AK Party, Hizmet movement and politics

Dr. Ihsan Yilmaz
Dr. Ihsan Yilmaz


Date posted: September 2, 2012

İHSAN YILMAZ  August 31, 2012

I have written repeatedly about the relationship between the Hizmet movement (aka Gulen movement) and politics here. Unfortunately, it still needs some more discussion. As is well known, Hizmet never associates itself with political parties.

It 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 since politics all over the world is mostly based on contention, challenge, belittling the 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 has survived the oppressive Kemalist decades when practicing Muslims were continually harassed by state officials. The Hizmet volunteers carefully observed and analyzed the 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 have openly and passionately advocated the EU process since they believed that Turkey could never democratize itself without this external influence. All these were of course political acts. But that does not make them Islamists since, first, they were not engaged in politics in a narrow sense and, second, they have not carried out politics in the name of religion, unlike the practice of the overwhelming majority of Islamists.

Some 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 the ones who work for the core Hizmet projects such as the schools, the 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 the candidates, not the 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 they voted for.

Unfortunately, some of our friends in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) or its staunch supporters do not want to accept this. Similar to the Kemalists, they ask the Hizmet volunteers not to be critical of the AKP, or else form a political party. The Hizmet volunteers have a legitimate right to be members of political parties or establish any sort of party. The fact that they have not decided to do so does not mean that they cannot be engaged in politics. They are also democratic stakeholders of 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. It must also be noted that while the Hizmet volunteers, their media outlets and so on were harshly and legitimately criticizing the AKP’s opponents and enemies, these friends of ours were very content. Unlike now, they did not challenge the Hizmet volunteers to establish a political party and compete in the elections.

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 democratization energy and has become a status quo party, criticize the AKP. If these people find better alternative parties or candidates that satisfy their criteria, it is their democratic right to vote for them. If they think that the AKP has revived itself again with 2002’s reforming spirit, they will most probably be strong supporters again. It is their own business to form a party or not. Yet, as I said, I do not think that they, at least the ones in the core projects, will do so.

Source: Today’s Zaman http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist-291047-akp-hizmet-and-politics.html


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