Rumi Forum's blog on Hizmet, Fethullah Gulen, peacebuilding, education and interfaith efforts.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Op-Ed - Fethullah Gulen on going green

An interesting piece on Fethullah Gulen's approach to the environment:

Gulen on going green

I will go green. This is one of my New Year resolutions for 2011. I know I am already late but better than never. Besides I am already half green. I have been printing less; reading my articles online. I have unsubscribed from printed version of the daily paper and been following it online for more than a year. I try to use less water, program the thermostat to save energy. We have been recycling at home for many years now; paper, plastic, bottles and all go to the recycle can. We would have switched to a hybrid car but could not afford it even with the tax credit. I am trying to prefer e-books lately, but old habits are hard to change. I need to be more conscious on going green. It is not just the e-books, I know almost all the tips on how to go green, but I am not that good at living all of them: I need motivation on more of a foundational level. I need to work on “why” to go green. What follows is a result of my little study on this chain of thought and where it took me in my search of stimulus for going green.

Why should I go green?

I learnt that I was not alone in my search for incentives. Several years back Time magazine reported 90% of Europeans recognized climate change was a major issue, and 75% identified fossil-fuel emissions as a major cause, but less than one percent was able to take action on switching to renewable energy sources even though it was only a one phone call away. The Time article argued the question was as old as Socrates, and listed several reasons for disconnect on the information and action1. At the end main cause was diagnosed as the lack of the motivation on the consumer side.
Why would someone go green today? You might start with listing tax credits, health benefits of green products, or initiatives on alternative energy sources.  But that would be ignoring the actual source of the problem: consumerism and materialism. Why can’t we consume less? However civilized or educated we might be, we, well at least most of us, do not consume consciously. We always want more than we need. The more we buy, the more we own, the better we feel. Our shopping habits are not driven by logical and calculated decisions but by advertisements. You might try to self-control by sticking to prewritten and revised shopping lists. However advertisement campaigns are getting sneaker than ever on targeting our subconscious that we always end up buying clutter that we never need.
This reminds me the words of notorious Tyler Durden character from the movie Fight Club: “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate, so we can buy s*** we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact.”2 The only difference today is that it is not a small fight club anymore: It is almost the entire society. Materialism is the de facto standard for modern man. The economy in total is based on consumerism.  Satisfaction with less or enoughism is still a marginal thought. We are always inclined, educated, and directed to buy more. We can’t stop doing that. Even during our worst days we could not sacrifice: Indeed even in the aftermath of the tragic September 11 events, our President told us that we had to keep shopping3.

Green Zone in the Consuming War

While our troopers were hunting down terrorists in the deserts or on the mountains, we were advised on hunting down deals in the malls. We both were working to save our freedom, as we needed a sound economy as much as we needed safety and security. It is hard to say whether we gained and lost those battles, but as a matter of fact that we were hit really hard on both frontlines. We lost lives and we lost businesses. Our greed to buy bigger cars and larger homes turned against us and hit back with doubling gas prices and subprime mortgage crisis.  Century old car companies, banks, lenders went bankrupt. We lost our homes. We lost our jobs. For years we fought to have more but after all ended up with less.
Have we learned our lesson? Some of us did. At least we became more conscious on saving and consuming less. Yet current approaches for going green sound like creating a green zone in the battlefield. Green products constitute to only a small percentage of market. Alternative energy methods are very costly for the general population. Development of green industries and facilities is still very limited. Sustainability is only discussed in the academic circles.

“More” is still motto of the day

Consumerism is still sitting on the steering wheel in our economy. If we look at the big picture, it is not just our economy but most of our life is based on “greed”. Our financial plans, our health programs, our educational plans, all aim to get more. We do not eat less to lose weight: We have new diet pills and programs that allow us eat more while we are losing weight. We pursue advanced degrees not to learn or master in a field but to get a better-paying job or get promotion at work. More people are choosing business and technology majors at the college, and only a few in hundred want to study in History or English, because moneywise the latter worth less (!); and as always we want more.
As you can guess, living in a world of greedy people focusing on only their self interests; going green requires more than a few buying incentives. We have to dig deeper. Doing so, I came across a bunch of articles, workshops and conferences brainstorming on environmental and ecological issues. There are many good studies worth to read about.
In a research report from 2007, EPA determines six main themes that we should focus on to motivate individuals, businesses and governments on sustainable choices. In addition to the themes on renewable resource systems, biological and chemical impacts of our choices, urban development, land use, the last two themes listed are economics, human behavior and decision making.4  At the end sustainability boils down to our individual decisions and how much we consider and value the ecosystem in our daily lives.
Our decisions do not only affect the quality of our lives, but also lives of future generations and also plants and animals, hence the entire ecosystem. The Planet Green puts it “As globalization makes the world become smaller, it becomes increasingly easy to see how the lives of people (and plants and animals and ecosystems) everywhere are closely synced up with one another. So toys made in China can affect the quality of life in Europe, pesticides used in Argentina can affect the health of people in the U.S., and greenhouse gas emissions from Australia can affect a diminishing rainforest in Brazil.”5

At the Heart of the Crisis of Eco-justice is a Spiritual Crisis

As global citizens we have to be eco-conscious.  We have to curb and manage our consumption as a society. We cannot think nature as a mere commodity anymore.  We have to reshape our economy considering the environmental consequences of consumerism. In one recent study, Dr John Raines of Temple University concludes along the same lines: “Eco-Justice is the task of global economic justice and at the same moment the task of global ecological justice. To pursue that task, we must disenthrall ourselves of the dominant ideology that defines the self in relationship to its material possessions.”6
Dr. Raines points out that “at the heart of the crisis of eco-justice is a spiritual crisis” 7 and describes the problem as “We turned the natural world (upon which at every moment we are intimately and absolutely dependent) into “raw material,” into a commodity, something we could and should manipulate for our “higher” human purposes. But then came an ironic twist.  What we had de-sacralized and commodified we re-sacralized.  The stuff we owned and displayed became the powerful determiners of our meaning and value as persons.  It is called “conspicuous consumption” (Veblen) and it quickly became an endless race of “obligatory ostentation”.   We became a self trapped with other selves inside an endless competition for “comparative repute”. We could never get enough stuff.  As a result, we have turned out natural world into, literally, a “waste-land”.”

Gulen Echoing the Sufi way on Eco-Justice

At the same conference, Dr Eileen Eppig addresses the eco-justice problem at a deeper level through the Sufi way of well-known Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen.  She explains the peaceful and harmonic way of Gulen as a reflection of traditional Sufi thought expressed in the words of 13th century Sufi poet Yunus Emre: “Love every creature because of the Creator.”
Dr Eppig explains Gulen’s universal approach as, “The nonviolent and peaceful lifestyle of Fethullah Gulen reflects the Sufi belief that love is the essential element in every creature. Gulen’s own love extends to the entire universe, which is meant to be “read” by human beings in order to achieve faith, knowledge, and closeness to God. With traditional Sufi theology, Gulen relates the inner meaning of the Qur’an to the inner meaning of the natural world. The Qur’an and the universe are two expressions of the same truth. The Qur’an calls on human beings to study creation for the sake of knowing the Creator. The natural world, like the Qur’an, reveals the Divine Names and so has a kind of sacredness in it. The universe teaches human beings to demonstrate compassion, not only to other humans, but to every living creature. Gulen calls this “the grand orchestra of love.” All creation is to be loved in the way of God’s loving, replacing violence and hatred with peace and harmony.”8
Dr Jon Pahl shows that Gulen’s extension of the Sufi notion that nature as a “sacred space” does not only provide a theoretical foundation but also a practical basis as reflected in every practice of the Hizmet movement, the transnational society inspired by Fethullah Gulen. He unravels this practice as, “The thought of M. Fethullah Gulen, and the Hizmet ("service") movement inspired by him, offers an alternative to any anti-material Islam.   Explicitly, Mr. Gulen asserts that "nature is much more than a heap of materiality or an accumulation of objects:  It has a certain sacredness, for it is an arena in which God's Beautiful Names are displayed." Fethullah Gulen develops this Sufi notion of the sacred space of nature in several directions, and those Muslims inspired by him have applied his thinking in practical action.  First, the Hizmet movement clearly emphasizes "scientific" education--with many of the schools organized by movement leaders serving as "science academies."  More indirectly, but perhaps even more importantly, crucial metaphors found in the theology of the movement--light, water, growing things such as the rose--feature nature.  These metaphors serve as reminders that creation is linked to a Creator.  Finally, the Hizmet movement embraces not only "professional" theologians, but also "lay" professionals--engineers, financiers, economists, physicians, and more--who integrate the practice of natural sciences with religious commitment in a social movement that might help remedy some of the damage done to the environment in previous generations.  Many have focused on the political dimensions of implications of the Hizmet movement.  More important, perhaps, will be its contributions to global environmental justice, flowing from the sense of nature as sacred space at the heart of the movement.”9

Comparative Analysis of Gulen’s Thoughts on the Ecosystem

In the course of the aforementioned conference, Dr Ori Soltes of Georgetown University compares Gulen’s sufi notion of ecosystem with Judeo-Christian tradition and also Plato’s “ergon” and Aristo’s “harmonia”. Besides he analyzes several passages from sacred texts of Abrahamic religions and study what they instruct on “shaping of humanity with respect to our relationship to each other and to the world around us” and “How are we intended by God to act vis-à-vis each other and the world?”
Dr Soltes’ research also provides “a brief discussion of how Plato’s thought distinguishes logos—discussion—from ergon: action; of what Aristotle means by the term harmonia—the bringing of apparently opposed ideas into dynamic synthesis ; and of how the Platonic and Aristotelian perspectives differ with regard to the human approach to the world around us”. In his detailed analysis Dr Soltes also focuses on writings of Gulen titled as “Humanity and Its Responsibilities,”  “An Ideal Society,” and “The Meaning of Life”, and concludes that “all contribute to a world view that both explicitly and implicitly draws from the threefold Abrahamic tradition with respect to human-human and human-natural world relations and does so by applying principles expressed by Plato and Aristotle—specifically the ideas of logos, ergon and harmonia.”10
In another comparative analysis, Dr Gage examines “why Gülen’s reinstituting wisdom in education promises to balance the benefits of science and humanism. Drawing from analyses by astrophysicists Primack and Abrams from their The View from the Center of the Universe and by economist Matt Ridley from his The Rational Optimist, the discussion centers on education and the existential choice to sustain today’s I/It enmity of winners and losers or to embrace Gülen’s ethos that elicits I/Thou equity through tolerant dialogue upon our common ground.”11
Dr Gage concludes that Gulen’s balanced approach to Eco-Justice reflected in Gulen-Inspired Schools does provide a unique solution: “Yet, living today we are of that cohort, unique in history, with understanding and perspective to comprehend a cosmic responsibility. And, we have the benefit and chance to attune with F. Gülen, whose humanism fosters harmony and tolerance among people living with our common Earth. Of the many Hizmet agencies that assert his inspiration and that evidence the dual mission of Eco-Justice - - of both living together in peace and with the planet - - are Gülen-inspired schools encircling Earth. In spite of the gravity challenging humanity, schools season many of the planet’s communities with young minds forecasting how to save their home, their real economy.”12

Gulen On Going Green

In the light of the above studies, I would conclude that Gulen’s extension of Sufi way of seeing nature as a “sacred space” and “grand orchestra of love”, gives us a more foundational basis for “going green”. In this way one can value each and every creature with respect to their relationship to the Creator. We do not need to superficially make a habit to conserve the environment, but to become aware of that loving and respecting the rest of the nature is already inherited in our own nature. As human beings, it is our existential responsibility to embrace the entire universe and protect the general harmony of existence.