Why do I take sides

Şahin Alpay
Şahin Alpay


Date posted: March 10, 2014

ŞAHİN ALPAY

Some of my readers at home and also abroad ask me, “Why aren’t you critical of the Gülen movement?” Some surprise me by asking, “Why don’t you avoid taking sides in its conflict with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government?” Answers to these questions are given in the many columns I have written over the last two decades. It seems, however, that it may be proper to briefly expound on my position once more.

I should first of all underline that I am not at all religious, but I am a liberal who has respect for people with religious beliefs as well as non-believers — unlike pro-Kemalist and pro-Marxist hardliners who demand the exclusion of religion from public space and the confinement of religious beliefs to individual consciences. I have respect for Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen because he is one of the very few Muslim scholars in the world who preaches a conception of Islam that is compatible with modernity in the liberal sense — that is democracy, human rights, rule of law, secularism (meaning freedom of belief for all, including atheists and deists), interfaith dialogue, mutual understanding, peace among peoples and an open market economy. I regard the faith-based social movement Gülen has inspired as one of the major civil society forces in Turkey which, through educational, media, business and social solidarity institutions, promotes democratization, socio-economic development and integration with the global community.

I do not attach the slightest credibility to the arguments put forth by those in Turkey who have been charged with violating the law in various ways. Most recently, Erdoğan’s government, which has been implicated in the gravest corruption investigation so far in the history of the country, claims that it is a victim of fabricated charges concocted by the “Fethullahist gang” in the police and the judiciary. This, I judge, is nothing but a conspiracy theory par excellence in the Popperian sense.

In Turkey’s police force and judiciary, there certainly are those who feel an affinity to various political parties and views and who belong to various religious and ethnic groups. It is only natural that there are also those among them who, having graduated from schools operated by the movement, have respect for Gülen’s views. It is possible that among those there are individuals who have violated the law, taking orders not from their superiors but from outside authorities. Such persons have to be identified, put before justice and punished as Gülen and the movement has repeatedly demanded. A witch hunt against the Gülen movement at large, however, has to be opposed by all who are committed to democracy and the rule of law.

Kemalists, Marxists and even Islamists argue that the Gülen movement is “not transparent.” In a highly authoritarian kind of secularist regime like the one in Turkey, I do not understand how a faith-based movement that has established so many educational, media, business and social solidarity institutions can be more transparent than it is. If you demand that those who belong to the movement carry membership cards and that the institutions hang signs saying “This is a Gülen movement establishment” on its doors, then you have to fight for the establishment of a secular regime in the true sense, where the state stands at an equal distance from all religious beliefs; where there is full religious freedom for all; and where all religious groups can have legal personalities and are not subject to continuous profiling, harassment or threats. There can be no plans to finish off the Gülen movement by secretly planting weapons and narcotics on their premises to be later discovered by the police in order to have the movement charged for being a terrorist organization.

The groundless accusations, insults, and threats hurled at Gülen and the movement by secularists as well as Islamic fundamentalists deeply hurt my sense of fairness and justice. How can I be expected to avoid taking sides in the ongoing conflict between the Gülen movement and a government whose legitimacy has become deeply suspect after the revelation of the gravest corruption scandal in the history of the republic?

How can I be expected to avoid taking sides when, in a suffocating environment due to government pressures, media outlets sponsored by the movement allow me and many other like-minded people who advocate a liberal and pluralist democracy to fully express ourselves?

Source: Todays Zaman , March 9, 2014


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