The Public Trial of Fethullah Gulen

Photo credit: BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images
Photo credit: BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images


Date posted: July 20, 2016

The Pennsylvania-based cleric is a leading reformer of moderate Islam — either that, or the head of a dangerous terrorist organization.

DAVID KENNER

The dueling descriptions of Fethullah Gulen often seem to describe two completely different men. To his supporters, the Pennsylvania-based imam is a progressive, tolerant Islamic thinker, who presides over a grassroots organization known as Hizmet (“Service”) that prioritizes education and works to counter radicalization in the Muslim world. To his enemies, he is a shadowy cult leader whose followers are deeply embedded in the Turkish police, judiciary, and military and the head of a terrorist organization bent on toppling the government in Ankara.

Those enemies include Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who accused Gulen of masterminding the recent failed coup against his rule. Erdogan and other senior Turkish officials have said they will demand Gulen’s extradition and that U.S. failure to do so would call the close U.S.-Turkish relationship into question. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Saturday that any country that stood by Gulen “is no friend of Turkey [and] is engaged in a serious war with Turkey.”

Whether U.S. officials move against Gulen depends on which description of the cleric they ultimately endorse. Secretary of State John Kerry has said the United States has not yet received an extradition request for Gulen but will consider “any legitimate evidence” implicating him if it does receive a formal request.

It’s the job of Robert Amsterdam, an attorney working for the Turkish government, to gather evidence of Gulen’s alleged crimes in the United States. “This man is a money-laundering criminal,” Amsterdam told Foreign Policy.

Gulen, he says, is posing as a harmless septuagenarian cleric, while in reality he is cultivating a powerful political network and establishing hundreds of charter schools in the United States that inculcate children with his ideology. “Deception,” Amsterdam said, “is actually part of his cult.”

The offices of a Gulen-linked network of charter schools in Chicago were raided by the FBI in 2014, on accusations that the schools were diverting taxpayer funds to trusted insiders rather than relying on a fair and open bidding process. Amsterdam has filed numerous complaints against other Gulen-linked charter schools across the United States, alleging that they similarly have funneled state and public funds to other Gulenists, which represents an illegal conflict of interest. He has also accused the publicly funded schools of proselytizing, saying that they are working to spread Gulen’s Islamic message among their students.

At the same time, Amsterdam says, Gulen has assiduously cultivated a network of support among U.S. officials at the federal and state levels. An investigation by BuzzFeed in 2014 detailed tens of thousands of dollars in donations by U.S.-based Gulen sympathizers to the movement’s allies in the House of Representatives; last year, USA Today found that the Gulen movement had funded trips to Turkey for more than 200 congressmen and their staffs, in violation of House rules. At times, these political allies seemingly have helped funnel taxpayers’ money to Gulen’s schools: An investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times in 2013 reported that a Gulen-linked charter school, after initially being denied permission to expand its operations, successfully appealed to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to reverse the decision.

“[Gulen] has done an amazing job in the U.S. — you’d think he and his followers have been in the country for 200 years,” Amsterdam said.

For the Turkish government, these charges are just the tip of the iceberg. Erdogan blamed Gulenists embedded in the police for launching a corruption investigation against top government ministers in 2013, a move he described as a coup attempt. Turkish officials now accuse Gulen of running a “parallel state” within the state, essentially trying to co-opt Turkish institutions to his own ends. On May 26, Turkey’s National Security Council officially designated Gulen’s movement as the Gulenist Terror Organization (FETO), on par with other enemies like the Islamic State or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Gulen would face terrorism charges as the leader of this organization if he were extradited to Turkey.

Others, however, denounce such charges as absurd. Graham Fuller, a former CIA station chief in Kabul and researcher, describes Gulen as precisely the sort of moderate Islamic voice that the United States should support. He has long defended Gulen from his critics; in 2006, he wrote a letter to the FBI defending Gulen against attempts to push for his extradition, offering his view that the cleric was a moderate, not dangerous, radical and that he represented no security threat to the United States.

Fuller told FP that he was inspired to write the letter because he had recently finished research for a book on Islamic movements across the globe and had found Gulen to be one of the most inspiring examples he had come across.

Gulen advances an idea “that Islam will prosper and grow through knowledge and education,” he said. “It’s thoroughly modernist, and it wants to bring traditionalist, pious Turks, who went to the mosque all day long, into the educated, cultivated, urbanized, globalized mainstream.”

Gulen’s defenders typically describe him as championing a version of Islam that prioritizes social engagement over attention to the minutia of religious observance and reconciles the faith with universal values.

“Gulen has expanded his focus to embrace appreciation of common values in human life,” Fuller wrote in his book Turkey and the Arab Spring. “These values need not come exclusively from Islam; he perceives similar values in other religions as well, particularly in Judaism and Christianity.”

Gulen’s supporters don’t deny that members of the movement entered Turkish institutions like the judiciary, police, and military. However, they deny that they have done so as a bloc or that they follow orders handed down by the Gulenist movement, saying they act as individuals and should be allowed to participate in public life like all other citizens.

Moreover, Fuller argues that Gulen’s supporters were in no position to be able to launch a coup attempt. Not only has Gulen denied any involvement, he says, but his movement has been targeted by a crackdown from the Turkish state since at least 2013, which has seen many of its media shuttered and its members arrested and removed from positions of authority in Turkish institutions. At a moment of huge weakness, Fuller says, it is unlikely the Gulenists had the capacity to organize such a conspiracy.

“I would be amazed if they had any power within the military to pull off anything like this,” he said.

Nor does he believe the United States will ever accede to the Turkish government’s request to extradite Gulen. The U.S. government examined the cleric closely when it decided to grant him a residency permit in 2008, he says, and determined that the accusations against him were without merit.

“They will have to jump through a lot of judicial hoops to expel Gulen,” Fuller said. “And I don’t think remotely that the Turks are going to be able to come up with any evidence to do this.”

The sole issue that Fuller and Amsterdam agree on, ironically, is Gulen’s sweeping influence. In Fuller’s case, he highlights Gulen’s impact through charter schools and media; Amsterdam notes his U.S. political donations and congressional junkets. “It’s a widespread empire — empire has not been an out-of-place word,” Fuller said of Gulen’s network. “He’s a political actor on the world stage, an international influence peddler,” Amsterdam said.

Whether Gulen is using his influence for good or ill is hard to know. What’s clear enough is that the question could be a central issue in U.S.-Turkish relations for years to come.

Source: Foreign Policy , July 18, 2016


Related News

Erdoğan’s propagandist think tanks

Erdoğan’s government coming after the strongest civic group, the Hizmet movement, in Turkey is not an isolated incident but rather fits a pattern of how Erdoğan defines democracy and how he handles nongovernmental organizations in the country.

Islamic scholar Gülen criticizes Turkish gov’t response to Gezi protests

Gülen said he had heard of Turkish officials’ efforts to “undermine Turkish schools abroad” which are run by his movement in many countries across the world. “Unfortunately, this appetite for destruction pushes all fair limits. These schools were established through the great self-sacrifice of the people of Anatolia,” he said.

Tanzanian students place first in Turkish Olympiad folk dance final

KÜBRA ENGİN, İSTANBUL A group of Tanzanian students won the final round in the 11th International Turkish Olympiad folk dance competition held at the İstanbul Sinan Erdem Sports Complex on Thursday night. Thousands of spectators were thrilled by the performances of foreign students in the folk dance finals as part of the Olympiad, a competition […]

Inspectors finds no flaw in Kimse Yok Mu activities

A report prepared by inspectors assigned by the Interior Ministry earlier this year clearly states that not a single irregularity was discovered in the activities of the charity organization Kimse Yok Mu at the end of an audit carried out by the ministry’s inspectors.

KCK suspect Ersanlı says doesn’t believe Hizmet behind coup, terror trials

Professor Büşra Ersanlı, who is among suspects in an investigation into the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) on terrorism charges, has said she doesn’t believe claims raised by some officials linked with government that the faith-based Hizmet Movement led by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen is behind major trials.

So who’s finished exactly: the Gülen movement or the AKP?

Many writers and thinkers in Turkey, responding to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan crew’s full-scale, state-backed attack on the Gülen movement, noted wisely, “You cannot wipe out that entire sociology.”

Latest News

ECtHR rules Bulgaria violated rights of Turkish journalist who was deported despite seeking asylum

Fethullah Gülen’s Message of Condolences in the Wake of the Western European Floods

Pregnant woman kept in prison for 4 months over Gülen links despite regulations

Normalization of Abduction, Torture, and Death in Erdogan’s Turkey

Turkey’s Maarif Foundation illegally seized German-run school in Ethiopia, says manager

Failed 2016 coup was gov’t plot to purge Gülenists from state bodies, journalist claims

Grondahl: Turkish community strong in wake of threats from back home

Turkish-Kyrgyz educator’s abduction shows Ankara’s ruthless disregard for law: HRW

Kenya: Investigate Deportation of Turkish National

In Case You Missed It

2017 Victoria Parliament Iftar dinner

The 14th Annual International Language and Culture Festival, organized by Raindrop Foundation

Former CHP Chairman Baykal supports joint mosque-cemevi project

‘Erdoğan fights to eliminate Hizmet movement’

Minister Yildirim’s high praise for Fethullah Gulen

Turkish Kimse Yok Mu volunteers staying months to help survivors

PA State Rep. Margo Davidson reflects on her visit to Turkish refugees in Greece

Copyright 2021 Hizmet News