Thought Archive

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Strange Case of Fethullah Gulen

The most loathed and at the same time loved figure in Turkey is not actually the prime-minister Erdogan at all, but the famous Islamist preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Praised by his followers as a representative of a modern and peaceful Islam and bedevilled by his critics as a fundamentalist bent on destroying Turkey’s secular republic, the preacher Fethullah Gulen, one of the country’s most controversial figures, may be about to return to his home-country after years in exile in the United States.The way for Gulen’s return was opened by Turkey’s court of appeals, which cleared him of accusations of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism last week after a prolonged legal battle that went on for several years. Gulen is a darling of the West and at the same time the most hated figure of the Turkish nationalist right.

Kemalists, who see themselves as guardians of the secular values of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, view Mr Gulen as an ardent Islamic fundamentalist.

Gulen founded hundreds of secular schools in Turkey as well as in South and Central Asia - there are very many in Azerbaijan. Being quazi-secular –called “ Nurcu” schools – these schools nevertheless teach a “moral” curriculum, and their educational standards – at least in Azerbaijan – are much higher than average corruption-ridden state schools .

Mr Gulen is also known as a representative of a Western-friendly Islam, preaching inter-religious dialogue, conversing with high-ranking World politicians and meeting Pope John Paul II. He can muster millions strong support group across Muslim world from Pakistan to Senegal. Even on headscarf issue - otherwise divisive in Turkey - he is a liberal. “The headscarf isn’t one of Islam’s main principles or conditions,” Gulen said on his website. “Islam does not allow anarchy and terror” is another of his statements.

But Gulen is viewed with suspicion and outright hatred by Turkey’s army and judiciary. A prosecutor charged him with “creating an illegal organisation aimed at changing the secular structure of the state and introducing a state system based on religious rules” under Turkey’s anti-terror laws. He denies all allegations.

It is no coincidence that Mr Gulen has received support in the United States, especially from Bush and Co. He is probably a chief mainstream Sunni Islamic cleric fully supported by USA and even by Israel. At the moment, Fethullah Gulen is the Muslim most supported by America – against aAl-Qa’eda, and thus is of great value to the United States. All this does not pacify Turkish secular nationalists, but upsets them very much. They see the wider American interests of a “dialogue” with Islamic world - of which Gulen is a leading agent - clashing with their strict interpretation of Ataturk legacy.


NoolaBeulah said...

Did you hear about this?

Hazar Nesimi said...

He is the closest figure Turkey has to Homeini in a spiritual sense, just like say Egyptians have Qaradawi or European Muslims - Tariq Ramadan. In some quarters he has unquestionable support. Can he return Khomeini-style, and trigger an Islamic coup? Of course this is Nazi bollocks, the problem seculars have with Gulen movement that it is eroding secular positivist values among the middle classes - which were previously stalwart supporters of Kemalism. So the combination of poor's peoples emancipation through AKP and middle-classes (haves) newly found Islamic awareness can bring about very real Islamization. The more i think of it, the more i think it will happen. But it will NOT be re-arabization -for Turkey never was one, this will be Re-Ottomanization of Turkey. I think it will be more religious, but at the same time more inclusive society. Difficult choice.

Hazar Nesimi said...

ANd I have to say, it is a bloody good article for that. Too often journalists are poorly informed about Islam specifically and make broad generalizations that make no sense. Especially, such complex country as Turkey, bears the brunt of the caricature generalizations. I felt this article is right to the point, if slightly apologetic of Gulen. He is, despite his shunning of politics, is leader of maybe 5 million strong movement, with who nows how many around the world sympathizing with them. They are currently actively prozelytizing in Azerbaijan for example, and traditonalists here dont like it. Or they are the only force that build curriculum schools in Mauritania or far away village in Pakistan. Its funny but they take a role that Christian missionary schools take in Sub-saharan Africa, teaching God and Science at the same time.

NoolaBeulah said...

Turkey seems once again to be providing the leadership in modernisation to the Muslim world. In fact, it may do more good than harm to have an Islamic party of this nature in power, especially if it is successful. It would be a model of Islam and worldly success that would countervail the messages of despair from other quarters.

Hazar Nesimi said...

Yes, but tell this to seculars over there. They will explode with rage. I am ambivalent on them, though - a I am no Kemalist whilst recognizing all the good it did in the past - it maybe the time to move on. Turkey WAS the leader of Islamic world for more than 500 years, (remember 1453!) until it disengaged politically and socially from both East and West in 1920s, and tried attach itsel to the West after 1950s. Now this higher calling is beckoning, but the Turkey-To-Come will be a greater and much more important nation, but it will not be the same country. It may well be better and fairer but it will different, not to some people's liking. I dont want for example Ataturk's cult of personality to fade away for example. Anyway, i am speaking in riddles, - i spent last two weeks there, so i am all informed.