Hizmet, forming a party and capturing the state!

Dr. Ihsan Yilmaz
Dr. Ihsan Yilmaz

Date posted: February 15, 2012

During the recent political crisis surrounding the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the judiciary, the police, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Hizmet movement, a few pro-AKP writers have implied that Hizmet has been interfering with politics. Unfortunately, these writers do not appear to have any idea of a proper and well functioning democracy, and this worries me.

Dr. Ihsan Yilmaz, 15 February 2012

Since the beginning of my academic career and as a columnist for the last five years, I have argued that the formerly Islamist AKP rulers have jettisoned their once state-centric, Jacobinist, top-down, intolerant, exclusive and anti-secular politics which fused Islam and daily politics and claimed to engage in politics on behalf of Islam. I have also argued that they have instead changed their normative framework and developed an understanding of an Anglo-Saxon, passively secular democracy in which they would be practicing Islam in their daily lives but would not directly mix religion and politics.

Nevertheless, the arguments, claims and rhetoric of these ostensibly pro-AKP writers create question marks in my head now. They are not too many so I am not overly concerned, but it is better that the AKP leaders clarify the issue and help people to have an informed and healthy discussion in the public sphere so that their ideology is not hijacked by these writers, who are more royalist than the king.

Particularly since the June 12, 2011 landslide election victory in which the AKP received 50 percent of the vote and given that the military is no longer seen as capable of staging a coup thanks to the sacrificial and heroic efforts of both the police and the judiciary, supported by the AKP government, these writers have now started implying that the AKP should not be criticized. They maintain that if people would like to criticize it, they should form a political party and challenge the AKP. They also say that Hizmet should not try to influence politics, arguing that if it wants to do so it must also establish a party. I was even told by an ostensibly pro-AKP person that before the elections the AKP was criticized but, despite this, the AKP received 50 percent of the vote and so everybody should therefore respect the “will of the nation” and remain silent.

I do not claim that these are the inner voices of the AKP leaders, but to prevent confusion it is better that they make satisfactory declarations, emphasizing that as long as there is no insult, they welcome criticism — even harsh criticism — from not only individuals, but also civil society institutions, religious groups and faith-based movements, just like any Western democratic party.

Some of these writers also claim that Hizmet does not have any right to interfere with or try to influence politics. First of all, Hizmet is a voluntary movement without neatly defined borders, a hierarchy, central organization or membership. It is based on hearts, minds, volunteer work and donations by people from all walks of life. It has only one spokesperson and representative, Fethullah Gülen. There are of course several organizations, schools, charities and media outlets that are affiliated with the movement, and they employ professional staff, who are salaried. But they can only represent their own institutions if they are in managerial positions. Writers, columnists, journalists and academics working in these institutions are not engaged in social, intellectual and political life on behalf of the movement. They only represent themselves. Sometimes they may agree on certain points so that one can faintly deduce the stand of the movement, but this is not definitive and binding for the movement as a whole.

It is utterly legitimate and legal for these individuals to participate in the public sphere, voice their concerns and criticisms and “interfere” in politics. This is how it happens in the democratic world. As long as they do not claim to do this on behalf of Hizmet, they cannot be said to be voicing Hizmet’s concerns. Political parties do not have to listen to them. However, just as in any democratic setting, they are entitled to their freedom of speech and association, views and political activities, all of which can legitimately be done with or without forming a political party. The political parties do not have to care what they do or what they say but they cannot ask them to stop or shut up. If the parties want their votes, they can engage with them — or they can turn a blind eye. Another important issue that comes up in discussions is the allegation that Hizmet is capturing the state. First, according to our Constitution, no one can be forced to openly express their views, faith and ideology. So, unless they openly say that they are volunteers of Hizmet, we can never know who these bureaucrats are. Second, loving and respecting Gülen are not crimes, nor is being a participant in the Hizmet movement. Third, the state has several intelligence organizations, and whoever commits a crime must be punished. If some bureaucrats do not obey the politicians, they must be sacked. If they are not capable of doing their jobs, they must be demoted. Legality, legitimacy and meritocracy must rule in the bureaucratic world.

If we are afraid that the state might be captured by members of Hizmet, we must transform our juggernaut state into a less dangerous one by fully employing the EU criteria, making the state transparent and accountable, shrinking it, decentralizing its power and having strict meritocratic criteria in terms of employing bureaucrats. Whoever does not support these democratic principles we can then suspect of wanting to capture the state. As far as I am aware, the people who are associated with Hizmet have been advocating all these, vehemently demanding a new constitution and saying they will support the AKP if it decides to speed up these reforms.

Source: http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist-271536-hizmet-forming-a-party-and-capturing-the-state.html

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