Hizmet and current political debates in Turkey

The Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV)
The Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV)

Date posted: April 12, 2012

The Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), whose honorary chairman is well-respected Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, released a statement on its website on Thursday explaining the stance of the Hizmet [service] movement (also know as Gulen movement) inspired by Gülen as a civilian one with no political ambitions. The association’s statement comes in response to recent allegations in the Turkish media that the movement is in the midst of a power struggle with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and that members of the movement are “infiltrating” top state institutions. Below is the full translation of the statement.

Different opinions and views have recently been offered on such delicate issues as tension between the political administration and the Gülen movement and the involvement of this movement in politics. Turkey is a nation that is undergoing democratization, and it is only natural for the public, as part of a democratic nation, to have such discussions. On the other hand, those who support the Hizmet movement (as defined by the followers of the Gülen movement) are open to constructive criticism and see it as a duty to listen to that criticism and benefit from it. However, to make the ongoing discussion more useful, it is essential to employ the relevant notions properly and rely on more accurate information on the issues pertinent to the people.

The discussions over the social charity and service movement inspired by the views and ideas of Fethullah Gülen, which defines itself as the “Hizmet movement,” are not peculiar to Turkey. A number of works and accounts have been done in a number of countries over the last decades to properly identify Hizmet and Fethullah Gülen, the epicenter of this movement. From this perspective, our intellectual world could be said to be late in raising a comprehensive discussion on the meaning and position of the global phenomenon called Hizmet.

Another problem is that because of unpleasant past experiences, Turkey has never witnessed the existence of a transparent environment of criticism and discussion. As a result of long-standing guardianship, even the intellectual discussions in Turkey have demonstrated that such discussions suffered from flaws, misleading information, wrong assessments, exaggerations, false observations and errors. As a result of the lack of free discussion and public negotiation, isolated mental ghettos have emerged; these ghettos have become accustomed to existing in their own compartments and remain distant to other lifestyles. It has become almost impossible to initiate a proper discussion on matters relevant to religious practices and notions. As a result, improper discussions have been raised without properly defining key notions such as order, faith, community and the religious precepts and practices that constitute the backbone of a discussion on religious matters.

For this reason, considering the recent discussions, it becomes necessary to elaborate on some matters and notions. To this end, a number of questions could be raised in respect to the movement. But I think it would be proper to offer answers and responses to the following questions first:

What is Hizmet and what is its main goal? Does this volunteer movement have a political stance? What are the values and rules that Hizmet takes as a reference in political life?

In the second stage, there are more concrete questions to be asked and answered:

• Hizmet and political expectations
• Hizmet and the Justice and Development Party
• Does Hizmet have “men” within the state?
• Is there a crisis between the movement and the AK Party?
• The position of Hizmet vis-à-vis the ongoing judicial and bureaucratic processes
• Hizmet and freedom of the press

What is Hizmet [movement]?

Hizmet is a civil society movement inspired by faith which seeks to create a culture of coexistence within universal humanistic values and is composed volunteers.
Hizmet is a society of volunteers. The precondition for volunteerism is to make a contribution without the expectation of anything in return. Put a different way, whoever does his service with expectations would not be acting in concert with the spirit of Hizmet.

The second point is civilian ground. Hizmet is a civilian movement. And as a civilian movement, it is not part of an official program, political party or agenda. Likewise, this civil movement is not opposed to or an opponent of any political agenda or party. In the final analysis, political scientists base the definition of a civilian movement on three main elements: It must be voluntary, autonomous and nongovernmental. A social movement that fulfills these three criteria is considered a civil society movement and deserves to be called such. For this reason, whoever seeks to identify part of a political agenda with reference to Hizmet would act against the spirit of this civilian movement. Likewise, as a result of its civilian character, there is no official bond between the adherents of the movement, and there is no hierarchy among the followers.

At this point, the discussions on the relationship between this society and politics in particular should be carefully analyzed. Arguments suggesting that Hizmet is associated with a political party or the supporter of a political movement are not acceptable to the fundamentals of the movement. Those who are inspired by Hizmet are respectful of all political movements that do not rely on terror and violence, which are rejected by universal legal standards. However, they never consider integration or strong detachment from any of such political movements.

The growing respect for Hizmet and its increasing popularity is attributable to its civilian character. If these people associated with the Hizmet movement had been involved in acts that violated this character or acted as part of political or official programs, they would not have been praised at different levels of various cultures.
The critical point here is this: As in any other social movement, some members or adherents of the Hizmet movement may act in contravention of the main understanding and core values of the movement. However, these mistakes cannot be attributed to Hizmet. If that mistake bears some legal consequences or liabilities, the relevant tool or mechanism to be consulted is law and legal process.

This discussion is being made to make a humble contribution to the ongoing discussions in Turkey. Because there has been a discussion on the Hizmet movement in Turkey for some time, Turkish politics and its agenda have been taken as the main reference in this evaluation. For this reason, it would be misleading to conclude that Hizmet is a Turkish-based movement. Of course, from a historical and sociological perspective, Hizmet originated in Turkey, but the values and the understanding it represents are universal.

Which political parties does Hizmet support?

Unlike official structures, Hizmet, as a civilian movement, provides no instruction on such issues as voting or political preference. The influence of such orders or instructions in a civilian movement is limited and risky. But of course, sociologically, it is possible to talk about the impact of the values and overall tendency of this voluntary association of people, and those who consider this influence may make some inferences based on these tendencies. For instance, the adherents of this movement do not endorse any action that would undermine democracy and do not respect extraordinary regimes.

However, the interaction or communication between Hizmet and individual adherents does not take place directly or by way of instruction. On the contrary, the individuals make inferences based on the overall stance of Hizmet.

After this introduction, it should be noted that since the movement’s inception, the principles that set the framework for the approach of the association of volunteers known as the Hizmet movement towards political parties are obvious. They either did or did not lend their support to political parties based on these principles and the political stances and actions of these parties, and this will remain the case in the future as well. The critical point here is the values that are paid attention to rather than the political identities of the parties. For this reason, the volunteers of Hizmet may extend support to the actions of parties promoting certain values.

It is possible to define the main framework for the values that determine the primary approach of Hizmet towards political parties as follows: democratization, ensuring religious freedoms, the meeting of well-respected international standards set by international institutions including the European Union, and expending efforts to promote the rule of law and human rights and freedoms. To this end, it is possible for the Hizmet movement to lend support to those political parties that engage in politics to reach the said goals.

It should be recalled that in this definition, there is no single reference to an organic bond between the movement and political parties. As long as it conducts a policy that does not contradict the general tendencies and values of the people or rely on violence and terror, a political party may be supported by the volunteers of Hizmet.

The people who are inspired by this movement from the beginning have always taken a position by which they expressed support for the democratization of Turkey and the promotion of universal values. Hizmet has always taken into consideration the expectations of the Turkish people for further democracy in Turkey in the fields of religious freedoms, use of the Kurdish language, the rights of religious minorities, EU membership and a civilian constitution. It should also be recalled that Hizmet has never lowered its standards of democracy and human rights below universal standards in the field of democratization; it has mobilized its resources for a democratic and civilian Turkey without any preconditions. Hizmet has never paid attention to any discourse that would introduce hardships to the country during its progress towards adoption of universal democratic standards, including those set by the EU.

Likewise, the dynamism that the large masses have acquired in the improvement of democracy in Turkey was due to the efforts of Hizmet. The movement has made extensive and historic contributions to political actors out of its influence upon the people in addressing the Kurdish question and the fulfillment of EU reforms. However, during this process, it has never sought to acquire power or become part of the political administration. Politics is an important practice and establishment; however, the role Hizmet and civil society organizations play in the internalization of democracy at the grassroots level should be acknowledged.

From a similar perspective, the fact that the friends of Hizmet have political preferences to promote democratization and human rights does not necessarily mean they are linked to a political party. In their preferences, they extend support to a political party for policies that promote and protect certain values.

Therefore, in the event the political party they previously supported lowers its democratic standards, the adherents of Hizmet would inevitably withdraw their support.

The relation between Hizmet and politics as explained above fits well with models in advanced democracies. Individuals and civil society organizations extend support to political parties because of the values they promote. Not all individuals or members of civil society groups are ardent supporters of a political party, and they vote for a party because they support their policies, not because they are strongly linked to these parties. This balanced setting in the relationship between Hizmet and parties is actually an assurance for the entire society. The ability of movements such as Hizmet to support parties because of their policies and to withdraw that support when necessary should be seen as an assurance. It should be recalled that one of the lessons that Middle East politics teaches us is as follows: The engagement of social movements with political parties, administrators or governments and their decisive stance to support them regardless of whether they lower their standards of human rights and democratization have always led to political crises.

Hizmet and AK Party

From a more concrete perspective, the current discussions also focus on the relationship between Hizmet and the AK Party. Conflicting arguments are raised with respect to the relationship between the movement and the ruling party in Turkey. Before commenting on Hizmet’s approach towards the AK Party, it is necessary to stress one point: that Hizmet’s approach towards political parties did not start with the AK Party. The movement’s view on politics was drafted well before the emergence of the AK Party; and Hizmet developed its stance vis-à-vis the AK Party in consideration of its general approach towards politics, as explained above.

The approach of the movement in relation to the Hizmet-AK Party discussions is obvious. It is a reality of this last decade that during the AK Party administration bold steps were taken and courageous reforms were introduced in the field of democratization and expansion of fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey. It will be unfair to ignore the contribution of the AK Party in this field. Hizmet has always been supportive of all political parties and movements exerting an effort to improve the image of the country, and that is also true for the AK Party. In recent times, the AK Party and its top executives took bold steps at critical junctures. In turn, they attracted a great deal of popular support in elections. The reason Hizmet appreciates the contributions of the AK Party is its visible contribution to the attainment of democracy, the protection of human rights and the abolishment of the regime of guardianship.

Today, Hizmet asks for nothing from the AK Party other than the preservation of the agenda of democratization. Like everyone else seeking democratization, the major political expectation that Hizmet holds is consolidation of democracy and greater emphasis upon dealing with the pro-guardianship circles within the state. Hizmet asks for nothing from the AK Party other than these goals that serve all the people in the country.

On the other hand, successes cannot be attributed to only one political party or group. This is why it should be noted that in addition to the decisiveness of the political administration, the sensitivity and responsible action of civil society organizations has also played a determinative role in these efforts that have attracted the support and appreciation of the people during the AK Party’s terms in office. This is also why it is essential to acknowledge the role, in addition to the contribution by the political administration, played by all others, including teachers, laborers, lawyers, directors, journalists, intellectuals and businessmen who contributed to the process. The constructive developments in the present time in Turkey should be seen as outcomes of the sacrifices that the people have made without expecting anything in return for years.

A Rift between Hizmet and the AK Party?

In his sermons, speeches, articles and other works during a period of more than 40 years, Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi has always sported a human-centric approach, stressed the importance of the rule of law, pointed out that democracy is a road of no return, tried to reinforce moral values in society, noted that education and dialogue activities form the basis of social consensus and development, and he has provided practical examples of how these principles can be put into practice. A detailed examination of his speeches and books will reveal that Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi diligently keeps away from the tiniest attitude that may lead to a crisis for the nation or the state as he would refrain from a cardinal sin. Mr. Gülen rejects any tumult that may lead to social or political crises and advises harmony, stability, serving the society, and good conduct to the people who listen to his counsel. In his sermons, he tells the faithful to be “without hands against those who strike them and without speech against those who curse them.” More clearly, he suggests that individuals should make personal sacrifices for the sake of safety and peace of the nation instead of fomenting crises over personal matters. This approach preached by Mr. Gülen and Hizmet epitomizes their well-advertised principle of “being in the foreground in service and in the background in seeking rewards for such service.”

In this context, the crisis which some groups persistently market as a crisis between the AK Party and the “Community” as part of a recent confrontation between the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the judiciary is completely outside the agenda and area of interest of Hizmet. Contrary to oft-voiced claims, Hizmet is not party to this crisis. Furthermore, the involvement of people who are inspired by Mr. Gülen’s ideas in these debates is not endorsed in any way. At a time when people should act in unison to tackle the country’s serious problems, it is wrong to imagine Hizmet as adding fuel to the crises. For more than 40 years, in the face of the threats that may disrupt the social order such as dissension and anarchy, Mr. Gülen has consistently advised self-possession and discretion to the people who are inspired by his ideas.

The groups that criticized Mr. Gülen of being an excessive supporter of the state in the past are now accusing him of fomenting a crisis that would trouble the state. This fundamental contradiction of the groups who spurt out various claims about a “crisis between the Community and the AK Party” must always be kept in mind. Indeed, those who accused him of “seeking to establish a Shariah-based state” in the past were also quick to denounce him by saying he was “trying to Christianize the country.” We cannot afford to overlook these and similar inconsistencies in the claims made about Mr. Gülen at various times in the past.

Yet it is crystal clear that, as usual, there are certain ulterior motives behind the efforts to give the impression that the members of the police department and the judiciary who are supposed to perform their duties under the law are connected to mosques. It is both dangerous and a primitive effort to make people targets of criticism solely due to their identity, skin color, and religious or philosophical affiliation instead of the quality of how they perform their duties and the values they represent. It is also a breach of fundamental human rights to label people or groups as dangerous solely due to their philosophical beliefs. Thus, declaring a person as dangerous just because s/he respect Hizmet is a violation of basic human rights.

The actors who advocate democratization in Turkey as well as those who oppose it did not emerge only recently. In other words, the attitudes and possible claims of the actors in our political history, which spans the last two centuries, are well known. Accordingly, it is not hard to understand the real motive behind the current attacks against public servants whom they associate with the “Community”: to weaken the political willpower by creating friction between Hizmet and the AK Party, and to inhibit Hizmet’s civil society activities.

Indeed, such a rift between Hizmet and the AK Party is what would suit the plans of the advocates of the regime of tutelage in Turkey. At this point, how the groups who today rejoice over any potential rift between Hizmet and the AK Party had positioned themselves with regard to the 367 parliamentary quorum problem in the 2007 presidential election, the closure case against the AK Party, presidential elections, etc., should not go unnoticed. Historically, Turkey is at a critical point. All actors have big responsibilities in this crucial period. It is important that people and groups who want to live in a democratic and developed Turkey should not be fooled by information pollution and ill-intentioned propaganda. It has now become harder for the tutelage to take the country back directly or using traditional methods. Yet, this time, the tutelary establishment may open broad doorways to its shady aspirations through plots, intrigues, rumors and by using the weaknesses that may beat even the strongest of people.

Hizmet and the bureaucracy

It must be noted that Hizmet, as a global movement, has appealed to numerous people from all walks of life and from many countries around the world. As a human-centric civilian movement that inherits the message of Rumi and Yunus Emre, Hizmet aroused interest in and mobilized the backing of numerous businessmen, academics, politicians, bureaucrats and people of art and culture.

Here, two points should be underlined: Mr. Gülen’s ideas draw the interest of many universities across the world and are discussed in various academics theses. Just as one can see a democratic Frenchman or a Turks, one can also see people who give credit to Mr. Gülen’s ideas in various countries around the world.

Second, Mr. Gülen represents a legitimate thought created by Turkey’s own past and culture. Mr. Gülen and the thought he represents symbolize an approach that has taken root historically in his culture and civilization. Therefore, people from all groups in our society have the legitimate right to set their hearts and minds on and support these values and principles.

In this respect, it is quite natural that the public bureaucracy may include people who are inspired by the Hizmet movement. Moreover, it would be unfair to treat performing one’s duties under the laws and regulations as an effort to “take control of” or “infiltrate” the state.

Furthermore, Mr. Gülen was tried in connection with such nonsensical charges and he was unanimously acquitted by the Court of Cassation (the decision by the 9th Penal Chamber of the Court of Cassation dated March 5, 2008 and numbered 2007/6083-1328).

Hizmet and Freedom of the Press

In a statement he recently made, Mr. Gülen clearly indicated his position, saying: “I believe freedom of expression and the press should be enjoyed in the broadest sense. Even if they exhibit completely opposite ideas or views or if they — unfairly — blame me for what happened to them, I still believe that people should be free to enjoy their freedom of thought and expression.” Along the same lines, Hizmet, too, cherishes freedom of the press as a fundamental part of the freedom of expression and is for its full enjoyment in the broadest sense.

It should be noted that several people or groups almost regularly criticize Hizmet by using freedom of the press in Turkey. In virtually all public debates, Hizmet is criticized in one way or another. To illustrate the tragicomic nature of this matter, it would be beneficial to note that event some people who criticized Hizmet in public in the past were later labeled “pro-Gülen.” The most upsetting part is that no concrete evidence or specific address or name is provided in support of the accusations hurled against Hizmet or the people who are inspired by Mr. Gülen.

On the other hand, those who voice in various platforms the claim that Hizmet is “targeting some journalists using a retaliatory approach via some people who infiltrated the state” are responsible for bringing legal action and demanding justice by providing concrete evidence about these accusations. These people should refrain from resorting to generalized accusatory words, but apply to the judicial authorities and seek compensation by supporting their claims with material evidence.

Finally, those who claim that it is impossible or risky to criticize Hizmet must know that dozens of books and articles that sharply criticize Hizmet and Mr. Gülen are published in Turkey every day.

Source: Writers and Journalists Foundation, April 6, 2012,  http://gyv.org.tr/Haberler/Detay/2021/Statement%20from%20the%20Journalists%20and%20Writers%20Foundation

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