Nation-Building in Turkey and Morocco: Governing Kurdish and Berber Dissent
AslanSenem. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 250p. $95.00
by Aysegul Aydin, University of Colorado at Boulde
When do people rise up against their governments? Senem Aslan’s answer to this popular question is when people become aggrieved as a result of state repression. States are centralizing agencies and punish forces that resist these attempts. They routinely repress minority groups for expression of their culture, which they consider a challenge to a totalizing central rule. The latter in turn resist such attempts, some of which turn violent as in the example of the Kurdish rebellion in Turkey. Others find a way, though an uneasy one, to coexist with the center, as Berber nationalists have done in Morocco. Aslan demonstrates in great detail the Turkish state’s policies, starting with the single-party era as Turkish statesmen attempted to integrate Kurdish areas in the Southeast into their nation-building project. These attempts, according to the author, mostly took the form of assimilation where expressions of ethnic identity were banned in the public sphere and were replaced with nationalistic ones. In a similar fashion, she documents the Moroccan state’s symbolic gestures to Berber activists, starting with the postcolonial period that included cultural rights as long as they were exercised under the monarch’s watchful eye.
Nation-Building in Turkey and Morocco opens with an important empirical puzzle: Two ethnic minorities in the Middle East context exhibit very similar features. However, the evolution and outcome of their political claims within the nation-state framework show wildly different patterns. Aslan attributes these differences exclusively to states’ policies, whereby ethnic movements are suppressed in one case and appeased with cultural concessions in the other. Her evidence shows that the Moroccan king skillfully engaged in political maneuver that allowed him first to retain his significance under French colonial rule and then to survive under the nationalist Istiqlal Party and eventually overthrow it. He adopted an ambiguous mix of Moroccan nationalism, Islam, and Arabism and refrained from undertaking an ambitious transformation project to upset the tribal hierarchy. This was mainly because his survival depended on appeasing the rural masses, most of whom were of Berber origin. The Moroccan king’s strategy seems to reflect the median Middle East experience, where fragile centers with ties to Western powers patched up a “state” from local powerholders, which worked in some cases and utterly failed in others.