Moderate Muslims Find Voice and Spotlight in Worldwide Gulen Movement


Date posted: December 7, 2010

Jim Buie

Those who’ve foolishly claimed on this blog that there’s “no such thing as a moderate Muslim” and expressed their Islamophobia should by now be fully aware of if not confronted by their own ignorance and bigotry.

Did they notice that the very influential Turkish imam, thinker and writer Fetullah Gulen was quick to speak out in the WSJ against the Turkish flotilla heading to Gaza because it didn’t first “get permission of Israel”? Probably not. It doesn’t fit into their world view that there’s a clash of civilizations and religious war between Islam and Judeo-Christians.

Are Americans even aware of Gulen and his growing worldwide influence? His story certainly punctures the simplistic and narrow-minded paradigm through which many Americans since 9/11 are accustomed to viewing the one billion adherents of Islam. Since most Americans don’t know any Muslims, their impressions have been shaped by negative media coverage.

Maybe Gulen’s volunteer-inspired movement will change that, and help create a much more positive impression of Islamists in America and the West in general. Gulen emphasizes moderation, healthy living, devotion to work and family, dialogue with Christians and Jews, and prudence — values many Americans share.

The New York Times did a piece, “Turk Who Leads a Movement Has Advocates and Critics”, and Time magazine published a quite flattering article called, “The Turkish Imam and His Global Educational Mission”. In 2008, Foreign Policy magazine named him “the world’s top public intellectual.” In Today’s Zaman, political scientist Dogu Ergil “answers 100 questions about Fethullah Gulen and His Movement.”

The U.K. Guardian has posted an informative five-minute video on Gulen schools and the Gulen Movement, and an audio report, “Turkey’s most powerful man: Does the movement inspired by Fetullah Gulen represent a modern brand of Islam or a subtle attempt to infiltrate religion into secular Turkey?” Reporter Riazat Butt notes in her podcast that there are 300 Gulen schools in Turkey, and 600 schools internationally in 100 countries.

Gulen, now living in Pennsylvania, is called a “modernizer of Islam,” with six million supporters worldwide. For very conservative Muslims, Gulen is too secular; for very secular if not atheistic Turks, he’s too religious. But for many Turks, his theology is just right. And the Gulen-inspired movement is helping to build the sphere of influence of Turks around the world — leading a kind of Islamic reformation.

The world-wide Gulen Movement emphasizes education, with hundreds of Turkish schools around the world, including the U.S. Shortly after I arrived here in Kayseri, Turkey, I was invited if not begged to teach English at two private Gulen schools here. Never mind that I was a Christian from America — the students welcomed me with open arms, standing up and applauding me when I entered classrooms every day for the first few months I taught.

I felt challenged: would an American school be so open, so quickly and easily invite a Muslim Turk to teach? Judging from some New Yorkers’ uninformed questions about moderate Islam and bigoted reactions to the proposed construction of mosques (“Heated Opposition to Proposed Mosque,” NYT), I have to surmise that many Americans need to open their minds and educate themselves about moderate Islam and the Gulen movement.

A xenophobic and paranoid article in The American Thinker, “Islamic Gulen Movement Runs U.S. Charter Schools,” calls the Gulen Movement “secretive” and “conspiratorial.” Hardly. All the author had to do was a web search to find more information than anyone can digest. The article then makes the hysterical leap that Americans should unite to oppose Turkish “religious political indoctrination in American publicly financed education” without the slightest idea what the curriculum is or how these schools operate on the local level. This is bigotry pure and simple. (See, “A Misguided Crusade Against Pious Turks in the U.S.,” by Ali Aslan in Today’s Zaman.)

The sad part is that Americans, especially culturally conservative Americans, could find much to admire in Turks’ commitment to “traditional values.” They can help Americans reclaim values that have certainly diminished in the last half-century. Gulen schools emphasize close relationships between students and teachers and parents; a tight-knit community around the school; strict standards of personal behavior (no drinking, no smoking, no drugs). Students are generally far more respectful of teachers than they are in some American schools.

You couldn’t find a nicer or more generous group of teachers and students than I’ve met here in Kayseri. I wrote about my experiences on retreat, “15 Turkish Educators, All Muslims, and One American Christian, on Pilgrimage Together to ‘City of Prophets.’ ” In my experience, there’s nothing to be afraid of from Gulen-inspired schools in America, any more than there would be from British-inspired or French-inspired or any “international schools” in America, which have operated for generations.

But then, Brits and Frenchies are also furiners, so maybe ‘Merica should rid itself of all furin influence and kick out everyone who ain’t of native ‘Merican ancestry. To heck with the notion that America is a melting pot, a nation of immigrants that finds strength in its diversity and multi-cultural heritage.

Source: Original blog may be found at http://jimbuie.blogs.com/journal/2010/06/moderate-muslims-find-voice-and-spotlight-in-worldwide-gulen-movement.html

Jim Buie is an American Journalist and Teacher Living in Turkey.

 


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