Research

Current Research

LGBTI Rights in Turkey (Under Contract, Cambridge University Press)

In this book, I discuss the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) rights-based activism in Turkey, and subsequent government responses to this movement. I examine the statements public figures have made about homosexuality, and also how the government, along with other state institutions such as the police has carried out human rights violations towards the LGBTI community. I then shift the focus to how LGBTI activists are working to improve these conditions in Turkey. Before examining their specific tactics in Turkey, I review the academic and policy literature on LGBTI rights activism over the past decades. I look at what strategies LGBTI activists have taken in the Middle East and elsewhere, and within this lens, show what has been more successful as it relates to advancing LGBTI rights. Then, in the next chapters I present my findings with regards to how Turkish activists (as well as international activists working on Turkey specifically) are working to improve LGBTI rights. I have devoted additional attention to specifically examine the question of same-sex marriage in Turkey, and also a chapter on use of religious-based arguments to advance LGBTI rights. I then discuss challenges LGBTI activists face, and conclude the book with a set of policy recommendations.

In this book, not only do I examine state law, reports of rights abuses, but through fieldwork in Turkey, I also interviewed a number of NGO leaders and political human rights activists who have been fighting for LGBTI rights in some shape for form for years. During my time in Turkey (the in-person interviews took place during the Summer of 2015, and then follow up (and additional) interviews in the Spring of 2016), I spoke with activists of leading LGBTI organizations in Turkey which include Lambda Istanbul, Kaos GL, Pembe Hayat, Social Policies, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPoD), and Families of LGBT’s in Istanbul (LİSTAG). I also interviewed the founder of a well-known LGBTI digital magazine GZone Magazine, and also municipality workers Sedef Çakmak and the late Boysan Yakar. Through these various interviews, I was able to gain insight into the histories of these organizations, as well as strategies employed by LGBTI activists in their pursuit of sexual equality rights in Turkey.

 

The Politicization of Ramadan (book manuscript, in progress)

In this book, I examine the way that political leaders use the month of Ramadan to advance their political-religious goals within their respective states/territories. This book contains several case studies of how leaders act during the month of Ramadan, looking at ways they aim to capitalize on the religious month. As I shall argue, they embark on a series of (mostly) internal campaigns of piety. Whether it is the offering of food or other forms of charity, public meals with civilians, appearances at mosques, or speeches filled with Islamic-based language, they are finding ways to use Ramadan as a political tool. I want to to illustrate how highly authoritarian leaders are pretending to care about their public, when officials who spend much of the year making statements against minorities, and whose economic policies do little for the financially marginalized, attempt to do things that show them in a positive light for that month. They are buying political points, particularly when they make much less of an effort to do these sorts of things throughout the rest of the year. Again, Muhammad was believed to have said that good deeds are multiplied seventy fold during Ramadan. For these political leaders, one cannot help but wonder if we can apply that saying to the increased political rewards that they may be getting from their own societies over the course of the month. I shall examine cases among the Gulf States, Egypt, Turkey, the use of Ramadan symbolism by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, as well as China’s crackdown of Ramadan.

 

Published Research

Books

Sponsoring Sufism Cover

Sponsoring Sufism: How Governments Promote ‘Mystical Islam’ in Domestic and Foreign Policies (Palgrave Macmillian) (2015)

When people think of Sufism, what often comes to mind is a peaceful, nonviolent, pluralistic faith, of which the individuals of the faith have little interest for politics because they are so focused on God. And with the rising concern of religious extremism, despite the gross generalizations of Sufis in this manner, some find this reputation of Sufism comforting. Government regimes, facing Islamist challengers, have taken a new approach towards reducing the political influence of such groups; they are sponsoring Sufism (‘Mystical Islam’) in hopes that the promotion of what they view as a more “moderate” and “peaceful” interpretation of Islam will serve as a useful mechanism to counter other Islamic interpretations, interpretations that they believe may be the primary mechanism, and sometimes in their eyes the key motivating factor for terrorism.

But as I argue, these government initiatives are not solely to prevent the rise of violent extremism. But rather, governments are also advocating Sufism for other reasons that include the misconception that by sponsoring Sufism, the government leaders believe this will further help them stay in power, as Sufis are often perceived to be ‘apolitical,’ and thus not a threat to the state. Lastly, some leaders, recognizing the level of influence that Sufi masters or sheikhs have in society, have looked to increase their ties with Sufi orders in order to further establish their own religious legitimacy. This is important in some cases, where the biggest political challengers to a number of these governments are non-violent Islamist groups, who use the message of Islam, coupled with extensive social programs, when running in elections. And thus but by promoting and working with Sufi groups, governments hope to be seen as gaining religious credibility (as Sufi orders play key roles throughout many Muslim societies). However, despite all of these reasons for the promotion of Sufism, the public perception that governments are working to sponsor more “moderate” Muslims is deceiving; their intentions are not towards an increase in overall human rights of their citizens, but rather, the promotion of Sufism is another politically calculated move for such leaders to continue to stay in power. Moreover, by simplifying Sufism into the “good Muslim” verses “bad Muslim” dichotomy set forth by Mahmood Mamdani, (2004), and expanded by Omid Safi (2011), governments are simplifying a much more complex understanding of who is “good” and “bad,” or “political” and “apolitical”.

 

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Human Rights and Universal Child Primary Education (Palgrave Macmillian) (2015)

According to the most recent figures, 57 million children are currently not attending primary school (United Nations, 2013). In addition, “250 million children primary school-aged children lack basic skills…” (Anderson & Crone, 2014). Yet despite the dire numbers, free child primary education has received a great deal of attention in the international community in the past years, and arguably even more so with the nearing of 2015, the year the UN pegged to mark various “World Millennium Development Goals”, such as improving health conditions regarding pregnancy, poverty reduction, fighting of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, gender equality, universal primary education, and the reduction of child mortality rates.

What I set out to do in this book is to examine the various issues surrounding universal child primary education in human rights and international politics. Namely, I aim to break down the state of child primary education, the challenges that exist in providing such a right, the positive developments in this goal of ensuring that all children have free schooling, all the while discussing remaining roadblocks that remain to reach this goal. In this work I hope to provide support for the importance of free child primary education, all the while discussing the factors that are preventing both free education from taking place, as well as addressing the limitations to the schooling that currently exists.

 

Published Articles

(Forthcoming) Public Support for Democratic Reform in Post-Mubarak Egypt (with Bryan Dettrey) (Middle East Law and Governance)

We investigate support for democracy after the overthrow of Egypt’s long-time President Hosni Mubarak. We specifically examine concerns prompting the protests and support for several democratic reforms in Egyptian governance. The results suggest corruption slightly outweighed the lack of democracy as a primary concern of Egyptians over the last few years. Specific democratic reforms such as a fair judicial system and the ability to criticize government receive significant support. Less support is found for equal rights for women and considerably less support for civilian control of the military. We conclude with a discussion of how little support for providing civilian control over the military may represent an obstacle to a democratic transition. Democratic consolidations are more likely to be successful if democracy is “the only game in town” (Linz and Stepan 1996). The role of the military in the ouster of Mubarak and now Mursi suggests the military has significant influence on Egyptian governance, with little support for altering this institutional arrangement.

 

2015. The Politics Between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gulen Movement in Turkey: Issues of Human Rights Abuses and Rising Authoritarianism. The Muslim World Journal of Human Rights, 2015, pages 1-24.

I examine the rising tension between two Islamic movements in Turkey: The Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Fethullah Gülen’s Hizmet Movement within the context of increased human rights abuses by the government in Turkey. I argue that Gülen and Hizmet are a continued concern for Recep Tayyip Erdogan and AKP because of Hizmet’s social services, primarily in the realm of education. Furthermore, their influence in public ranks further troubles Erdogan. However, it seems that because of Hizmet’s disinterest with electoral politics, along with an absence of other challengers to the ruling government party’s electoral success, Erdogan and the AKP will continue to hold political power, at least for the short-term. Furthermore, this case illustrates Erdogan’s willingness to carry out increased authoritarian actions, as well as to violate the human rights of civil society actors in Turkey.

 

2015: Sufism and Anti-Colonial Violent Resistance Movements: The Qadiriyya and Sanussi Orders in Algeria and Libya. Open Theology, 1, pages 134-145

In this article, I examine the role of Sufism (and Sufi leaders) as they relate to anti-colonial political and military resistance movements. Sufism is often viewed as a non-violent and non-political branch of Islam. However, I argue that there are many historical examples to illustrate the presence of anti-colonialist Sufi military movements throughout the “Muslim World,” and I give particular attention to the cases of ‘Abd al-Qadir of the Qadiriyya movement and his anti-colonialist rebellion against France in Algeria in the 1800s, as well as that of Italian colonialism in Libya and the military response by the Sanussi order. Thus, while Sufism clearly has various teachings and principles that could be interpreted to promote non-violence, Sufi political movements have also developed as a response to colonialism and imperialism, and thus, one should not automatically assume a necessary separation from Sufism and notions of military resistance.

 

2015: Environmental Politics and the 2013-2014 Protests in Turkey. Islam and Muslim Societies: A Social Science Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1, pages 1-17.

In this paper, I examine the causes of the 2013 Gezi Park protests against the Justice and Development (AKP) led government, as well as the more recent protests in late 2013 and in February of 2014. While factors for the various protests have included the shift in the AKP’s influence over the political space in Turkey, concerns of rising authoritarianism, allegations of corruption, along with more recent controls over the internet and the judiciary, I argue that environmental issues played a large role in the initial protests, and continue to be a primary factor for the protests in late 2014. Therefore, such issues should not be minimized when understanding citizen frustrations in Turkey.

While many argue that the initial protests were underlining concerns about increased government control, the protests themselves resulted namely because of the AKP plans to build on Gezi Park. Significant evidence exists to suggest that the environmental concerns extend much deeper than the government’s actions in Istanbul. The Turkish government, in its attempt toward rapid economic growth, has a history of controversial environmental projects that have resulted in citizen protests throughout Turkey. In addition, leaders of the AKP are also making Islamic arguments for this activity. Nonetheless, the Gezi Park protests were mere extensions of frustrations resulting from government over-reach in various affairs that include economic development in the form of hydroelectric power plants at the expense of the environment and citizen concerns for their surroundings. Furthermore, I argue that because of their plans to build more hydroelectric power plants, citizen tensions (and protests) will continue in the future.

 

2014“The Role of Religion in the ‘Arab Spring’: Comparing the Actions and Strategies of the Islamist Parties”. Oxford Research Reviews, July 2014

In this article, I examine the role of religion in the initial stages of the Arab uprisings, the influence of religion in the social and political spheres after the uprisings, and at the onset of first post-revolutionary elections, all with an emphasis on the actions of different Islamist parties. I begin by analyzing the role of the various Islamist parties in the different Middle Eastern uprisings, specifically comparing the cases of Ennahda in Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and The Justice and Development and Justice and Charity organizations in Morocco. I argue that in many of these cases, the Islamist parties strategically played a limited role in the revolutions. While the protesters themselves were comprised of citizens from various social, political, and economic groups, and the reasons citizens protested against the different authoritarian governments were often non-religious factors, the Islamist parties also understood that being the image of the uprisings would be risky to their respective organizations; not only their heavy involvement possibly upset non-Islamist protesters, but a strong Islamist presence in the protests could also spark a government response against them. Following this, I then briefly examine the level of influence and electoral success of Islamist parties in the politics of Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco, while discussing the role of religion in the post-uprising states. I then end with a summary of the main points.

 

2012: “The Promotion of Sufism in the Politics of Algeria and Morocco”, Islamic Africa, Vol. 29, No. 3, pages 201-226.

This paper examines the promotion of Sufism by government leaders in Algeria and Morocco. Specifically, this paper finds that both Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, and Mohammed VI of Morocco have each emphasized Sufi Islam in a number of manners that include but are not limited to public media statements about the value of Sufism in society, as well as voicing support with regards to organizing conferences on Sufism. But while such actions are often carried out in the name of combating religious extremism, statements made about Sufism by such leaders also seems to suggest that they may be operating under the assumption that Sufis are apolitical and thus are not seen as a threat, compared to Islamist organizations that are politically challenging to the government.

 

2012: “Sufism, Politics, and the Arab Spring.” The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, Vol. 29, No. 3, pages 23-41.

This article looks at the role of Sufi actors in the context of the Arab Spring. Despite misconceptions about Sufism as being apolitical, I show that Sufis were very involved in speaking out against authoritarian leaders during the Arab uprisings. I particularly look at the cases of Egypt and Syria, and the role that Sufi leaders had with regards to the calls for democracy in these two respective states.

 

2012: Islam and Democracy in the Context of the Arab Spring. Islam and Muslim Societies: A Social Science Journal, Vol. 5, No. 1.

This article examines ‘Islam and Democracy’ within the context of the 2010-2011 protests throughout the Middle East and North Africa. While some have suggested that Islam and democracy are incompatible, this paper examines the arguments that suggest Islam theoretically supports democracy, as well as the empirical data that further highlights the compatibility between Muslim-majority societies and ideas of democratic governance. We then examine what factors have affected the lack of democracy in the Middle East and North Africa that include but are not limited to the history of colonialism, the actions of authoritarian leaders, and the historical support of such leaders by outside states. Examining the recent events leading up to the ‘Arab Spring,’ we also find that leaders from ‘Western’ democratic states are being selective in which protests they are supporting, while also lacking a consistent policy that calls for the resignation of all authoritarian regimes. We will show this to be the case by examining the language of ‘Western’ leaders before and even during the initial protests in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria.

 

2012: Teaching “Islam and Human Rights” in the Classroom. PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 45, No. 1, pp. 101-105.

This article discusses my approach to teaching ‘Islam and Human Rights’ in the Classroom. I begin by examining the attention Islam has received in the media and classroom. Then, I discuss how I structure lectures on ‘Islam and Human Rights,’ the various readings associated with the lectures, and well as common themes discussed in class that include but are not limited to Islamic Law, women’s rights, and minority rights. From here, I move to discuss a range of different approaches to the ‘Islam and Human Rights’ discourse. I then discuss how I test the students’ knowledge of the material.

 

2010: Examining Islam and Human Rights from the Perspective of Sufism. The Muslim World Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 7, No. 1, Article 1.

In this paper I argue that within the Islamic mystical tradition of Sufism lies an important perspective for approaching human rights. Sufism, while usually perceived as only dealing with spiritual matters, actually expresses a distinct message of service to mankind, and thus should be examined within the discussion of Islam and human rights. Along with Sufism’s emphasis on service, the Sufi message of unity with God, and specifically the message of recognizing the existence of God in all creatures resonate soundly within the human rights discourse. With these points in mind, Sufi philosophy heightens the importance of human rights, while also allowing for self-construction regarding issues of human rights, and should be considered as another approach within the Islamic framework that is highly compatible with international human rights.

 

2009: Muslim American College Youth: Attitudes and Responses Five Years After 9/11. The Muslim World, Vol. 99, No. 1, pp. 39-59.

Reprinted in Islam in the West: Critical Concepts in Islamic Studies, David Westerlund and Ingvar Svanberg (eds.), Vol. 3, No. 48. Routledge Press, April 2010.

This article examines attitudes of Muslim American Youth Five Years Following the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the United States. Through interviews, this article addresses questions of Muslim and American identity amongst Muslim American youth.