Milli Görüş in Western Europe

An ISIM workshop, Leiden, 9 January 2004


In 1975 the Turkish politician Necmettin Erbakan published a manifesto that he gave the title Millî Görüş,  ‘The National Vision’. It spoke only in the most general terms of moral and religious education but devoted much attention to industrialization, development and economic independence. It warned against further rapprochement towards Europe, considering the Common Market to be a Zionist and Catholic project for the assimilation and de-Islamization of Turkey and called instead for closer economic co-operation with Muslim countries. The name of Millî Görüş would remain associated with a religio-political movement and a series of Islamist parties inspired by Mr. Erbakan, one succeeding the other as they were banned for violating Turkey’s laik legislation. Following the ban of the Virtue (Fazilet) Party, a rift that had been developing in the movement resulted in two parties taking its place, the Felicity (Saadet) Party representing Erbakan’s old guard, and the Justice and Development (AK) Party led by younger and more pragmatic politicians around Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who claim to have renounced on a specifically Islamist agenda. The AK Party convincingly won the 2002 elections and formed a government with a strong popular mandate, that brought Turkey closer to acceptance for membership in the European Union than any previous government had done.

Among the Turkish immigrants in Western Europe, Milli Görüş became one of the major, if not the major, religious movement, controlling numerous mosques. Like the movement in Turkey, it went through some remarkable changes, not least because the first generation, which was strongly oriented towards what happened in Turkey, is gradually surrendering leadership to a younger generation that grew up in Europe and is concerned with entirely different matters. Milli Görüş’ public profile shows considerable differences from one country to the next, suggesting that nature of the interaction with the ‘host’ societies may have as much of an impact on its character as a religious movement as the relationship with the ‘mother’ movement in Turkey. This is a strong argument for studying this and similar movements in comparative perspective and taking the context of the ‘host’ societies explicitly into account.

In order to take stock of previous research on Milli Görüş and to explore possibilities for co-ordinated comparative research, ISIM in co-operation with Gerdien Jonker (Marburg University) organized a workshop that brought together scholars from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France whose research concerned at least in part Milli Görüş in Europe. Two board members of the Northern Netherlands federation of Milli Görüş, Haci Karacaer and Üzeyir Kabaktepe, took part in the discussions and commented on the researchers conclusions and hypotheses.

The participants presented, in roughly equal measure, work in progress, completed research and new projects in the initial stages. Nico Landman (Utrecht University) had studied the evolution of mosque and mosque communities in the Netherlands, Thijl Sunier (University of Amsterdam) Turkish youth and Muslim organizations in Rotterdam, Kadir Canatan (Islamic University of Rotterdam) shifts in religious leadership among Turkish Muslims in the Netherlands, Nikola Tietze (Institute of Social Sciences, Hamburg) patterns of religiosity and group identity among young Turkish men in Germany and France, Levent Tezcan (University of Bielefeld) on political symbolism and collective presentations in the Milli Görüş community.

Four participants are carrying out relevant Ph.D. research projects. Meryem Kanmaz (University of Gent) and Welmoet Boender (ISIM) are studying Turkish and Moroccan imams and mosque congregations in Belgium and the Netherlands respectively, and both found Milli Görüş mosques to be involved in a wider range of social activities than others. Ahmet Yükleyen (Boston University and ISIM) studies communication within Turkish Islamic associations in the Netherlands and Germany and between these associations and state organs. Sarah Bracke compares Milli Görüş women’s groups with ‘fundamentalist’ women in Protestant and Orthodox Christian contexts, in a study of resistance to secularization.

Gerdien Jonker (Marburg) and Werner Schiffauer (University of Frankfurt/Oder) presented two new research projects, in which Alev Masarwa (University of Münster) and Levent Tezcan will also be involved. Schiffauer and Tezcan will focus on the young generation and the dilemmas they face in their attempts to change Milli Görüş without alienating their elders. Rising young leaders are aware that much in the discourse of the first generation, understandable in the Turkish context, offends the sensitivities of German society and is irrelevant to many young Turks, but they have none of the charisma of the older guard of leaders. Jonker and Masarwa will take part in a larger project on adaptations between German law and Islam. Masarwa will compare Milli Görüş muftis in a German and a Turkish town; Jonker will be studying how Milli Görüş defines its religious identity through court cases. Discussion among the participants suggested that different European societies impose different ways of asserting Muslim identity: in Germany, the court of law is a major arena of communication, in the Netherlands there is a permanent process of negotiation and gradual adaptation, and in France Muslims position themselves more assertively in debates in the public sphere.


Martin van Bruinessen