Dialogue and distrust: on the predicament of Gulen-inspired organisations in the UK


Date posted: August 19, 2016

FRANCES SLEAP

Dialogue can be hard work. It is an indisputably good idea for there to be meaningful contact between people of different religious, ideological and cultural groups, but to make that happen where it hasn’t yet happened is no mean feat. Between 2010 and 2014 I worked at the Dialogue Society, with people putting a great deal of serious thought, energy, love, trial and error into this challenge. I have happy memories of sitting at our weekly meeting, armed with note pad and cup of tea, and mulling over various dilemmas. Where exactly should we send our Open Mosque Day and Community Fairs DIY manuals? How could we bring more collaboration out of Community Circles with people of different ethnicities? What projects would we assign Dialogue Studies MA students during their placements with us? What should we cover during a volunteer training day and what would we give them for lunch? Was there a way of getting the publication on the Islamic argument for intercultural respect into the hands of prisoners at risk of radicalisation?

The work goes on, but my friends and former colleagues have an alarming new set of challenges to face in addition to all the endless dialogical dilemmas. The Dialogue Society traces its primary inspiration to the Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, who has motivated thousands of Turks to initiate education, dialogue and relief projects. (I had never heard of Gulen when I applied to work with the Dialogue Society. I came to think of him as responsible for something of the spirit of the organisation – that idea of having not just a chair for everyone in your heart, but a sofa, because a chair is insufficiently comfortable.) The movement he inspired, often called the ‘Gulen Movement’, although it participants prefer ‘Hizmet’ (‘service’), is the target of Turkish government’s crackdown following the attempted coup. The government accused the Movement of orchestrating that assault on democracy, and has since detained over 10,000 people. Amnesty International has raised grave concerns over reports of torture and rape. It was heartbreaking to hear about Gokhan Acikkollu, a diabetic forty-two year old teacher who died in custody after being denied access to the medical care he needed for six days. Sadly the accusations, division and persecution afflicting Turkey are having an impact here. Last month two people went into the Rumi Mosque in Edmonton shouting abuse and threats, and later five or six cars containing others shouting abused, and raised the Turkish flag outside before driving off. They threatened to burn down the mosque. Individuals have received threatening text messages claiming links to the Turkish authorities. Social media posts have called for boycotts of Hizmet organisations, labelled them traitors and terrorists and invited people to report sympathisers to a Presidency Report Hotline. The Centre for Hizmet Studies is trying to keep records of incidents in Europe since the coup attempt.

These events are really worrying. But I am also saddened that the current situation threatens the trust on which my friends’ work depends. I have seen friends in the Dialogue Society and its small, mainly volunteer-run regional branches pouring their time, talents and passion into the work of intercultural understanding and community building year after year. It must be soul-destroying to see the foundations of your work jeopardized by rumours and baseless accusations. I have discovered one more kind of privilege that I possess and hadn’t noticed – the privilege of being taken at face value. No one ever cast aspersions on my motives in working for a dialogue charity, just as no one ever verbally abused me on my way to work there on the basis of my clothing.

I do not know who is responsible for the coup in Turkey and I do not pretend to have a full overview of the tense and polarized politics of that country. I would be pretty astonished if it had anything whatever to do with an elderly preacher in America who consistently advocates democracy. What I know is what Hizmet people have been up to in the UK, because I spent the majority of my waking hours up to it with them between 2010 and 2014, and have remained a friend and occasional volunteer. I know, too, that the Rumi mosque is a model of openness and proactive intercultural community building. For years it has been hosting regular community breakfasts, steadily bringing in more diverse local people to get to know one another better. I saw its new Executive Director, at a Dialogue Society event earlier this year. Having previously met her while she was teaching I was genuinely excited to see her passion for working with the young people involved in the mosque. I find insinuations that UK Hizmet organisations could be connected with any kind of terrorism simultaneously utterly laughable and really upsetting.

If anyone’s reading this who has been led to believe that all Hizmet participants are coup supporters or worse, please consider the possibility that you have been misled, willfully or not. Please consider what the people you have heard being maligned actually do with their time.

“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”

Source: HIzmet Studies , Aug 11, 2016


Related News

Amnesty: Civil society under massive crackdown in Turkey, Gülen movement main target

An annual report released by Amnesty International on Wednesday has said a failed coup attempt in July prompted a massive crackdown on civil society in Turkey and that the faith-based Gülen movement has been the main target.

U.S. Not Persuaded to Extradite Fethullah Gulen Over Turkey Coup

Officials aren’t convinced by evidence against Fethullah Gulen, Pennsylvania-based imam who Turkey says masterminded the failed putsch. U.S. officials don’t expect to extradite an imam Turkey blames for masterminding a failed coup because they aren’t convinced by the evidence Ankara has presented so far and are troubled by threatening public statements from Turkish officials, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Turkish PM Yıldırım names July 15 coup attempt as ‘project’ he did not like

In remarks that fueled suspicions even further that the Turkish government was involved in a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Thursday that July 15 was a “project” he did not like or approve of.

Council of Europe concerned over government’s ‘hasty’ judicial bill

“This was approved in a referendum. To revisit this in a very hasty manner after that long process of consultation and democratization that took place at that referendum raises a lot of questions on why this is being done so quickly and what the aim of it is,” Muiznieks said.

Zaman Stanizai on Fethullah Gulen and Hizmet Movement

Dr. Zaman Stanizai is a Professor of Mythological Studies at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California and he teaches Political Science at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has written on political theory with emphasis on the viability of third world states encountering globalization, and on political identity focusing on the politicization of ethnic, national, and religious identities as a contributing factor in regional and world conflicts.

Minister: Turkey confiscated $4 bln worth of Gülenist property

Some TL 12 billion (about $4 billion) in property has been transferred to the Treasury as part of an investigation into the Gülen movement, said Minister for Environment and Urbanization Mehmet Özhaseki on Thursday. Immediately after the putsch, the government along with Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement without credible evidence.

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

Police raid building Fethullah Gülen resided in 55 years ago

Gülen movement’s silent majority

Germany takes Gülenists off watch list, conducts counterespionage against Ankara – report

‘A very good representative of the best in Islam, Hizmet contributes to the non-Muslim world’s understanding of Islam’

Turkish Community Donates $40,000 To Sandy Damaged Gerritsen Library, Elementary School

Students from Turkish Schools in Thailand Visited the Minister of Trade at His Home

Purge In Turkey Worries Kansas City Emigres

Copyright 2022 Hizmet News