The Hizmet movement, politics and the AKP

Dr. Ihsan Yilmaz
Dr. Ihsan Yilmaz


Date posted: August 7, 2013

İHSAN YILMAZ

A psychological warfare campaign has recently been launched against not only Today’s Zaman but also the Hizmet (Gülen) movement.

Participants in this campaign claim that Hizmet volunteers must not talk about political issues without first establishing a political party. There are several media outlets affiliated with or sympathetic to the Hizmet movement, and they have been covering certain political issues, news and comments. Those who are not comfortable with the coverage of these media outlets never expressed concerns when these outlets criticized the opponents of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and never said that the Hizmet movement must form a political party. Their double standard is conspicuous.

I have written on this issue here several times, but obviously we need to write about it again and again. So, let me repeat what was said here last year: The Hizmet movement is a volunteer movement that appeals to individuals from all sorts of social, cultural, ideological and even religious backgrounds. It is true that its roots are firmly in Islam, but similar to Rumi’s compass, it endeavors to establish critically constructive contact with every single human being on the planet. Its main mission is to build bridges across cultures, communities, religions and so on. Hizmet cannot establish a political party because politics all over the world are mostly based on contention, challenge, belittling opponents and division. Forming a political party would harm the Hizmet movement.

Yet that does not mean that Hizmet exists in a vacuum and is not interested in political, legal and international affairs. It has to be. That is how it survived the oppressive Kemalist decades, when practicing Muslims were continually harassed by state officials. The Hizmet volunteers carefully observed and analyzed political, legal and international developments and devised wise strategies to enable their philanthropic projects to survive. They have worked towards the democratization of the country. They openly and passionately advocate the EU membership process because they believe that Turkey could never democratize itself without this external influence. All these are, of course, political acts.

Hizmet volunteers or donors may be members of all sorts of political parties. I have known several people who are Republican People’s Party (CHP) members but are happy their children are educated in Hizmet schools. Nevertheless, most volunteers, and especially those who work for the core Hizmet projects such as the schools, media, dialogue associations, etc., are never attached to a political party. These people, of course, vote. On election day, based on criteria such as honesty, merit and a pro-democratization stance, they vote for candidates, not parties. They are not blind followers of political leaders and their parties, and on the basis of well-known principles, they can criticize the party for which they voted.

The Hizmet volunteers have a legitimate right to be members of political parties or to establish any sort of party. The fact that they have decided not to do so does not mean that they cannot be engaged in politics. They are also democratic stakeholders in this society. As fathers, teachers, businessmen and, most importantly, citizens, they have legitimate concerns, aspirations and visions with regard to how this country is run. They are entitled to these and they are entitled to air their concerns. They have a right to pressure the government, lobby it and harshly criticize it. The political parties have to live with this fact.

Hizmet has not changed its well-known principles, and while some of its volunteers are also supporters and even members of the AKP, some of them, who think that the AKP has lost its drive for democratization and become a party of the status quo, criticize the AKP. If these people find alternative parties or candidates that better satisfy their criteria, it is their democratic right to vote for them. If they think that the AKP has again revived itself with its 2002 reformist spirit, they will most probably be strong supporters again.

Source: Today's Zaman , August 7, 2013


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