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Fethullah Gulen’s Relation to Politics and Power

Abdullah Uzun, July 16, 2010

Recently, several blog articles published in some websites accusing Fethullah Gulen being the political power behind Turkey’s ruling party, AKP (Justice and Development Party), and Gulen leads Turkey towards an Islamic State.

Even though, most of these articles posted/published in radical places and not worthy to pay attention, it is necessary to clarify Gulen’s relation to politics and power.

First of all, Fethullah Gulen, as a Turkish intellectual and scholar, is well respected and admired by vast majority of Turkish population from almost all political backgrounds. Only a small percent of secular elites and some marginal Muslim groups are critical of Fethullah Gulen and the Gulen Movement.

Gülen has repeatedly stated that to ideologize Islam and its use as an instrument in politics harm Islam first; several time, he condemns the politicization of religion. As Hakan Yavuz pointed out at an interview with Religioscope in 2004, Gulen always wanted religion to remain above politics, because he is concerned that politics would corrupt religion. In his analysis of the Gulen Movement, Dr. Rainer Hermann also states that the Gülen Movement is a social and apolitical movement.

Gulen publicly stated that \\\"We are in equal proximity to all parties. I am not saying equal distance, we are in equal proximity. Because all the followers and sympathizers of every party are our people. People\\\'s parties and people\\\'s political ideas are not barriers to our being friends with them.\\\"

Gülen met with many political party leaders from different ideological backgrounds.  The late Turgut Özal (center right), Alparslan Türkeş (nationalist), Bülent Ecevit (left wing), Süleyman Demirel (center right), Tansu Çiller (center right) and Mesut Yılmaz were among them. He didn\\\'t speak about daily politics with any of them. He accepted the meetings as opportunities to talk about the country\\\'s issues. It is true that Gülen respected Özal and Ecevit greatly. However, he never became their political supporter. Gülen never gave advice or encouragement to vote for Ecevit. Furthermore Özal and Ecevit appreciated his services and respected him. However neither sought electoral support or political support from Gülen.

Gulen has been praised by many scholars for his contribution to democracy and modernity in Turkey.

While this is Gulen’s stance with regards to politics, it would be a mistake to assume that people in the Gulen Movement do not participate in election.  Of course, similar to any other citizens of the country, people who are inspired by the teachings of Fethullah Gulen also participate and vote in the democratic elections in Turkey.  However, it would be also a mistake to assume that these people vote for a specific political party as a bulk. Gulen Movement includes people from different political affiliations and backgrounds. Therefore, it would be appropriate to assume that these people vote accordingly.

Similar to general population in Turkey, people in the Gulen Movement vote for different parties at different elections. For instance, it is stated that the Movement voted for right-wing democratic party of Turgut Ozal during his government, it is also stated that the Movement voted for the left-wing democratic party of Bulent Ecevit during another election. For now, it is suggested that the Gulen Movement voted for the current government of Justice and Development Party.

Even though, these statements may make sense for those who know Turkish politics, it is also necessary to know that these are -at best- educated guests. There has not been any study done in Turkey that can provide data to support these statements.

If these statements are accurate, then, people in the Gulen Movement are not only for different parties at different times, but they are voting for parties from different ideological stance (e.g. Ozal’s center right party, Ecevit’s left-wing party, and Erdogan’s conservative democratic party). Yavuz states that people in the Gulen Movement do not necessarily vote for Muslim parties. They actually try to stay away from any party that describes itself as \\\"Islamic\\\" or \\\"Muslim\\\".

In these articles, Gulen is accused for being behind the AKP and taking Turkey towards an Islamic state. The accusers of these claims know perfectly that Gulen is against even an idea of Islamic state.

With regards to Islamic state, Hakan Yavuz points out:

“According to Gulen,…..it is anti-Islamic to talk about an Islamic state. But you can create a conscious Muslim. You can create Muslim networks. You can create Muslim ethics and good models of coexistence by utilizing Islam. But when Islam becomes a model for the state, Gülen believes it is not Islam anymore.

His goal is to raise Muslim consciousness and to get involved in modernity, democracy and a free-market economy, so as to get Muslims to enter into those global processes.”

For more information on Gulen’s thought on state, democracy and politics see below interview:

Fethullah Gulen\\\'s Thoughts on State, Democracy, Politics, and Terrorism and...

Fethullah Gulen and the Justice and Development Party (AKP)

Justice and Development Party was founded in August 2001 and won majority in the parliament in the November 2002 general election by 34.3%. AKP has become the dominant party in Turkish politics since 2002 election. It has won all the election as the first party in following years: In 2004 local election, AKP won 42% of the votes; in July 2007 general election, AKP won 46.6% of the votes; in March 2009 local election, AKP won 38.95% of the votes.

The AKP portrays itself as a moderate and conservative party, which advocates a liberal market economy and Turkish membership in the European Union. It has adopted several economic and democratic reforms in accord with the European Union.  During the AKP government, EU started negotiations starting on 3 October 2005 with Turkey.  According to Jon Gorvertt, AKP has advanced the country’s march toward European Union (EU) membership more than any other party in Turkish history, while also opening up Turkey’s economy to foreign investment and international trade more than any other.

These reforms, especially democratic reforms put AKP to pro-coup generals in Turkish military. During its governance, AKP has been target of several unsuccessful military coup d’états. During the 2007 elections both general and presidential elections, these efforts became so clear that the Turkish General Staff’s website published a post modern coup document. These coup attempts backfired, and AKP won almost the half of the votes in the nation. Most political analysts saw 46.6% vote for AKP as a response to these anti-democratic efforts of military personnel.

AKP received support from Patriarch Mesrob II Mutafyan, the religious leader of the Turkish Armenian community.  Partiarch Mutafyan, speaking to the German weekly Der Spiegel,
claimed the Armenian community would prefer the AKP during the 2007 election.

AKP, who is portrayed as an Islamist party, received support from not only from Armenian minorities but also from other non-Muslim minorities.

It can be easily assumed that it is these policies and reforms of AKP that attracts votes (almost 50%) of Turkish population, and some people in the Gulen Movement also voted for AKP in previous elections.

Also currently AKP is and its reform policies are under harsh critics and attacks. Recent investigations revealed several coup attempts against AKP by retired and active military personnel, including some very high generals (e.g. Sarıkız (blondgirl), Ayışığı (moon light), Yakamoz (biolumunicence), Eldiven (glove), Kafes (cage), and Balyoz (sledgehammer).

Thus, most of the supports AKP receives from different groups and a great deal of Turkish population should be understood under these conditions. Most of the Turkish population is fed up with authoritarian elite regime, and they want more liberal democracy, and currently the AKP offers the best option compared to CHP and MHP.

Gulen Movement and Power

Though, Gulen Movement does not seek political power in Turkey, it threatens the established authoritarian elite regime. According to Hakan Yavuz, the balance of power is shifting toward a bottom-up conception of modernity and a new vision of secularism. Yavuz sees Gulen as an agent and representative of this transformation. During most of the republican era of Turkey, both modernity and secularism have been defined by minority elites and have been coerced on majority masses with harsh methods. Again, according to Yavuz, Gulen has played a key role in the transformation of a new understanding of bottom-up modernity, alternative to authoritarian elites’ up-bottom version.

Hakan Yavuz goes further and explains why Gulen is a major threat to these authoritarian elites:

“Gülen represents a major threat for these people, because they want to see a backward, radical Islam, in order to justify repression – whereas with Gülen, you do not get that. This angers them even more!

Also, Gülen tries to educate the periphery by teaching them foreign languages and providing scholarships for study in foreign countries. This angers the establishment as well, because they want to control the country and not to share the resources with the rest of the population. There is also a conflict over resources. Gülen was on the side of the poor, while the establishment did not want to see his movement opening up educational opportunities for the marginal sectors of Turkish society. This frustrated militant secularists in Turkey.”

Even though, Gulen and the movement do not seek for power, they threaten the established authoritarian elite regime by educating the population, reaching out the minorities, helping the poor, and working for the reconciliation.

The question is not whether the Gulen Movement is seeking for political power in Turkey, it is, who has been holding the power in Turkey for more than a century, and not willing to let it go to people?

It is not Gulen Movement’s struggle for power; it is authoritarian elites’ unwillingness to share the power with people of Turkey. People of Turkey deserve to govern themselves as much as any people in other countries in the world.





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