Who is Fethullah Gülen?

Şahin Alpay
Şahin Alpay


Date posted: December 26, 2014

The leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, rightly called it “a coup against democracy” when Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı and STV network executive Hidayet Karaca, together with a number of screenwriters and television producers, were detained on Dec. 14 on the incredible charges of founding or belonging to “an armed terrorist organization aiming to seize the sovereignty of the state.”

The mass detention was obviously ordered by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to direct public attention away from the biggest corruption probe in the history of the country, involving four ministers, among others, that was revealed a year ago and has since been suppressed by the government.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan maintains, with no proof whatsoever, that the probe was nothing but a “coup attempt” against his government by what he calls the “parallel state,” meaning the faith-based Hizmet social movement inspired by the Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has lived in the United States since 1999 in self-imposed exile. On Dec. 19 the judge of a special court set up recently in the context of measures to suppress the corruption probe decided to arrest Karaca, and released Dumanlı pending trial, banning him from traveling abroad. The court also issued an arrest warrant for Gülen, and it was soon after reported that the Justice Ministry is to formally demand his extradition from the US based on that warrant.

It is obvious that the case against Dumanlı and Karaca is nothing but an escalation of the efforts of Erdoğan and his government to silence the mounting opposition to its increasingly arbitrary and authoritarian rule. There is really not much else to be said about it. But the arrest warrant for Gülen does require an assessment.

This shows, first of all, how justified Gülen has been in choosing to continue to reside in the US, despite having been acquitted of all legal charges against him for conspiring to subvert the secular regime in Turkey. It is indicative of the healthy distrust of the hardline secularist regime in Turkey in general and the Erdoğan government in particular that Gülen has felt while his enemies regarded him as a close ally of Erdoğan in his efforts to Islamize the regime in Turkey. Gülen and the Hizmet movement he inspired, alongside liberal-minded individuals, including myself and other groups, did support the AKP government in its first two terms in power, when Erdoğan seemed to be leading the country toward the consolidation of a liberal and pluralist democracy. In his third term in power, Erdoğan has obviously entirely abandoned and reversed that direction.

Gülen is undoubtedly the religious scholar who has put forward the most tolerant, peaceful and pro-democracy interpretation of Islam in the entire Muslim world. There is an irony in Erdoğan accusing Gülen of being a “leader of a terrorist gang, a false prophet” and continuously spewing out hate speech against him, while it is widely believed that his government has, if indirectly, given support to radical Islamist groups resorting to terrorism in the fight against the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, an opinion shared by people such as Francis Ricciardone, the former US ambassador to Turkey, and Joseph Biden, the vice president of the US.

There is also an irony in that Erdoğan, while calling Gülen a “terrorist” and accusing him of running a “parallel state” in Turkey, is engaged in peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) (regarded as a “terrorist organization” by both the EU and the US), which is known to have established a true “parallel state,” a de facto administration, in the Kurdish-majority regions of Turkey, setting up courts, collecting taxes, recruiting fighters and maintaining order.

The injustice and unfairness that Gülen and the Hizmet movement have been subjected to by pro-Kemalist and pro-Marxist hardline secularists on the one hand and Islamists on the other has no bounds. I am fully convinced that the significance of Gülen lies in the fact that the movement he inspired is performing the highly important service to the democratization of Turkey of convincing increasing numbers of devout Muslims of the vital importance for a civilized society of a regime based on the rule of law that secures individual as well as minority rights.

Source: Today's Zaman , December 21, 2014


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