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The Gülen Movement: From the Service (Hizmet) to a Terror Organization

Classifying the Islamic movements in Turkey as moderate and extremist/radical is a common acknowledgement in US-based literature Political movements which aim to overtake the government are pictured as “radical,” and civil entities organized within the area of social services are pictured as “moderate.” Besides being open to the West, emphasizing tolerance and peace is also seen as an indicator of being moderate.

The Gülen Movement From the Service Hizmet to a Terror

Classifying the Islamic movements in Turkey as moderate and extremist/radical is a common acknowledgement in US-based literature Political movements which aim to overtake the government are pictured as “radical,” and civil entities organized within the area of social services are pictured as “moderate.” Besides being open to the West, emphasizing tolerance and peace is also seen as an indicator of being moderate.

This approach sees fit to put the “radical” label on the National Outlook movement although it didn’t make a call for “Islamic State,” while it prefers to use “moderate” and “smiling face of Islam” for the Gülen movement. As a matter of fact, Graham E. Fuller, one of the masterminds of the “moderate Islam” project, and the CIA’s former chief of station for Turkey, continues to describe the Gülen movement as “one of the most encouraging faces of Islam” even after the July 15 coup attempt. Regarding the Islamic movements, it is sufficient to recall the al-Qaeda experience, in order to understand what kind of monsters were created as a result of the policies of the USA, which received Gülen with open arms in the late 1990s.

The Gülen movement, which is spread across 140 countries, came to be a religious structure that is an enemy to its own country, putschist, and “heretical.”

The Characteristic of the Mainstream: Being Local and Notable (Devletlü)

The main criterion to understanding the characteristic of mainstream religious-political organizations in Turkey is “conforming to the local, Sunni codes.”

These codes act like “yeast” which protect from both Salafi and Shiite ideological influences. What is the meaning of this criterion? It involves being “devletlü” in terms of looking out for the long-term affairs of the nation. The short description of this is not becoming alienated from the government and the national interests despite the secularistic Kemalists who came to power during the Republic period. The “devletlü” attitude appeared in the form of expanding the realm of existence with the means of democracy instead of that of absolute submission.

It is evaluating and realizing these ideals and sensitivities with Turkey in the center. When examined from this perspective, unlike the Sunni sects and communities coming from the Ottoman past, the Islamic formations which were influenced by Iran, Egypt, and the experiences of Pakistan can be said to have adopted the prementioned “devletlü” approach for a long time. In addition to this, most of the Islamic movements during the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) internalized “local” and “devletlü” codes.

In this transformation, the contributions of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political choices to the National Outlook line had an important effect. Erdoğan carried out an inclusive politics, branching out to different sections of society, beyond the mosque community. He approached relations with the West, not on the ideological rebuttal level but on the level of “interaction” and “rational interests.”

However, the main intricacy of the Islamic movement in Turkey is the story of the Gülen movement.




The Movement’s Breaking Away from Localness

This story is about a movement which presented itself as a “moderate service formation” for its 40-year existence, and in its last stop became a radical military coup, a terror organization which ran over people with tanks. In its core, this story is about the radical politicization of an organization which promoted itself through the refutation of political Islam, grew stronger, and became estranged from and betrayed the “local, Sunni codes.”

It is the dreadful story of the material and moral empire of an organization ranging from student houses to educational institutions which ended up with a parallel structure within the government. It is the consequence of a “religious” entity with lots of layers and different faces becoming corrupt and finally a “useful card” at the hands of international actors on its way to creating a government monopoly.

Deformation of the Codes in the Beginning

The Gülen movement designed itself from the beginning as a “parallel state structure.” The deep “rage” the movement’s leader Gülen felt towards the Kemalists produced a brand-new deception politics under the name of caution. The purpose of this politics is to make all kinds of sacrifices until the day comes, and to take hold of power centers.

Separating itself from other religious groups as much as from the general public, and closing itself to the outside world is also related to this purpose. In spite of the “dialogue,” “tolerance” and “hybridization” claim, it is an organization with maximum autonomy. Interaction with all sections in its outer periphery is aimed towards realizing the “severely faithful” and “bigot” greed at its core.

The following can be mentioned as the basic features of the Gülen movement’s organization: A sharp hierarchy centered around the older brothers (abiler) and imams; a select and simple “religious” teaching canonizing the leader; a plan spread over time; a totalitarian relationship network which controls the followers’ daily lives and all their choices; control mechanisms based on intelligence; and a messianic theology which blesses success.

For the disciples, everything is decided by the organization: from which schools they should go to whom they will marry. Their lives are completely controled. Devotion is based on an abnormal self-sacrifice which is at odds with human nature, and based on emotional manipulation, coercion, and intimidation. The decision of the leader is always above the current law and general religious interpretations. Moreover, all kinds of methods are legitimized for the sake of success and in fact are blessed. This approach enables a legitimacy supposedly based on religion, in order to favor their organization, and the disregard of other people’s rights.

Legitimizing all kinds of methods for the sake of greater success, and regarding success as a sign of divine “excellence,” brought this organization under the influence of a mystical narcissism. Moreover, the Gülen movement boasted of having a “strategic mind” enjoyed by no other Islamic community.

The Misery of the “Strategic” Mind

The Gulen movement acted according to a political sense that saw all turning points of Turkish politics, starting from the 1980 coup, Feb. 28 and the coming of power of the Justice and Development as junctures of opportunity.

The more successful it became, the more it legitimized, and blessed adopting more brutal and crueler methods. It prioritized growing according to a strategy focusing on its own success, first on the national level, and then in the global environment. This preference created a network of relations which were constantly renewed, and, the bigger the movement got, it drifted away from localness.

The Gülen movement found it useful to become a “moderate Islam” organization joined with the global power and the operations of the USA and Israel, for its ultimate victory in Turkey. It showed how useful it was with the Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) cases and the Dec.17-25 operations.

Still, the coup attempt on July 15 was its most radical act. The fact that officers put their freedoms, careers, and families at such risk with a sign from Gülen reflects the totalitarian, reckless, and marginal features of the organization. Giving the order to fire at people is proof that even killing is permissible to them in order to reach their aims.

The Future of the Movement

After being declared a terrorist organization, and with the ensuing purge, the Gulen movement lost its legitimacy and its legality. It is highly possible that a structure which is organized in 140 countries will have to withdraw from Turkey to a large extent.

This gives rise to the thought that the final stop of the Gülen movement will be a diaspora against Turkey, and subcontracting for intelligence services.

The future of the Gülen movement indicates the cursed birth of a heretic group, with its strong solidarity, deep victimization sentiment, and the messianic theology that revenge and victory will one day arrive.

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