Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey: The Paradox of Moderation (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

Moderation theory describes the process through which radical political actors develop commitments to electoral competition, political pluralism, human rights, and rule of law and come to prefer negotiation, reconciliation, and electoral politics over provocation, confrontation, and contentious action. Revisiting this theory through an examination of two of the most prominent moderate Islamic political forces in recent history, Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey analyzes the gains made and methods implemented by the Reform Front in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Justice and Development Party in Turkey. Both of these groups represent Muslim reformers who came into continual conflict with unelected adversaries who attempted to block their reformist agendas. Based on extensive field research in both locales, Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey argues that behavioral moderation as practiced by these groups may actually inhibit democratic progress. Gunes Murat Tezcur observes that the ability to implement conciliatory tactics, organize electoral parties, and make political compromises impeded democracy when pursued by the Reform Front and the Justice and Development Party. Challenging conventional wisdom, Tezcur's findings have broad implications for the dynamics of democratic progress.

Reviews of Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey

Contemporary Islam Digest of Middle East Studies Insight Turkey
International Journal of Middle East Studies Iranian Studies Mediterranean Studies
Middle East Journal Politics & Religion World Politics

"Authoritarian Resilience and International Linkages in Iran in Comparative Perspective, " Middle East Authoritarianisms: Governance, Contestation, and Regime Resilience in Iran and Syria Steven Heydemann and Reinoud Leenders edited (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013), pp. 200-221. (PDF file.)

Why did authoritarian rule recover from the rise of a prodemocratic reform movement in Iran after 2004? What explains the emergence of a powerful but ultimately unsuccessful mass movement in summer 2009? This chapter addresses these questions through a comparative framework that includes postcommunist and Arab authoritarian regimes. It also makes a contribution to broader scholarly debates about authoritarianism. First, while the capacities of a regime for repression, geopolitical conditions, and the distribution of economic endowments are obviously important for the sustainability of authoritarian rule, these structural and institutional factors by themselves do not explain the pace and direction of political change in these regimes. The perceptions of predominant political actors and the strategies they pursue especially during the critical junctures such as electoral moments are critical to understand political change. In electoral moments of uncertainty, political preferences become more malleable, interaction between the rules and the opposition becomes central for ultimate outcomes, and political opportunities expand. Authoritarian resilience depends on the ruling elite's management of this uncertainty and its ability to sustain its power without opting for total repression.

"Democracy Promotion, Authoritarian Resiliency and Political Unrest in Iran," Democratization 19 (February 2012): 120-140. (Link)

This article argues that recent de-democratization in Iran can be best understood by analyzing the interplay of domestic Iranian politics and two external developments. Colour revolutions in several post-communist states and the hostile U.S. policies toward Iran after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 generated a political climate in Iran conducive to the hardliner attempts to discredit and neutralize the reformist opposition. The regime tried to delegitimize the opposition by portraying it in the service of foreign elements and seeking to foment a popular uprising. The consequences were twofold. On the one hand, the regime's identification of civic and political activism as threats to national security greatly reduced the manoeuverability of the reformist opposition and contributed to their marginalization. This suggests the limits and unintended consequences of democracy promotion in Iran. On the other hand, the post-electoral protests of 2009 exposed the limits of conspiracy discourse in silencing mass discontent. The article points out that regime's attempt to portray the unrest as a foreign conspiracy failed to convince a large segment of the population.

"The Moderation Theory Revisited: The Case of Islamic Political Actors," Party Politics 16 (January 2010): 69-88. (Link)

An influential political science literature argues that the integration of radical political parties into the political system leads to their moderation. This paper revisits this thesis and applies it to the Islamic political actors in Iran and Turkey by employing the comparative method of agreement. It reaches three conclusions. First, moderation thesis provides strong tools in explaining the evolution of Islamists into Muslim democrats. Second, moderation is a double-edged sword especially in regimes with strong undemocratic characteristics. Moderation of radicals may result in their domestication that does not contribute to democratic transition or consolidation. Finally, change in the ideologies of political elites is central in understanding behavioral change.

ethnicity & violence

"Violence & Nationalist Mobilization: The Onset of the Kurdish Insurgency in Turkey," Nationalities Papers 43 (March 2015): 248-266 (Online access).

According to theories of nonviolent resistance, violence is counterproductive and undermines the ability of a movement to achieve mass support. At the same time, studies of ethnic insurgencies suggest that violence is the only available method of mobilization in political systems characterized by entrenched ethnic hierarchies. Engaging with these arguments, this article addresses a historical puzzle: What factors explain the timing and ability of the PKK's rise as the hegemonic Kurdish nationalist organization in Turkey between the late 1970s and 1990? The article argues that studies that identify Kurdish nationalism as a reaction to repressive policies of the Turkish state without paying attention to prevailing social conditions and oppositional strategies fail to provide a satisfactory response. It argues that the rise of the PKK was primarily a function of its ability to gain support among the peasantry in deeply unequal rural areas through its strategic employment of violence. It also identifies four causal mechanisms of PKK recruitment based on rich archival and field research: credibility, revenge, social mobility, and gender emancipation.

"The Ebb and Flow of Armed Conflict in Turkey: An Elusive Peace, " Conflict, Democratization, and the Kurds in the Middle East,David Romano and Mehmet Gurses edited (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 171-188. (PDF file.)

This chapter is an empirical study of the patterns of armed conflict and negotiations between the Turkish government and the Kurdish insurgency, the PKK with a particular focus on the developments in the post-1999 period. The evolution of the armed clashes suggests that the PKK uses violence to tool to renegotiate the terms of Turkish democracy to gain more power and rights for the Kurdish ethnic group. The AKP government's responses show that it pursues reforms to dampen public support for the insurgents and to attract Kurdish vote in its political struggles with other major actors. While the negotiations between the government and the insurgents resulted in ceasefire by early 2013, a more fragmented political environment providing Kurdish nationalists direct access to the executive power would be conducive to sustainable peace.

"Prospects for Resolution of the Kurdish Question: A Realist Perspective,"; Insight Turkey 15 (Spring 2013): 69-84. (PDF file.)

The developments in early 2013 generated expectations that the almost three decades old armed conflict between the Turkish state and PKK would eventually come to an end. This article adopts a skeptical position and identifies two principal factors that make a peaceful settlement a distant possibility. First, the current military situation is a stalemate that is not ripe for peace. The costs of the conflict remain highly tolerable for both sides. Next, huge differences separate what the Turkish government is willing to deliver and what the Kurdish insurgency is willing to accept for disarmament. In particular, the PKK has no incentive to accept disarmament and demobilization given current geopolitical dynamics conducive to Kurdish self-rule.

"When Democratization Radicalizes: The Kurdish Nationalist Movement in Turkey," Journal of Peace Research 47 (November 2010): 775-789. (Prepublication PDF file.)

This article addresses a historical puzzle: Why did the insurgent PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan), which was militarily defeated, which renounced the goal of secession, and whose leader was under the custody of the Turkish state, remobilize its armed forces in a time when opportunities for the peaceful solution of the Kurdish question were unprecedented in Turkey? The PKK's radicalization at a period of EU-induced democratization in Turkey counters the conventional argument that fostering democracy would reduce the problems of ethnic conflict. The article argues that democratization will not necessarily facilitate the end of violent conflict as long as it introduces competition that challenges the political hegemony of the insurgent organization over its ethnic constituency. Under the dynamics of competition, the survival of the organization necessitates radicalization rather than moderation. As long as the insurgent organization successfully recruits new militants, democratization is not a panacea to violent conflict.

"Kurdish Nationalism and Identity in Turkey: A Conceptual Reinterpretation," European Journal of Turkish Studies 10 │2009, Online since December 2009.

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This article argues that the evolution of Kurdish nationalism in Turkey is more ambivalent and nuanced than is usually acknowledged. Based on three interpretive approaches, the article offers answers to several important questions regarding political identity in Turkey. First, why do so many Kurdish-speaking citizens fail to articulate their identity in the terms demanded by the Kurdish nationalist movement? Second, why are the electoral returns in those areas of Turkey with large numbers of Kurdish-speakers not more closely correlated with the ethnic distribution of the population? Finally, why does the Kurdistan Workers′ Party (PKK) often act in ways that are inconsistent with its declared goals of defending and expanding the political and civil rights of the Kurds?

judicial activism

"Judicial Activism in Perilous Times: The Turkish Case," Law and Society Review 43 (June 2009): 305-336. (PDF file.)

Under what circumstances do courts act in ways that challenge the political hegemony of the military in countries with weak democratic institutions? This article addresses this question by focusing on a critical case of judicial activism in Turkey. It argues that lower courts unexpectedly can be centers of judicial activism that contributes to expansion of civil liberties and restrictions on arbitrary state power when the high judiciary supports the political status quo. This is because lower courts provide greater access to legal mobilization pursued by civil society actors. At the same time, judicial activism at lower courts is sustainable only when political power is distributed among elites with conflicting interests, and the civilian government offers support and protection to activist members of the judiciary.

"Constitutionalism, Judiciary and Democracy in Islamic Societies," Polity 39 (October 2007): 479-501. (PDF file.)

This article reconsiders the relationship between secularism, liberalism, and democracy in non-secularized societies by focusing on judicial activism. The goal is to identify the forms of constitutionalism and judicial review that are necessary for the sustainability of democracy in societies where exclusive and holistic interpretations of religion remain pervasive. How is it possible to prevent majority rule from decaying into the tyranny of the majority in such societies? Neither the guardianship regimes embodied by the Iranian and Turkish republics nor Islamic democracy provide viable models that overcome the tension between constitutionalism and democracy. However, a conflict between these two principles in Islamic societies is avoidable. Judicial review, sanctioned by democratically written liberal constitutions and not guarded by non-elected institutions such as military, would be a guardian of individual and minority rights in Islamic societies.

politics and religion

"Catholic and Muslim Human Rights Activism in Violent Internal Conflicts" Politics & Religion 8 (March 2015): 111-134 (Online access) (PDF file.)

When do religious organizations develop human rights platforms during violent internal conflicts? This article offers the first comparative study to address this question and focuses on religious organizations in El Salvador, Peru, Turkey, and Indonesia. It identifies two causal factors to explain variation in religious human rights activism in these four countries: (1) transnational religious ideas and linkages, and (2) the nature of the state-religion relationship. First, Vatican II and Liberation theology significantly contributed to the rise of religious human rights activism in El Salvador and Peru. Similar transitional linkages were absent in Turkey and Indonesia. Next, the more conflictual nature of the state-religion relationship in El Salvador explains why the Salvadorian Church pursued a more determined human rights agenda than its Peruvian counterpart. A similarly conflictual state-religion relationship contributed to the presence of Islamic human rights activism in Turkey, and a less conflictual relationship prevented its emergence in Indonesia.

"Support for Democracy in Iran," Political Research Quarterly 65 (June 2012): 235-247 (primary author, co-authors: Taghi Azadarmaki, Bahar Mehri, & Hooshang Nayebi). (Prepublication PDF file.)

This article presents the first systematic analysis of support for democracy in the Islamic Republic of Iran and contributes to the scholarly literature on popular views of democracy in an authoritarian regime. It reaches three main findings. First, religiosity is strongly and negatively related with support for democracy. Second, education and age indirectly affect support for democracy; their effects are mediated through satisfaction with regime performance. Third, greater dissatisfaction with regime strongly correlates with greater demands for democratization. The data come from a survey conducted in Tehran in 2008 and the 2005 Iranian World Values Survey.

"Religiosity and the Islamic Rule in Iran," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47 (June 2008): 211-224 (primary author, co-author: Taghi Azadarmaki). (PDF file.)

This article investigates the relationship between religiosity and support for Islamic rule in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). Are high levels of religiosity associated with an ideology characterized by clerical rule, supremacy of Islamic law, and state enforcement of Islam? The data come from a random sampling survey conducted in Tehran in August 2003. The analyses show that religiosity is closely affiliated with an ideological understanding of Islam in Tehran. Interestingly, political dissatisfaction does not negatively affect this association. Shiism in Iran has evolved from a "world-shaking" force into a "world-legitimating" force.

"Religious Participation among Muslims: Iranian Exceptionalism," Middle Eastern Critique 15 (Fall 2006): 217-232 (primary author, co-authors: Taghi Azadarmaki & Bahar Mehri). (PDF file.)

This article offers an explanation for the low rates of mosque attendance among Iranians. The data for the article comes from the World Values Survey conducted in Muslim countries and a survey conducted inTehran by the authors. Survey evidence indicates a strong correlation between frequency of mosque attendance and positive evaluations of political governance. Paradoxically, levels of subjective religiosity are negatively associated with attendance in Friday congregational prayers.

electoral politics

"Electoral Behavior in Civil Wars: The Kurdish Conflict in Turkey,"Civil Wars forthcoming.

This study analyzes the effects of political violence on electoral behavior by focusing on one of the longest lasting ethnic conflicts in contemporary times, the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey. How do armed conflict and electoral institutions shape turnout in a civil war context? Building on an original dataset at the sub-national level, the study reaches two major conclusions. First, it shows rural displacement caused by political led to lower levels of turnout and severely hampered access to voting controlling for a wide range of socioeconomic and electoral system variables. Second, an unusually high electoral threshold aggravated this pattern of disenfranchisement and limited the avenues of nonviolent Kurdish political activism with negative implications for the resolution of the conflict.

"Trends and Characteristics of the Turkish Party System in Light of the 2011 Elections,"Turkish Studies13 (June 2012): 117-134. (PDF file.)

This article offers an analysis of basic trends in the post-1980 Turkish party system. How has the Turkish party system evolved during the last eight elections? How do these characteristics change with the rise of the AKP? Utilizing statistical methods informed by fieldwork conducted during the parliamentary elections of 2002, 2007, and 2011, the article suggests that Turkish elections exhibit unmistakable patterns of regionalization, which in turn have strongly contributed to the AKP's electoral ascendancy. Barring external shocks such as major economic crisis or leadership replacement, these regional patterns make it difficult for the opposition parties to effectively challenge the AKP.

"Women as Candidates: An Experimental Study in Turkey,"Politics & Gender 7 (September 2011): 365-390 (equal authorship with Richard Matland). (PDF file.)

Patriarchal practices and understandings, especially based on religious teachings, are seen as serious hindrances to women's access to political power. This obstacle often is seen as greatest in countries where Islam is the dominant religion. This study offers preliminary insights regarding how the gender of political candidates affects voting perceptions and behavior in Turkey, one of the few democratic countries with a Muslim majority population. We designed an experiment where university students read speeches by candidates from the two major parties (AKP and CHP). We randomly varied the sex of the candidates. Respondents report their perceptions of candidate's characteristics and policy competencies and their willingness to vote for a candidate. We find candidate sex influences evaluations of areas of competence and perceptions of individual characteristics. It has almost no impact, however, on voting decisions. When it comes to voting, party support and policy stands are vastly more important than candidate sex, even for religiously observant voters.

"Iran's Presidential Election: The Failure of Managed Factionalism," Insight Turkey 11 (2009): 13-22. (PDF file.)

Iran's elections have historically managed factional conflict without altering the institutional distribution of power. Against this political background, the June 2009 elections stand out as a unique event. Elections that once served to manage conflict have now become a destabilizing factor. While the regime appears to have forcefully silenced the widespread post-election protests, the 2009 uprising shows the new limits of elections in managing factional conflict, which spread out to include Iran's people.

"Intra-Elite Struggles in Iranian Elections," in Political Participation in the Middle East and North Africa Ellen Lust-Okar and Saloua Zerhouni edited (Boulders, CO: Lynne Reinner, 2008), pp. 51-74. (PDF file.)

This chapter offers an analytical survey of the elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) with a focus on two interrelated questions: 1) what are the major characteristics of, and the nature of political participation within, the elections in the Islamic Republic? 2) how do elections affect the evolution of factional politics? A main argument of this chapter is that elections primarily serve to perpetuate pluralist authoritarianism in the IRI. Rather than being catalyst for democratization or simply solidifying the regime's control over society, elections manage inter-factional conflict and introduce an element of uncertainty and dynamism to Iranian politics unparalleled in many other authoritarian regimes.

foreign policy

"Soft Power, Religion and anti-Americanism in the Middle East," Foreign Policy Analysis forthcoming. (Prepublication PDF file.)

This study presents the first systematic analysis of the public opinion dimension of soft power competition in the contemporary Middle East. Building on the scholarship on perceptions of foreign states and Arab public opinion, it proposes a series of hypotheses about sectarian identity, religious worldviews, and anti-Americanism as determinants of attitudes toward Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia in the context of regional rivalry. It then presents multivariate probit estimations utilizing Pew Global Attitudes Survey to test these hypotheses. The findings suggest that religious identity and worldviews directly affect favorability ratings of these three powers in the Arab Middle East. While Sunnis favor Saudi Arabia and Turkey over Iran, religious individuals demanding Islamic law favor the Islamic Republic. Furthermore, anti-Americanism translates into lower support for Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but greater support for Iran. Democratic attitudes have no influence over perceptions of these three powers indicating the limits of democracy promotion as a foreign policy tool.

"Activism in Turkish Foreign Policy: Balancing European & Regional Interests," International Studies Perspectives (2013). First published online. (Prepublication PDF file.)

This article argues that long-term changes in Turkish foreign policy are primarily due to the diversification of the country's political and economic interests. Important international structural shifts such as the end of the Cold War or the broad fluctuations in oil prices have constituted the initial impetus for the changes that we have seen in Turkish policies. Discussing alternative perspectives on new activism in Turkish foreign policy, the article gauges Turkey's foreign policy affinity (based on voting patterns in the United Nations General Assembly) and trade with other states to place recent trends in the broader context of the past three decades. It shows that, as the "West" has become less coherent in its policies, Turkey has moved closer to EU members and distanced itself from the US. The data also undermine "shift of axis" arguments as Turkey's foreign policy affinity with Middle Eastern countries has, in fact, declined. The trade data reveal a diversification of the country's commercial interests that contribute to Turkey's increasing regional activism. The country now balances its long term European interests with its recent regional ones.