Supporters of Saylorsburg Muslim cleric say protesters have got it all wrong

M. Fethullah Gulen
M. Fethullah Gulen


Date posted: July 12, 2013

Jenna Ebersole

Protesters planning a trip to Saylorsburg on Saturday are bringing an internal Turkish issue to the American streets, a representative from an organization connected with Fethullah Gülen said Thursday.

A Turkish couple in Florida began organizing the protest about two weeks ago. It is set for 1 p.m. in front of Gülen’s home and retreat center on Mount Eaton Road. A Facebook page for the event listed about 430 people planning to attend as of Thursday.

The controversial Turkish cleric has millions of followers but has also faced critics who accuse him of trying to turn Turkey into an Islamic regime. Protesters said he has a secret agenda for America and is the puppeteer behind the current leader in Turkey.

Alp Aslandogan, president of the Alliance for Shared Values, said Thursday he recognizes the right to protest but hopes that it remains peaceful.

“We support their freedom of expression,” he said, adding though that the retreat center is on private property.

Peaceful co-existence

The alliance is an umbrella group for other interfaith and humanitarian organizations, Aslandogan said. It is inspired by Gülen, the terminology preferred by groups associated with the Gülen movement globally.

Aslandogan said that in its many years in Saylorsburg, the center has never seen a protest.

“They have had a very good relationship with their neighbors,” he said.

Aslandogan is an American citizen from Turkey who lives in New Jersey and has spent time locally.

“In a sense, we see ourselves as part of the Pocono community,” he said.

He said the protesters actually appear anti-American in statements made in Turkish online despite their opposite claims.

Protesters also expressed suspicion about U.S. charter schools affiliated with Gülen. But Aslandogan said they are non-religious, composed mainly of Americans, and highly successful.

Provokes passions

He said he was also puzzled by the protesters’ linking of Gülen and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the protests in major Turkish cities.

“He was actually critical of the way the government handled the situation,” Aslandogan said, which included tear gas from police.

Gülen is not a political figure, but rather a man who promotes values that could overlap indirectly with some political parties, Aslandogan said.

The problem often in the American interpretation of the issue is a misunderstanding of secularism in Turkey, he said, which he said means something different to Turks.

Gülen followers agree with secularism’s meaning in the West, the separation of church and state, he said. But Turkish secularists are against religion generally, he said.

Nicole Guven is a Honesdale resident whose husband is Turkish. She spent time in Istanbul in 2011 with an English newspaper.

Guven said that in general, Turks are very passionate one way or the other about Gülen. Pennsylvanians in Turkey are often asked whether they know him.

The central conflict, she said, is between a secular and religiously conservative Turkey. In striving to break with religion in politics, women before the current party came into power could not attend college or work for the government if they wore headscarves.

Secular Turks have become concerned about a perceived Islamization with the current regime, she said.

“So the measures that we may see as oppressive can also be viewed as necessary for the country to remain a secular democracy,” she said in an email.

No terror ties

Gülen was once accused of trying to install an Islamic regime, Guven said, though he has had no connection with terrorism.

Guven said she personally supports a secular Turkey, but protesters’ accusations about his continued control likely go too far, as does the goal of expelling him.

“What’s great about this country, though, is that the man is allowed to practice his religious beliefs here and will not be persecuted for it,” she said. “Even if I don’t agree with his politics or religious beliefs, that doesn’t mean I should persecute him.”

Source: PoconoRecord , July 12, 2013


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