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

What do people say about corruption, gov’t and Hizmet?

Do you find the corruption operation right? Yes: 60.5 percent. No: 26.5 percent. No answer: 13 percent. Do you believe in claims that some ministers were involved in corruption? Yes: 70.1 percent. No: 16.8 percent. No answer: 13.1 percent. Do you think the government is trying to cover up claims of corruption? Yes: 59.7 percent. No: 29.6 percent. No answer: 10.7 percent.

Fethullah Gulen on a Global Scale

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.

‘Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons’

Erdoğan has believed that Mr. Fethullah Gülen and the Hizmet movement are the only ones left that could challenge his power and prevent him from becoming president.

Gülen has been awarded an honorary doctorate by Leeds Metropolitan University

Turkish Muslim scholar, educator and peace activist, M. Fethullah Gülen, has been awarded an honorary doctorate by Leeds Metropolitan at the University’s Summer Graduation celebrations for his contribution to education, peace making and intercultural dialogue. Through his teachings and work, Fethullah Gülen has initiated and inspired a transnational civil society movement to invest in education […]

Is the Gulen Movement an alternative to the state?

Some say, “You [Gülen Movement] are acting as the honorary ambassadors, counselors, and attachés, are you the alternative to the state? My answer is as follows: If some people are taking care of the business in the places where you cannot reach, you have to only admire and compliment them.

PBS airs story on Gülen movement

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) program Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly featured a story on the Gülen movement on Friday, quoting well-respected American observers, as well as the movement’s members and admirers. The 10-minute-long story by PBS correspondent Luck Severson gave information on the movement, which is a group of volunteers engaged in interfaith and intercultural dialogue […]

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

Fethullah Gulen and February 28th Military Coup

Gülen becomes litmus test for American media

Turkey’s purges continue a year after failed coup

NTA Tuesday Live on Turkish Hizmet Movement in Nigerian

Daily Sabah rehashes decades-old, refuted claims against Gülen

Five new mosque-cemevi projects on the way

Turkic American Convention kicks off with opening gala cruise

Copyright 2022 Hizmet News