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Civilizational Discourse, the ‘Alliance of Civilizations’ and Turkish Foreign Policy

The main orientation of Turkish foreign policy has recently been described as Europeanization, Middle Easternization, or Islamization. This article offers an alternative reading of its discourse as a civilizational one, arguing that the concept of civilization has increasingly, albeit vaguely, been employed in Turkish foreign policy discourse in three different layers – national, regional and universal. Turkish foreign policy makers often invoke (and occasionally switch between) these different layers of civilization in a flexible manner, which adds dynamism to Turkish policies. Often integrated with the domestic and foreign policies of the AK Party government, this pragmatic discourse has proved useful for its proactive and assertive diplomacy. Based on the discourse analysis method, this article explores how and why the concept of civilization is utilized within this discourse.

Civilizational Discourse the Alliance of Civilizations and Turkish Foreign Policy
UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon and delegates pose for a group photo during the sixth United Nations Alliance of Civilizations conference in Nusa Dua on the resort island of Bali on August 29, 2014. The forum runs from August 29 to 30. AFP / Sonny Tumbel
 

Introduction

The concept of “civilization” was not very popular among most Western social scientists in the 20th century, although it was somewhat influential in 19th-century scientific thought. More recently, civilization has been rediscovered by social scientists in the West after it was inserted into politics through the “clash of civilizations” thesis and the September 11 attacks as well as with the rise of the “Asian tigers” with their different civilizational roots. A final factor has been the increasing migrations to the industrial, Western countries from different parts of the world.1 In Turkey, too, the concept has increasingly been used in foreign policy discourses as well as in popular political debates.

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