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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Below you will find the full length videos of the conference panels and all the presentations from MAY 26. Some excerpts are also reproduced/

Rumi Forum, in collaboration with Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, brought together prominent scholars of the nation's capital to discuss the growing importance of civil society in peace building, conflict resolution and democratization. “The Role of Civil Society in Peace building, Conflict Resolution and Democratization” conference was held on May 26th, 2011 at the Berkley Center’s 3rd floor Conference Room.

Below are some excerpts from the presentations:

Mohamed Nimer, American University: What do the Arab world can learn from the Gulen Movement? One major thing is that the sophisticated definition of how a social movement relates to the state? How it relates to the power play? Gulen has decided that when you look at the Islamic tradition democracy is the best form of the systems that can meet the requirements of Islamic values. And as such a faith based social movement has to stay above partisan politics, above the contest for power... Arab world wants the Gulen inspired ideas of separating politics from social work...

Marina Ottaway, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: We, the Carnegie Endowment, and two other organizations, held a conference in April on the role of external actors in promoting change in the Arab world. Participants were other than the usual Western suspects including all the organizations, supporting democratic transformation and civil society in the world and particularly in the Middle East. We had a number of activists from Arab countries. One participant, a very well known scholar from Jordan, said civil society has not playing any role whatsoever in the uprisings. Everybody around the room agreed with him. Here you have tens of thousands of citizens were out on the streets. I thought if this was not civil society what was civil society. What they meant was the NGOs that western countries have been promoting in these countries. Organizations that western countries have been building up, financing and training were not anywhere to be seen. So, civil society did not play any role in the uprising. Citizens did, but not the organizations.

Bilal Wahab, George Mason University: One of the examples of hope in Iraq is the social entrepreneurship; a school that was sponsored by Hizmet (a.k.a the Gulen Movement) in 1994. It was a free high school at first but it has built a reputation for itself, graduated smart students and after that it started charging people for money. They say, ` We can educate your kids. We can teach them English, Turkish, math and science. And these students can participate International Scientific Olympics and they come back with prizes. So they’ve become marketable. Once they become marketable people pay a lot of money to go to that school. But that money is being used to build another school in another town. So, this process of mushrooming without being dependent on anyone has created a positive effect on other Civil Society Organizations.

Catherine Cosman, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: There are many civil society organizations in Central Asian countries. There have been varying responses. Some of them have something to do with the Soviet legacy of atheism. So many human rights activists are not that interested in religion. They have unfortunately have a lot of other issues they can focus on. While I was in Azerbaijan a couple of years ago for a conference on civil society and I talked about the problems of religious groups in Azerbaijan which have only gotten worse. The other people in the room said: `But are they really part of civil society?` I was very surprised by that kind of response.

Angel Rabasa, Rand Corporation: Once the transition begins can play and have played in consolidation of democracy. According to study by Freedom House civic resistance played a vital role in driving 50 out of 67 modern transitions from authoritarian rule to democracy.

Joshua Foust, American Security Project: Westerners in general tend to assume their own concepts and their own experiences of what civil society or what some kind of doing good group means are the best ones. That’s why you have the military in Afghanistan what it does best which is creating another military. I spent several years as an advisor for the US Army dealing with social and cultural issues inside Afghanistan. They have a lot of problems going on. One of the biggest ones is the assumption about how Afghanistan itself works. And I think this is the feature you will find in a lot of foreigner based NGOs, especially in Central Asia which are in a way orientalist assumptions about how these societies work...... And this gets back to the idea of fundamentally misunderstanding a society that you are working in, making wrong assumptions about how that society works and then going ahead and crafting policies based on that wrong assumption...

Mehmet Kalyoncu, Independent Analyst: In Mardin, a multiethnic city populated by ethnic Turks, Kurds, Arabs and Assyrian Christians on Turkey’s Syrian border, the affiliates of the Hizmet [service] Movement have, through their personal interactions and conversations, first, convinced the local people that the fundamental problem of their community was the lack of education and educational infrastructure in the city; second, promoted multicultural understanding and tolerance; and finally, got these local people personally involved in finding resources through local and outside donors, and making concrete progresses on the ground. In so doing, the Hizmet Movement has been able to create a Mardinian civic consciousness among the Turks, Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians.

Stanley Kober, CATO Institute: To address the problem of war, we need to supplement top-down with bottom-up approaches; we have to address not only interests of state, but emotions of people. ......American education offers a culture of questioning. This is the spirit that is the foundation of scientific method and democracy. As Judge Learned Hand put it, “the spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.” It is in that spirit that we can hope to realize Washington’s vision of a peaceful world, built from the bottom up, in which we are all “Citizen[s] of the great republic of humanity at large.”

Watch Opening Remarks
Watch Panel 1
Watch Panel 2
Watch Panel 3
Watch Closing Remarks