A panel discussion was organized by Intercultural Dialogue Platform in the European Parliament (EP) to give information about the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, especially within the framework of recent developments in Turkish politics.
The panel discussion, titled “Hizmet movement: Inspiration, Mentality, Importance and Discussion,” was meant to be moderated by the vice president of the EP, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, but he could not attend the event due to the loss of a relative and instead sent a written message to the panel. In his message, he said that the relationship between the Gülen movement and the Turkish government would be an important topic touched on in the progress report on Turkey to be published by the EP in October.
Speaking at the event, Özcan Keleş, the chairperson of the London-based Dialogue Society, said the Gülen movement is a faith-inspired movement but remains religiously neutral in its activity.
He stressed that the movement is open to all kinds of religions and ideologies, and is not involved in the propagation of Islam.
İhsan Yılmaz from Fatih University explained why the Gülen movement, which had been a supporter of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, has recently parted ways with the government.
Yılmaz said that as the Gülen movement embraces democratic values and supports Turkey’s accession to the EU, the movement supported the AK Party when the party had been committed to democratic reforms and prioritized accession to the EU.
He then argued that when the AK Party started to feel more confident about its rule, its attitude regarding democracy and Turkey’s EU membership candidacy shifted, and thus the Gülen movement’s perception of the AK Party changed.
According to Yılmaz, the turning point was the year 2011, when the AK Party emerged victorious for a third time in general elections and saw declining opposition from other parties.
“First off, due to a lack of vision on the part of the opposition, the AK Party increased its votes to 50 percent [in the 2011 general election] though it was in its third term. With the conclusion of the Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup cases [the government’s] fear of a coup d’état was allayed. Finally, with amendments to the Constitution, there was no concern [of the government] that party would face a closure trial,” said Yılmaz.
Yılmaz said as the AK Party became more convinced of its power, it adopted new Islamist policies.
He also stressed the Gülen movement did not endorse President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s desire for social engineering.
“The Hizmet [movement], as a representative of civil Islam, contended that using state power to educate people to be better Muslims would pave way to hypocrisy [in society],” Yılmaz said, adding that the president utilizes state resources to create model citizens based on his wishes.
Responding to allegations leveled by some circles who claim that the Gülen movement is an opponent of the settlement process launched to resolve the decades-old Kurdish issue, Yılmaz said: “The Hizmet movement supports the bringing of the Kurdish issue to a solution. The movement favors Kurds’ entitlement to equal citizenship. It wants to have Kurds use their language in public and private spaces. It does support education in Kurdish language and also supports establishment of public schools that offer education in Kurdish,” said Yılmaz.
Erdoğan launched a campaign against the Gülen movement after a corruption investigation implicating people in his inner circle went public with a wave of detentions on Dec. 17, 2013. Erdoğan blamed the investigation on police officers, judges and prosecutors who he claimed were linked with the movement, branding the operations a “coup attempt.”
The corruption investigation has since been stalled, as prosecutors overseeing the case were removed from their posts and thousands of police officers, judges and prosecutors were reassigned or removed from their jobs as part of Erdoğan’s fight against an alleged “parallel structure” with the state.
After many violations concerning the rule of law, separation of powers and freedom of expression, President Erdoğan’s ‘New Turkey’ is now directly targeting the free market economy, free enterprise and property rights in order to silence any opposition critical of the oppressive policies. Among others, the Gülen-affiliated people and organizations are still on the first rank to be targeted. The latest decision of the Turkish banking regulatory body to seize the control of the management of Bank Asya is the most recent example of the on-going persecution of the Hizmet (Gülen) Movement which was declared a scape goat by the Turkish government after it turned out to be a vocal critique of the increasingly authoritarian policies in New Turkey.
On February 3, in the late hours of the evening, Turkey’s Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) ordered the seizure of Bank Asya, Turkey’s largest private participation bank which was founded in 1996 by some businesspeople close to Fethullah Gülen. The order for seizure was on the same day that Gulen’s op-ed appeared in the New York Times titled ‘Turkey’s Eroding Democracy’ in which he says that “Turkey has now reached a point where democracy and human rights have almost been shelved.”
After BDDK’s decision, a new Board of Directors was assigned on the grounds that the Bank did not submit on time the requested additional certificates. The former CEO has responded that they were indeed asked for lengthily documents concerning the privileged shareholders in an unreasonable time period and have nonetheless submitted about sixty percent of the requested forms on time but that the BDDK took the decision to seize control of the bank management. Funny enough, according to current banking regulation code, such failing to meet the deadline is a fine up to 15,000 TRY rather than seizure. The decision, according to experts, is hence both unlawful and completely irrational.
The BDDK’s decision does not mean that the bank is being nationalised. Had this decision led to a mass exodus of funds, then the Bank would have lost enough liquidity paving the way for its nationalisation and complete seizure. Currently, the Bank is still owned by its shareholders and the decision for seizure can be reversed by court order. Contrary to government expectation, the private account holders have been depositing and transferring savings into Bank Asya accounts to prevent the Bank’s forced bankruptcy. Many depositors yet worry that the new management, who are suspected to comprise of pro-government bureaucrats, may take some deliberate steps at the expense of the Bank’s current financial stability and reputation. Ernst & Young conducted the latest independent audit report of Bank Asya in September 2014 in which it did not state any structural irregularities and that the Bank’s liquidity was in good form while pointing out a decrease in profits.
What Does This Mean?
This latest move against Bank Asya needs to be contextualised as this is openly a political “seizure.” In December 2013, a series of corruption investigations implicating the then Prime Minister Erdoğan and his inner circle went public as prosecutors concluded their investigations into corruption, money-laundering and bribery charges by arresting and questioning a number of suspects. As per the Gezi park protests, Erdoğan responded by claiming that these were the doing of a “coalition of foreign powers” with “domestic pawns” bent on overthrowing the government. Erdoğan claimed that the Hizmet movement was the domestic “puppets” of this “international plot”. Accordingly, he disrupted the ongoing judicial investigations by taking control of the judiciary and dismissing, demoting and reassigning hundreds of judges and prosecutors and approximately sixty thousand police officers, civil servants and other state employees. Similar onslaughts have taken place against the media and business sectors in Turkey. For instance, in last December, the Turkish police raided the headquarters of the Hizmet-affiliated media outlets and arrested many journalists and media personnel including Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of daily Zaman and Hidayet Karaca, the head of the Samanyolu Media Group. The latter is still behind the bars. Likewise, most recently, the Diyarbakir-based Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink was detained and later charged on terrorism legislation. Since Bank Asya is affiliated with Hizmet, it has faced consistent and concerted attacks by the government and pro-government media, including but not limited to, the immediate withdrawal of all state and pro-government business owned deposits in Bank Asya, the cancellation of all state protocols with the Bank and Erdoğan’s statement that “that Bank has already gone bankrupt” back in September 2014 – a clear violation of banking laws criminalising any statements likely to influence public confidence in a bank. Despite all efforts and even the last decision, Bank Asya’s liquidity remains very healthy, however.
Can the EU do more?
Many in Europe expressed their concerns for the recent deterioration of Turkish democracy and rule of law under the increasingly authoritarian regime of Erdoğan’s administration. Yet, Turkey still continues to be a worse place for ordinary citizens and civil society who ask more freedom and accountability. The last decision to seize the control of Bank Asya demonstrates that what is diminishing in Turkey is not only the individual rights and freedoms but also the free enterprise, stability, transparency and competitiveness which are indispensable for a functioning market economy.
The friends of Turkey and those who support rule of law, democracy and market economy should not only raise their voices more loudly to avoid such violations but take some concrete steps to track back Turkey not to derail from the EU process. Tomorrow may be too late!
Dr. Ismail M. Sezgin – Director of Centre for Hizmet Studies
Jihadist Radicalisation: The Case of Belgo-Syrian Jihadism by Prof. Johan Leman
Prof. Leman gave a presentation about the so-called “foreign fighters” to give an idea about the current reality of extremism in Europe. His presentation is based upon his anthropological fieldwork where he conducted research and interviews on 20 young people who left or planed to leave Belgium for jihad in the Middle East. According to security sources, Prof. Leman reported, about 3000 people from all over Europe have been involved in fighting with jihadists, out of which about 430 are from Belgium. These figures include those who came back or are now preparing to leave to fight.
In the Belgian case, forty percent are younger than 18, most have a week economic position but do not feel financially responsible for their family, most have no contacts with a mosque and their knowledge about Islam is very limited, about thirty percent have “antecedents with the police.”
Prof. Leman suggested “a hermeneutic of three-fields theory” to better analyse the motivation and recruitment of new jihadists. At the “macro-horizon level”, these people view that Sunnism has long been in total repression and absence of Caliphate was decisive in due process. Besides, they are attracted by an apocalyptical vision legitimized by the literalist interpretations of certain hadith on the critical role of the current Syria region before the end of the time. At the “micro-horizon level,” though Salafism is not a homogenous ideology, the absolutist views promoted by certain (jihadist) Salafists support an “Islamist counter-culture” which addresses frustrations felt by young Muslims suffering from identity crises in the Western context. At the “agency level,” Prof. Leman observed a seven-step process of becoming a foreign fighter. The candidate jihadists i) are usually “confused” by their identity; ii) are “deeply traumatized by the massacres of Muslims” in various parts of the world, iii) they do not feel “bound by strong material and financial responsibilities vis-à-vis their family;” iv) they find a “new identity” thanks to the sharp and aggressive Salafi ideology which triggers v) both a “mental and physical isolation process” supported by new affiliations; vi) they are asked for a “commitment” where vii) they are supposed to “split emotions” in order to realize the apocalyptic vision and ensure Heaven after death.
Hizmet on Extremism: A Proactive Approach to Deradicalisation by Dr. Ismail M. Sezgin
In his presentation, Dr. Sezgin spoke more directly about the stance of Hizmet on extremism. In his view, the Hizmet organizations and activities lead to “deradicalisation by default” via both theory and practice. While its theory offers an Islamic interpretative framework for engaging with issues of modernity, identity and purpose of life, its practice exemplifies an Islamic activism which encourages an open-minded, emphatic and peace-seeking approach. As such, Hizmet targets by default, Sezgin argued, the main causes of radicalisation such as identity crisis, victimhood mindset, abused sense of Islamic responsibility and absolutist ideology promoted by charismatic jihadist recruiters.
For Sezgin, Mr Gülen is not just a Muslim scholar and intellectual but also a devout practitioner, hence he has “street credibility” among Muslims. His theology is mutually exclusive with the extremist ideology. For Gülen, denying ‘free will’ means denying God’s purpose of creation and diversity, including the diversity of belief, was in fact intended by God Himself. Religion is not a purpose but a means in attaining the ‘good pleasure’ of God (rida), which is, Gülen insists, the ultimate aim that a Muslim should pursue. Therefore, the emphasis is on meaning over form. Moreover, in his view, Islam necessitates an enquiring, engaging and exploring mind, hence endorses reason, discussion and scientific exploration. It calls respect for basic dignity of all creation, both animate and inanimate. Rather than promoting a Reformation in Islam, Gülen advocates a ‘renewal’ (tajdid) whereby the normative sources are reflected afresh with the acknowledgement of the needs of the present age. Renewal should be “gradual” and realized “by conduct.” For Gülen, establishing an ‘Islamic State’ is not an Islamic objective; Islam rather necessitates non-instrumentalisation of religion. Democracy is probably the best and most viable system of governance and Islam calls for human rights, equality, proactive citizenship and democratic engagement. Besides, not just the outcome but also the method must be legitimate on Islamic grounds and violent extremism is a sin in this regard. For Gülen, those who commit acts of terror cannot remain as Muslim believers.
The theory outlined by the teachings of Gülen is put into practise by the participants of the Hizmet Movement. For Sezgin, Hizmet Movement exemplifies an Islamic activism which encourages positive, proactive and cooperative action. It favours values such as compassion, empathy, diversity, responsibility and care. Though it is faith-inspired, its manifestation is faith-neutral.
The movement particularly invests in education. Dr. Sezgin underlined that education in fact tackles the “defeatist mindset” because it leads upward social mobility, provides confidence to change circumstances and exposes the people to different religions and cultures. The teachers and educators in Hizmet-inspired schools also provide mentoring and become positive role models for the youngsters. Furthermore, the movement helps the vulnerable students via bursary and supplementary education. The movement also engages in dialogue and relief work which are, in turn, transformative for the participants towards a more inclusive and sympathetic approach. According to Sezgin, the outcome of Hizmet activities is self-confident, rational, educated, exposed and open-minded people.
Dr. Sezgin concluded his presentation with the following recommendations for policy-makers.
- Provide funding not solely for ‘preventive projects’ but also projects that achieve the same result, as an outcome of doing something positive. Recognise and support projects that promote dialogue, understanding, tolerance and social cohesion from an Islamic perspective and motivation.
- Encourage Muslim dialogue groups to become more active in contributing to the local and national debate.
- Encourage Islamic organizations to be more active in writing and/or translation of publications that expound the theoretical/scriptural and practical justification for dialogue values in Islam.
- Encourage and equip organizations and workers in the theory and practice of dialogue.
- Encourage and support mosques to operate as community centres open to and welcoming non-Muslims as well as Muslims.
- Provide alternative channels/fill the vacuum. Provide weekly topical Friday-prayer sermons. This must be a community led initiative for use by, and designed specifically for young Muslims.
Dr. Sezgin will publish his observations and analyses in a separate and comprehensive publication soon.
Prof. Johan Leman
Professor Leman is an emeritus professor in social and cultural anthropology at the Faculty of Social Sciences at K.U. Leuven. He had PhD in anthropology, MA in philosophy, MA in eastern philology and history at KU Leuven. He has taught ‘migration and minority policies and its anthropological implications’, ‘ethnicity and its application at Mediterranean cultures’, ‘interethnic majority-minority relations in Europe’, ‘introduction in social and cultural anthropology, and criminological issues’ and ‘anthropology of religion’.
He guides PhD research on multiculturalism, interethnic relations, border and boundary crossing (conversion studies), Mediterranean cultures. He has been the former chief of cabinet of the Royal Commissioner for Migrant Policy in Belgium and the former director of the Federal Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition against Racism.
Prof. Leman was the chairholder of the Gülen Chair for Intercultural Studies (GCIS) at KU Leuven between 2010 and 2014 and he is the president of FOYER, a regional integration centre in Brussels.
Dr. Ismail M. Sezgin
Ismail Mesut Sezgin is a researcher at the Institute for Spirituality, Religion and Public Life at Leeds Beckett University, UK. He has recently defended his PhD thesis titled “Moral Responsibility in Contemporary Islam: A Critical Examination of Fethullah Gülen’s Contribution”. His research interests include religion and society relations, ethics, Islam, Sufism, political Islam and Turkish politics.
Dr. Sezgin is currently the director of UK-based Center for Hizmet Studies which aims at providing access to reliable information and resources for serious study and critical analysis of Hizmet Movement.
It is deeply disappointing to see what has become of Turkey in the last few years. Not long ago, it was the envy of Muslim-majority countries: a viable candidate for the European Union on its path to becoming a functioning democracy that upholds universal human rights, gender equality, the rule of law and the rights of Kurdish and non-Muslim citizens. This historic opportunity now appears to have been squandered as Turkey’s ruling party, known as the A.K.P., reverses that progress and clamps down on civil society, media, the judiciary and free enterprise.
Turkey’s current leaders seem to claim an absolute mandate by virtue of winning elections. But victory doesn’t grant them permission to ignore the Constitution or suppress dissent, especially when election victories are built on crony capitalism and media subservience. The A.K.P.’s leaders now depict every democratic criticism of them as an attack on the state. By viewing every critical voice as an enemy — or worse, a traitor — they are leading the country toward totalitarianism.
The latest victims of the clampdown are the staff, executives and editors of independent media organizations who were detained and are now facing charges made possible by recent changes to the laws and the court system. The director of one of the most popular TV channels, arrested in December, is still behind bars. Public officials investigating corruption charges have also been purged and jailed for simply doing their jobs. An independent judiciary, a functioning civil society and media are checks and balances against government transgressions. Such harassment sends the message that whoever stands in the way of the ruling party’s agenda will be targeted by slander, sanctions and even trumped-up charges.
Turkey’s rulers have not only alienated the West, they are also now losing credibility in the Middle East. Turkey’s ability to assert positive influence in the region depends not only on its economy but also on the health of its own democracy.
The core tenets of a functioning democracy — the rule of law, respect for individual freedoms — are also the most basic of Islamic values bestowed upon us by God. No political or religious leader has the authority to take them away. It is disheartening to see religious scholars provide theological justification for the ruling party’s oppression and corruption or simply stay silent. Those who use the language and symbols of religious observance but violate the core principles of their religion do not deserve such loyalty from religious scholars.
Speaking against oppression is a democratic right, a civic duty and for believers, a religious obligation. The Quran makes clear that people should not remain silent in the face of injustice: “O you who believe! Be upholders and standard-bearers of justice, bearing witness to the truth for God’s sake, even though it be against your own selves, or parents or kindred.”
For the past 50 years, I have been fortunate to take part in a civil society movement, sometimes referred to as Hizmet, whose participants and supporters include millions of Turkish citizens. These citizens have committed themselves to interfaith dialogue, community service, relief efforts and making life-changing education accessible. They have established more than 1,000 modern secular schools, tutoring centers, colleges, hospitals and relief organizations in over 150 countries. They are teachers, journalists, businessmen and ordinary citizens.
The rhetoric used by the ruling party repeatedly to crack down on Hizmet participants is nothing but a pretext to justify their own authoritarianism. Hizmet participants have never formed a political party nor have they pursued political ambitions. Their participation in the movement is driven by intrinsic rewards, not extrinsic ones.
I have spent over 50 years preaching and teaching the values of peace, mutual respect and altruism. I’ve advocated for education, community service and interfaith dialogue. I have always believed in seeking happiness in the happiness of others and the virtue of seeking God’s pleasure in helping His people. Whatever influence is attributed to me, I have used it as a means to promote educational and social projects that help nurture virtuous individuals. I have no interest in political power.
Many Hizmet participants, including me, once supported the ruling party’s agenda, including the 2005 opening of accession negotiations with the European Union. Our support then was based on principle, as is our criticism today. It is our right and duty to speak out about government policies that have a deep impact on society. Unfortunately, our democratic expression against public corruption and authoritarianism has made us victims of a witch-hunt; both the Hizmet movement and I are being targeted with hate speech, media smear campaigns and legal harassment.
Like all segments of Turkish society, Hizmet participants have a presence in government organizations and in the private sector. These citizens cannot be denied their constitutional rights or be subjected to discrimination for their sympathy to Hizmet’s ideals, as long as they abide by the laws of the country, the rules of their institutions and basic ethical principles. Profiling any segment of society and viewing them as a threat is a sign of intolerance.
We are not the only victims of the A.K.P.’s crackdown. Peaceful environmental protesters, Kurds, Alevis, non-Muslim citizens and some Sunni Muslim groups not aligned with the ruling party have suffered, too. Without checks and balances, no individual or group is safe from the ruling party’s wrath. Regardless of their religious observance, citizens can and should unite around universal human rights and freedoms, and democratically oppose those who violate them.
Turkey has now reached a point where democracy and human rights have almost been shelved. I hope and pray that those in power reverse their current domineering path. In the past the Turkish people have rejected elected leaders who strayed from a democratic path. I hope they will exercise their legal and democratic rights again to reclaim the future of their country.
Fethullah Gulen is an Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on February 4, 2015, in The International New York Times.
A conference on Hizmet (Gulen) Movement was organised at the European Parliament, hosted by Mr Lambsdorff MEP, vice president of European Parliament.
The Hizmet Movement has been attracting an increasing European and international attention. This is partly because the movement is now more visible due to its evolving transnational character and its increasing capacity to inspire more people to carry out projects primarily in the fields of education, intercultural understanding, respect for diversity and humanitarian aid. Besides, the movement has consistently and publicly taken a clear position against any kind of religious extremism and violence. On the other hand, the presence and activities of the Movement trigger some controversy. Some question to its objectives, organization style, role with politics and the extent of its impact.
Furthermore, the Hizmet Movement has recently become the open target of the then Turkish president Erdoğan and his allies. R. Tayyip Erdoğan constantly diabolized Mr. Fethullah Gülen, the inspirer of the Movement, and he led a witch hunt for the participants of the Movement in the country. In the past, the Hizmet Movement had supported AK Party policies which were progressive, pro-EU and more democratic. However, it then became a strong critic of the Erdoğan regime, opposing its increasingly authoritarian policies and laxity against the serious corruption charges.
The Movement is actively present in many European countries. Its participants have taken various initiatives and established schools, education/culture centers, dialogue organizations and businesspeople associations. Moreover, Mr. Gülen is among few (religious) leaders in Turkey which have consistently supported the EU peocess. The participants believe that Turkey deserves a well-functioning democray, better records in human rights, thus the EU is the best leverage to achive this. However, the movement similarly also faces critics from some groups in Europe.
Certain questions, then, call for reflection: What is the Hizmet Movement all about ? What makes its participants move? Is it a threat or an opportunity? How do they think on pertinent European issues? Why is there so much controversy surrounding the movement, particularly in Turkey?
This panel debate, first of its kind in the European Parliament, aims to bring insider perspectives to better position the mindset of the Movement, controversy about it as well as to inquire its relevance for Europe. There will be two panelists, Özcan Keleş, the chairperson of the London-based Dialogue Society and İhsan Yılmaz, associate professor at Faith University, Istanbul. While Mr. Keleş will reflect more on the inspiration, objectives and relevance of the Movement through his personal story, Dr. Yılmaz will reflect more on the current situation in Turkey and the Movement’s opposition.
Prof. Ihsan Yilmaz (Fatih University, Istanbul)
Ihsan Yilmaz is Associate Professor of Political Science at Fatih University, Istanbul, Turkey where he is also the Director of the PhD Programme in Political Science and International Relations at the university’s Institute of Social Sciences. He received his BA in Political Science and International Relations from the Bosporus University in 1994 and completed his PhD at the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London in 1999. He is the author of (2005) Muslim Laws, Politics and Society in Modern Nation States: Dynamic Legal Pluralisms in England, Turkey and Pakistan, Aldershot, Ashgate.
He is the editor of Turkish Journal of Politics (TJP) and regular columnist of Today’s Zaman, an English language daily published in Turkey.
Possible topic with Prof Yilmaz: Turkey’s Current Challenges in Foreign Policy & Domestic Issues
Mr. Ozcan Keles – Chairman of Dialogue Society London
Ozcan is a non-practising Barrister and member of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn. He was the Executive Director of Dialogue Society from 2008 until September 2014. Between 2006 and 2009 Ozcan was a full-time Doctoral Candidate in Human Rights Law at the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex, where he held the Scholarship Award of 2006.
He obtained his LLM in Human Rights Law from SOAS, University of London, in 2002.
Dialogue Platform has co-organised the Premiere of “LOVE IS A VERB” film together with the production company- Global Vision. The event took place at the prestigious Galeries Cinema in Grand Place, Brussels on 15th October.
Love is a verb is a documentary by Terry Spencer Hesser exploring the ordinary lives and stories of people in Hizmet, a social movement inspired by the Islamic scholar and teacher, Fethullah Gulen, and geared towards serving all people regardless of their faith and religion through dialogue, education and relief work. The documentary was narrated by Hollywood actress Ashley Judd and produced by Global Vision Productions.
200 guests were privileged to watch the film at the special event before it will be available to the public in spring 2015. The premiere has started with a welcome drink and followed by screening of the film. Afterwards, the guests had the opportunity to ask questions at the 30 minute Q&A session to the Director.
Dialogue Platform’s guests enjoyed the canapé reception at the end of the night where they also exchanged their thoughts each other on the film and the Hizmet Movement.
We have the pleasure the present a short video that our distinguished guests reflect their thoughts about the documentary and the work of Hizmet volunteers or Gulen Movement in general.