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The Gulen Movement Gulen is nothing if not prolific. Though he formally ended his career as a cleric in 1991, he has written more than 60 books, most of which are available in English. It’s likely that an equal number of books have been written about Gulen or the movement he inspired. The man and the movement are subjects of myriad dissertations and scholarly treatises.

and brightest in the country, financed solely through private donations from Turkish citizens. Admittance is by testing, and more than 40 percent of the Turkish students receive full scholarships, according to Ozcan, with an estimated 90 percent of students going on to receive college degrees. Ozcan and Ashton both made a point to separate Gulen, the man, from the Gulen Movement, which they say he does not lead. “He did not open the schools; he did not open the institutions,” Ozcan says. “He writes and preaches and inspires people.” Gulen-inspired schools have opened in numerous countries, including the United States, Asia and Australia, and are typically supported by Turkish businessmen, who are, in turn, organized into various regional trade associations under the banner of the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists in Turkey, similar to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The group’s entrepreneurial and business-focus makes it a formidable financial powGulen has met with numerous religious leaders to further interfaith dialogue, including erhouse, which makes some the chief rabbi of Turkey’s Jewish community David Aseo, right, in 1996. Turks uneasy. “The power comes from In 2008, readers of Prospect and Foreign Policy named religion, but the institutions are secular,” Ozcan says. Gulen the world’s top public intellectual. He has visited with the Pope, the head of the Orthodox Christian Church, Jewish About Those Charter Schools Rabbis and foreign dignitaries worldwide. Yet, the elderly man Gulen-inspired entrepreneurs have taken advantage with white hair and vaguely sad, puffy eyes remains a simple of America’s shift to charter schools, running about 120 Muslim cleric, he says, with no political ambitions. schools in 25 states, including the 33 Harmony Schools “I have always tried to be a humble servant of God and a in Texas, the subject of an investigation by The New York humble member of humanity,” he told Foreign Policy in 2008. Times last June. “The Quran says that humanity has been created to recThe story, “Charter Schools Tied to Turkey Grow in ognize and worship God and, as a dimension of this worship, Texas,” focused on the schools’ use of public money and to improve the world in strict avoidance of corruption and whether those funds are funneled into the Gulen Movebloodshed. It requires treating all things with deep compassion. ment. Sonar Tarim, superintendent of Harmony Schools, This is my philosophy, which obliges me to remain aloof from denied any affiliation to Gulen. “I’m not a follower of anyall worldly titles and ranks.” body,” he told the Times. Tarim did consult with Virginia The Turkish government suspects Gulen of having a hid- International University in Fairfax, Va., “one of the private den agenda, Ashton said, adding that it just isn’t so. “He’s real universities that lawyers for Mr. Gulen say were originally clear about never making any political statements,” Ashton said. inspired by his teachings,” the Times reported, but uncovTwo main themes stand out in Gulen’s works: First, he ered no other connection. teaches that Muslims have a duty to perform services for the Using public taxpayer funds for schools or taking funds common good, known as hizmet; second, he teaches that inter- away from public schools is not the way of Gulen-inspired faith dialogue is crucial to creating a peaceful and harmonious schools, Ozcan says. The U.S. charter-school operators may world. “The chief characteristic of the Gulen movement is that know of Gulen, and he inspires some teachers, but these are it does not seek to subvert modern secular states, but encour- entrepreneurial endeavors, not Gulen-inspired private schools ages practicing Muslims to use to the full the opportunities they based on the Turkish model, he says. offer,” states a 2008 profile of Gulen in The New York Times. In Turkey, Gulen’s detractors imply that the schools are “Peace is central to his philosophy,” McDaniels says. “It’s part of a nefarious plot to take over the country from the inside. my idea of what Christianity ought to be doing, too.” Graduates have insinuated themselves into the highest ranks of Gulen’s work and words have motivated an organic net- the police force and the judiciary, in addition to being in other work of people who aspire to live up to Muslim ideals, World- prominent positions of power in the government and the media. wide, the Turkish diaspora has enthusiastically embraced his Not so fast, counter his supporters. moderate, modern interpretation of Islam. Because the move“The Police Academy is one of the best and most presment is not hierarchical, it’s impossible to estimate the number tigious education institutions in Turkey,” the Rev. Thomas of Gulen’s followers; however it’s likely to be in the millions. Michel told The New York Times in June 2010. Because GuHizmet, which has become synonymous with the Gulen len-school grads do well on entrance exams, he said, they easMovement, often takes the form of education. Ozcan came ily get accepted into the police force. In other words, it’s not to know Gulen through students who tutored him for free in surprising that smart, well-educated people rise to positions his Turkish community. “I need to be like them,” he remem- of authority, implied the Jesuit priest, a former top adviser on bers thinking at the time, even before he knew Gulen inspired Islamic matters to the Vatican. them. “I admired them because of their service.” In Turkey, followers have opened hundreds of “Gulen-inGULEN, see page 16 15 spired” private schools, whose students include some of the best


ment in its constitutions, the latest adopted in 1983. But rifts remain. Turkish courts ruled in 2001 that the Virtue Party, for example, was unconstitutional and banned it due to its religious dogma; however, the party of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, the reformist Justice and Development Party, grew out of the Virtue Party. Turks voted Erdogan in by a landslide in 2002. It was into Turkey’s political and religious volatility that Gulen began to develop a following through his sermons and writings. Muslims must learn to thrive in a modern technological society, he said. Progress for Turkey depends on education—not at the expense of faith traditions but in addition to them. “Turkey was in chaos,” for decades with numerous factions fighting for control, says Fatih Ozcan, Mississippi representative of the Institute of Interfaith Dialog. “Gulen was in the center of it. … He was basically giving the criteria of being a truthful person, using the right way to express yourself. Just blaming the others or bombing is not the way.” Ozcan also said that Gulen always took the side of the secular government, not speaking against it, and emphasizes to this day that there is no going back. Gulen told his followers that science and Islam are not in conflict, nor is there conflict between Islam and other faith traditions. In fact, he said, the Quran teaches religious tolerance, advocates education, and the right way to live and operate in society. It does not mandate a political system. Turkey already has enough mosques, Gulen said. Instead, build more schools, more hospitals and universities. For some Turks, this was a radical message. Nationalists accused Gulen of attempting to subvert the government. Islamists accused him of being too accepting of a political system that they felt had excluded them. Similar accusations have followed Gulen to the present day, and are just as far apart, depending on who is doing the criticizing and where the criticism appears in the press. Some critics say the American CIA supports him, while others say it’s the Russian KGB. In Turkey, his accusers tell the Turks he is a puppet of the Pope and a secret Cardinal, while in the United States, detractors say he is an Islamist terrorist whose ambitions mirror those of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. “Both literature review and the statistical analyses show that the defamation of Fethullah Gulen and the Gulen Movement is strategically operated,” writes Dogan Koc in “Strategic Defamation of Fethullah Gulen: English vs. Turkish,” published in the European Journal of Economic and Political Studies earlier this year. “Gulen is simultaneously portrayed as an Islamic danger who is secretly trying to resurrect the Ottoman Empire and Caliphate and as an American and Zionist puppet who is destroying Turkey and Islam with his ‘moderate Islam.’ ... While the depiction of an Islamic danger who is secretly trying to resurrect the Ottoman Empire and Caliphate is more alarming for English-language readers, the depiction of an American and Zionist puppet who is destroying Turkey and Islam with his ‘moderate Islam’ is likely aimed at manipulating Turkish-language readers.” In 1999, Gulen came to the United States for treatment of his many health issues (he is a diabetic and has heart problems). Accused of attempting to overthrow Turkey’s government in 2000, he was tried in absentia and acquitted in 2006. The Turkish Supreme Court threw out the case in 2008. “There was no crime,” Ozcan says. Ashton maintains that an economic and political power struggle motivates those behind Gulen’s persecution. The rise of an educated middle class poses a threat to nationalists and the military who held power until recently. “It’s completely baseless,” Ashton said of the criticism. Gulen lives quietly in Saylorsburg, Pa., where he writes and teaches as his health allows. The United States granted him permanent residency in 2006.

v10n12 - Spirituality Issue 2011  

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