Middle East Studies

Onur Günay

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Drugs, Crime, Sex, and Sufis: The Ethics and Politics of Everyday Life in Kurdish Istanbul

In the cultural and political landscape of an urban working-class neighborhood in Istanbul, the Menzil community of the Naqshbandi order has a strong reputation for “curing” the ill, and healing the drug and alcohol users, gamblers, and people with criminal records of theft and murder. Located at the nexus of the medical, political, and religious, these healing practices provide a relatively unexplored and fertile terrain of investigation in anthropology and social sciences. In this paper, I ethnographically document stories of drug use, depression, and spiritual recovery among the Kurdish migrants of Istanbul. Through the analysis of these narratives and participant observation at the Menzil community, I focus on the prevalence, historical roots, and healing practices of Islamic orders, with an eye to the ways people craft new forms of religious and political subjectivities in the context of dispossession, political violence, and substance abuse. Specifically, I explore the politics involved in the formation of these infrastructures and the therapeutic roles they assume to fill a gap in state’s care for drug users. Departing from the anthropologists of Islamic movements and Sufi orders, who turn the study of Islam into a critique of Western liberal secularism and its notions of agency, my work situates healing practices, moral economies, and ethical formations in Islamic orders of Turkey in a larger framework of political economy and history.

Onur Günay is an anthropologist and documentary film-maker. Currently, he is a postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Onur’s research is an anthropological study of the processes by which displaced Kurdish migrants become urban laborers in Istanbul, exploring how ethnic and cultural differences are recast through labor, as these differences mark migrant Kurdish men’s bodies, sexualities, life prospects, and senses of belonging in the city. Based on over two years of ethnographic fieldwork in the interstices of a fragile peace process and war between the Turkish state and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), his writing foregrounds how Kurdish migrant workers articulate their ethical and political understandings of self, community, and rights in relation to their struggles for economic survival and social mobility—all this in the context of dramatic economic restructuring and the rise of political Islam in Turkey. Onur wrote has written extensively on political violence, ethnicity, collective memory, nation-state and sovereignty, and edited books and journal issues on these topics.