Religious freedom threatened by Turkey’s response to coup


Date posted: August 5, 2016

Michael Swan

Civil service purges and mass arrests in Turkey since a July 15 failed coup attempt are bad news for religious freedom in what has been one of the Muslim world’s most open and democratic societies, said Canada’s former ambassador for religious freedom.

“This current approach by the (Turkish) government in the wake of the coup is quite concerning,” said Andrew Bennett, who now works on religious freedom issues for the Cardus Christian think tank. “But we need to continue to engage Turkey, I believe. The (Canadian) government needs to press the Turks on human rights in a much more active way.”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blamed the Hizmet movement and its spiritual father, Fethullah Gulen, for the attempted military coup. More than 300 people were killed and another 2,100 injured when soldiers tried to take over the Turkish parliament in Ankara and other key institutions.

Two Turkish-Canadians with ties to Hizmet, including Calgary imam Davud Hanci, are among thousands who have been arrested in the wake of the coup.

Hizmet, which means “service” in Turkish, reflects Gulen’s modern take on the mystical Sufi Muslim tradition. In Canada, Hizmet followers have founded the Intercultural Dialogue Institute, which hosts interfaith events in several Canadian cities and conducts study tours of Turkey. The IDI has been an important partner for the Archdiocese of Toronto’s ecumenical and interfaith affairs office. Gulen followers also operate private schools in Toronto for Turkish students.

From his self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, Gulen has disavowed any association with the coup attempt. “My philosophy — inclusive and pluralist Islam, dedicated to service to human beings from every faith — is antithetical to armed rebellion,” Gulen wrote for The New York Times.

When the Turkish government starts clamping down on a particular strand of Islam, it can only further marginalize other religious minorities, including Christians, Jews and Alevis, said Bennett.

“Religious freedom needs to be understood as a foundational freedom,” Bennett said. “We’ve seen in other countries, once religious freedom is increasingly curtailed you generally find other freedoms curtailed as well — freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly.”

Intercultural Dialogue Institute executive vice president Fatih Yegul is not surprised Erdogan is clamping down on Hizmet.

“It has been three years now that (Erdogan) has been fueling this hatred and anger against Mr. Gulen,” Yegul said. “Whatever goes bad in Turkey, he’s got his scapegoat.”

At least 6,000 people have been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of being associated with Hizmet and Gulen. Close to 3,000 military personnel, 2,700 judges and thousands of teachers and university academics have been fired.

Turkish-Canadian Ilhan Erdem, who worked in Turkey for Hizmet-inspired schools in Toronto, was arrested in Istanbul before boarding a plane to Canada, as was Hanci. Hanci is accused of being Gulen’s right hand.

Erdem is “not an imam in the common meaning of someone running a mosque,” said Yegul. Hanci rarely visits the United States and is not known to have any personal relationship with Gulen, said Yegul. He is a prison chaplain working in the federal and provincial systems in Alberta.

Global Affairs Canada has provided consular assistance to Hanci and is “aware that a second Canadian citizen is being detained in Turkey. Canadian consular officials are in contact with local authorities and are providing consular assistance to the family,” wrote a spokesperson for Global Affairs in an e-mail.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion has spoken with Turkey’s ambassador to Canada to express concern over apparent violations of human rights. Contacted by The Catholic Register about the specifically religious character of the campaign against Hizmet, government spokespeople limited their comments to human rights in general.

Official narrowing of Muslim religious expression is just one aspect of a society that is shutting out unwanted voices, particularly Western voices, said Yegul.

“In Turkey, you have to understand, there’s only one voice now,” he said. “One cannot challenge the rhetoric coming from the government and the media controlled by it.” Ever since Ottoman rule, even secularist governments established by Kemal Ataturk have regarded religious diversity as a threat to national unity. The Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs, a branch of the government, distributes Friday sermons to all licensed imams in Turkey. Imams in the overwhelmingly Muslim country (99.8 per cent) are technically civil servants and can be dismissed by the government.

“It has always been the Sunni Muslim ideology, that’s always been the dominant thing,” said Yegul. “But with these new developments for the past three years — with the government purging and putting pressure on free media, putting pressure on freedom of expression, etc. — one interpretation of Sunni Islam is becoming more and more dominant. Which of course can be interpreted as a threat against freedom of religion.”

Freedom of religion has always been tenuous for Turkish Christians and Jews, who have had their properties seized by the state, said Bennett.

In Gulen’s interpretation of Sufi Islam, interfaith dialogue is a central goal. His followers in Canada have found fertile soil in the context of official multiculturalism.

Source: Catholic Register , August 4, 2016


Related News

Thousands pay final respects to Gülen’s brother in Erzurum

Seyfullah Gülen, who died at the age of 72 on Friday and was the brother of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, was laid to rest in a funeral attended by thousands of people in the eastern province of Erzurum on Sunday.

Turkey’s failed coup has spread to the classroom in EU states

What really annoyed the Dutch government, however, was when the Turkish consul general sent a letter to local authorities in the Netherlands advising them how to curb public protests opposing the government in Ankara. That brought a coldly dismissive response from foreign minister, Bert Koenders: “The Netherlands deals with Dutch society and that has nothing to do with the Turkish government.”

Despite blocking accounts, Kimse Yok Mu able to collect donations

Despite the latest step in a government crackdown on Turkey’s UN-affiliated aid organization, Kimse Yok Mu, in which two banks blocked the organization’s accounts, administrators for the charity have said they are still able to collect money through their other accounts.

Cancer patient arrested over Gülen links shortly after surgery

A woman in the southern Turkish province of Antalya who underwent surgery a month ago has been arrested on terrorism charges due to her alleged links to the Gülen movement.

Arınç calls Gülen’s extradition request a ‘political move’

Speaking to journalists following the Cabinet meeting on Monday, Arınç added that he does not know how US would react to this political request. Admitting that there is no legal base for Gülen’s extradition, the deputy prime minister said that without the necessary documents, evidence and a court order, it is not possible to get someone extradited from a country.

Fatih University graduates receive Feb. 28-like treatment at İstanbul University

Some graduates of the İstanbul-based Fatih University, affiliated with the faith-based Hizmet movement, have become the latest victims of the battle launched by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government against the movement, as they have been subjected to apparent discrimination during post-graduate interviews at state-run İstanbul University, reminiscent of the days of the Feb. 28 military coup.

Latest News

Fethullah Gülen’s Condolence Message for South African Human Rights Defender Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Hizmet Movement Declares Core Values with Unified Voice

Ankara systematically tortures supporters of Gülen movement, Kurds, Turkey Tribunal rapporteurs say

Erdogan possessed by Pharaoh, Herod, Hitler spirits?

Devious Use of International Organizations to Persecute Dissidents Abroad: The Erdogan Case

A “Controlled Coup”: Erdogan’s Contribution to the Autocrats’ Playbook

Why is Turkey’s Erdogan persecuting the Gulen movement?

Purge-victim man sent back to prison over Gulen links despite stage 4 cancer diagnosis

University refuses admission to woman jailed over Gülen links

In Case You Missed It

Turkish journalist tells Staten Island group about censorship in his country

Municipality illegally demolishes building in İstanbul

9-year-old Turkish girl drowns while trying to cross Evros River

Hizmet contribution to global peace discussed in Addis Ababa

Teachers, parents oppose Pak-Turk Schools takeover

Hate crimes get worse in Turkey

How It Feels to Be a Dissident in Turkey After the Failed Military Coup

Copyright 2024 Hizmet News