It can be said that one of the first inclusive critical articles on Fethullah Gülen and the movement he leads is in the chapter, entitled “Fethullah Followers: Tears, Patience, State and Nation” of my book “Verse of the Qur’an and Slogan: Islamic Formations in Turkey”, first printed in November 1990. I wrote this book as a result of five years of work. At that time, the Gülen community was totally different than today: It was not possible to see the existence of the community with the naked eye apart from the monthly S›z›nt› magazine and a couple of low profile foundations. Fethullah Gülen himself was not visible except for a few of his preaching videocassettes.
However, people of different Islamic circles I met at that time thought that this community was destined to be one of the most influential Islamic communities and they were concerned about this because they found Gülen too “moderate”. (I have observed that some of these people later became involved in the Gülen movement somehow.)
The power of the Gülen community came mainly from high schools (colleges), which were operated on the basis of positive science and foreign language education and private courses that prepared the students for different schools. Allegedly, Gülen motivated the graduates from these schools to take office at various levels of the State, in other words, his goal was to surround the State from the bottom up. For instance, Fethullah Gülen, who wrote editorial articles under the pseudonym, “M. Abdülfettah ﬁahin” in S›z›nt› magazine, expressed the following in one of his articles, titled, “Souls Uniting In Agony”: “Today, we do not need anything else but those who say ‘I am willing to burn in the flames of hell for the material-spiritual bliss of my nation’ (…) those who perish in God and the nation by pushing aside their personal interests and egotisms (…) those who suffer from society’s agonies and always follow the source of the wailings (…) those with the torch of science in their hands who fight against ignorance and vulgarities by lighting a lamp everywhere (…) those with a superior faith and determination who come to the rescue of others stuck on the path (…) those who continue their ways like a steed without falling to desperation, without rebelling against the hardships they are subjected to (…) those brave fellows who rear up with the joy of sustenance while forgetting the desire to live...!”
I finished the chapter of the book I mentioned immediately after this citation with the following paragraph: “The Fethullah followers, who are one of the most persistent and successful advocates of Islamic thought in modern Turkey, with its popular attitude of the times of its initial flourishing, and could be summarized in the maxim, “Let’s get the science of the West but let’s keep our culture”, have raised up many ‘brave fellows’ as a result of having based their service work on the youth during their school years. This community, which prefers to put its personnel cadre into the service of the State (at least for now), has at the same time enormous financial resources. One day in the future, when it has self-esteem, the assumption could ‘theoretically’ be made that the community could aspire for political power. However, it is doubtful how far this staff could go further while being raised through empty agitation, speculative arguments, and a deep attachment to the personality cult.”
Extraordinary success in education
Now, after 22 years, I can say that my predictions about the Gülen movement have mostly proved to be right, while the last sentence, that is the assumption, which is doubtful how far this staff could go further, is totally and clearly inappropriate. Because, especially in the last five years, the Gülen movement is the first name (and in some cases the only one) that comes to the mind when an “Islamic community” is mentioned. The foremost reason for the influence of this community is the extraordinary success they have displayed in education. This success automatically led to a decrease in the effects of other Islamic communities, and marginalization of most of them. Because almost all the powerful Islamic communities in Turkey always focus their attention on education and they compete seriously in two areas: 1) aid from the religious people whose financial situation is good; 2) children of religious families whose financial situation is not good, especially those whose intelligence are above the average.
The Gülen community, by becoming a center of attraction in the field of education, has begun to get both the lion’s share in financial aid from the religious rich and most of the intelligent children of the religious families in their schools. The success of these schools gradually reached such a point that they began to subsidize themselves instead of the financial aid. Of course, in order for this to happen, the schools had to give up their attitude of opening doors only for those children selected by the community and accept the children from “outsider” families who heard the praises of the schools, and they did so.
The most important matter of debate, criticism and accusation directed at the Gülen community, which has gained a fair reputation and respectability not only in Turkey but throughout the world for their schools, media organizations, and foundations operating with themes such as “interfaith relations”, “dialogue”, “tolerance”, has been taking place around allegations, which can be summed up as “set-up in the State”. Gülen himself responded to the set-up claims of the community within the State, particularly in the key ministries with a large number of staff, such as the Interior, Justice, Education ministries and the Turkish Armed Forces as follows: “First and above all, I am essentially a child of Anatolia. It cannot be called infiltration when somebody encourages the individuals from his own nation to take office in some establishments in his own country. Both those individuals and establishments belong to this country. What is implied with the infiltration was already done by those outside of this nation at a certain time. Yes, an individual of a nation does not infiltrate into the establishments, which exist for his own nation; it is his right, he goes in there; he goes in to civil service, to the court of law, to the intelligence service, or to the foreign affairs. It should be noted that those who bring forth such allegations of setting-up, infiltration, proliferation and who try to intimidate dutiful people are the kind who have almost at all times infiltrated, set-up and proliferated on behalf of their own philosophies by hiding behind their slander and misdirecting.” As it is seen, Gülen objects not to the set-up allegations, but to those of “infiltration”, presented to be something illegal.
As a matter of fact, the most important establishment in the community, the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), in which Gülen is the honorary chairman, expressed the same subject in an article entitled, “Important Statements on the Agenda”, issued on their website, on April 5, 2012 as such: “It is as clear today as it was yesterday that to establish a connection with those members of security and jurisdiction, who carry out their duties within the limits of the law, and the community is intentional. To target people only in terms of their identities, colors, sects or religious beliefs instead of the quality of their work and the value they represent is both a dangerous and a primitive act. To introduce a person as dangerous just because of his affiliation with a thought is also against the basic human rights. In this respect, introducing a person as dangerous just because he is showing respect to the Service (Hizmet) is a violation of basic human rights.
(…) It is also extremely natural to have people in the state bureaucracy who set their hearts to the Service (Hizmet) Movement. Moreover, to perceive serving people’s own state within the limits of regulations and laws as ‘seizing the State’ or ‘infiltration’ is ruthlessness.”
There is nothing to object to in the responses of Gülen or GYV to the allegations of setting-up. Of course, in a democratic society, government cadres should be open to people from all walks of life, on the basis of merit. It could never be considered that people trained in the schools of the Gülen community and who felt close or even connected to the movement do not serve the State simply for this reason. However, the placement of these individuals in the bureaucracy as part of a strategy as well as a hierarchical organization within the community and manipulation of the State’s opportunities for the community’s (his own) interests changes the circumstances. As a matter of fact, there have been many allegations that the Gülen Community has systematically infiltrated the State, books were written on this and a lawsuit was brought against Fethullah Gülen as a result of this. Gülen, judged by the Ankara State Security Court, was acquitted by a unanimous vote in the Supreme Court Criminal General Council (9th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court File No: 2007/6083 – Judgment No: 1328 and dated 05.03.2008).
Nevertheless, despite the court decision, accusations against the community have not ceased. The Gülen movement began to be discussed and questioned again with the book, “Simons Living in the Golden Horn”, published in August 2010 and written by Hanefi Avc›, Eskiﬂehir Chief of Police, who wrote it while in office.
Avc› was a nationalist-conservative Chief of Police who specialized in the intelligence part of the fight against terrorism. He was considered to be somebody who is not distant to the Gülen movement. However, Avc›, as an insider, put forward very strong claims for the organization of the community within the Turkish National Police by giving names and describing events. As a result of this, his book was a best-seller in a very short time. However, even though Avc› had been fighting against terrorism for years, he was arrested and put on trial for being affiliated with a radical leftist movement, called “The Revolutionary Base”. Following this, he was also included in the OdaTV case and it was claimed that he had a relationship with Ergenekon.
To a large extent, it can be said that the public thinks that Avc› had been silenced through investigations and trials by exactly the same people against whom he was fighting. Indeed, after a while, the journalist, Ahmet ﬁ›k, known to be preparing a book on the organization of the community within the police, was also taken into custody and the police confiscated copies of the work-in-progress on different computers. Despite this, the book was published on the Internet, temporarily entitled “The Army of the Imam”, and following this, it attracted a lot of attention when it was published with the title, “001. Book: Whoever Touches it Burns”.
The MIT (National Intelligence Organization) Crisis
Another journalist, who was arrested on the same day as ﬁ›k was Nedim ﬁener, who had researched and shed light on the negligence of the state officials in the murder of the Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink. Therefore, he had disturbed some of the chiefs of police that were suggested to be affiliated with the Gülen movement. After his arrest, it was claimed that this hostility was present behind it, and, therefore the Gülen movement.
In the course of events, during the Ergenekon process, this was the second big break after the incident of Prof. Türkan Saylan, Director of The Support for Modern Life Association. Namely, it was thought that Professor Saylan was included in the investigation mainly because she was running a rival educational establishment to that of the Gülen movement. In other words, this investigation was seriously clouded with the possibility that highly influential members of the Gülen community were, at the same time, settling up their own accounts in the cases of Professor Saylan, ﬁ›k-ﬁener during the Ergenekon process.
In February 2012, in Istanbul, specially authorized prosecutor Sadrettin Sar›kaya called five new and former MIT managers for an interrogation, particularly Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, designating them as “suspicious”. This incident has been briefly called “the MIT crisis”, which can be referred to as the third big breaking point. One of the most significant differences of this crisis has been that the ruling party, AKP, did not refute the claims about the Gülen movement’s organizations within the government, which has been on the country’s agenda for a long time. It was even a complaint, sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit, that the Gülen movement pressured policies on the government through their veins in the government.
Actually, the MIT crisis was not the first problem that happened in the “alliance by itself” between the AKP government and the Gülen movement, it was, rather, “the last straw” as Ali Bayramo€lu, a writer in Yeni ﬁafak, put it. Even though this alliance has shown success, mostly in the cases that target to liquidate the military tutelage, such as Ergenekon, Balyoz and similar cases, the most serious controversies have also been experienced due to the same processes. The disagreement that arose at times between the executive and judicial powers around the inclusion of some retired, some on active duty, top-ranked military officers into the interrogations and/or being tried in a court while under arrest should be evaluated in this context. The last example of this has been the arrest of ‹lker Baﬂbu€, the former Military Chief of Staff, not standing trial in the Supreme State Council but in the Specially Authorized Court and being already under arrest despite the objections from the topmost government officials.
Even though the Gülen movement and the AKP government seem to be acting absolutely together in the resolution of the Kurdish and PKK problems, it was already known that they had very different, even contrary perspectives on these issues. The last MIT crisis proved how crucial these differences are.
In spite of the fact that, later, it was insisted that the prosecutor’s only purpose was to interrogate the illegal activities of some MIT members who had infiltrated into KCK, it was obvious that the interrogation of the MIT members was mainly to discuss in detail the government’s negotiation policies with the PKK and Öcalan. This situation, as was emphasized by some people close to the government, could be seen as a search for establishing a “judicial tutelage” above the politics.
A new “Deep State”?
One of the main problems a Western observer experiences in understanding the Turkish political environment is the distinction between the government and the State. It is obvious that a Western observer also has difficulty in grasping the meaning of what is often repeated in Turkey, “it is easy to be in the government, but difficult to come to power”. It is extremely useful to use the concept “the Deep State” in order to explain that a civilian government elected in Turkey cannot ever act outside the thick red lines, drawn by the structure, that is called the “State”, and if it dares to, it would be overthrown.
This is precisely how the ruling cadres of AKP, which has been in power almost for 10 years, had been the victims of this “Deep State”. For instance, most of them were members of the Welfare Party, which had first lost power through a “post-modern coup d’état” initiated by soldiers on 28 February 1997, then was closed down by the Constitutional Court. The later founded Virtue Party was also closed down on flimsy grounds; they were put on trial for being closed down while in the government and had a near miss. For that reason, it was an extremely understandable and incisive decision to begin the liquidation of the “Deep State” after Abdullah Gül became the president and, particularly, after the 2007 general elections in which AKP got 47% of the vote. It is a commonly accepted fact that officials in the police force and in the courts who carry out their activities in relation to the Gülen movement are mobilized and lead the investigations on Ergenekon and Balyoz in a coordinated manner with the government for this purpose. However, with the MIT crisis, if it is kept in mind that the term “judicial tutelage” has been introduced by some writers close to the AKP government, it is inevitable to ask the following question: is the liquidation of the “Deep State” being replaced by a new one?
It is obvious in this question that the main emphasis is on the Gülen community. Similarly, it is quite clear that the answer to this question is not a simple “yes”. Because it is not possible for AKP, which managed to get at least one out of very two votes in the last elections, to share its power with another focus, and above all, accept being under its tutelage.
Then, what kind of a future is awaiting Turkey?
The Key is in Gülen’s Hands
In order to answer this question, let’s have a look again at the Gülen community. It can be easily said that it is a real success story, when we look at how the movement does not lose its influence in the 21st century, but on the contrary, it continuously gains power. No doubt, this success was not easy to get and its main subject is Fethullah Gülen himself. We know that he has been taking his steps cautiously from the very first day and personally monitoring each of his students closely. Therefore, reasoning such as, “The Master Hodja is good but there could be bad elements around him” can no longer apply. Undoubtedly, there have been some people in this ever-growing structure who have been engaged in serious mistakes, and such people may still be doing so. However, it cannot be thought that any person has any right and possibility to commit strategic mistakes that would leave the whole community in the lurch and under suspicion. (At this point, the GYV description is: “As a result of human nature, as in all other social movements, there could be some individuals who could act without complying to the understanding of voluntariness and civility within the Service (Hizmet). However, these mistakes cannot be attributed to the Service (Hizmet). If this mistake has an illegal quality, undoubtedly the law would deal with that.” We can say that these words are quite meaningful but insufficient.)
This point should be underlined: Even though people, who are spread out to all corners of the globe and working in different areas, such as media, health, trade, bureaucracy, are attached to the movement and they obey the central discipline rules, it is extremely natural to have differences in their views and perspectives.
The Gülen movement is a success story but, of course, it has failures in its history as well. One of the most striking ones is the strategy of staying indifferent to the unjust treatment the other Islamic structures are experiencing, which was developed in the early phases of the process of February 28, and later perceived to be wrong when it was their turn. It is clear that the MIT crisis is a much bigger strategic mistake. If the question “What has led the Gülen movement to the greatest mistake in their history” is asked, it can be said that, primarily, they miscalculated the power of AKP and, of course, Recep Tayyip Erdo€an; in relation to this, that they thought AKP would never risk their own support. The main problem arises from the serious break between the perspectives of AKP and the Gülen movement, and the community does not draw close to accepting this break. Namely, the operations carried out in collaboration between the specially authorized courts and the police for the liquidation of the military tutelage have been put forward all together but, after a certain stage, it is observed that the government wants to “normalize” the country, whereas the other side, let alone finishing the operations, attempts to interfere with every aspect of life. The investigation of match fixing is the clearest example of this.
The operations handled in the triangle of police-prosecutor-judge gradually turned into an image of a new sort of social engineering, and responses to it from inside and outside have been troubling the government for a while, and the MIT crisis was the last straw. It is not impossible for the AKP government and the Gülen movement to stop this crisis from becoming chronic. This, however, seems to be possible only when the people from the Gülen movement in the State accept that the times have changed and have given up preventing the normalization process of the country. In this context, it won’t be surprising if Fethullah Gülen pulls the movement gradually to this line and tries to compensate for this strategic error. The sine qua non condition of this is, however, that the Gülen movement becomes transparent as soon as possible. It seems unlikely for Turkey to become normalized without living through this.