Is Hizmet liberal? The question is intractable both for Hizmet actors and for the Turkish public sphere more broadly. In this essay, I marshal ethnographic research carried out over several years among Hizmet institutions in Istanbul to shed light on the politics of this question. I examine several characteristic Hizmet institutions in order to argue that Hizmet forges a synthesis between Islamic and liberal discourses and practices. This synthesis unravels dichotomous images of Islam and liberalism as necessarily opposed. In particular, I analyze ethical values such as “positive action” (müspet hareket), “service” (hizmet), and piety (taqwa), as well as initiatives, such as interreligious dialogue (dinler arası diyalog), carried out by Hizmet-affiliated charitable foundations/pious endowments (vakıflar). By way of conclusion, I reevaluate the title question of the article to unpack the dialectical tension embedded between liberal political projects and liberalism as a disciplining power.
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