th ed. 1987; Faruk Beşer, Hanımlara Özel Fetvalar [Special Fatwas for Women], 2 Vols., İstanbul 1990/92; Ali Rıza Demircan, İslam’a Göre Cinsel Hayat [Sexual Life According to Islam], 2 Vols., İstanbul 1984.
38 Cf. Oral Çalışlar, İslamda Kadın ve Cinsellik [Woman and Sexuality in Islam], İstanbul 1991, 4th ed. 1994.
39 Emine Şenlikoğlu, İslam’da Erkek [Man in Islam], İstanbul 1988, pp. 8, 170.
40 Emine Şenlikoğlu, Ya Erkekler? [And Men?], in: Altınoluk [Golden Fount] 14 (1999) issue 166, p. 55.
41 Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, London 1953.
42 Peyami Safa, Fatih-Harbiye, İstanbul 1931, and many reprints with different publishers.
43 Hekimoğlu İsmail, Minye’li Abdullah [Abdullah of Minye], İstanbul 1968.
44 Günay-Erkol/Çalışkan, Crisis of Islamic Masculinities in 1968 (fn 9).
45 Şule Yüksel Şenler, Huzur Sokağı [Serenity Street], İstanbul 1969, and many reprints with different publishers.
46 Dilek Kaya/Umut Azak, Crossroads (1970) and the Origin of Islamic Cinema in Turkey, in: Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 35 (2015), pp. 257-276.
47 On this pattern in Salvation Novels, see Kenan Çayır, Islamic Literature in Contemporary Turkey. From Epic to Novel, New York 2007, pp. XXII, 9-19.
48 Heykel Gitti, Kavga Bitmedi [The Statue Is Gone, the Quarrel Is Not], in: Milliyet [Nationhood], 20 March 1974, pp. 1, 11.
49 Necdet Onur, Erbakan Dosyası [Erbakan File], İstanbul 1974, p. 94.
50 On issues of gendered labor in the relevant period, see Zehra F. Kabasakal Arat, Opportunities, Freedoms and Restrictions: Women and Employment in Turkey, in: Celia Kerslake/Kerem Öktem/Philip Robins (eds), Turkey’s Engagement With Modernity. Conflict and Change in the Twentieth Century, Houndmills 2010, pp. 165-189; Jenny White, Money Makes Us Relatives. Women’s Labor in Urban Turkey, New York 1994; Işık Urla Zeytinoğlu, Constructing Images as Employment Restrictions: Determinants of Female Labour in Turkey, in: Zehra F. Arat (ed.), Deconstructing Images of ›The Turkish Woman‹, New York 1998, pp. 183-197.
51 MSP, Milli Selamet Partisi Seçim Beyannamesi [National Salvation Party Election Manifesto], İstanbul 1973, pp. 65-66.
53 Refah Partisi, 20 Ekim 1991 Genel Seçimi Refah Partisi Seçim Beyannamesi [1991 Welfare Party General Election Manifesto], Ankara 1991, pp. 95-97.
55 Demircan, İslam’a Göre Cinsel Hayat (fn 37), p. 139.
56 Hamdi Hitapoğlu, Erkekte Saç Modası ve Vazife Anlayışı [Men’s Hair Fashion and the Understanding of Mission], in: Milli Gazete [National Newspaper], 15 July 1973, p. 4.
57 Broad research has well established this: Dror Ze’evi, Producing Desire. Changing Sexual Discourse in the Ottoman Middle East, 1500–1900, Berkeley 2006; Ezgi Sarıtaş, Cinsel Normalliğin Kuruluşu. Osmanlı’dan Cumhuriyet’e Heteronormatiflik ve İstikrarsızlıkları [The Foundation of the Sexual Normal. Heteronormativity and its Instabilities from the Ottoman Age to the Republic], İstanbul 2020; and for a broader frame Thomas Bauer, A Culture of Ambiguity. An Alternative History of Islam. Translated by Hinrich Biesterfeldt and Tricia Tunstall, New York 2021, pp. 183-212.
58 Necmettin Erbakan, 5 July 1995, as quoted in Suavi Aydın/Yüksel Taşkın, 1960’tan Günümüze. Türkiye Tarihi [History of Turkey from 1960 to our Day], İstanbul 2016, p. 39.
59 This phrasing in Emin Işık, İslâmiyette Sünnet Geleneği [The Circumcision Tradition in Islam], in: Altınoluk 15 (2000) issue 174, p. 32.
60 For example, H. Hüseyin Ceylan, Sünnetlerimiz: Sakal [Our Traditions: The Beard], in: İslam 2 (1985) issue 23, p. 47; Abdullah Birisi, Sakal Mevzuu [The Beard Question], in: Tevhid [Tawhid – Oneness] 2 (1979) issue 31, p. 6.
61 Erbakan 4 saat ağladı [Erbakan Cried 4 Hours], in: Milliyet, 30 January 1987, p. 9.
62 Kazan ağladı [Kazan Cried], in: Milliyet, 18 January 1998, p. 18.
63 Hoca’nın Telegrafı Ağlattı [Erbakan’s Telegraf Made (the Delegees) Cry], in: Milliyet, 15 May 1998, p. 16.
64 The core argument in İsmet Özel, Şiir Okuma Kılavuzu [Poetry Reading Manual], İstanbul 1980.
65 On the intersection of affect and emotions with masculinities, see Manuel Borutta/Nina Verheyen (eds), Die Präsenz der Gefühle. Männlichkeit und Emotion in der Moderne, Bielefeld 2010; Barbara H. Rosenwein, Gender als Analysekategorie in der Emotionsforschung, in: Feministische Studien 26 (2008), pp. 92-106.
66 William M. Reddy, Historical Research on the Self and Emotions, in: Emotion Review 1 (2009), pp. 302-315; Jan Plamper, The History of Emotions: An Interview with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns, in: History and Theory 49 (2010), pp. 237-265. For general approaches applicable to the history of Islamist movements, see further: Jeff Goodwin/James M. Jasper/Francesca Polletta (eds), Passionate Politics. Emotions and Social Movements, Chicago 2001; Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Edinburgh 2004, 2nd ed. 2014; David Lemmings/Ann Brooks (eds), Emotions and Social Change. Historical and Sociological Perspectives, London 2014.
68 Sebil, dava şuuru veren bir mektebdir [Sebil is a School Bestowing Consciousness of Mission], in: Sebil [Fountain] 3 (1978) issue 112, p. 2; Mahmut Çavdarcı, Dava ve Dava Adamı [Mission and Man of Mission], in: İslam’ın İlk Emri Oku [Read. The First Command of Islam] 10 (1970) issue 105, p. 21.
69 On internal discipline and the organization of the Islamist party, see Ruşen Çakır’s, a long-time analyst of the Turkish Islamist movement, personal recollections in Gomaşinen podcast: Şevket Kazan başkanlığındaki Refah Partisi heyetiyle Güneydoğu’da 11 gün (11–21 Ağustos 1994) [11 Days in the South-East with the Welfare Party delegation under Şevket Kazan’s leadership], 11 December 2020. See also: Ruşen Çakır, Ne Şeriat, Ne Demokrasi. Refah Partisini Anlamak [Neither Sharia, nor Democracy. Understanding the Welfare Party], İstanbul 1994, pp. 56-63; Serdar Şen, Refah Partisi’nin Teori ve Pratiği [Theory and Practice of the Welfare Party], İstanbul 1995, pp. 79-101.
70 For example: Mehmed Güney, Teşkilat [Organization], in: Akıncılar [Raiders] 1 (1979) issue 3, p. 2; Fethi Yegen, Teşkilat ve Teşkilat Meselelerimiz [Organization and Our Organizational Problems], in: Akıncılar 2 (1980) issue 12, pp. 6-7.
71 İslamist magazines started to devote regular columns on topics of discipline. On the heightened interest, see also: Altınoluk Röportaj – İstanbul Müftülüğü Fetva Heyeti Başkanı Doç. Dr. Abdülaziz Bayındır ile... ›Temel Ölçüler Üzerinde Hassasiyet‹ [Altınoluk Report: With the Head of the Istanbul Mufti Office’s Fatwa Commission Dr. Abdülaziz Bayındır ›Precision for Basic Norms‹], in: Altınoluk 8 (1993) issue 89, pp. 17-20.
72 Ahmet Rüstemoğlu, Mü’minde Ruhî Disiplin [Mental Discipline of the Believer], in: Altınoluk 1 (1987) issue 12, p. 9.