How does the Hizmet movement fare with democracy?

Abdulhamit Bilici
Abdulhamit Bilici


Date posted: February 22, 2014

ABDÜLHAMİT BİLİCİ

Ruling elites of this country, unfortunately, have targeted different groups at different times. Thus, religious people, Kurds, Alevis, nationalists (ülkücüs), leftists, non-Muslim minorities and democratic intellectuals have been in the bull’s eye for attacks from these elites. The Hizmet movement has always been a member of this list of plagued groups.

Like many figures from other groups, such as Mehmet Akif Ersoy and Hrant Dink, Bediüzzaman Said Nursi and Fethullah Gülen have been categorically victimized by the state.

We falsely believed that the country’s ruling elites had abandoned this habit of demonizing certain groups during an investigation against members of Ergenekon — a clandestine organization nested within the state trying to overthrow or manipulate the democratically elected government — and the referendum of Sept. 12, 2010. But today the specter of this affliction looms large on the horizon.

The “small oligarchic group with unknown ambitions” haunting the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is labeling the Hizmet movement as a pro-coup, pro-tutelage, shady network nested within the state to establish a parallel state, and as enemies of the state and democracy. And they are doing it at the expense of boosting polarization within the country. However, is it logical to accuse this movement — which was categorically victimized during the military coups of May 27, March 12, Sept. 12 and Feb. 28 — of supporting coups? How does the Hizmet movement fare with democracy?

Deeply aware of the tragedies caused by anti-democratic and unlawful coups, the Hizmet movement is one of the most fervent supporters of Turkey’s bid to become a true democracy guided by the rule of law. The proponents of the Hizmet movement are largely part of Turkish society. Accordingly, it is hard to suggest that they are completely on track in terms of implementing democracy. Yet, looking at the movement’s statements and acts over the past 30 or 40 years, we can safely suggest that it has been above average in terms of democratic awareness.

The founder of the movement was a scholar, Bediüzzaman, who advocated constitutional monarchy and republican forms of governance, criticized the despotism of Sultan Abdülhamid, dreamed of establishing a university in the east of Turkey where the medium of instruction would be three languages, recommended positive action instead of rebellion and supported the Democrat Party (DP) for its liberal policies. Mr. Gülen, being one of his strict followers, is a scholar who paved the way for people with divergent ideologies to gather on an all-inclusive platform, and always stressed that there would be “no turning back from democracy.”

He publicly asserted his commitment to democracy at a time when certain politicians had likened democracy to a streetcar — implying that people can join or leave the ideology as they it suits them — and people debated whether democracy could be reconciled with Islam.

Gülen’s vision produced the Abant Platform, where right-leaning, leftist, secular and religious intellectuals who were in violent confrontation during the Cold War era can come together around the same table to discuss their differences and similarities. With this democratic attitude, Gülen and the Hizmet movement met Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who couldn’t walk in the streets due to social pressures against him, and leaders of other non-Muslim minorities at fast-breaking (iftar) dinners. Mr. Gülen’s decision to meet the Pope in an effort to avert the risk of clashing was harshly criticized by conservative groups at that time, but the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate (DİB) and others later followed his lead. The full support that the Hizmet movement has always given to Turkey’s bid to become a full member of the European Union while certain Islamic groups have opted to reject the EU as a “club of Christian countries” since Turgut Özal applied for full membership in 1987 is concrete evidence of the movement’s commitment to Turkey as a true democracy governed by rule of law.

In the 1990s, the ruling elites of old Turkey would denigrate Massoud Barzani as a “clan chief,” but Gülen sent his followers to Iraqi Kurdistan to work in education-related projects there and to develop and mobilize good relations to thaw the ice between Turkey and the Kurdish region. When the settlement process was launched, Gülen said, “Peace is in itself goodness, and peace brings happiness,” noting everything should be done to achieve peace. In an interview for Rudaw, an online newspaper based in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil, Gülen indicated that a fair state must allow education in the students’ mother tongue. He collaborated with İzzettin Doğan, an Alevi opinion leader, and president of the Cem Foundation, a joint mosque-cemevi complex project.

In an interview with the BBC, Doğan said Alevis should not be denied their share from DİB funds and that Alevi religious leaders (dede) should be provided with monthly salaries. All this is closely related to his and the Hizmet movement’s democratic stance.

The Hizmet movement openly disapproved of the coup attempts by Ergenekon and plan to shutter the AKP; lent full support to constitutional amendments which were referred to a vote in the referendum of Sept. 12, 2010; voiced a stentorian demand for a civilian constitution; and rejects all forms of violence. Therefore, the Hizmet movement’s democratic credentials cannot be doubted. Intellectuals and scholars from diverse ideological affinities such as Etyen Mahçupyan, Ahmed Şahin, Mümtaz’er Türköne, Ali Bulaç and Herkül Millas have been freely penning articles for many years in the Zaman daily.

The movement is open to constructive criticism. It is well known that the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) regularly holds meetings to hear these criticisms. Last week, during a negotiation of Turkey’s progress report at the European Parliament, a motion was submitted concerning the Hizmet movement. The motion criticized the government’s meddling with the judiciary while recommending that Hizmet should be more transparent. The movement’s Intercultural Dialogue Platform (KADİP) welcomed the motion.

In the light of the aforementioned, it is a serious blow to democracy, rule of law and human rights advocacy for certain victims of the past, Ergenekon and Workers’ Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek to defame the Hizmet movement.

Source: Todays Zaman , February 21, 2014


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