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Transparency and the operational code of the Gülen movement

Wednesday 20 October 2010, by Ihsan Yilmaz

During the course of the past few weeks, there has been a debate surrounding the Gülen movement and calls for the movement to be transparent.

I think these calls were misguided because they do not take into account the operational code of the movement and also seem to have a naive understanding of modern Turkish political history.

Starting from the 19th century, Islamic movements generally had an anti-imperialist character. Moreover, they had a state-centric approach. Coupled with and strengthened by the Hanafi maxim that “even the worst state is better than anarchy and chaos,” the followers of this mentality have always put “capturing” the state at the top of their agendas.

When the Turkish political system was transformed into multiparty politics once again after a long rupture of a one-party authoritarian regime between 1913-1950, Islamists started forming their own political parties, the most conspicuous being that of Necmettin Erbakan’s. Thanks to Nakshibandi Sheikh Mehmet Zahit Kotku’s new operational code of constitutional legitimacy, these parties were not anti-systemic and agreed to work within the parameters of constitutional democracy, but aimed to one day come to power by democratic means and start to engage in a top-down and Jacobean, if not forceful, transformation of society by using the centrality of the state. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his friends radically departed from Erbakan here when they decided to give up this ideology and follow what I call “non-Islamism.” Whilst we have been witnessing these transformations taking place in the sphere of political Islam, in parallel to these transformations, new developments and breakthroughs, as it were, have been taking place in other Islamic circles.

Said Nursi, who was educated in Nakshibendi circles but afterwards transcended their worldview and praxis, denounced participating in politics as early as the 1920s after an overactive political life in the last period of the Ottoman state. Nursi declared that “he takes refuge in God from both Satan and politics” and with this he jettisoned the state-centric and top-down approach. It was his denouncement of state-centrism and politics that attracted the attention of young Fethullah Gülen. But what Gülen discovered was that, with socioeconomic and political developments taking place in the second part of the 20th century, the power of civil society has become very prominent. In other words, Gülen’s operational code was “social activism through civil society.” The state was of secondary importance not because Gülen was a secret Islamist but for another reason: as it has shown many times, the Turkish state can be brutal toward civil society. This threat perception ensured it stayed important in Gülen’s mind.

Gülen also realized that denouncing state-centrism and daily politics and praising civil society activism brought about two major developments. First, ordinary people from all walks of life and especially from different parts of the political spectrum were inspired by his message, and politics was not a stumbling block between his message and society. Second, even though he has always had some staunch ultra-secularist adversaries both in society but more importantly within the state, many politicians and bureaucrats found his message benign and, even more, beneficial. However, the overwhelming majority of these politicians and bureaucrats have not become “followers” of Gülen but only sympathize with his ideas.

Of course, in addition to these, it is presumable that with the increasing influence of the movement in Turkey, many young people who take Gülen’s message more seriously have decided to be bureaucrats. It is only normal that with the increasing influence of the movement, in all professions, one could see sympathizers of the movement. But this in no way proves that Gülen has changed his operational code. Any change in this code means an abrupt end of the movement’s activities in more than 150 countries. And everyone, not only Gülen, can see this danger.

It is obvious that the people who call for transparency refer to the bureaucrats who sympathize with his ideas. But what is expected of these bureaucrats? According to our Constitution, no one can be forced to speak up about their beliefs, thoughts, ideology and so on. Secondly, where will we draw the line? Who is a participant of the movement? The late Turkish-Jewish businessman Üzeyir Garih was, as is known, a participant and he contributed sentimentally and financially to the movement. There are many who say that they respect the movement’s ideals but in their daily life are not observant Muslims. I have seen in the West many Christian participants. Moreover, can anyone guarantee that nothing will happen to these bureaucrats if they come up and say, “OK, I like the movement”? Are we sure that they will not be targeted and discriminated against or the decisions they make will not be labeled as biased, etc?

Above all, if any bureaucrat trespasses legal limits, he or she should immediately be prosecuted, and this is what people in the movement have been underlining. Is it not unjust and utterly biased to interpret the state’s numerous intelligence and security organizations’ “inability” to catch anyone red-handed as meaning that the movement took over the state? Is this not a latent McCarthyism?

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Source : TdZ, 17 October 2010, Sunday

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