Date posted: December 23, 2013
Such narratives do not hold up for long and quickly expose themselves to their multiple inherent contradictions. First, Fethullah Gülen himself has been accused of supporting the military coup in 1980; if that is true then Gülen does not personally see the military as an obstacle to his Islamic vision.
Hence, the issue of collaborating with the AKP vis-à-vis the marginalization of the military does not arise. Second, any serious observer of the Gülen movement would realize that the movement’s focus is the ethical and moral transformation of the individual and has nothing to do with either the state/government or state politics.
Third, if there is an informal alliance between the two, why then did the AKP government enter into “secret deals” with the military way back in 2004 to monitor, profile and eventually bring down the individuals and the organizations associated with faith-based movements, particularly the Gülen movement? Fourth, what are the advantages that have been accrued to the Gülen movement due to its informal alliance with the government? Probably none. The movement has never asked the government for any favor, which was also confirmed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement, “Why don’t they [the Gülen movement] ask for anything?”
Fifth, the Turkish volunteers of the Gülen movement have voted for the AKP and would perhaps continue to prefer to vote for the AKP depending on the availability of political choice. However the political preference for the AKP does not explain any programmatic alliance between the Gülen movement and the AKP unless the latter is a product of the former, which is certainly not the case. While the AKP is a breakaway group of Necmettin Erbakan’s Welfare Party (RP) and shares the Islamic political tradition of Milli Görüş (National View), the Gülen movement is strictly a non-political faith-based movement, which partly explains its abhorrence for “street politics” which it continues to maintain despite the fact that it is facing an “existential dilemma” (according to media pundits) in light of the government’s decision to close down prep schools.
Finally, if military power in Turkey has been tamed, curtailed or marginalized, why is this necessarily seen as the consequence of an “informal alliance” between the Gülen movement and the AKP government and not the eventual result of a gradual, long-drawn democratization process of Turkish society and state, which is also in sync with larger global trends?
AK Party’s crisis of morality
The democratic deficit that is currently being witnessed in Turkey is deeply related to a “crisis of morality” that has afflicted the AKP, its political functionaries and its leadership represented by Erdoğan, the prime minister of Turkey since 2002. Bereft of any moral training, the political rise of the AKP was also accompanied by the gradual erosion of moral and ethical values of its leadership and political functionaries. As some of the political functionaries started exhibiting “consumerist lifestyles” and partaking in the growing economic opportunities of Turkey, the internal moral fear of being exposed in the public sphere led the government to indulge in the time-tested art of political theater ranging from imposing “self-censorship” on the media and resorting to authoritarianism, the arbitrary exercise of power and manipulation of rules wherever it was necessary.
What needs to be understood here is that despite coming from an Islamic tradition, the AKP has never considered itself a “moral actor” but rather primarily as a “political actor” dedicated to the goal of acquiring state power. As a result, despite the thumbing political mandate in 2002, it could not muster the moral courage to resist the military’s demands, guided rather by purely political instinct of survival, and preferred to enter into secret deals with the “unelected” military to monitor, profile and bring down organizations associated with faith-based movements, particularly the Gülen movement. The government’s contention that it did not implement those secret documents and blamed the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) for its “routine habits” flies in the face of the public mandate, for the mandate was for the democratic transformation of the Turkish state.
What is also intriguing is the panicked response of the government to the publication of this deal in the Taraf newspaper. Prime Minister Erdoğan himself threatened to punish the journalist for making public the state’s secret document and asserted that the state is like a family and is hence entitled to its privacy, thereby invoking the official secrecy law. While the official secrecy law is a relic of colonial rule designed to protect its officials from their misdeeds while governing the population, its invocation by the prime minister, Erdoğan, that too for a nation that has never been colonized, clearly reflects his anti-democratic and authoritarian mindset. In a normal sense one can understand the secret pacts/deals concluded between two sovereign nations, but a secret deal between two organs of the state vis-à-vis its own people certainly contradicts the democratic principle of governance that demands transparency in the functioning of all public bodies, particularly the state and the government.
The same anti-democratic and authoritarian mindset was also reflected in its decision to close down prep schools. No reasonable explanation was provided by the government for this decision that defies the parameters of rational mind and logic. If the government cannot ensure the uniformity and standardization of education throughout the country, it does not have the moral right to put an end to those initiatives that are involved in promoting “equalizing” measures. Education is a great equalizing and democratic force that has uplifted many nations from the slumber of poverty, inequity and backwardness. By providing quality educational service, the Gülen movement is helping many “deficit” students — rich or poor — to become “equal and able” so as to compete in the public opportunity structure. It was only through this process that many children from the Anatolian region of Turkey could find a place in the increasing opportunity structure of Turkey. By taking the decision to close down prep schools, the government has certainly moved against the principle of equality and thus caused a setback in the overall ongoing process of democratization in Turkey.
If the underlying purpose of the government behind the decision to close down prep schools is to finish off the Gülen movement, which, according to various estimates, owns 25 percent of all prep schools in Turkey, as the government perceives prep schools as the “recruitment base” of the Gülen movement, then it will not succeed as the movement has already outlived this kind of organizational form. Second, the movement has remarkable flexibility to serve people and the community through other forms. It is not this structure of opportunity and space that has sustained the voluntary movement but the ideational resources that has created this opportunity and spaces.
In its display of an authoritarian mindset, the AKP and its leadership led by Prime Minster Erdoğan is also supported by the political tradition of political Islam as well as the political tradition of Turkey. Political Islam, a product of modernity that ranges from the public recognition of Islam to the creation of an Islamic state and Shariah law, is all about acquiring state power and once it acquires state power, it selectively uses the rules, laws and tradition of a state structure as well as Islamic idioms, narratives, traditions and laws that bolster and strengthen the state’s power structure. Beyond a crude instrumentalization of Islam, Islam’s ethical and moral perspectives cease to be a factor in its governance. It is the preservation of the state and not the normative value of Islam — democracy, equality, freedom and justice — that becomes the end.
The AKP is no exception to this trend. This partly explains why it preferred to first enter into a secret deal with the Turkish army in 2004, thereby buying the army’s support of the state, before moving to harshly deal with the implicated army officers in the Ergenekon case to ward off any possible military threats and, finally, moved against the Gülen movement for its perceived fear that the movement posed a threat to its rule and might expose its corrupt misdeeds in the future. Thus, the regime is taking preventive measures to ensure its unfettered rule by crushing any imaginary or real opposition emanating either from within the state or from civil society.
Turkey’s historic political tradition in which the state is looked upon as a “benevolent father or guardian” personified in a strong individual also lends support to and legitimizes the authoritarian tendency of the state. A nation addicted to hero worship or cult of personality found in Erdoğan such a leader who is considered to have provided the much-needed political stability and steered the economy of the nation. As Erdoğan reaches the height of his political career and power structure and in conjunction with the Turkish political tradition of state guardianship, he is gradually transforming himself into the role of amir al-mu’minin where he becomes the AKP, the state, the government and the nation. It is at this stage and political conjecture that what appears to be authoritarianism to the outside world becomes a normal, routine exercise of power for him; he identifies his personal agenda with the national agenda and in the process starts committing political mistakes and blunders of whose consequence he himself is not aware of.
One such political blunder would be his actions against the Gülen movement — a movement that in a short span of time has added tremendous soft power to Turkey, facilitated Turkish business globally and spread the Turkish language to many nations which even the Ottoman Empire and the Kemalist republic could not do during their entire lifetimes as well as changed the face of Islam from one of stagnation, terrorism, illiteracy and backwardness to one of humanism and educationalism. A “political” Erdoğan might win temporarily; a “moral” Gülen will live forever. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi is a chilly reminder to all pathological political movements in this regard. As an Indian I will end this piece by saying: As India could produce only one Gandhi, Gülen is producing a thousand people with the Gandhian spirit, if not Gandhi, every day which the modern world badly needs.