Bulent Aliriza, Director and Senior Associate of Turkey Project introduces Alp Aslandogan and the topic of the talk: Gulen or Hizmet Movement (GM/HM) is lead by Fethullah Gulen, focuses on Education and Social Issues. However, it is influence –or even more perhaps, perceived influence- goes well beyond these areas in Turkey as well as U.S. and else where around the world. Few people seem to be neutral about the movement.
Hizmet Movement (HM) is the preferred terminology by its participants, meaning serving fellow humans. Western naming Gulen Movement (GM) is not preferred because it puts too much emphasis on one person. There are other terms describe the movement like ‘Camia’ in Turkish, but none of them would be the right term to describe, so I prefer to use multiple terms.
Movement started as a community around a maverick preacher, a scholar by the name of Gulen; and transformed into a social movement -still transforming- especially in 1990ies. So, many scientists see it as a transnational social movement, faith inspired social movement right now but some of the aspects of the early decades are still there, those aspects that relate to the community roots. Its focuses are on education projects but there are other areas where participants have established foundations, -sometimes- corporations and associations. These areas include -besides education- healthcare, disaster relief & economic assistance, publications of different forms and formats, interfaith and intra-society dialogue; there are also a number of professional associations, both in business and other professions like white/blue collar associations serving two purposes:
i) for the professional development of its members
ii) to channel some of their resources toward charitable projects
Talk Flow will be as following:
- Some examples of projects and institutions (before talking about them)
- Gulen himself
- Movement projects and institutions
[Dr. Aslandogan starts showing snapshots of some projects of the movement]
- A snapshot from a school in the city of Bursa.
- A snapshot of a hospital in the city if Sanliurfa.
- A set of pictures from a village rebuilding project in Darfur. That the humanitarian aid and disaster relief organization Kimse Yok mu? (Isn’t there anybody listening) Foundation organized.
- Pictures of Gulen’s very symbolic, pioneering initiatives in interfaith dialogue in early 90ies in Turkey.
- A snapshot from an intellectual meeting in town of Abant in Turkey; only meeting of its kind which brings corners of various segments of the Turkish political and ideological spectrum together where about a 100 to 150 intellectuals participated.
What is common among these projects, volunteers and the officers of the organizations is a concept that I liked to call is committed core. This concept involves people who are committed to a high cause; they have solidarity around a high cause. As an example, establishing an educational institution, be it a dormitory, be it a tutoring center, be it a school in a neighborhood, which has problems; let’s say drug problem. Vast majority of the community would like to get rid of that problem, be it violence, drug or whatever. People with good intentions try to do certain things, and when they start to see that their efforts going nowhere, then they get disheartened, disillusioned and they simply leave or they do not do anything about the solution of the problem any more. So, the problem continues in a community of well meaning good intentioned people, because nobody actually goes to the final last mile. So in the case of the Hizmet Volunteers, -its not the only example of this concept by the way, there are many other examples around the world- volunteer see whatever they are doing as something beyond a salary paying job, as something that gives meaning to their lives. And they have solidarity with their fellow participants around this particular cause and therefore they are willing to commit much more than other well-meaning citizens might. In the case of drug problem for instance, in a school environment, if there is a drug problem, a principal, or a teacher, or a parent, or a PTO member is willing to say “drugs will not enter this school, over my dead body if someone attempts”. So, such individuals, one, two or three, when they come together in a place, when they make this school free of drugs, then other well meaning people who were dormant before, they also gather around them. So, this committed core, actually brings together the good in people, the intentions and energy in the people and activates them. I often use the example of the sugar crystallization experiment -if you have done that in school-, or saturation experiment. That is, you pick up a container, put water in it and begin heating it while adding sugar in it, and then you allow it to cool down. And at certain point you drop a little sugar crystal into that container and if you continue to cool down, you will see that little crystal of sugar becomes larger and larger. So, that little sugar crystal actually serves to bring together the sugar that is already in there, in the water. I think the impact or effect of the HM in Turkish and other societies is that because of these committed core, committed individuals, other well meaning people who want to do good for their society they gather around them to build projects for their society.
Then Dr.Aslandogan shows example snapshots from some other projects. In one of the pictures, there is a lady medical doctor with two of her colleagues running a TV show that deals with family problems.
Let’s talk about Mr. Fethullah Gulen who is the core inspirer and motivator for the movement’s participants. He is a multi dimensional person: he is a scholar, he is a thinker, he is a preacher emeritus who worked for the Turkish government’s directorate of religious affairs -that’s the only way one can preach in Turkey-, so he was a civil servant for a number of years. He is also an author, a very prolific author who has -I believe- more than 12,000 pages in print right now. His speeches, addresses, short talks are also published on the web -I believe- there is over 1000 hours of audio/visual material available either on the web or in other formats. He is also an educator, that is he personally teaches, to this day he teaches a group of graduates of schools of divinity, in his residence, and throughout his life he has been a personal mentor and tutor. He is a progressive scholar and preacher but he is rooted in tradition, i.e. in his interpretation of the Islamic resources, be it the Quran, the commentaries on the Quran, the prophetic tradition, and other resources of the Islamic tradition, he is very progressive but he is always rooted in tradition when he brings an interpretation it is always based on roots in the tradition, based on this particular hadith or based on the interpretation of that particular scholar. Therefore he is not cut from the tradition. This is important for his impact, because we see especially in Western countries, Muslim scholars, thinkers, authors; they may state their opinion, write books and speak on topics, and their interpretations are found to be very compatible with western views but when they fail to connect with the tradition they lose impact on devout Muslim populations.
So, in the case of Gulen, his impact is there because he is not cut from the tradition.
As examples of his progressive interpretations, -though, he may disagree with that statement- :
* There should be no restriction on women to become a president or judge in any society
* Democracy as the best form of governance developed by the mankind.
* Turkey being a member of the European Union (EU)
* On issues such as freedom of expression or other basic human rights
* On Muslims’ approach to arts
these are some of his many progressive interpretations.
He is well versed in both Islamic and Western thought. He often mentions Western thinkers in his speeches; Bergson, Kant, Pascal are few of the names that comes to mind now right now. He combines intellectual work with fieldwork. That is, he is never isolated from the real community service work. Of course, within the last decade, because of his health conditions, he cannot personally participate in many activities, he continues to speak once or twice a week, he continues to edit some of his works that are about to be published, but most of his life he was personally involved in actual fieldwork.
Some of his stances those were significant when they were expressed:
* His support for democracy in the early 90ies when there was a political Islamist party in Turkey who was about to get the power. Turkish observant Muslims attitude toward democracy was mixed. There were arguments that there are some essential incompatibilities there and Gulen argued that there are no essential incompatibilities, and it is in fact the most compatible form of governance with the Islamic principles that pertained to governance.
* He supported Turkey’s membership in EU, this process and still continues to support despite the economic trouble that EU facing now
* May be his most prominent and important stance is against violence. He has been consistent in his stance against of violence of all forms, terror of all forms, in his sermons, in his short talks and books he speaks very clearly, categorically against violence. He rejects terrorism of any kind without regard to the declared cause. For instance, in the case of Palestine or other places when certain individuals who identify themselves as Muslims, when they resort to suicide bombings with the rhetoric that they have no other weapon. Gulen categorically rejects that argument. If an end goal is noble, the ways to reach end goal should also be noble. Having no other means is never a justification of some action that is wrong. In the case of 9/11 attacks, he came forward and condemned the attackers and attack with an ad on the Washington Post. His view on terror was published in a book. He helped edit with the views of other Muslim scholars so there is a book published on condemning terror based on Islamic Muslim resource arguments. And recently he condemned the attacks to the U.S. Ambassador in Libya and categorically rejected that approach stating that such actions can’t be legitimate in an op-ed piece in Financial Times (dated Sep 27).
* Overall he promotes democracy, science and arts, both individual and group spirituality, dialogue, intra-faith, inter-faith, inter-cultural, inter-ideological, inter-political view; developing a culture of peaceful coexistence is an important item in this course.
* He stands against politicization of faith. During the 90ies, this issue was very prominent. He declared his view that religion should never be politicized. If this happens, then both politics and religion suffers, and religion suffers more.
* He is also against shallow and literalist interpretations of tradition that prevent Muslims from becoming active participants of pluralist democracies. He promotes deeper, more comprehensive look at the tradition and also considering the factors that influenced the interpretations of early ages.
The main themes of his advocacy or discourse roughly overlap with the activity areas of the Hizmet Movement. These include
ii) community service,
iii) dialogue & peace-building,
iv) social justice, and
v) development of virtues, individuals and society.
Let me say a couple of words about number iv and v:
When we say social justice, there are of course multiple dimensions to it. In the Turkish context, one dimension of social justice was to help prevent or eliminate the disenfranchisement of certain segments of Turkish society, in particular, the observant Muslims and also the Kurdish citizens. Because Turkish Republic had an ideology from the beginning, and basically every citizen was asked to subscribe to that official ideology which relied upon a nation state; the idea of Turkishness; a particular interpretation of secularism which is driven from 19th century French experience; an emphasis of elitism and elites leading the country; seeing religion as essentially negative, preventing people from thinking rationally. So, this was the essence of the official ideology. Now, this official ideology was adapted and applied across the government institutions that resulted in discriminations against many citizens, including observant Muslim citizens. With his efforts Gulen helped break this monopoly. He encouraged observant Muslim parents to send their kids to schools of law, to schools of military, to police, business, etc. Traditionally, historically more observant parents were reluctant to send their children to these schools. The argument in their minds was that “if I send my child to a law school –the Turkish law at the time include elements from German, Italian, Swiss law- there could be elements that are against my faith therefore if I send my child to a law school he might have to do things that are contrary to my faith”; or, “if I send my child to the military school he will become an officer, he won’t be able to practice his religion, he will have to drink alcoholic drinks, and other issues, so I should not send my child to the military school”. And similar arguments were developed in the minds of observant citizens. So, when you combine this with the discrimination at those government institutions against observant citizens, the end result was severe under representation of observant Muslims and also other segments of society in these government institutions. So, as a contribution to social justice and equal representation -proportional representation- he encouraged sending everybody’s children to all these institutions, to all these schools and being there, having their rightful place in these institutions which is theirs. It’s their government, and they have a right and duty to be present in those institutions. So, today in many government institutions, including the military, the judicial system and other places, there is more proportional representation of the political views, the worldviews of the Turkish society. And I think Gulen deserves a part of the credit for that.
Number five, for the development of virtues, individuals and society:
From the beginning Gulen’s approach to social transformation was a grassroots bottom-up approach, which is in contrast with the political Islamist approach, i.e. more of a top-down approach. That is Gulen’s message was that if you would like to achieve a virtuous society, if you would like to transform your society toward desirable goals from your prospective then the only way to do it is through cultural and social means. Attempting to employ political mechanisms to impose a particular lifestyle on people’s life is completely unproductive, as matter of fact it is counter productive. So, if you would like to achieve a social transformation, go through with education and focus on the individual, person by person, educate them if they are willing to participate in that institution or in that program. That is the only way to do. I think that presents a sharp contrast with some other movements in the Middle East and there are experts that talk about this topic such as Dr. Greg Barton from Australia and Dr. Elizabeth Ozdalga from Turkey.
[INSTITUTIONS AND ACTIVITIES]
Now I would like to go talk a little bit about institutions and activities. The educational activities of the movement participants in Turkey have multiple dimensions. If somebody is somehow associated or they are inspired, they are readers of Gulen, they listened to him or they met the movement participants, they would want to do something about education no matter where they are and what their position is, career-wise or in their society. And this doing something about education is a very core value, because education is seen as the ultimate solution to all social problems. Yes, government can do and should do certain things. Yes, there should be policies and funding and everything. Yes, yes, yes. But the long-term solution to any social problem has to go through education. Under representation, drug problem, violence problem, social problem, social conflict, you name it, all those social issues, they can only be solved for the long term through education. Therefore, if somebody is associated somehow with the Hizmet Movement they would like to do something about education. It could be in the form of supporting a student with a scholarship, it could be choosing education as your career, becoming a teacher, it could be helping support a private school or tutoring center, it could be helping start a tutoring center. There was an interesting project recently. The Writers and Journalist Foundation, they asked Turkish singers to sing some spiritual religious songs that prays the Prophet and some other religious values and they collected these songs on a CD and they marketed the CD and with revenue from this project they actually build tutoring centers in Southeast Turkey that helped the Kurdish kids there get a better future and career. So scholarships actually choosing careers in education establishing institutions such as dormitories such as private schools such as collage prep. courses and other forms of education initiatives. In this particular example, in this picture we are seeing a group of students in a school in Bursa and they are in the music class, so these schools are secular curriculum, schools that are open to everybody and there is no religious education, besides whatever government mandates in their official curriculum guidelines, and they are non-sectarian schools. In the smaller picture, you are seeing another little girl who won a medal in social science olympiad. Now this is important because, the balance of social sciences with math and science and arts is important for a well-balanced education. In the absence of this balance, it has been seen that the graduate of certain schools, which emphasize only physical sciences, they may turn out to be a radicals. So, in these schools there is a balance between social sciences and positive sciences and arts.
This is an example from the Sema Hospital in Istanbul. The attractive feature of these hospitals from the community’s point of view is that they are affordable, and they bring the latest medical technology to the country. Sometimes when people cannot afford for certain types of medical care, then there are some mechanisms for funding helping them pay for those treatments.
In the smaller picture you are seeing a volunteer who is probably some place in Africa. It is a medical service either screening or free health care service in Africa.
This is the hospital that I mentioned, in the city of Sanliurfa, and the prominent family behind this hospital is actually a Kurdish family. Although there is no such a statistics, I think the proportion of Kurdish participants in the movement is roughly equal to the proportion in the Turkish society.
This is a snapshot from the efforts of Kimse Yok Mu? Organization. It is a disaster relief organization which help the victims of all the major disasters of the recent past.
In the smaller picture you are seeing a volunteer doctor who has done a cataract surgery in probably in Kenya or some place near Kenya. In the health field, in addition to the hospitals there are thousands of doctors who are Hizmet Movement participants or they are sympathetic. They participate in these free health care service projects. Often the organizer for this project is Kimse Yok Mu? Organization, but there is also a healthcare professionals association that have organize these volunteer services by doctors and nurses and other healthcare professionals.
This is the picture that I mentioned before about rebuilding a village in Darfur. I have an interesting anecdote with this, I was accompanying a social scientist in interviews in Turkey and we visited a women’s association in Istanbul I forgot it’s name right now. In this association we met with a lady who apparently was observant but she was not covered and when we talked about every body profession and what they are doing she said that she is an architect and she is the one who is actually drawing the plans for the building in this town that Kimse Yok Mu? is rebuilding. So, a professional lady, observant but not covered, an architect who is doing free architectural work for this project. I thought that this picture is very meaningful to represent what Hizmet stands for.
In addition to the disaster relief, the Kime Yok Mu? Organization has many other economic assistance programs. For instance they have the sister family program which matches a family in need with a family who is financial able and this is a long term partnership that helps the family in need for the longer term, not just for once.
The interfaith dialog efforts of Mr. Gulen and the movement participants were very symbolically significant in the early 90ies. These pictures are from the early 90ies, 1994 or 1995 timeframe. These are significant, not because Turkish people don’t have a culture of coexistence, they do. During the Ottoman Empire, Muslims and Christians and Jews and others live together of course with certain difficulties and with certain restrictions but nevertheless by in large they lived in peace. So, there is a culture of recognizing the members of other religions and respecting their religious practice. But, during the First World War, things changed, especially during the Turkish War of Independence, things changed. A small portion of Greek community in Turkey, Greek Christian Orthodox Community in Turkey sided with the Greeks and they supported British against the Turkish War of Independence. And also a small portion of the Armenian Community sided with the Russians and the British against again the Turkish community. Therefore, these situations left a scar in the collective mind of the Turkish population. So, although they have a history living together and respecting others religions, these events, the terrible events during the last periods of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of the Turkish Republic, left big scars in the minds of Turkish people. The question was about the loyalty of these citizens, non-muslim citizens, is their loyalty to Turkish state or is their loyalty to their fellow brother in religion or ethnicity. So, these scares continued in to the 80′s and 90′s. So with his Efforts Gulen actually helped closed a page -and it is a work in progress obviously- but he helped close a page in history and opened a new page. Okay, in the beginning of our country may be certain members of religious minorities this certain things that we don’t approve and that were against their country but that is history and you can not blame members of all that community for the actions of a few. Therefore let’s close that page and open a new page. We are in a new world, we are in a globalizing world and we have to learn to treat each other in ways that we haven’t done before. The environments that we are living in, that the countries that we are living in, this is totally a new situation. In the history we did not have liberal democratic countries. We did not have governments who did not subscribe to a particular religion. They do not require their citizens to subscribe to a religion. They are not restricting the religious practice. This situation did not happen in history. So, we are facing a new situation. We should position ourselves and our treatments to others according to the new situation. So this was the main message. And he also promoted bringing out the best in religion. When some people use the religion to divide, let’s use religion, the elements of the religious discourse and practice to unite. That was the main message of these meetings. Now, because of the scars that I mentioned when Gulen did these moves, it was controversial especially among the more radical circles, be it religious or ultra-nationalist circles. There were CDs blaming Gulen that hundreds of thousands of these CDs are distributed to the homes. Charging Gulen to be a secret catholic, a secret Jew, or a secret something that is working for foreign governments or CIA. To this day, you can go to the web and pick up pictures that show Gulen movement underneath the super NATO or CIA or MOSSAD or something. To this day you can find those claims. So, when Gulen did these movements it was courageous, and it was deeply appreciated by the religious minority leaders. You might have heard recently, the Turkish government decided to return some of the real estate that was confiscated from religious minorities earlier, after the military coup of 1971. So the Turkish government decided to return those properties to religious minorities, which of course they were very happy with this decision but the Greek orthodox leader Mr. Bartholomew said that these actions of the government, the environment atmosphere for these actions to take place were prepared by Gulen’s efforts (it is on the record for saying this). As a consequence of his contribution to Interfaith dialog in Turkey and elsewhere, Mr. Gulen received a personal audience with the late Pope John Paul the second.
The Abant meeting in Turkey brings together intellectuals from all corners of the political and ideological spectrum is the only meeting it is a kind over a hundred participants. It takes place in different places every year sometimes multiple times every year. So this is a contribution to intra-faith or societal dialog if you will. And all these efforts, especially dialog and tolerance related efforts have been recognized at the highest level of Turkish government and also by world leaders. And you see the pictures some of the former Turkish ministers, prime ministers, presidents and also some notable world leaders who congratulated and the praised the efforts of Mr. Gulen and Hizmet movement in these fields.
This picture is from a group of students and again in southeast Turkey, this is the school building. This is an example from a college prep course again in southeast Turkey and they are very proud with the students that they take place in schools of medicine and especially which is the number one thing among the families in Turkey. On the right hand side you can also see students placed in the school of law, schools of pharmacy, schools of education, and engineering, and veterinarian sciences. So these schools and the tutoring centers do a great service to the citizens to the children in that region, historically under served. A group of students with Dr. Martha Ann Kirk from a university from Texas. She did a couple of studies southeast Turkey and Northern Iraq, studying the Hizmet related institutions and their services there.
This picture is also very important. Again in southeast Turkey, some observant parents are reluctant to send their daughters to the schools, besides whatever is required by the government. They are worried about moral issues, social issues that pertain to their daughters. So in the case of Hizmet movement related institutions, be it a school or tutoring center the movement’s values give them confidence that when they send their children and their daughters to this institutions, then certain social values are preserved and observed represented, so they can be comfortably send. So, actually movement helps educate the girls in Southeast Turkey and other places where there are observant parents. For those who are interested in more details of the movement, there is a work by Dr. Helen Rose Ebaugh who is a sociologist, there is more intellectual kind of publication by Dr. Jill Caroll on comparing Gulen’s views with the prominent Western thinkers, there are 9 pages in the book of Mr. Graham Fuller named the new Turkish Republic, he devoted 9 pages to the movement which I find to be very objective, he discusses both the movement values, projects, and also critics. I think it is very objective balanced treatment of the movement if you just have little time to devote to the this topic then those 9 pages I think your first point start. Dr. Muhammed Cetin has a book based on his dissertation. There are multiple books edited based on conferences that involve many Western social scientist. One of them is edited by Dr. Hakan Yavuz and Dr. Esposito. Another one by or Dr. Ihsan Yilmaz and Dr. Esposito. One by myself and Dr. Robert Hunt. So you can find those on amazon.com.
So that is the end of my presentation and I would be happy if I could help respond to some of your questions.
Bulent Bey introduces Mr. Aslandogan and describes movement with a single sentence: GM/HM lead by FG focused on Educational and Social Issues
HM is the preferred terminology by its participants meaning serving fellow humans. Western naming GM is not preferred because it puts too much emphasis on one person. There are other terms describe the movement like ‘Camia’ in Turkish, but none of them would be the right term so I prefer to use multiple terms.
Movement started as a community around a maverick preacher, scholar; and transformed into a social movement -still transforming- especially in 1990ies. So, many scientists see it as a transnational social movement, faith inspired social movement. Its focuses is on education projects but there are other areas where participants have established foundations, corporations and associations. These areas include -besides education- healthcare, disaster relief & economic assistance, publications of different forms and formats, interfaith and intrasociety dialogue; there are also a number of professional associations, both in business and other professions like white/blue collar associations serving two purposes:
i) for the professional development of its members
ii) to channel some of their resources toward charitable projects
Some examples of projects and institutions (before talking about them)
Movement projects and institutions
Snapshot from a school in Bursa
Snapshot of a hospital in Sanliurfa
Village project in Darfur of Kimse Yok mu? foundation.
Pictures of very symbolic, pioneering initiatives in interfaith dialogue of Gulen in early 90ies.
Snapshot from an intellectual meeting in town of Abant in Turkey; only meeting of its kind
whichbrings corners of various segments of the Turkish political and idealogical spectrum together where about a 100 to 150 intellectuals participated.
What is common among these projects, volunteers and the officers of the organizations is a concept that I liked to call is committed core. This concept involves people who are committed to a high cause, they have solidarity around a high cause. e.g. establishing an educational institution, be it a dormitory, be it a tutoring center, be it a school in a neighborhood which has problems, let’s say drug problem. Vast majority of the community would like to get rid of that problem, be it violence, drug or whatever. People with good intentions they try to do certain things, and when they start to see that their efforts going nowhere they get disheartened,
and they simply leave or they do not do anything about the solution of
the problem any more. So, the problem continues in a community of well
meaning good intentioned people, because nobody actually goes to the
final last mile. So in the case of the Hizmet Volunteers, -its not the
only example of this concept by the way, there are many many other
examples around the world- volunteer see whatever they are doing as
something beyond a salary paying job, as something that gives meaning to
their lives. And they have solidarity with their fellow participants
around this particular cause and therefore they are willing to commit
much more than other well meaning citizens might. In the case of drug
problem for instance, in a school environment if there is a drug
problem, a principal, or a teacher, or a parent, or a PTO member is
willing to say “drugs will not enter to this school, over my dead body
if someone attempts”. So, such individuals, one, two or three, when they
come together in a place, when they make this school free of drugs,
then other well meaning people who were dormant before, they also gather
around them. So, this committed core, actually brings together the good
in people, the intentions and energy in the people and activates them. I
often use the example of the sugar crystallization experiment -if
you have done that in school-, or saturation example. That is, you pick
up a container, put water in it and begin heating it while adding sugar
in it, and then you allow it to cool down. And at certain point you drop
a little sugar crystal into that container and if you continue to cool
down, you will see that little crystal of sugar becomes larger and
larger. So, that little sugar crystal actually serves to bring together
the sugar that is already in the water. I think the impact or effect of
the HM in Turkish and other societies is that because of these committed
core, committed individuals, other well meaning people who want to do
good for their society they gather around them to build projects for