More Divisions, More Democracy


Date posted: December 11, 2013

Mustafa Aky0l

Foreign journalists writing about Turkey like to focus on the most fundamental divide in Turkish society: the rift between religious conservatives and secularists. But these days an internal clash is raging among the conservatives themselves. And it could be a boon for Turkish democracy.

On one side are the supporters of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is enjoying his 11th year in power and facing increasing criticism for his authoritarian style of rule. On the other side, there are the supporters of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic scholar and preacher who now lives in Pennsylvania, and whose teachings have inspired Turkey’s most powerful civil society group.

Until a few years ago, Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (known as the A.K.P.) and the Gulen Movement, as it is often called, were very close allies. They had a common enemy: the staunchly secular military, which menaced both religious conservatives and democracy itself, having staged or threatened many coups. Many of Turkey’s secular liberals had joined this alliance, hoping that the taming of the military would take Turkey closer to European-style liberal democracy.

However, once the military was subdued in 2010-11 — partly through controversial legal cases in which hundreds of officers were sentenced to long prison terms — this alliance of Erdogan supporters, followers of Mr. Gulen and liberals began falling apart. Gradually, most liberals withdrew their support from Mr. Erdogan, arguing that he had begun imitating the authoritarian habits of his predecessors.

At the same time, differences between the A.K.P. and the Gulen Movement began to surface.

The Gulen Movement, though it is pious and unmistakably Muslim, has always steered clear of Islamist ideology. Unlike the Islamists, who constitute an influential strain within the A.K.P., Mr. Gulen’s followers have always valued Turkey’s relations with the West, championed accession to the European Union, and have been friendly toward Jews and Christians. In return, some paranoid Turkish Islamists (and even some secular nationalists) have accused Mr. Gulen of being a “C.I.A. agent.”

But there is another, more complicated layer. The Gulen Movement is known to have many members within Turkey’s judiciary and police force. Many believe this “state within a state” began to act hawkishly against its opponents, including secular generals, certain journalists and Kurdish separatists, leading to many controversial arrests.

These tensions peaked in February 2012, when an Istanbul prosecutor summoned Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s intelligence agency, to question him about his covert negotiations with Kurdish militants. Since Mr. Fidan is a high-level confidant of Mr. Erdogan and has tried to broker a peace with the militants on Mr. Erdogan’s orders, the prime minister perceived the prosecutor’s move as a personal attack. He hastily passed a law that gave immunity to Mr. Fidan, and trained his sights on the Gulen Movement, which he believed was behind the attack on Mr. Fidan.

Mr. Erdogan then initiated a purge within the police and the judiciary, demoting suspected members of the Gulen Movement. Last month, the clash escalated when the prime minister announced that private weekend schools that prepare high school students for national university admission tests would be shut down. The Gulen Movement operates many of these schools, which are both a source of revenue and recruits. “By closing these schools,” a prominent Gulen follower told me, “Erdogan wants to dry our grass roots.”

The political fallout could be significant. Mr. Erdogan has lost the formerly unwavering support of the Gulen Movement, whose voting power is estimated to make up about 2 to 5 percent of Turkey’s electorate. There will be consequences in the coming local elections, and the presidential elections of June 2014. Although all other religious groups seem loyal to Mr. Erdogan, the lack of pro-Gulen votes could tip the balance in favor of other candidates.

It is beneficial for Turkish democracy that not all religious conservatives are united under one banner. Thanks to the A.K.P.-Gulen rift, Turkish media is today more diverse, as pro-Gulen newspapers like Zaman and television stations are offering a third way between Mr. Erdogan’s supporters and his diehard opponents.

The Turkish state has encroached far too much on the rights of the media, universities, NGOs and the lives of ordinary citizens. It has become a leviathan that must be tamed. If Turkey is lucky, this rift might help bring the country to a democratic equilibrium where the prerogative of the state and the rights of civil society and the individual can be properly balanced.

Mustafa Akyol is the author of “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.”

Source: The New York Times , December 11, 2013


Related News

Gulen wants Anatolian [interpretation of] Islam

What does Gulen say? He says: “Work hard and earn money, but be honest. Allah will reward your hard work and honesty. But do not squander that reward. Turn it into an investment and help others.” It sounds a lot like the Protestant work ethic. This is the underlying vision of capitalism. The Gulen Movement looks a lot like the Ottoman-era Ahi movement. It is a kind of a solidarity group that provides people with jobs, education, and reintegration into society.

Legal action against Gülen in the US: A golden opportunity for Gülen

No one will be able to say members of the movement are complaining about Erdoğan in the US. They will defend themselves against Erdoğan’s attorneys who are paid millions of dollars. Thus, Erdoğan has placed a red carpet in front of the movement. The rest is up to how the movement performs…

Countering Al Qaeda’s Message

Important literature from mainstream Muslim scholars in Pakistan (Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri), Turkey (Fethullah Gulen), and elsewhere, which claim terrorists are not real Muslims, has yet to be translated, disseminated, or publicized more broadly in the Arab world, Somalia, Mali, or indeed Kenya. Al Qaeda’s extremists are all too ready to lampoon the majority of the world’s Muslims as infidels.

Tensions rise in Germany’s Turkish diaspora, mirroring splits in Turkey

The group has been active in Germany for many years, operating 150 tutoring centres in the country, 30 government-recognised schools and a dozen interfaith dialogue projects. It has long been seen as a moderate Islamic group although it has faced criticism over a lack of transparency.

Lawrence Seidman on Fethullah Gulen and Hizmet Movement

Rabbi Lawrence Seidman earned a Ph.D in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. After retiring from the Boeing Company, he dedicated himself to religious and spiritual studies. Lawrence Siedman was ordained as a rabbi in 2009 by the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Inspector candidate labeled ‘red’ by ministry confirms profiling reports

A candidate inspector for the Ministry of Finance who learned from recent media reports that he had been profiled by the ministry on the basis of his family background has confirmed that the information disclosed by the media matches his personal information.

Latest News

Fethullah Gülen’s Condolence Message for South African Human Rights Defender Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Hizmet Movement Declares Core Values with Unified Voice

Ankara systematically tortures supporters of Gülen movement, Kurds, Turkey Tribunal rapporteurs say

Erdogan possessed by Pharaoh, Herod, Hitler spirits?

Devious Use of International Organizations to Persecute Dissidents Abroad: The Erdogan Case

A “Controlled Coup”: Erdogan’s Contribution to the Autocrats’ Playbook

Why is Turkey’s Erdogan persecuting the Gulen movement?

Purge-victim man sent back to prison over Gulen links despite stage 4 cancer diagnosis

University refuses admission to woman jailed over Gülen links

In Case You Missed It

New Mother Detained Over Alleged Gülen Links Despite Doctor’s Objection In Turkey

AK Party gov’t treats critical letters, columns as ‘treachery’

Turks, Rio de Janeiro gov’t sign agreement to further education efforts in Brazil

“Freedom To Kacmaz Family” becomes trend on social media in Pakistan

Pro-gov’t media knows no limits in ’parallel’ claims

Turkish Cultural Center honours several Senegalese women

Democracy tree grows in Abant as Turks and Kurds bond

Copyright 2022 Hizmet News