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A Staged Fright: Musical Hybridity and Religious Intolerance in Turkey, 1923–38


This article is concerned with the relationship between musical style and religious prejudice in Turkey during the early Republican period (1923–38). It focuses on a musical contest in 1932 between a Jewish cantor (hazan) and an Islamic vocalist (hafız) in the presence of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881–1938), the president of the Turkish Republic who instigated revolutionary reforms that affected many aspects of Turkish culture, including music. Historical accounts of this musical contest not only suggest how religious discrimination manifested itself in a competitive setting but also serve to question the parameters of religious tolerance in Turkey, a country often admired for its favourable attitude towards Jews during the twentieth century. The discussion draws on Homi Bhabha's concept of a ‘third space’ to uncover the complex relations that existed in Turkey between Jews and Muslims on the one hand and among Jews on the other. It also invokes Bhabha to show how music can be viewed as a ‘supplementary discourse’ that serves both to unify cultural interests and to perpetuate cultural differences. By challenging the accepted narrative of religious tolerance in historical sources, the article explores through music the characteristics and consequences of racism in the country during a period of growing anti-Semitism both at home and abroad.

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Philip Bohlman . Jewish Music and Modernity. New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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Stanford Shaw . History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976–7.

Stanford Shaw . The Jews of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic. London: Macmillan, 1991.

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Twentieth-Century Music
  • ISSN: 1478-5722
  • EISSN: 1478-5730
  • URL: /core/journals/twentieth-century-music
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