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THE WORK OF FETHULLAH GULEN & THE ROLE OF NONVIOLENCE IN A TIME OF TERROR
THE WORK OF FETHULLAH GüLEn & THE ROLE OF nOnVIOLENCE IN A TIME OF TERROR
We are living in dangerous times. We can anticipate further polarisation between Islam and the West as the official line becomes more focused on achieving military solutions to what are essentially political and cultural issues.
Fethullah Gülen is unusual in adding a distinctly Islamic voice to the calls for a non-violent approach to conflict resolution. The notion of peace through peace has a rich Western tradition from Tolstoy to Martin Luther King. In the East, all of those active in peace movements today acknowledge a debt to Mahatma Gandhi. These writers continue to influence peace activists such as Gene Sharp, whose work was directly channelled to assist in the recent, relatively peaceful, revolutions in former Soviet states such as the Ukraine.
This paper examines the peace-building work of Gülen within wider concepts of non-violence in order to explore their lessons for modern Islam’s transition. It is important for the conference to hear something of past voices and experiences, and the lessons learned from them, which can further inspire those in Islam who wish to move towards future peace using peaceful, non-violent activities.
This goal is particularly pertinent in a time of terror when existing counter-insurgency methods readily provoke a violent response, which justifies more violence and repression.
The paper is illustrated to ensure accessibility of the examples for those less familiar with non-violent action dedicated to achieving social change.
We are living in dangerous times. We can anticipate further polarization between Islam and the West as the official line becomes increasingly focused on achieving military solutions to what are essentially political and cultural issues. So why focus on the role of non-violence in presenting this paper to such a timely conference?
Well, a short answer is that Fethullah Gülen is unusual in providing a distinctly Islamic voice to the call for a non-violent approach to conflict resolution. But how well do Gülen’s teachings on non-violence lead to peaceful transformation on the ground? Is his a static and passive approach bounded by dogma, or are we witnessing an innovative, active and self aware spirit of transformation which really can lead to a new way of defining Islam in action?
The presentation attempts to explore these questions via a comparison with Western writers such as Johan Galtung and Paul Smoker who have deconstructed positive and negative peace and recognized that structural violence is as important as direct violence, both of which need to be eliminated to establish new cultures of peace. Is the teaching capable of being translated via techniques which can action a non-violent belief in change and social justice, in the way that Gene Sharpe has used Gandhi’s teaching to formulate an arsenal of non-violent tactics and strategies to challenge injustice and create peaceful transformation? Are Fethullah Gülen’s teaching most appropriate for spiritual salvation in the hereafter or are they sufficiently integrated to be used now in a similar way in which Sharp’s work was utilized to create a non-violent peaceful revolutions in Romania and the Ukraine?
For sure, Gülen’s approach is to work within an Islamic framework and apply the principles of the Qur’an to create positive change based on mutual respect. How does this differ to more Western approaches that share similar outcomes? It is important for this conference to hear something of past voices that share the vision of peace through peace and their similar experiences in telling truth to power. A key question is the extent to which these different approaches converge or diverge and the extent to which learning can be mutual. This goal is particularly pertinent in a time of terror when extant counter-insurgency models incorporating organized violence against innocents can easily provoke responses used to justify even more violent repression. A crucial issue is whether or not Fethullah Gülen’s teachings on nonviolence, can inspire a new non- violent praxis towards peaceful social change?
Peace by Peace?
The notion of peace by peace has a rich western tradition from Tolstoy to Martin Luther King. In the East, the non-violent tradition is much more ancient. Emperor Asoka, presiding over India the Third century B.C. slaughtered more than a hundred thousand before experiencing a Buddhist conversion which led him to proselytizing non-violence, from a distinctly spiritual and pragmatic perspective.
Middle Eastern spiritual leaders teaching non-violence have had an enormous significance in the West, but it is a truism that there ahs been much less of a “connect” between spiritual theory and earthly praxis. 2000 years of Christianity has not led to a reduction of violence, far [Read More]