Essay: Turkey’s cultural sphere – Ottomania

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Over the last decade, Turkey’s cultural sphere has witnessed a motto of Ottomania—a term describing the recent cultural fervor for everything Ottoman. Although this neo-Ottoman cultural phenomenon, is not entirely new since it had its previous cycle back in the 1980s and 1990s during the heyday of Turkey’s political Islam, it now has a rather novel characteristic and distinct pattern of operation. This revived Ottoman craze is discernable in what I call the neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble—referring to a growing array of Ottoman-themed cultural productions and sites that evoke Turkey’s Ottoman-Islamic cultural heritage. For example, the celebration of the 1453 Istanbul conquest no longer merely takes place as an annual public commemoration by the Islamists,[1] but has been widely promulgated, reproduced, and consumed into various forms of popular culture such as: the Panorama 1453 History Museum; a fun ride called the Conqueror’s Dream (Fatih’in Rüyası) at the Vialand theme park; the highly publicized and grossed blockbuster The Conquest 1453 (Fetih 1453); and the primetime television costume drama The Conqueror (Fatih). It is the “banal”, or “mundane,” ways of everyday practice of society itself, rather than the government or state institutions that distinguishes this emergent form of neo-Ottomanism from its earlier phases.[2]
This is the context in which the concept of neo-Ottomanism has acquired its cultural dimension and analytical currency for comprehending the proliferating neo-Ottoman cultural phenomenon. However, when the concept is employed in contemporary cultural debates, it generally follows two trajectories that are common in the literature of Turkish domestic and foreign politics. These trajectories conceptualize neo-Ottomanism as an Islamist political ideology and/or a doctrine of Turkey’s foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. This essay argues that these two conventional conceptions tend to overlook the complexity and hybridity of Turkey’s latest phase of neo-Ottomanism. As a result, they tend to understand the emergent neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble as merely a representational apparatus of the neoconservative Justice and Development Party’s (AKP; Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) ideology and diplomatic strategy.
This essay hence aims to reassess the analytical concept of neo-Ottomanism and the emergent neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble by undertaking three tasks. First, through a brief critique of the concept of neo-Ottomanism, I will discuss its common trajectories and limitations for comprehending the latest phase of neo-Ottoman cultural phenomenon. My second task is to propose a conceptual move from neo-Ottomanism to Ottomentality by incorporating the Foucauldian perspective of governmentality. Ottomentality is an alternative concept that I deployed here to underscore the overlapping relationship between neoliberal and neo-Ottoman rationalities in the AKP’s government of culture and diversity. I contend that neoliberalism and neo-Ottomanism are inseparable governing rationalities of the AKP and their convergence has engendered new modes of governing the cultural field as well as regulating inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in Turkey. And finally, I will reassess the neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble through the analytical lens of Ottomentality. I contend that the convergence of neoliberal and neo-Ottoman rationalities has significantly transformed the relationships of state, culture, and the social. As the cases of the television historical drama Magnificent Century (Muhteşem Yüzyıl) and the film The Conquest 1453 (Fetih 1453) shall illustrate, the neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble plays a significant role as a governing technique that constitutes a new regime of truth based on market mentality and religious truth. It also produces a new subject of citizenry, who is responsible for enacting its right to freedom through participation in the culture market, complying with religious norms and traditional values, and maintaining a difference-blind and discriminatory model of multiculturalism.

A critique of neo-Ottomanism as an analytical concept

Although the concept of neo-Ottomanism has been commonly used in Turkish Studies, it has become a loose term referring to anything associated with the Islamist political ideology, nostalgia for the Ottoman past, and imperialist ambition of reasserting Turkey’s economic and political influence within the region and beyond. Some scholars have recently indicated that the concept of neo-Ottomanism is running out of steam as it lacks meaningful definition and explanatory power in studies of Turkish politics and foreign policy.[3] The concept’s ambiguity and impotent analytical and explanatory value is mainly due to the divergent, competing interpretations and a lack of critical evaluation within the literature.[4] Nonetheless, despite the concept being equivocally defined, it is most commonly understood in two identifiable trajectories. First, it is conceptualized as an Islamist ideology, responding to the secularist notions of modernity and nationhood and aiming to reconstruct Turkish identity by evoking Ottoman-Islamic heritage as an essential component of Turkish culture. Although neo-Ottomanism was initially formulated by a collaborated group of secular, liberal, and conservative intellectuals and political actors in the 1980s, it is closely linked to the consolidated socio-economic and political power of conservative middle-class. This trajectory considers neo-Ottomanism as primarily a form of identity politics and a result of political struggle in opposition to the republic’s founding ideology of Kemalism. Second, it is understood as an established foreign policy framework reflecting the AKP government’s renewed diplomatic strategy in the Balkans, Central Asia, and Middle East wherein Turkey plays an active role. This trajectory regards neo-Ottomanism as a political doctrine (often referring to Ahmet Davutoglu’s Strategic Depth serving as the guidebook for Turkey’s diplomatic strategy in the 21st century), which sees Turkey as a “legitimate heir of the Ottoman Empire”[5] and seeks to reaffirm Turkey’s position in the changing world order in the post-Cold War era.[6]
As a result of a lack of critical evaluation of the conventional conceptions of neo-Ottomanism, contemporary cultural analyses have largely followed the “ideology” and “foreign policy” trajectories as explanatory guidance when assessing the emergent neo-Ottoman cultural phenomenon. I contend that the neo-Ottoman cultural phenomenon is more complex than what these two trajectories offer to explain. Analyses that adopt these two approaches tend to run a few risks. First, they tend to perceiveneo-Ottomanism as a monolithic imposition upon society. They presume that this ideology, when inscribed onto domestic and foreign policies, somehow has a direct impact on how society renews its national interest and identity.[7] And they tend to understand the neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble as merely a representational device of the neo-Ottomanist ideology. For instance, Şeyda Barlas Bozkuş, in her analyses of the Miniatürk theme park and the 1453 Panorama History Museum, argues that these two sites represent the AKP’s “ideological emphasis on neo-Ottomanism” and “[create] a new class of citizens with a new relationship to Turkish-Ottoman national identity.”[8] Second, contemporary cultural debates tend to overlook the complex and hybrid nature of the latest phase of neo-Ottomanism, which rarely operates on its own, but more often relies on and converges with other political rationalities, projects, and programs. As this essay shall illustrate, when closely examined, current configuration of neo-Ottomanism is more likely to reveal internal inconsistencies as well as a combination of multiple and intersecting political forces.
Moreover, as a consequence of the two risks mentioned above, contemporary cultural debates may have overlooked some of the symptomatic clues, hence, underestimated the socio-political significance of the latest phase of neo-Ottomanism. A major symptomatic clue that is often missed in cultural debates on the subject is culture itself. Insufficient attention has been paid to the AKP’s rationale of reconceptualizing culture as an administrative matter—a matter that concerns how culture is to be perceived and managed, by what culture the social should be governed, and how individuals might govern themselves with culture. At the core of the AKP government’s politics of culture and neoliberal reform of the cultural filed is the question of the social.[9] Its reform policies, projects, and programs are a means of constituting a social reality and directing social actions. When culture is aligned with neoliberal governing rationality, it redefines a new administrative culture and new rules and responsibilities of citizens in cultural practices. Culture has become not only a means to advance Turkey in global competition,[10] but also a technology of managing the diversifying culture resulted in the process of globalization. As Brian Silverstein notes, “[culture] is among other things and increasingly to be seen as a major target of administration and government in a liberalizing polity, and less a phenomenon in its ownright.”[11] While many studies acknowledge the AKP government’s neoliberal reform of the cultural field, they tend to regard neo-Ottomanism as primarily an Islamist political agenda operating outside of the neoliberal reform. It is my conviction that neoliberalism and neo-Ottomanism are inseparable political processes and rationalities, which have merged and engendered new modalities of governing every aspect of cultural life in society, including minority cultural rights, freedom of expression, individuals’ lifestyle, and so on. Hence, by overlooking the “centrality of culture”[12] in relation to the question of the social, contemporary cultural debates tend to oversimplify the emergent neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble as nothing more than an ideological machinery of the neoconservative elite.

From neo-Ottomanism to Ottomentality

In order to more adequately assess the socio-political significance of Turkey’s emergent neo-Ottoman cultural phenomenon, I propose a conceptual shift from neo-Ottomanism to Ottomentality. This shift involves not only rethinking neo-Ottomanism as a form of governmentality, but also thinking neoliberal and neo-Ottoman rationalities in collaborative terms. Neo-Ottomanism is understood here as Turkey’s current form of neoconservatism, a prevalent political rationality that its governmental practices are not solely based on Islamic values, but also draws from and produces a new political culture that considers Ottoman-Islamic toleration and pluralism as the foundation of modern liberal multiculturalism in Turkey. Neoliberalism, in the same vein, far from a totalizing concept describing an established set of political ideology or economic policy, is conceived here as a historically and locally specific form of governmentality that must be analyzed by taking into account the multiple political forces which gave its unique shape in Turkey.[13] My claim is that when these two rationalities merge at the cultural domain, they engender a new art of government, which I call the government of culture and diversity.
This approach is therefore less concerned with a particular political ideology or the question of “how to govern,” but more about the “different styles of thought, their conditions of formation, the principles and knowledges that they borrow from and generate, the practices they consist of, how they are carried out, their contestations and alliances with other arts of governing.”[14] In light of this view, and for a practical purpose, Ottomentality is an alternative concept that I attempt to develop here to avoid the ambiguous meanings and analytical limitations of neo-Ottomanism. This concept underscores to the convergence of neoliberal and neo-Ottoman rationalities as well as the interrelated discourses, projects, policies, and strategies that are developed around them for regulating cultural activities and directing inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in Turkey. It pays attention to the techniques and practices that have significant effects on the relationships of state, culture, and the social. It is concerned with the production of knowledge, or truth, based on which a new social reality of ‘freedom,’ ‘tolerance,’ and ‘multiculturalism’ in Turkey is constituted. Furthermore, it helps to identify the type of political subject, whose demand for cultural rights and participatory democracy is reduced to market terms and a narrow understanding of multiculturalism. And their criticism of this new social reality is increasingly subjected to judicial exclusion and discipline.
I shall note that Ottomentality is an authoritarian type of governmentality—a specific type of illiberal rule operated within the structure of modern liberal democracy. As Mitchell Dean notes, although the literature on governmentality has focused mainly on liberal democratic rules that are practiced through the individual subjects’ active role (as citizens) and exercise of freedom, there are also “non-liberal and explicitly authoritarian types of rule that seek to operate through obedient rather than free subjects, or, at a minimum, endeavor to neutralize any opposition to authority.”[15] He suggests that a useful way to approach to this type of governmentality would be to identify the practices and rationalities which “divide” or “exclude” those who are subjected to be governed.[16] According to Foucault’s notion of “dividing practices,” “[t]he subject is either divided inside himself or divided from others. This process objectivizes him. Examples are the mad and the sane, the sick and the healthy, the criminals and the ‘good boys’.”[17] Turkey’s growing neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble can be considered as such exclusionary practices, which seek to regulate the diversifying culture by dividing the subjects into categorical, if not polarized, segments based on their cultural differences. For instance, mundane practices such as going to the museums and watching television shows may produce subject positions which divide subjects into such categories as the pious and the secular, the moral and the degenerate, and the Sunni-Muslim-Turk and the ethno-religious minorities.

Reassessing the neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble through the lens of Ottomentality

In this final section, I propose a reassessment of the emergent neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble by looking beyond the conventional conceptions of neo-Ottomanism as “ideology” and “foreign policy.” Using the analytical concept of Ottomentality, I aim to examine the state’s changing role and governing rationality in culture, the discursive processes of knowledge production for rationalizing certain practices of government, and the techniques of constituting a particular type of citizenry who acts upon themselves in accordance with the established knowledge/truth. Nonetheless, before proceeding to an analysis of the government of culture and diversity, a brief overview of the larger context in which the AKP’s Ottomentality took shape would be helpful.

Context

Since the establishment of the Turkish republic, the state has played a major role in maintaining a homogeneous national identity by suppressing public claims of ethnic and religious differences through militaristic intervention. The state’s strict control of cultural life in society, in particular its assertive secularist approach to religion and ethnic conception of Turkish citizenship, has resulted in unsettling tensions between ethno-religious groups in the 1980s and 1990s, i.e. the Kurdish question and the 1997 “soft coup.” These social tensions indicated the limits of state-led modernization and secularization projects in accommodating ethnic and pious segments of society.[18] This was also a time when Turkey began to witness the declining authority of the founding ideology of Kemalism as an effect of economic and political liberalization. When the AKP came to power in 2002, one of the most urgent political questions was thus the “the limits of what the state can—or ought for its own good—reasonably demand of citizens […] to continue to make everyone internalize an ethnic conception of Turkishness.”[19] At this political juncture, it was clear that a more inclusive socio-political framework was necessary in order to mitigate the growing tension resulted in identity claims.
Apart from domestic affairs, a few vital transnational initiatives also took part in the AKP’s formulation of neoliberal and neo-Ottoman rationalities. First, in the aftermath of the attacks in New York on September 11 (9/11) in 2001, the Middle East and Muslim communities around the world became the target ofintensified political debates. In the midst of anti-Muslim and anti-terror propaganda, Turkey felt a need to rebuild its image by aligning with the United Nations’ (UN) resolution of “The Alliance of Civilizations,” which called for cross-cultural dialogue between countries through cultural exchange programs and transnational business partnership.[20] Turkey took on the leading role in this resolution and launched extensive developmental plans that were designated to rebuild Turkey’s image as a civilization of tolerance and peaceful co-existence.[21] The Ottoman-Islamic civilization, known for its legacy of cosmopolitanism and ethno-religious toleration, hence became an ideal trademark of Turkey for the project of “alliance of civilizations.”[22]
Second, Turkey’s accelerated EU negotiation between the late 1990s and mid 2000s provided a timely opportunity for the newly elected AKP government to launch “liberal-democratic reform,”[23] which would significantly transform the way culture was to be administered. Culture, among the prioritized areas of administrative reform, was now reorganized to comply with the EU integration plan. By incorporating the EU’s aspect of culture as a way of enhancing “freedom, democracy, solidarity and respect for diversity,”[24] the AKP-led national cultural policy would shift away from the state-centered, protectionist model of the Kemalist establishment towards one that highlights “principles of mutual tolerance, cultural variety, equality and opposition to discrimination.”[25]
Finally, the selection of Istanbul as 2010 European Capital of Culture (ECoC) is particularly worth noting as this event enabled local authorities to put into practice the neoliberal and neo-Ottoman governing rationalities through extensive urbanprojects and branding techniques. By sponsoring and showcasing different European cities each year, the ECoC program aims at promoting a multicultural European identity beyond national borders.[26] The 2010 Istanbul ECoC was an important opportunity for Turkey not only to promote its EU candidacy, but also for the local governments to pursue urban developmental projects.[27] Some of the newly formed Ottoman-themed cultural sites and productions were a part of the ECoC projects for branding Istanbul as cultural hub where the East and West meet. It is in this context that the interplay between the neoliberal and neo-Ottoman rationalities can be vividly observed in the form of neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble.

Strong state, culture, and the social

Given the contextual background mentioned above, one could argue that the AKP’s neoliberal and neo-Ottoman rationalities arose as critiques of the republican state’s excessive intervention in society’s cultural life. The transnational initiatives that required Turkey to adopt a liberal democratic paradigm have therefore given way to the formulation and convergence of these two forms of governmentalities that would significantly challenge the state-centered approach to culture as a means of governing the social. However, it would be inaccurate to claim that the AKP’s prioritization of private initiatives in cultural governance has effectively decentralized or democratized the cultural domain from the state’s authoritarian intervention and narrow definition of Turkish culture. Deregulation of culture entails sophisticated legislations concerning the roles of the state and civil society in cultural governance. Hence, for instance, the law of promotion of culture, the law of media censorship, and the new national cultural policy prepared by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism explicitly indicate not only a new vision of national culture, but also the roles of the state and civil society in promoting and preserving national culture. It shall be noted that culture as a governing technology is not an invention of the AKP government. Culture has always been a major area of administrative concern throughout the history of the Turkish republic. As Murat Katoğlu illustrates, during the early republic, culture was conceptualized as part of the state-led “public service” aimed to inform and educate the citizens.[28] Arts and culture were essential means for modernizing the nation; for instance,the state-run cultural institutions, i.e. state ballet, theater, museum, radio and television, “[indicate] the type of modern life style that the government was trying to advocate.”[29] Nonetheless, the role of the state, the status of culture, and the techniques of managing it have been transformed as Turkey undergoes neoliberal reform. In addition, Aksoy suggests that what distinguishes the AKP’s neoliberal mode of cultural governance from that of the early republic modernization project is that market mentality has become the administrative norm.[30] Culture now is reconceptualized as an asset for advancing Turkey in global competition and a site for exercising individual freedom rather than a mechanism of social engineering. And Turkey’s heritage of Ottoman-Islamic civilization in particular is utilized as a nation branding technique to enhance Turkey’s economy, rather than a corrupt past to be forgotten. To achieve the aim of efficient, hence good, governance, the AKP’s cultural governance has heavily relied on privatization as a means to limit state intervention. Thus, privatization has not only transformed culture into an integral part of the free market, but also redefined the state’s role as a facilitator of the culture market, rather than the main provider of cultural service to the public.
The state’s withdrawal from cultural service and prioritization of the civil society to take on the initiatives of preserving and promoting Turkish “cultural values and traditional arts”[31] lead to an immediate effect of the declining authority of the Kemalist cultural establishment. Since many of the previously state-run cultural institutions now are managed with corporate mentality, they begin to lose their status as state-centered institutions and significance in defining and maintaining a homogeneous Turkish culture that they once did. Instead, these institutions, together with other newly formed cultural sites and productions by private initiatives, are converted into a market place or cultural commodities in competition with each other. Hence, privatization of culture leads to the following consequences: First, it weakens and hollows out the 20th century notion of modern secular nation state, which sets a clear boundary confining religion within the private sphere. Second, it gives way to the neoconservative force, who “models state authority on [religious] authority, a pastoral relation of the state to its flock, and a concern with unified rather than balanced or checked state power.”[32] Finally, it converts social issues that are resulted from political actions into market terms and a sheer matter of culture, which is now left to personal choice.[33] As a result, far from a declining state, Ottomentality has constituted a strong state. In particular, neoliberal governance of the cultural field has enabled the ruling neoconservative government to mobilize a new set of political truth and norms for directing inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in society.

New regime of truth

Central to Foucault’s notion of governmentality is “truth games”[34]—referring to the activities of knowledge production through which particular thoughts are rendered truthful and practices of government are made reasonable.[35] What Foucault calls the “regime of truth” is not concerned about facticity, but a coherent set of practices that connect different discourses and make sense of the political rationalities marking the “division between true and false.”[36] The neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble is a compelling case through which the AKP’s investment of thought, knowledge production, and truth telling can be observed. Two cases are particularly worth mentioning here as I work through the politics of truth in the AKP’s neoliberal governance of culture and neo-Ottoman management of diversity.
Between 2011 and 2014, the Turkish television historical drama Magnificent Century (Muhteşem Yüzyıl, Muhteşem hereafter), featuring the life of the Ottoman Sultan Süleyman, who is known for his legislative establishment in the 16th century Ottoman Empire, attracted wide viewership in Turkey and abroad, especially in the Balkans and Middle East. Although the show played a significant role in generating international interests in Turkey’s tourism, culinary, Ottoman-Islamicarts and history, etc. (which are the fundamental aims of the AKP-led national cultural policy to promote Turkey through arts and culture, including media export),[37] it received harsh criticism among some Ottoman(ist) historians and warning from the RTUK (Radio and Television Supreme Council, a key institution of media censorship and regulation in Turkey). The criticism included the show’s misrepresentation of the Sultan as a hedonist and its harm to moral and traditional values of society. Oktay Saral, an AKP deputy of Istanbul at the time, petitioned to the parliament for a law to ban the show. He said, “[The] law would […] show filmmakers [media practitioners] how to conduct their work in compliance with Turkish family structure and moral values without humiliating Turkish youth and children.”[38] Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Prime Minister then) also stated, “[those] who toy with these [traditional] values would be taught a lesson within the premises of law.”[39] After his statement, the show was removed from in-flight-channels of national flag carrier Turkish Airlines.
Another popular media production, the 2012 blockbuster The Conquest 1453 (Fetih 1453, Fetih hereafter), which was acclaimed for its success in domestic and international box offices, also generated mixed receptions among Turkish and foreign audiences. Some critics in Turkey and European Christians criticized the film for its selective interpretation of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople and offensive portrayal of the (Byzantine) Christians. The Greek weekly To Proto Thema denounced that the film served as a “conquest propaganda by the Turks” and “[failed] to show the mass killings of Greeks and the plunder of the land by the Turks.”[40] A Turkish critic also commented that the film portrays the “extreme patriotism” in Turkey “without any hint of […] tolerance sprinkled throughout [the film].”[41] Furthermore, a German Christian association campaigned to boycott the film. Meanwhile, the AKP officials on the contrary praised the film for its genuine representation of the conquest. As Bülent Arınç (Deputy Prime Minister then) stated, “This is truly the best film ever made in the past years.”[42] He also responded to the questions regarding the film’s historical accuracy, “This is a film, not a documentary. The film in general fairly represents all the events that occurred during the conquest as the way we know it.”[43]
When Muhteşem and Fetih are examined within the larger context in which the neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble is formed, the connections between particular types of knowledge and governmental practice become apparent. First, the cases of Muhteşem and Fetih reveal the saturation of market rationality as the basis for a new model of cultural governance. When culture is administered in market terms, it becomes a commodity for sale and promotion as well as an indicator of a number of things for measuring the performance of cultural governance. When Turkey’s culture, in particular Ottoman-Islamic cultural heritage, is converted into an asset and national brand to advance the country in global competition, the reputation and capital it generates become indicators of Turkey’s economic development and progress. The overt emphasis on economic growth, according to Irving Kristol, is one of the distinctive features that differentiate the neoconservatives from their conservative predecessors. He suggests that, for the neoconservatives, economic growth is what gives “modern democracies their legitimacy and durability.”[44] In the Turkish context, the rising neoconservative power, which consisted of a group of Islamists and secular, liberal intellectuals and entrepreneurs (at least in the early years of the AKP’s rule), had consistently focused on boosting Turkey’s economy. For them, economic development seems to have become the appropriate way of making “conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.”[45] Henceforth, such high profile cultural productions as Muhteşem and Fetih are of valuable assets that serve the primary aim of the AKP-led cultural policy because they contribute to the growth in the related areas of tourism and culture industry by promoting Turkey at international level. Based on market rationality, as long as culture can generate productivity and profit, the government is doing a splendid job in governance. In other words, when neoliberal and neoconservative forces converge at the cultural domain, both culture and good governance are reduced to and measured by economic growth, which has become a synonym for democracy “equated with the existence of formal rights, especially private property rights; with the market; and with voting,” rather than political autonomy.[46]
Second, the AKP officials’ applause of Fetih on the one hand and criticism of Muhteşem on the other demonstrates their assertion of the moral-religious authority of the state. As the notion of nation state sovereignty has become weakened by the processes of economic liberalization and globalization, the boundary that separates religion and state has become blurred. As a result, religion becomes “de-privatized” and surges back into the public sphere.[47] This blurred boundary between religion and state has enabled the neoconservative AKP to establish links between religious authority and state authority as well as between religious truth and political truth.[48] These links are evident in the AKP officials’ various public statements declaring the government’s moral mission of sanitizing Turkish culture in accordance with Islamic and traditional values. For instance, as Erdoğan once reacted to his secular opponent’s comment about his interference in politics with religious views, “we [AKP] will raise a generation that is conservative and democratic and embraces the values and historical principles of its nation.”[49] According to his view, despite Muhteşem’s contribution of generating growth in industries of culture and tourism, it became subjected to censorship and legal action because its content did not comply with the governing authority’s moral mission. The controversy of Muhteşem illustrates the rise of a religion-based political truth in Turkey, which sees Islam as the main reference for directing society’s moral conduct and individual lifestyle. Henceforth, by rewarding desirable actions (i.e. with sponsorship law and tax incentives)[50] and punishing undesirable ones (i.e. through censorship, media ban, and jail term for media practitioners’ misconduct), the AKP-led reform of the cultural field constitutes a new type of political culture and truth—one that is based on moral-religious views rather than rational reasoning.
Moreover, the AKP officials’ support for Fetih reveals its endeavor in a neo-Ottomanist knowledge, which regards the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople as the foundation of modern liberal multiculturalism in Turkey. This knowledge perceives Islam as the centripetal force for enhancing social cohesion by transcending differences between faith and ethnic groups. It rejects candid and critical interpretations of history and insists on a singular view of Ottoman-Islamic pluralism and a pragmatic understanding of the relationship between religion and state.[51] It does not require historical accuracy since religious truth is cast as historical and political truth. For instance, a consistent, singular narrative of the conquest can be observed in such productions and sites as the Panorama 1453 History Museum, television series Fatih, and TRT children’s program Çınar. This narrative begins with Prophet Muhammad’s prophecy, which he received from the almighty Allah, that Constantinople would be conquered by a great Ottoman soldier. When history is narrated from a religious point of view, it becomes indisputable as it would imply challenge to religious truth, hence Allah’s will. Nonetheless, the neo-Ottomanist knowledge conceives the conquest as not only an Ottoman victory in the past, but an incontestable living truth in Turkey’s present. As Nevzat Bayhan, former general manager of Culture Inc. in association with the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB Kültür A.Ş.), stated at the opening ceremony of Istanbul’s Panorama 1453 History Museum,

The conquest [of Istanbul] is not about taking over the city… but to make the city livable… and its populace happy. Today, Istanbul continues to present to the world as a place where Armenians, Syriacs, Kurds… Muslims, Jews, and Christians peacefully live together.[52]

Bayhan’s statement illustrates the significance of the 1453 conquest in the neo-Ottomanist knowledge because it marks the foundation of a culture of tolerance, diversity, and peaceful coexistence in Turkey. While the neo-Ottomanist knowledge may conveniently serve the branding purpose in the post-9/11 and ECoC contexts, I maintain that it more significantly rationalizes the governmental practices in reshaping the cultural conduct and multicultural relations in Turkey. The knowledge also produces a political norm of indifference—one that is reluctant to recognize ethno-religious differences among populace, uncritical of the limits of Islam-based toleration and multiculturalism, and more seriously, indifferent about state-sanctioned discrimination and violence against the ethno-religious minorities.

Ottomentality and its subject

The AKP’s practices of the government of culture and diversity constitute what Foucault calls the “technologies of the self—ways in which human beings come to understand and act upon themselves within certain regimes of authority and knowledge, and by means of certain techniques directed to self-improvement.”[53] The AKP’s neoliberal and neo-Ottoman rationalities share a similar aim as they both seek to produce a new set of ethnical code of social conduct and transform Turkish society into a particular kind, which is economically liberal and culturally conservative. They deploy different means to direct the governed in certain ways as to achieve the desired outcome. According to Foucault, the neoliberal style of government is based on the premise that “individuals should conduct their lives as an enterprise [and] should become entrepreneurs of themselves.”[54] Central to this style of government is the production of freedom—referring to the practices that are employed to produce the necessary condition for the individuals to be free and take on responsibility of caring for themselves. For instance, Nikolas Rose suggests that consumption, a form of governing technology, is often deployed to provide the individuals with a variety of choice for exercising freedom and self-improvement. As such, the subject citizens are now “active,” or “consumer” citizens, who understand their relationship with the others and conduct their life based on market mentality.[55] Unlike the republican citizens, whose rights, duties, and obligations areprimarily bond to the state, citizens as consumers “[are] to enact [their] democratic obligations as a form of consumption”[56] in the private sphere of the market.
The AKP’s neoliberal governance of culture hence has invested in liberalizing the cultural field by transforming it into a marketplace in order to create such a condition wherein citizens can enact their right to freedom and act upon themselves as a form of investment. The proliferation of the neo-Ottoman cultural ensemble in this regard can be understood as a new technology of the self as it creates a whole new field for the consumer citizens to exercise their freedom of choice (of identity, taste, and lifestyle) by providing them a variety of trendy Ottoman-themed cultural products, ranging from fashion to entertainment. This ensemble also constitutes a whole new imagery of the Ottoman legacy with which the consumer citizens may identify. Therefore, through participation within the cultural field, as artists, media practitioners, intellectuals, sponsors, or consumers, citizens are encouraged to think of themselves as free agents and their actions are a means for acquiring the necessary cultural capital to become cultivated and competent actors in the competitive market. This new technology of the self also has transformed the republican notion of Turkish citizenship to one that is activated upon individuals’ freedom of choice through cultural consumption at the marketplace.
Furthermore, as market mechanisms enhance the promulgation of moral-religious values, the consumer citizens are also offered a choice of identity as virtuous citizens, who should conduct their life and their relationship with the others based on Islamic traditions and values. Again, the public debate over the portrayal of the revered Sultan Süleyman as a hedonist in Muhteşem and the legal actions against the television producer, are exemplary of the disciplinary techniques for shaping individuals’ behaviors in line with conservative values. While consumer citizens exercise their freedom through cultural consumption, they are also reminded of their responsibility to preserve traditional moral value, family structure, and gender relations. Those who deviate from the norm are subjected to public condemnation and punishment.
Finally, as the neo-Ottomanist cultural ensemble reproduces and mediates a neo-Ottomanist knowledge in such commodities as the film Fetih and Panorama 1453 History Museum, consumer citizens are exposed to a new set of symbolic meanings of Ottoman-Islamic toleration, pluralism, and peaceful coexistence, albeit through a view of the Ottoman past fixated on its magnificence rather than its monstrosity.[57] This knowledge sets the ethical code for private citizens to think of themselves in relation to the other ethno-religious groups based on a hierarchical social order, which subordinates minorities to the rule of Sunni Islamic government. When this imagery of magnificence serves as the central component in nation branding, such as to align Turkey with the civilization of peace and co-existence in the post 9/11 and ECoC contexts, it encourages citizens to take pride and identify with their Ottoman-Islamic heritage. As such, Turkey’s nation branding perhaps also can be considered as a noveltechnology of the self as it requires citizens, be it business sectors, historians, or filmmakers, to take on their active role in building an image of tolerant and multicultural Turkey through arts and culture. It is in this regard that I consider the neo-Ottoman rationality as a form of “indirect rule of diversity”[58] as it produces a citizenry, who actively participates in the reproduction of neo-Ottomanist historiography and continues to remain uncritical about the “dark legacy of the Ottoman past.”[59] Consequently, Ottomentality has produced a type of subject that is constantly subjected to dividing techniques “that will divide populations and exclude certain categories from the status of the autonomous and rational person.”[60]

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