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Debate on “The Future of Gulen Movement in Europe”

Roundtable Lunch Discussion

The Future of Gülen Movement in Europe: Influence of Turkish Politics After the Coup Attempt

With  Prof. Johan Leman, KU Leuven University

Prof. Thijl Sunier, VU University Amsterdam

Tuesday, 7 February 2017 

WATCH FULL VIDEO HERE

Beginning as a grassroots community in Turkey in the 1970s, Hizmet (a.k.a. Gülen movement)  is a transnational social initiative active in education, interfaith dialogue and humanitarian aid over 180 countries including Europe.

Accused by president Erdogan for overthrowing his government first in 2013 after the corruption scandal and then failed coup attempt in July 2016, Gülen movement has been declared as terrorist organisation by the Turkish state and all of media, schools, universities, dormitories, associations and foundations affiliated with Gülen movement shut down by decree of law. Tens of thousands of people from the movement are in jail now and their private properties/companies are confiscated. The conflict between Erdoğan’s Turkey and Hizmet is extended and spilled into overseas. In some countries such as in Pakistan, Somalia; Erdoğan’s efforts to close down Hizmet schools were successful.

Facing the challenges coming from Turkey, the crucial question is to understand how the post-coup process is shaping the future of the movement, especially in Europe? Could movement sustain its activities outside Turkey?

Anthropologist Prof Sunier and Prof Leman have made the following presentations at the event:

Prof Sunier thinks that Hizmet Movement differs from other Islamic movements rooting to mystical tradition of Said Nursi. Nursi rejected himself being defined as Sheik (or master) and rather try to to balance the positive knowledge and religion. Fethullah Gulen is however not an exact follower of Sait Nursi. He managed to develop his own way formation on the route of faith.

Gulen Movement is not against the system nor in struggle to defeat it, but in favour of contributing to fix its moral building. According to the movement being a good Muslim is not enough. You should be successful in life as well. This recalls the active engagement in this world of Weber.

The coup in 1980 is milestone in Turkey’s economic development. Before 80s, Turkey suffered a weaker economy and was an insignificant country, however the economic development after 80s made it a part of world economy. Societal development is not unrelated to this economic development and Gulen Movement is part of this. Gulen Movement tried to engage with politics rather than opposing the developing system. Islam is known to be in the rural life which is backward. Cities traditionally belong to nearly only seculars. 80s economic developments and migration to the cities created new urban middle class bringing people to cities. Both AKP and Gulen Movement are part of this social development.

After 80s, Religious Muslims engaged in bureaucracy which belongs exclusively to non-religious before 80s. The followers of Gulen got positions everywhere in police, judiciary, academics, hospitals, army, schools and other state institutions etc. This is not infiltration but normal change in the course of socio economic development. This socio economical extended to Europe, causing similar impacts among the Turks in Europe.

Gulen people established institutions across Europe and this change was interpreted differently by European countries. Some welcomed this but some others didn’t. Until a few years ago German government was very happy with the developments in this respect. However Dutch government was always cautious. Two models of Islam in Europe being one the Mosque the other dialogue and education. Dutch Government prefers The Mosque model.

Prof Leman is in favour of dialogue and education as he thinks the Mosque is closed and incommunicable where dialogue and education is open to communication. Other social dynamics that will shape the future of current trend of social change in Europe include economic situation of Turks. Most Turks and Moroccans living in the West Europe lost their connection with their home lands as being already third generation immigrants. This caused gap between Turkey and local context.

The second is with the development of technology they can commute easier with their homeland ie planes etc. Local dynamics of Western Europe influence the religious life of Muslims in European context which creates differences the understanding in their homeland.

Prof Leman thinks that the Hizmet movement has certainly come a future but they need to be engaged in its core. He argues that even before the coup there were some challenges of Hizmet Movement. Leman says that whether they are good Muslims or not they are civilised. The other thing, dialogue and education are their pillars. Leman knows the movement and its founder well.

In May, two months before the coup, he was in the US have met with Fethullah Gulen. At the meeting in May 2016, Leman asked Gülen what should remain in the movement after his death. Fethullah Gulen’s answer was “the schools and interreligious dialogue”. According to Leman that’s also one that exhibits Hizmet must focus outside Turkey. “If you’re doing that, the Belgian and other Western governments will not adversely treat you”. He also said “there should be a way of communication with Muslims. You can’t communicate the Muslims in the mosque because they are closed but yes you can communicate with Muslims in schools through dialogue. If you can’t go into mosque system, stick to dialogue and education”.

Leman also quoted from journalist Nedim Sener who is hardcore anti-Gulen movement . He said “Sener divides Hizmet people into 3 categories: 1) Sympathizers. These are not necessarily in the movement actively, they observe and appreciate activities undertaken. He adds “I should be in this category” 2) Core people. Hizmet people support the movement actively, financially, mentally etc. 3) Hidden imams. These are people allegedly managing the movement who I never saw one. He also added this has been a tired as repeated for long time but there is no ground and evidence for this. If these do not exist stop saying that.

“Gülen himself is not responsible for the coup” is the opinion of Leman. “Just physically he was not able to do that.” He suspects earlier that “the coup was the work of a disgruntled, pluralistic grouping of Kemalists, among others, soldiers and, yes, some Gulenists. There were unavoidably Gulenists involved. There is no other way when you are in many positions in all sectors of society.”

Leman stressed that to be a multi-religious world movement, the Gulen movement must stay away from domestic Turkish politics and advised to the movement to stick to the core values.

Leman put some critics to the movement for not being more transparent mentioning the schools in Belgium not declaring its affiliation publicly. Furthermore “Hizmet behaves sometimes vague, almost mysterious, for example when it comes to the number of sympathizers they can’t give exact figures. When Dutch government asked the number of mosques in the Nederland the figures are clear but when you asked the GM institutions unclear. Do not do that. Be open. Trust the future of democracy. Otherwise, it would look like a sect.”

The event has continued with an hour question and answer session after the presentations as above.