Date posted: June 22, 2013
James C. Harrington, founder [director] of the Texas Civil Rights Project and professor at the University of Texas at Austin Law School, spoke to a crowd of students, lawyers, judges, and local business people about his new book: Wrestling with Free Speech, Religious Freedom, and Democracy in Turkey: The Political Trials and Times of Fethullah Gulen. Harrington discussed recent changes in Turkey’s legal structure as part of the Gulen Institute’s ongoing lecture series, pointing to the result of the Fethullah Gulen trial as a pivotal victory in the nation’s struggle for civil liberties.
Before turning his attention to Turkey’s recent constitutional amendments, James C. Harrington briefly introduced its faltering history of political change: namely, the series of military coup d’états that began in 1960. He suggested that Fethullah Gulen’s indictment can only be properly understood against this backdrop. And considering the historical tensions between democratic rule and military power in Turkey, Harrington considers Gulen’s ultimate acquittal astounding. The verdict should be viewed as a “huge victory for the Turkish people,” Harrington claimed. He then enumerated the various changes to the Turkish legal system that have resulted from the constitutional referendum of 2010, which he praised as “essentially a Bill of Rights” for the country.
Fethullah Gülen started the movement in Turkey in the 1980s as an education and service movement. He created schools that served as alternatives to the Madrassa schools and allowed girls to get an education.
“It [education] is the great leveler in the United States,” says Harrington. Teachers have the most important job in our society.
“The greatest effect that the movement has had in Turkey is democracy,” says Harrington.
Harrington says that the United States could learn from the Gulen Movement to engage in dialogue again.
“We are not engaged right now as a society in dialogue,” says Harrington. “It is awful what is going on.” It may be hard to engage in dialogue, but we need to compromise.