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.