The soundscape of Islamic populism

Auditory publics, silences and the myth of democracy


  • Nil Basdurak Ph.D Candidate in Ethnomusicology, University of Toronto



Turkey, Coup Attempt, Call to Prayer, Sala, Islamic Sound, Democracy, Islamic Populism, Zikr, Dhikr, Islamic Soundscape


Focusing on the failed coup attempt organized by a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces on July 15, 2016, this paper examines the soundscape of Islamic populism (Hadiz, 2016) as embraced by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its affective-auditory publics. Drawing on Althusser’s theories of ideology and interpellation concerning the Islamic call (Spadola, 2014), I explore AKP’s strategic use of Islamic sound as affect in governmentalizing urban space in order to understand the role that sound played in galvanizing support against the attempted coup. During the first twenty-four hours of the coup attempt, systematically regenerating discursive modes of Islamic rhetoric and sounds, utilizing the narratives of democracy, nationalism, and treachery to mobilize its publics, AKP re-cultivated the already existing polarized identity politics and recreated the sectarian spaces of belonging and otherness. I argue that AKP’s appropriation of sonic and aural qualities of Islam – particularly the public recitation of Sala (a form of Islamic call) – purposefully rechannelled the “ethical listening” (Hirschkind, 2006) of pious selves into a politically (re)functionalized listening in the populist reproduction of an Islamic soundscape. Such reproduction of the urban soundscape was responded to in a variety of ways by the mobilized auditory publics in service of the party while creating silenced private spaces of opposition.


NB: The article contains sound examples. In order to listen to embedded audio files, you must first download the pdf file and then open it with Adobe Acrobat.


Agamben, Giorgio. (2009). “What is an Apparatus?” and Other Essays. D. Kishik & S. Pedatella (Trans.), Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Althusser, Louis. (1970). Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation). In Slavoj Zizek (Ed. 1994) Mapping Ideology (100-139). London: Verso.

Arendt, Hannah. (1958). The Human Condition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Asad, Talal. (2003). Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Assmann, Jan. 2008. “Communicative and Cultural Memory”. In Astrid Erll & Ansgar Nünning (Eds.) Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook, 109–118. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Butler, Judith. (2015). Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Deeb, Lara & Harb, Mona. (2007). Sanctioned Pleasures: Youth, Piety and Leisure in Beirut. Middle East Report, (245), 12-19.

Eisenberg, Andrew J. (2013). “Islam, Sound and Space: Acoustemology and Muslim Citizenship on the Kenyan Coast”. In Georgina Born (Ed.) Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Esen, Berk & Gumuscu, Sebnem. (2017). Turkey: How the Coup Failed. Journal of Democracy, 28(1), 59-73.

Gill, Denise. (2016, August 10). Turkey’s Coup and the Call to Prayer: Sounds of Violence Meet Islamic Devotionals. The Conversation. Retrieved from

Habermas, Jürgen. (1991). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hadiz, Vedi R. (2016). Islamic Populism in Indonesia and the Middle East. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Morris, Chris. (2018, June 18). Reality Check: The numbers behind the crackdown in Turkey. BBC. Retrieved from

Hefner, Robert W. (Ed.). (2005). Remaking Muslim Politics: Pluralism, Contestation, Democratization. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Heper, Metin. (1985). The State Tradition in Turkey. Huntingdon, QC: Eothen Press.

Hirschkind, Charles. (2006). The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counter-publics. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Howell, Julia Day. (2015). Revival Ritual and the Mobilization of Late-modern Islamic Selves. Journal of Religious and Political Practice, 1(1), 47-57.

Jouili, Jeanette S. & Moors, Annelies. (2014). Introduction: Islamic Sounds and the Politics of Listening. Anthropological Quarterly, 87(4), 977-988. George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research, from Project MUSE database. doi: 10.1353/anq.2014.0064

Kavanagh, Dennis. (1972). Political Culture. London: Macmillan.

Köymen, Erol. (2017). From Coups that Silence Ezan-s to Ezan-s that Silence Coups!: Sonic Resistance to the 2016 Turkish Military Coup. Current Musicology, (101), 99-124, 152.

Laclau, Ernesto. (2005). On Populist Reason. London: Verso.

Mahmood, Saba. (2012). Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 2005).

Mardin, Şerif. (1983). Religion and Politics in Modern Turkey. In James Piscatori (Ed.), Islam and the Political Process (138-159). Cambridge: Royal Institute of International Affairs.

McPherson, Eve. (2009). The Beautiful Voice: Voice Quality and the Turkish Call to Prayer (PhD dissertation). University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA.

Ochoa Gautier, Ana María. (2015). “Silence.” In David Novak and Matt Sakakeeny (Eds.) Keywords in Sound. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Öğüt, Evrim Hikmet. (2016). "Soundscape of a coup d’état," Sound Matters Blog. Society for Ethnomusicology.

Schaefer, Donovan O. (2015). Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Schafer, R. Murray. (1994). The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Rochester, NY: Destiny Books. (Original work published 1977).

Shannon, Jonathan. (2006). Among the Jasmine Trees: Music and Modernity in Contemporary Syria. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Smalley, Denis. (2007). Space-form and the Acousmatic Image. Organised Sound, 12(1), 35-58.

Spadola, Emilio. (2014). The Calls of Islam: Sufis, Islamists, and Mass Mediation in Urban Morocco. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.

Tibi, Bassam. (2012). Islamism and Islam. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Tomkins, Silvan S. & Karon, Bertram P. (2008). Affect, Imagery, Consciousness: The Complete Edition. New York: Springer.

Tremblay, Pınar. (2016, July 25). How Erdoğan used the power of the mosques against coup attempt. Al-monitor. Retrieved from

Tuğal, Cihan. (2013). Islam and the Retrenchment of Turkish Conservatism. In Asef Bayat (Ed.) Post-Islamism: The Changing Faces of Political Islam (109-131). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Wijermars, Mariëlle. (2018). Memory Politics in Contemporary Russia: Television, Cinema and the State. London: Routledge.




How to Cite

Basdurak, N. (2020). The soundscape of Islamic populism: Auditory publics, silences and the myth of democracy. SoundEffects - An Interdisciplinary Journal of Sound and Sound Experience, 9(1), 132–148.