Muslim’s have a responsibility to strengthen their immune system against violent extremism writes Fethullah Gulen, honorary president of Dialogue Platform.
SAYLORSBURG, Pennsylvania — The brutal, deadly attacks in London and Manchester on innocent civilians are the latest in a series of senseless violent acts carried out by the so-called Islamic State, a group that deserves no designation other than the world’s most inhuman criminal network.
In response to this threat, the world’s Muslims can and should help intelligence and security communities ward off future attacks and eliminate the lifelines of this menace.
From its founding amid the ashes of Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS has dealt in deception as well as death. Despite its name, ISIS represents a perversion of Islam. The group’s dress, flags and slogans cannot hide their abhorrent betrayal of the spirit of this major world faith.
Denying this barbaric group a geographical base that emboldens them to claim statehood — an essential element of their propaganda to potential recruits — is a worthwhile goal that all Muslims should support. But the challenge isn’t only military.
ISIS, and other groups like it, recruits alienated Muslim youth by offering them a false sense of purpose and belonging in the service of a totalitarian ideology.
Countering that appeal will include religious, political, psycho-social and economic efforts. It will require that local communities and government institutions address structural issues such as discrimination and exclusion.
International organizations must protect citizens against violent persecution of the kind we witnessed in Syria and assist with transitions to democratic governance. Western governments, too, have a responsibility to adopt a more ethical and consistent foreign policy.
Muslim citizens and organizations can and should be part of these broader efforts, but we also have a unique role and responsibility in this fight.
Across the world, Muslims need to strengthen the immune system of our communities, especially our youth, against violent extremism. We must ask: How did our communities become grounds for terrorist recruitment? Yes, external factors must be addressed, but we must also look within.
Self-examination is an Islamic ethic. There are actions we can take, as Muslim parents, teachers, community leaders and imams, to help our youth protect themselves. We must defeat these murderous extremists in the battlefield of ideas.
A common fallacy of violent extremist ideologues is to decontextualize the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet (peace be upon him) and misinterpret them to serve their pre-determined goals. These ideologues turn snapshots from his or his companions’ lives into instruments to justify a criminal act.
The antidote is a religious education program that teaches the tradition in a holistic and contextualized way. To be able to resist the deceits of radical ideologues, young Muslims must understand the spirit of their scripture and the overarching principles of their Prophet’s life. We need to teach our youth the full story of how the Prophet moved his society from savagery into ethical norms shared by Abrahamic faiths.
A holistic religious education should start with a commitment to the dignity of every person as a unique creation of God, regardless of faith. When God says “We have honored the children of Adam” (Quran, 17:70), all humanity is honored. The Quran describes taking the life of even one innocent person as a crime against all humanity (Quran, 5:32). Even in a legitimate defensive war, the Prophet’s teachings specifically prohibit violence against any noncombatants, especially women, children and clergy. The belief that one can enter paradise by killing others is a delusion.
Violent extremists also commit another major fallacy: transplanting into the 21st century religious verdicts from the Middle Ages, in which political rivalries were often confused with religious differences. Today, Muslims have the freedom to practice their religion in democratic, secular countries.
The values of participatory governments align with core Muslim ideals of social justice, the rule of law, collective decision-making and equality. Muslims can and do live as contributing citizens of democracies around the world.
Proactively, we must develop positive ways to satisfy the social needs of our youth. Youth groups should be encouraged to volunteer in humanitarian relief projects to help victims of disasters and violent conflicts. In teaching them to help others, we will give them the tools to empower themselves and feel that they are part of something meaningful. We also have a duty to help the youth engage in dialogue with members of other faiths to help nurture mutual understanding and respect. As Muslims, we are not just members of a faith community, but of the human family.
Since the 1970s, the participants in the social movement Hizmet — the Turkish word for service — have founded more than 1,000 modern secular schools, free tutoring centers, colleges, hospitals and humanitarian relief organizations in more than 150 countries. By facilitating the involvement of young students and professionals as service providers, mentors, tutors and helpers, these institutions and their social networks foster a sense of identity, belonging, meaning and empowerment that constitute an antidote to the false promises of violent extremists.
Indeed, the best way to proactively protect our youth is to provide them with a positive counter-narrative. By offering opportunities for language learning and cultural exchanges, these kinds of institutions nurture a pluralistic outlook, critical thinking and empathy.
As part of their daily rituals, practising Muslims pray for God to keep them “on the straight path.” Today, the straight path means examining our understanding of the core values of our faith, how we embody those values in our daily lives and strengthening our youth’s resistance to influences that contradict those values.
Being part of the worldwide effort to help stop violent religious radicals from repeating the London and Manchester cruelties elsewhere is both a human and religious responsibility.
Fethullah Gülen is an Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate.
I am deeply saddened by the bombing that took place at a concert at Manchester Arena in Manchester, England on May 22. I condemn this brutal assault in the strongest terms, and extend my deepest condolences to the 22 victims – some of whom, unthinkably, are innocent children – who lost their lives and the 59 others who were injured, as well as their families and loved ones. The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack and continues to be a scourge on our society, propagating senseless, appalling violence and terrorism.
It is heartbreaking that a concert, a joyful event meant to bring people together to enjoy music and friendship, so quickly devolved into a scene of violence, chaos and terror. As I have said before, any attack on the sanctity of human life is an attack against humanity. There is no justification for such an atrocity and I will continue to denounce without hesitation any use of violence to promote an agenda – whether religious, political or ideological.
As disturbed as I am by this vicious act, I pray to God, the Most Compassionate, for the quick recovery of those injured and that he may lead the victims of this tragedy, and indeed our global community, to a place of peace and harmony.
About Fethullah Gülen
Fethullah Gülen is an Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate, whose decades‐long commitment to education, interfaith dialogue and altruism has inspired millions in Turkey and around the world. Gülen is the honorary chairman of the Rumi Forum, Washington, DC and the Intercultural Dialogue Platform, Brussels, Belgium.
The honorary president of Dialogue Platform, Mr Fethullah Gülen penned an opinion-editorial titled as “ The Turkey I no longer know” published in The Washington Post.
In the opinion piece, Mr Gülen made a call on the West to help Turkey return to a democratic path. He said the presidents’ meeting, and next week’s Nato summit should be used as an opportunity to advance this effort.
To reverse the “democratic regression” in Turkey, he wrote that a new civilian constitution should be drafted through a democratic process involving the input of all segments of society and that is on par with international legal and humanitarian norms, and drawing lessons from the success of long-term democracies in the West.
Second, Mr Gulen wrote that school curriculum that emphasises democratic and pluralistic values and encourages critical thinking must be developed.
Here is the full text of the article:
15 May 2017, SAYLORSBURG, Pa.
As the presidents of the United States and Turkey meet at the White House on Tuesday, the leader of the country I have called home for almost two decades comes face to face with the leader of my homeland. The two countries have a lot at stake, including the fight against the Islamic State, the future of Syria and the refugee crisis.
But the Turkey that I once knew as a hope-inspiring country on its way to consolidating its democracy and a moderate form of secularism has become the dominion of a president who is doing everything he can to amass power and subjugate dissent.
The West must help Turkey return to a democratic path. Tuesday’s meeting, and the NATO summit next week, should be used as an opportunity to advance this effort.
Since July 15, following a deplorable coup attempt, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has systematically persecuted innocent people — arresting, detaining, firing and otherwise ruining the lives of more than 300,000 Turkish citizens, be they Kurds, Alevis, secularists, leftists, journalists, academics or participants of Hizmet, the peaceful humanitarian movement with which I am associated.
As the coup attempt unfolded, I fiercely denounced it and denied any involvement. Furthermore, I said that anyone who participated in the putsch betrayed my ideals. Nevertheless, and without evidence, Erdogan immediately accused me of orchestrating it from 5,000 miles away.
The next day, the government produced lists of thousands of individuals whom they tied to Hizmet — for opening a bank account, teaching at a school or reporting for a newspaper — and treated such an affiliation as a crime and began destroying their lives. The lists included people who had been dead for months and people who had been serving at NATO’s European headquarters at the time. International watchdogs have reported numerous abductions, in addition to torture and deaths in detention. The government pursued innocent people outside Turkey, pressuring Malaysia, for instance, to deport three Hizmet sympathizers last week, including a school principal who has lived there for more than a decade, to face certain imprisonment and likely torture.
In April, the president won a narrow referendum victory — amid allegations of serious fraud — to form an “executive presidency” without checks and balances, enabling him to control all three branches of the government. To be sure, through purges and corruption, much of this power was already in his hands. I fear for the Turkish people as they enter this new stage of authoritarianism.
It didn’t start this way. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came into power in 2002 by promising democratic reforms in pursuit of European Union membership. But as time went on, Erdogan became increasingly intolerant of dissent. He facilitated the transfer of many media outlets to his cronies through government regulatory agencies. In June of 2013, he crushed the Gezi Park protesters. In December of that year, when his cabinet members were implicated in a massive graft probe, he responded by subjugating the judiciary and the media. The “temporary” state of emergency declared after last July 15 is still in effect. According to Amnesty International, one-third of all imprisoned journalists in the world are in Turkish prisons.
Erdogan’s persecution of his people is not simply a domestic matter. The ongoing pursuit of civil society, journalists, academics and Kurds in Turkey is threatening the long-term stability of the country. The Turkish population already is strongly polarized on the AKP regime. A Turkey under a dictatorial regime, providing haven to violent radicals and pushing its Kurdish citizens into desperation, would be a nightmare for Middle East security.
The people of Turkey need the support of their European allies and the United States to restore their democracy. Turkey initiated true multiparty elections in 1950 to join NATO. As a requirement of its membership, NATO can and should demand that Turkey honor its commitment to the alliance’s democratic norms.
Two measures are critical to reversing the democratic regression in Turkey.
First, a new civilian constitution should be drafted through a democratic process involving the input of all segments of society and that is on par with international legal and humanitarian norms, and drawing lessons from the success of long-term democracies in the West.
Second, a school curriculum that emphasizes democratic and pluralistic values and encourages critical thinking must be developed. Every student must learn the importance of balancing state powers with individual rights, the separation of powers, judicial independence and press freedom, and the dangers of extreme nationalism, politicization of religion and veneration of the state or any leader.
Before either of those things can happen, however, the Turkish government must stop the repression of its people and redress the rights of individuals who have been wronged by Erdogan without due process.
I probably will not live to see Turkey become an exemplary democracy, but I pray that the downward authoritarian drift can be stopped before it is too late.
Fethullah Gulen is an Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate.
Thousands of women in Turkey, many with small children, have been jailed in an unprecedented crackdown and subjected to torture and ill-treatment in detention centers and prisons as part of the government’s systematic campaign of intimidation and persecution of critics and opponents, a new report titled “Jailing Women In Turkey: Systematic Campaign of Persecution and Fear” released by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has revealed.
The motivation behind Turkey’s deliberate policy of imprisoning women who, in some cases, have just given birth or are pregnant, appears to be creating a chill factor in Turkish society and muzzling dissenting and critical voices, SCF said.
In several cases SCF has identified, women were detained in the hospital immediately after the delivery of her baby and before they had a chance to recover. Many women were jailed as they were visiting their imprisoned husbands, leaving the children stranded in the ensuing chaos in the criminal justice system that was abused by the government to punish critics.
In one case, a woman lost her sanity under torture while in police detention, yet she was thrown back into prison, despite a diagnosis to that effect. Another woman was jailed because her husband, a journalist, remained at large. In many cases, the government has jailed the wives of businessmen who are seen as supporting the opposition to Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in addition to seizing all their businesses and personal assets.
“This practice of deliberate targeting of women sends a warning message across the board that nobody will be safe from the wrath of President Erdoğan and his government,” Abdullah Bozkurt, the president of SCF, has said.
“This is clearly in breach of Turkish law as well as rules and regulations that Turkey has committed itself to complying with as a member of various intergovernmental organizations,” he added.
The shameful practice of jailing of women from judges to journalists, from teachers to doctors, in big numbers has added a new dimension to the massive government witch-hunt that has been launched against critics, mainly targeting members of civic group the Gülen movement.
None of the women has any criminal record but now face criminal charges just because the government declared them to be terrorists and coup plotters overnight. They are not yet convicted, and in most cases, not even indicted, but have been put in pre-trial detention as punishment.
In many cases SCF documented, the women’s physical and mental health deteriorated rapidly after they went through abuse, isolation, poor diet and hygiene, lack of access to health care and the psychological trauma of incarceration. The arbitrary detention of women in big numbers has taken a toll not only on jailed women but also on their children and family members.
SCF said the cases represented in its report are only a tip of the iceberg as many cases are not reported because of the fear of further persecution on the part of victims or their family members. Even the cases that have been uncovered so far, some identified with full names and others only by initials to protect their identities, are enough to tell the horrifying picture in Turkey, said SCF.
“President Erdoğan, who leads this witch-hunt campaign and his associates in the government must be held accountable for this appalling practice that result in a devastating impact on the well-being of women and their children in Turkey,” added the organization.
The SCF report can be accessed at http://stockholmcf.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Jailing-women-in-Turkey.pdf.
I expressed my views on women’s rights in an interview to the Muslim World journal shortly after arriving in the United States.
[00:16] I view woman and man as the two sides of a unity. I view them as two different sides of a whole. Indeed, God has created them as such.
But in different periods she has been limited to a life at home closed to the outer World. Sometimes tyrannical leaders have isolated them and prevented them from participating actively in social life. Hence, they experienced various forms of deprivation.
[00:48] A balance should be sought. That aspect of life has a place and this aspect of life has a place. She has a home. She sometimes will spend time withe her children but there is no obstacle to her participating in social life. She can assume any role.
[01:06] But the World has not yet realized this reality. Leaving reality aside, perhaps they have not even thought about it properly. How many woman chiefs of general staff are there in the World? How many presidents?
In England’s tradition, there is Queen Elizabeth but that is something she inherited from her father.
[01:37] Question: What can be done to ensure that women can have the status they deserve in our society?
This matter should be promoted Worldwide. In Brussels, in Washington D.C., in New York, at the African Union. Events should be organized to express this matter in a universal language around the World. Qualified experts should be brought together, people from among Muslims, Christians, Jews, Budhists, Shintoists and others, should be brought together without excluding anybody to discuss this matter.
This matter should be integrated into school curricula at an age when the children’s subconscious is still developing. Some pedagogists say that is the 0 to 7 years old period.
But experience suggests that the development of a person’s subconscious mind, the development of their neurons, their pituitary gland, thalamus gland, and memory center continues up until the age of 15. This corresponds to the period of high school.
[03:04] This matter [women’s rights] should be made part of the school curricula so that the students will learn them early on. This is the only way to make the desired attitudes on women’s rights to be internalized. Otherwise, if the matter is enforced upon people there can be a reaction. It could lead to a negative, reactionary response. People need to digest and internalize these things. They should make this attitude a part of their character. They need to internalize it. Education is the path to achieve that.
[03:42] As a side note the reason your friends have focused on education is that it is a way to address multiple problems at once. To grant every human being their deserved status goes through education. Elimination of poverty goes through education. Achieving social harmony and cooperation, and the prevention of conflicts go through education. Bringing people together and reconciliation, enabling them to go arm in arm goes through education.
Education is an important factor but it needs a solid foundation in the form of a curriculum. Psychologists and pedagogists should be brought together. I don’t think in our World matters have been analyzed from a pedagogical and psychological viewpoints in the light of our beliefs.
I believe that there is a serious need for a solid study of the philosophy of Prophet’s life by experts in the field based on the lives of Prophets, the Qur’an, the authentic accounts of Prophet’s life. I don’t think something like this has been done yet.
[05:05] If the issue [women’s rights] is integrated into school curricula starting at elementary school, then in middle school and high school, then when a person starts his or her career they will be imbued with the respect for women’s rights.
There can be exceptions but the attitudes of the vast majority of people can be shaped through education and this could be a lasting solution to the issue.
[05:37] Question: Could you comment on education rights of women?
Among the members of the family, if the woman is not at the same level of education as her husband or children, if they don’t understand each other…
[05:58] Rumi has a beautiful saying: Not the ones speaking the same language, but the ones sharing the same feeling understand each other. İf the woman’s level of education doesn’t match other members of the family, a kind of a hidden cast system can emerge within the family without anybody noticing it.
It is very important for people to understand each other, to be able to share the topic of discussion. Women’s education rights should be viewed from this angle.
[06:28] If we consider a family like a molecule, we can view the society as an organism. Members of the society should be able to understand each other as well. They should be able to understand each other’s speech and delve into a topic together. They should be able to share a vision.
Looking at this from another angle, we can consider on the one hand the religious knowledge and the spiritual life and on the other the study of the creation, the study of the universe, the main topics of the positive sciences. Members of a society should be educated at least at the level of high school to be able to communicate with each other. So that when they come together and someone is speaking on these topics the others will not remain at loss.
[07:38] Therefore, if the members of a family differ significantly then a form of social strata like a cast system can form within the family and the society without anybody recognizing it.
These were practices and attitudes during times of Egypt’s pharaohs and the Indian cast system in Ganj valley. Unfortunately, we are still living these partially.
[08:19] Question: Do you have a special message for the International Women’s Day?
Human beings are alive as long as their hopes are alive. I believe the intellectuals of the future will solve these problems and perhaps women will get what they have been yearning for.
I hope that the intellectuals of the future will find a way to grant everybody’s rights without causing a reaction. I hope that there will be a social system where women will be satisfied as well, there will be a world where women will be able to breath, God willing.
In the globalized world, this may happen more easily. Now you can reach the other side of the world by touching a button. You don’t need to get on a horse or mule as in the past. You are able to convey a message to India or Pakistan whenever you want.
[09:30] But we need to start somewhere. If it is started now, it can be realized within a quarter century. Contemporary means of communication and transportation may help realize these goals faster. With the help of God women can be hopeful about the future. As the poet Mehmet Akif Ersoy says, “the dawn promised by God to you is near, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps even earlier.”