Turkey: Inspiring or insidious


Date posted: May 2, 2011

Delphine Strauss, April 28 2011. Financial Times

In one corner of the courtyard, green-painted railings enclose the tomb of a saint. In another, a pair of 12-year-old boys in spotless white shirts and neatly pressed trousers politely answer visitors’ questions. In Diyarbakir, a city in Turkey’s Kurdish south-east where many children work on the streets or land in jail for throwing stones at security forces, these two have come to prepare for high school entrance exams. Asked what they want to do later, one says “doctor” and the other, grinning, declares “police”.

They are attending a study house run by supporters of Fethullah Gulen – a preacher who has inspired the creation of a vast network of schools and student dormitories that blend academic rigour, especially in the sciences, with a moral education based on Islamic principles.

“It’s not just explaining English or maths – it’s explaining what it means to be a good or bad person,” says the director of Diyarbakir’s 20 study houses. “In this system teachers come to school earlier, become friends with students and care about the relationship….In none of our schools do we teach religion. We tell them what’s right and wrong. We show them good and bad practice, and they decide.”

But in Turkey, opinion is sharply divided between those who see Mr Gulen as a force for social mobility and tolerance, and those who suspect he is insidiously undermining the country’s secular foundations. His followers have been described as “Islamic Jesuits” – and as Turkey’s equivalent of Opus Dei. Yet there is little doubt that the movement he inspires is now an important force shaping Turkish society, part of a broader evolution in which leaders emerging from a religious, business-minded middle class are gradually eclipsing older, fiercely secular, elites.
Mr Gulen – known to his admirers as hocaefendi, or respected teacher – now lives in leafy seclusion in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, nursing ill health and communicating largely though his published writings and speeches. Yet he has a following of millions, easily the most influential of Turkey’s religious communities. This Hizmet (“service”), as its friends call it, has a global reach: businessmen sympathetic to the cause have established schools – from Kazakhstan to Cambodia, the US to Iraq – and are rapidly opening them across Africa.

The professed aim of the schools is to create a “golden generation”, a new elite equipped to succeed in the global economy, while exemplifying faith, virtue and an ethos of serving others. When students graduate, many remain committed to the movement as they take up positions in teaching, business, media and public life.

This commitment and absorption in the life of the community is typical. Almost all supporters also make financial donations – 20 per cent of income is not unusual.

To outsiders, such zeal can inspire both admiration and unease. Secularists worry that Gulen missionaries, once persecuted by the state but now working freely under the rule of the mildly Islamist AK party, will transform Turkish society, increasing pressure to conform to conservative values. But the bigger fear , beyond ideology, is that Gulen followers may be infiltrating state institutions, using their influence to undeclared ends.

With his mild, contemplative expression and neat white moustache, Mr Gulen is not an obvious figure to inspire fear. Born in 1941 in the eastern province of Erzurum, he was largely self-taught after primary school but read voraciously – drawing inspiration from Said Nursi, a thinker who advocated reason, tolerance and distance from politics.

Mr Gulen began his career as an imam in Turkey’s state service, at a time when there appeared to be little choice between extreme conservatism and an extreme secularism that rejected Turkey’s history and religious traditions. Instead, he advanced an interpretation of Islam that stresses tolerance, condemns violence and embraces modernity. He has advocated action to alleviate poverty, promote education and advance dialogue between different religions.

Bill Park at King’s College, London, has described it as a “heady and promising combination of faith, identity, material progress, democratisation and dialogue”.

These messages make Mr Gulen a welcome antidote in the west to more radical ideologues. He has lived in the US since 1999, when he left Turkey under threat of prosecution during a clampdown on Islamists. In contrast to Turkey’s Islamist Milli Gorus movement, whose parties contest elections, Mr Gulen insists he has no political ambitions and preaches respect for authority – advising supporters to waive obligations, such as wearing the Islamic headscarf, if necessary to gain an education in the secular system. When sympathisers enter politics they are told to cut ties, says Mr Balci, the pro-Gulen columnist.

“The Nursi-Gulen tradition doesn’t envision an ‘Islamic state’. It rather seeks a liberal-democratic state that will be tolerant to its missionary work,” Mustafa Akyol, a commentator on religious affairs, wrote last year.

Read the full article at FT.COM as we are not able to publish all of it because of its copyright request.


Related News

Turkish Cultural Center Vermont opened it doors at a ceremony held in Burlington

Turkish Cultural Center Vermont opened it doors at a ceremony held in Burlington on Wednesday with the participation of Governor Peter Shumlin, many state politicians, community members, and businessmen.

The anti-thesis of radical Islam

The Hizmet movement is Turkey’s strongest civil Islamic movement, and it can employ social dynamics to resist the AK Party. The race for the local polls slated for March 30 is between the AK Party and the Hizmet movement, not between the AK Party and other political parties.

So you say Fethullah Gülen is a terrorist?

The Interior Ministry has prepared a list of “terrorists,” showing well-respected Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen among the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members.

US-based think tank says Gülen movement progressive in terms of pro-Kurdish reforms

A US-based think tank has released a report stating that the Gülen (Hizmet) movement, a grassroots civil society organization that has frequently accused government officials of obstructing the settlement negotiations between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has a progressive attitude regarding pro-Kurdish reforms.

Twelve questions Turkey’s journalists can’t ask

Erdoğan was born to a relatively poor family in Rize, along the Black Sea. His father was in the coast guard and worked at sea. Erdoğan at one point even sold snacks on the street to make extra cash. He graduated from a religious school in 1973, and immediately embarked on a political career, eventually becoming first mayor of Istanbul. So here’s the question: How did a man like Erdoğan become a billionaire several times over?

On the internal workings of the Gulen Movement

HAKAN YAVUZ* In general terms, the Gulen movement reflects a new understanding of Islam and modernity from within an Islam that is informed by Anatolian modern history and secular progress: This is a civil Islam that has successfully found fresh ways to inspire social activism through piety. It has modernized the humanistic treasures of Islam […]

Latest News

This notable Pocono resident has been living here in exile since 1999

Logistics companies seized over Gülen links sold in fast-track auction

That is Why the Turkish Government could Pay 1 Billion Euros

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

In Case You Missed It

European Muslims Want Participation, Not Integration: Role of the Gulen Movement

If you do not stand against injustice

How hateful discourse manipulates our perception

‘Humiliating people not allowed in Islam’

Turkey is gateway to Europe: exporters urged to collaborate with Turkish companies

What a shame, what a pity

Who benefits the most from the AKP-Gülen movement rift?

Copyright 2021 Hizmet News