Commentary Magazine


Topic: Fethullah Gulen

Reconsidering Fethullah Gülen

Fethullah Gülen, the 74-year-old Turkish Islamic thinker, has long been the subject of controversy in both American and Turkish policy circles. Born in Erzurum, Turkey, he taught and preached in Turkey for decades. His writings have focused on the interplay between religion, modernism, and interfaith tolerance, though his critics have suggested that his public and private statements were often at odds with each other. He came to the United States in 1999 seeking medical treatment for diabetes, among other ailments. While in the United States, videotapes surfaced which apparently showed Gülen suggesting his goal was to change Turkey’s system to make it more religious. Gülen and his supporters say the tapes were manipulated and his remarks twisted and taken out of context, but others suspected a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Gülen chose to stay in the United States rather than face prosecution in Turkey. After all, then as now justice was not the highest priority for the Turkish judicial system. He has since lived in Pennsylvania, near the Poconos town of Saylorsburg, at a small forested compound with houses and a meeting hall overlooking a small pond.

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Fethullah Gülen, the 74-year-old Turkish Islamic thinker, has long been the subject of controversy in both American and Turkish policy circles. Born in Erzurum, Turkey, he taught and preached in Turkey for decades. His writings have focused on the interplay between religion, modernism, and interfaith tolerance, though his critics have suggested that his public and private statements were often at odds with each other. He came to the United States in 1999 seeking medical treatment for diabetes, among other ailments. While in the United States, videotapes surfaced which apparently showed Gülen suggesting his goal was to change Turkey’s system to make it more religious. Gülen and his supporters say the tapes were manipulated and his remarks twisted and taken out of context, but others suspected a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Gülen chose to stay in the United States rather than face prosecution in Turkey. After all, then as now justice was not the highest priority for the Turkish judicial system. He has since lived in Pennsylvania, near the Poconos town of Saylorsburg, at a small forested compound with houses and a meeting hall overlooking a small pond.

Back in 2009, the Middle East Quarterly, a policy journal which I used to edit, published an article by Turkey expert and translator Rachel Sharon-Krespin about Gülen. The article ascribed malevolent motives to Gülen’s work. John Esposito, director of the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim–Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, in contrast, embraces Gülen’s work and teaching and affirmed his sincerity. Several years ago, the New York Times reported on the controversy over assessments of Gülen, as has Der Spiegel.

In my own writing, I have often been suspicious of the Gülen movement, although as I reflect, I realize I may have been misread the movement. While this post will be lengthy, the topic remains relevant and may be interesting to those focused on Islam and reform, and so I hope to address why I was suspicious, and why I have slowly been changing my mind. Over time, the basis for my suspicion of the movement has been multifold, although much of it had little to do with Gülen himself.

My Ph.D. work was in Iranian history, and while my dissertation did not involve Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, I had long studied his life and writing. Whereas Khomeini today is remembered for his revolutionary radicalism both in the United States and Iran, many Americans forget how Khomeini and his supporters sold the ayatollah to the West. In the U.S.-based, Persian language journal Iranshenasi, Jalal Matini, the chancellor of Ferdowsi University in Mashhad between 1975 and 1978, chronicled some of Khomeini’s quotes about his philosophy and vision for the future. In short, Khomeini told Westerners what they wanted to hear about his disinterest in personal power or the imposition of religious rule, and gullible reporters and diplomats ate it up. There were no shortage of useful idiots. Here, for example, is Richard Falk, at the time a professor of international law at Princeton who had the ear of Jimmy Carter, singing Khomeini’s praises in the New York Times.

Khomeini was not alone in fooling the West. The Muslim Brotherhood co-opted the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt. They promised young Egyptians democracy, and there were many Western journalists, diplomats, and analysts who believed them. But the Muslim Brotherhood is a strictly hierarchical organization that does not tolerate internal debate and discussion. Their management philosophy is “listen and repeat.” Once in power, Mohamed Morsi like Khomeini eschewed his promises and any rhetoric of democracy and compromise and began to transform Egypt into an authoritarian, religious state. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi may not be a panacea to Egypt’s ills, and it may be impossible to gauge his true popularity given the repression that continues to exist in Egypt, but there is little doubt that his coup was extremely popular among Egyptians, including many disenfranchised youth who had once taken the Muslim Brotherhood at their word.

Perhaps nowhere has deception been as great as with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Diplomats and many former U.S. ambassadors to Turkey—Mark Parris, Morton Abramowitz, Ross Wilson, Robert Pearson, Marc Grossman—swore by Erdoğan and his alleged commitment to democracy (only Eric Edelman was an exception; he alone called Erdoğan correctly from the beginning as Wikileaks shows). They were not alone. President George W. Bush also praised the Turkish leader. “I appreciate so very much the example your country has set on how to be a Muslim country and at the same time a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom,” he said. Erdoğan, of course, was no democrat. Rather, he was and is a bigot and a despot. Neither the White House nor any serious diplomat carry his water anymore; they recognize him for what he is.

So, the West has gotten burnt at least three times by embracing Islamists who preached democracy, only to see their rhetoric was empty. That does not mean, however, that all clerics and others who hold Islam dear are so cynical. To dismiss all such clerics or would-be reformers is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the West finds no partners nor can Muslims find leaders who can push a path which rolls back the hatred and radical interpretations spread by decades of Saudi and Iranian oil money.

That said, my suspicious understanding of Fethullah Gülen was driven by other considerations. Gülen has always emphasized education. This is laudable. The best schools in Azerbaijan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Africa, and elsewhere are affiliated with his movements. These schools do not proselytize, although they do embrace religious values. Regardless, they regularly turn out the best and brightest in their societies. These men and women in turn form networks, help each other with entry into governments or business, and often give back to the movement. Such networks can be secretive, and that secrecy can also breed suspicion. Suspicion can be justified, but it is not always so.

Another litmus test I use to judge movements is how forthright they are. Take the Mujahedin al-Khalq Organization (MKO): It regularly spins off front groups to try to entrap the greedy or naïve. If the MKO was open and honest, they would just say who they are instead of trying to launder their history the way they do. Now, every Gülenist movement I know does not hide its ideology or its belief in the teachings of Gülen, but the ever expanding network of names and groups created a whiff of confusion. Turkey-watchers knew what each group was, but many others who became involved had no idea they were working with a Gülenist group. Sometimes, Gülenist groups seemed to try to co-opt individuals in organizations that did not know Turkey or who wanted a free trip, in order to suggest some institutional links where none existed.

Also contributing to my suspicion has been the fact that so much of the outside scholarship dedicated to Gülen’s work has been funded by Gülen’s charities. Over the years, I have known a number of his followers, and too often came to interpret his views by their actions. One Turkish diplomat, for example, tweeted favorably about University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer and Harvard Professor Stephen Walt’s book The Israel Lobby, which basically argued that Jewish Americans who disagreed with Walt and Mearsheimer held dual loyalty, an anti-Semitic attitude which has found a following among some intellectuals.

Likewise, some writers for Zaman, a newspaper affiliated with the movement, also used terminology and cast aspersions with regard to U.S. policymakers that sometimes crossed the line into anti-Semitism, and other columnists close to the movement sometimes falsified quotations although, to be fair, they apologized. Also coloring my assessment were the frequent discrepancies between the manner in which Zaman covered stories versus how its English language edition, Today’s Zaman, sanitized the same stories to make them more palatable to the Western ear. Some of Gülen’s followers may be anti-Semitic or prone to conspiracy, but is it fair to judge a whole movement by a few bad apples? After all, while no political movement in the United States is as cohesive as those in Turkey, there are men and women among both the right and the left in the United States who engage in conspiracy, are cynically political and are frankly embarrassing to their political allies. Guilt by association is a favorite past time of some politicos, but engaging in it is unfortunate when it becomes a way to side step more serious debate. That said, even while there are some followers who are bigoted and unrepentant, what is also true of the movement is that whatever differences they have, political or religious, they do not hesitate to sit down and discuss them openly and with civility. At the height of my political spat with the Gülenists, their door was never closed to me (they were for a long time housed in the same building as my American Enterprise Institute office). That shows self-confidence and principle, something that, for example, Erdoğan’s followers don’t have. During a recent visit to Turkey, for example, a former AKP member who once headed the German Marshall Fund’s office in Turkey worked to ensure that AKP members not accept meetings with myself and others whom he considered critical; likewise, the Kurdistan Regional Government also regularly seeks to handpick audiences in order to ensure that every question is a softball. Such strategies reflect a political culture that stresses sycophancy and dictatorial control rather than one that embraces inclusion.

The major basis for my suspicion about Gülen and his movement, however, was how his followers appeared to carry water for Erdoğan. And, indeed, it long appeared to me and others that followers of Gülen were working in an unholy alliance with Erdoğan in order to transform Turkish society fundamentally away from its Kemalist past and to blur the line between mosque and state. And perhaps they were, although, I also recognize it is equally possible that Erdoğan fooled Gülen’s followers by depicting his ultimate goals as far more moderate and democratic than reality has now shown them to be. Many Turks also suspect the Gülenists as contributing to the false evidence used to purge secularists, military officers, and nationalists.

What cannot be disputed is that, approximately a year-and-a-half ago, Erdoğan turned on Gülen and his followers. He launched a purge throughout the bureaucracy which, while not bloody, would nevertheless make Stalin proud. Any one even suspected of supporting Gülen or his myriad charities and schools—thousands and thousands of people—could and did find themselves out of a job without due process and, in some cases, could find themselves in prison. These are men and women who are sometimes responsible for feeding and clothing numerous children and parents, all of whom are now cut off. Erdoğan now demands that Gülen be extradited to Turkey where, perhaps, it would be easier to serve Gülen some figurative or literal polonium tea. Extradition would be wrong. Under no circumstances should the United States give any credence to Erdoğan, an increasingly unhinged and unrestrained dictator.

One of the more interesting debates right now in Turkey involves when Erdoğan changed. I have treated Erdoğan and his inner circle with suspicion almost from the beginning, and was once in a small minority, even among so-called neoconservatives. Many others have come around, whether it was because of Erdoğan’s embrace of Hamas, his conspiratorial ravings, his increasing anti-Americanism, his corruption, his response to the Gezi protests, or now the crackdown on Gülen and his followers. A question which many liberals, businessmen, and one-time supporters of Erdoğan now consider is whether or not they should have spoken up sooner against Erdoğan. Then again, the important thing is that they have recognized Erdoğan for what he is. And the fact that Gülen is now critical of Erdoğan gives pause for thought.

But just as Erdoğan has changed with time—even if his ideology has been consistent, his tactics have become far less nuanced—so too might Gülen have changed. Sixteen years is a long time to live in the United States, and Gülen is not isolated. He has seen both the American judiciary at work as well as hospitals. It may sound trite, but seeing how Americans treat each other as equals in contrast to how Erdoğan acts as a sultan can wear off. And, movements learn from their mistakes. Even if Gülen’s followers once collaborated with Erdoğan and caused a lot of damage when they did so, now that they find themselves on the opposite end of Erdoğan’s wrath provides a lesson which many have learned.

Was I right to be suspicious of the Fethullah Gülen and his movement? To some extent, yes. But was I at times unfair to the group? Absolutely. I regret that I once speculated that Gülen’s return to Turkey could mirror Khomeini’s return to Tehran, a comparison which became headline news in the often polemical Turkish press. Indeed, for that comparison, I apologize. Would I want to be judged by the same standards by which I judged the movement? Probably not. Does that mean I endorse the movement? No, I do not. But I am willing to listen to them.

That said, I do believe that while Gülenists and myself have followed radically different paths, when it comes to Turkey today, Erdoğan’s radicalism, the importance of the free market and business, and well as the importance of tolerance in society, and education, there is room for consensus.

Aside from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his Republican Peoples Party (CHP), no political party dominated by a charismatic leader in Turkey has survived that leader’s death. After Adnan Menderes was executed after the 1960 coup, his Democrat Party disappeared. Likewise, the Motherland Party did not survive Turgut Özal death in 1993. While Erdoğan, as president, should theoretically be above Turkish politics, he remains as partisan today as when he was prime minister. He also remains as domineering of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) over which he is an authoritarian lord. When Erdoğan is gone—and he knows that if he ever steps down, he will likely die in prison or in exile in Saudi Arabia—then the AKP will not survive. It will fracture and fragment, and the politics of compromise amidst coalitions may return. In that future, the followers of Fethullah Gülen will likely play a positive role and they undo the system of fear and the cynical use of religion that defines the Erdoğan era.

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Extradite Fethullah Gülen?

Fethullah Gülen is the reclusive but influential Turkish Islamist leader who resides in a well-guarded and, indeed, fortified compound in the Poconos, having fled Turkey in 1999, theoretically to get medical treatment but also to flee prosecution for remarks he made advocating for the overthrow of the system (he has since disputed the veracity of the recording of those remarks).

Five years ago, Rachel Sharon-Krespin, the director of the Turkish Media Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), penned probably the most comprehensive though critical study of Gülen. One needn’t go far to find far more glowing accounts of Gülen, although most of these come either from close associates or those like Georgetown Professor John Esposito, whose program has benefited from the Gülen movement’s largesse.

I have long been quite cynical about Gülen. I admit, I have wavered with time but whenever I began to consider that perhaps I had been too ungenerous in my interpretation of the movement and the man, either someone would dig up new statements by Gülen that raised questions about the sincerity of his interfaith tolerance, Gülen’s flagship paper Zaman would hint at some anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, or his followers would tweet their embrace for everything from an endorsement of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s dual loyalty accusations against various Jews to far more virulently anti-Semitic attacks on me personally. That said, to the movement’s credit, no matter how critical I might have been about Gülen, members of the movement or its constituent groups always kept the door open to dialogue and communication, an openness which I respect and appreciate.

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Fethullah Gülen is the reclusive but influential Turkish Islamist leader who resides in a well-guarded and, indeed, fortified compound in the Poconos, having fled Turkey in 1999, theoretically to get medical treatment but also to flee prosecution for remarks he made advocating for the overthrow of the system (he has since disputed the veracity of the recording of those remarks).

Five years ago, Rachel Sharon-Krespin, the director of the Turkish Media Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), penned probably the most comprehensive though critical study of Gülen. One needn’t go far to find far more glowing accounts of Gülen, although most of these come either from close associates or those like Georgetown Professor John Esposito, whose program has benefited from the Gülen movement’s largesse.

I have long been quite cynical about Gülen. I admit, I have wavered with time but whenever I began to consider that perhaps I had been too ungenerous in my interpretation of the movement and the man, either someone would dig up new statements by Gülen that raised questions about the sincerity of his interfaith tolerance, Gülen’s flagship paper Zaman would hint at some anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, or his followers would tweet their embrace for everything from an endorsement of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s dual loyalty accusations against various Jews to far more virulently anti-Semitic attacks on me personally. That said, to the movement’s credit, no matter how critical I might have been about Gülen, members of the movement or its constituent groups always kept the door open to dialogue and communication, an openness which I respect and appreciate.

That does not change my overall suspicion of the movement. While many have embraced the Gülenists as the potential saviors of Turkish democracy for blowing the whistle on the endemic corruption and megalomania of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the fact of the matter is they were for him before they were against him and did not expose his abuses until Erdoğan turned on them. I am happy that the movement has exposed the truth about Erdoğan, but that does not mean that the enemy of my enemy is always a friend.

Gülen and Erdoğan are now certainly enemies. Apoplectic about the Gülenists’ exposure of his abuses of power, Erdoğan has been on a rampage in recent weeks, purging Gülen’s followers without regard to law and engaging in rants that might lead dispassionate observers to question Erdoğan’s stability. Now Erdoğan is demanding Gülen’s extradition, in theory for constructing a parallel state, but in reality for the crime of exposing and embarrassing the prime minister and endangering his secret bank accounts.

Several years ago, I compared Gülen to Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini. After all, when Khomeini was in exile, he spoke about his desire for democracy. When he returned to Iran, he consolidated power, eschewed the tolerance he once wove into his rhetoric, and showed his radicalism undiminished by time. I speculated that if Gülen returned to Turkey, he would be met by millions of adoring supporters who might let their ideological passion get the best of them.

Now, perhaps, it is time to make the opposite comparison: Fethullah Gülen to the shah.

When the shah fled Iran, he too came to the United States to seek medical treatment, and was granted entry. I am glad he was. Facing the ire of Khomeini and his radical students, Carter and senior diplomats plotted quite openly to force the ailing shah to depart. At one point, they even encouraged Panama to send the shah back to Iran, where he would have faced humiliation, torture, and execution. Whatever the Shah may have been, and whatever his faults, handing him over to appease a revolutionary madman would have been wrong both morally and from the standpoint of American national interests.

I admit, I wish that the United States had never given refuge to Gülen. There were many places he could have gone, and it was not an American interest to host him in the United States, let alone have him reside in such a heavily armed compound. At the very least, that decision taken during the Clinton administration poured gasoline onto the flames of already imaginative Turkish conspiracy theories.

But Gülen is here now, and he has been here for 15 years. I need not trust the man nor endorse his movement—indeed, I remain quite a critic—but that does not mean that the United States should follow the logic of callous diplomats who argued in the case of the shah that appeasing Khomeini was worth it. By no means should senior American officials consider Erdoğan’s demands for Gülen’s extradition. Gülen may not have consistently been a dissident before, but he is now. It is never wise for the White House or State Department to appease off-kilter authoritarians in their petty, personal vendettas.

The national security debate, especially with regard to Islamist thinkers, has long been polarized, and never more so than now. That said, perhaps out of the chaos in Turkey comes an opportunity for a real consensus: Let us hope that not only supporters of Fethullah Gülen, but also his skeptics and his detractors recognize that under no circumstance should the U.S. government accept Turkey’s extradition request.

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Turkey: Between Deep State and Dictatorship

Turkey, at the beginning of 2014, looks remarkably different than Turkey just a year ago. Certainly, the luster has worn off Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who, just a year ago, looked on course to pass a new constitution which would enable him to lead Turkey as president for another decade, at least. Western supporters and many Turkish liberals described Fethullah Gülen as an enlightened force for religious tolerance and a man committed to reform and democracy.

Today, Turkey is moving toward one-man rule. How ironic it is that as so many Arab regimes swept out strong-man dictatorships, Erdoğan seeks to have Turkey become one. Perhaps Fethullah Gülen pushed him to it: Gülen’s minions permeate the security force and, once Erdoğan threatened Gülen’s revenue stream by seeking to close down his lucrative exam prep school enterprise, the police launched corruption probes against Erdoğan’s supporters, including his own son.

How ironic it is that while Western academics and liberals once railed against the deep state in Turkey, a reference to the shadowy networks of generals and intelligence officials who seemed to pull the levers behind the curtains, the past month’s events show that Gülen himself leads the deep state.

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Turkey, at the beginning of 2014, looks remarkably different than Turkey just a year ago. Certainly, the luster has worn off Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who, just a year ago, looked on course to pass a new constitution which would enable him to lead Turkey as president for another decade, at least. Western supporters and many Turkish liberals described Fethullah Gülen as an enlightened force for religious tolerance and a man committed to reform and democracy.

Today, Turkey is moving toward one-man rule. How ironic it is that as so many Arab regimes swept out strong-man dictatorships, Erdoğan seeks to have Turkey become one. Perhaps Fethullah Gülen pushed him to it: Gülen’s minions permeate the security force and, once Erdoğan threatened Gülen’s revenue stream by seeking to close down his lucrative exam prep school enterprise, the police launched corruption probes against Erdoğan’s supporters, including his own son.

How ironic it is that while Western academics and liberals once railed against the deep state in Turkey, a reference to the shadowy networks of generals and intelligence officials who seemed to pull the levers behind the curtains, the past month’s events show that Gülen himself leads the deep state.

I spent the past week in Paris and Brussels meeting with Turkish parliamentarians. We were initially going to meet in Istanbul and Ankara, but they all believed they would be more free to speak candidly outside of Turkey, given how Gülen’s followers in the security forces now monitor the phone calls, tap the offices, and monitor the conversations in restaurants of parliamentarians, journalists, and foreigners. One parliamentarian made a good point: as critical as Turks are about Erdoğan, at least the prime minister was elected and, in theory, can be ousted in an election. No one, in contrast, ever elected Gülen, although the shadowy cult leader aspires to wield as much power as the prime minister.

The real danger now, however, has been Erdoğan’s reaction to the scandal. Whereas he once depicted himself and his party as anti-corruption crusaders, he now seeks to protect the corrupt and punish those questioning such corruption. In the last couple weeks, he has reassigned or displaced more than 2,500 police officers, and effectively frozen the corruption cases against his son, associates, and his friends. The Justice and Development Party (AKP)-controlled legislature passed an urgent bill to place the judiciary under executive control, enabling the minister of justice to appoint and remove both prosecutors and judges. The constitutional court will likely overturn that law, but the way Turkish law works, should the court strike down the law, it will have no retroactive effect: Any judge or prosecutor removed or reassigned in the past few weeks will remain in their new positions and will not win their old jobs back.

Now the AKP-dominated legislature is considering another bill that will allow the government to shut down any website immediately. Should that bill pass, the power of Internet censorship will shift from the courts to the government.

Turks say they will take to the streets on Saturday. If that demonstration moves forward, the reaction of the government will be perhaps the best indicator of what Turkey has become.

Perhaps it is time for some reflection in the White House and State Department, not to mention several think tanks and universities, about how it was that they got Erdoğan and Gülen so wrong. Too many American universities have taken money from Gülen-related institutions to organize conferences or publish books attesting to Gülen’s moderation and wisdom. Many think tanks—including some of those normally skeptical of Islamist movements—consciously moderated their assessments of the AKP in order to preserve access to the State Department. If think-tanks are to retain their value, however, intellectual integrity should trump the willingness to be yes-men. Most importantly, it’s time Congress or others lead an independent assessment of the past decade of State Department reporting to determine who got the AKP right, who got it wrong and, most importantly, why assessments about Erdoğan, his character, and the AKP were so inaccurate.

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No, Fethullah Gülen Isn’t a Savior

It’s hard not to applaud Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen for apparently blowing the whistle on the massive corruption scandal that now touches several Turkish ministers, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, and perhaps the prime minister himself. The prosecutor’s surprise raids have also shown light on financial dealings which—aside from enriching Erdoğan’s cronies—also apparently assisted Iranian sanctions evasion and helped al-Qaeda expand its network into Syria.

The problem is Gülen’s motive. Erdoğan is an arrogant man, and he has grown more arrogant with each election victory. He came to believe that he either no longer needed Gülen’s support or was strong enough to win a battle with Gülen and put the Hizmat movement leader in his place. Hence, his decision last November to close the Gülen movement’s test prep schools throughout Turkey. The schools are key to Gülen, not only because they are lucrative—and the Gülen movement is basically an international conglomerate—but also because they are useful for recruiting and indoctrination. They also fill a void and provide a useful service which Turks readily embrace.

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It’s hard not to applaud Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen for apparently blowing the whistle on the massive corruption scandal that now touches several Turkish ministers, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, and perhaps the prime minister himself. The prosecutor’s surprise raids have also shown light on financial dealings which—aside from enriching Erdoğan’s cronies—also apparently assisted Iranian sanctions evasion and helped al-Qaeda expand its network into Syria.

The problem is Gülen’s motive. Erdoğan is an arrogant man, and he has grown more arrogant with each election victory. He came to believe that he either no longer needed Gülen’s support or was strong enough to win a battle with Gülen and put the Hizmat movement leader in his place. Hence, his decision last November to close the Gülen movement’s test prep schools throughout Turkey. The schools are key to Gülen, not only because they are lucrative—and the Gülen movement is basically an international conglomerate—but also because they are useful for recruiting and indoctrination. They also fill a void and provide a useful service which Turks readily embrace.

While it is good that Gülen appears to bless a new transparency in Turkish politics, it is important to remember both that his about-face is based not in principle but self-interest and that Gülen enabled the tremendous corruption and abuses of power in which Erdoğan engaged.

Gülen’s followers dominate the security forces which Erdoğan wielded without mercy against his political opposition and the press. Gülen professes tolerance, but his own past is checkered. And while he has his own media network with the daily Zaman at is head, there is a disturbing difference in tone between Zaman and its English version, Today’s Zaman. Diplomats who only read the latter may not be aware that anti-Semitic conspiracies infect if not Gülen, then those around him and his top supporters.

Transparency is necessary in Turkey if there will be justice and reform. It is naïve to believe that the enemy of an enemy is a friend, or that Gülen’s apparent acquiescence to pursuit of the corruption allegations against Erdoğan means a fundamental difference in Turkey’s future. President Abdullah Gül has kept largely quiet, but has seemed more willing to accommodate Gülen and has taken many of his adherents into his inner circle. Gül is far more polished than Erdoğan, and presents a more professional face, but the difference in style masks a similar disdain for the separation of mosque and state that once marked Turkey’s imperfect democracy. Let us hope that reform continues, but there will never be any true and lasting reform until Gülen opens himself to the same sort of investigation which he once encouraged against Turkey’s so-called “Deep State,” and now seeks against Erdoğan and his inner circle.

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Release the Ergenekon and Balyoz Suspects

The current crisis in Turkey should be cause for reflection on a number of fronts. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has reacted with umbrage that the security forces who he had wielded against his political enemies have now turned against him. The reason for that split lays in the growing antagonism between Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist leader whose followers dominate the security forces and for years had worked hand-in-glove with Erdoğan in their shared desire to breakdown the separation between mosque and state in Turkey.

Putting the reasons for their split aside, the current crisis shines a spotlight on Erdoğan’s concept of justice and the role of courts. To put it bluntly, Erdoğan believes not in impartial justice, but rather vengeance. Or perhaps he believes that he personifies justice and so that he personifies right and wrong without regard to law. Hence, it should not surprise that Erdoğan’s reaction to the corruption probe was to fire the investigator and threaten a wholesale upheaval of the courts.

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The current crisis in Turkey should be cause for reflection on a number of fronts. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has reacted with umbrage that the security forces who he had wielded against his political enemies have now turned against him. The reason for that split lays in the growing antagonism between Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist leader whose followers dominate the security forces and for years had worked hand-in-glove with Erdoğan in their shared desire to breakdown the separation between mosque and state in Turkey.

Putting the reasons for their split aside, the current crisis shines a spotlight on Erdoğan’s concept of justice and the role of courts. To put it bluntly, Erdoğan believes not in impartial justice, but rather vengeance. Or perhaps he believes that he personifies justice and so that he personifies right and wrong without regard to law. Hence, it should not surprise that Erdoğan’s reaction to the corruption probe was to fire the investigator and threaten a wholesale upheaval of the courts.

Evidence of Erdoğan’s abuse of justice are multifold. Back in 2005, frustrated that Turkey’s constitutional court had deemed some of Erdoğan’s agenda unconstitutional, parliamentary speaker and Erdoğan confidant Bülent Arınç (since promoted to deputy prime minister) threatened to use the AKP dissolve the constitutional court if its judges kept allowing law to get in the way of agenda.

The real travesty has been with regard to two alleged coup plots—the Ergenekon and Balyoz conspiracies—in whose names Erdoğan has targeted journalists and political opponents. I had detailed the many problems involved in the Ergenekon case here, and most international analysts pointed out that the Balyoz evidence was not only fraudulent, but a sloppy fraud at that. It is a shame upon Western diplomats, human-rights organizations, and journalists that all were willing to turn a blind eye to the travesties of justice so long as the targets happened to be military or old guard politicians. Just because a figure is a general or a secularist does not make them automatically bad people.

There are dozens of former officials, journalists, and generals in prison right now, condemned to die behind bars simply because Erdoğan disagrees with their world view and seeks vengeance. Now that the emperor has no clothes, it is time for Western diplomats to pressure for Turkey to right its wrongs. It was a mistake ever to give Erdoğan the benefit of the doubt, or to provide the judiciary the benefit of the doubt based on its reputation after Erdoğan and former allies from the Gülenist movement had worked so tirelessly to undermine it. Every single Ergenekon and Balyoz convict should walk free, and should win millions of Turkish Lira in compensation. Perhaps the state might even pay them from the tens of millions of Turkish lira in ill-gotten wealth Erdoğan and his cronies have apparently amassed.

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Turkey’s Corruption Scandal Goes from Bad to Worse

Sometimes, bad things happen to bad people. I wrote here last week regarding the political civil war in Turkey which has erupted between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and followers of Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen. Many trusted Turkish interlocutors have written to expand on the topic, which has manifested itself as a bribery scandal. Erdoğan, in true banana republic style, reacted initially by seeking to sack the police chiefs overseeing the investigation. His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is now threatening to classify any information from the bribery scandal as a “state secret,” the publishing of which could be punishable as treason.

Several Turkish journalists and academics point out that the investigation appears to now focus on Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, and one of Erdoğan’s closest aides. Illegality or not, Bağış is one of the AKP’s least-liked figures. AKP colleagues, Turkish journalists, and both American and European diplomats describe him as boorish, arrogant, and a bit of a blowhard. He is also extremely litigious, and has sought to sue Turkish journalists and analysts who have touched on some of his shadier dealings. Now that the arrests have propelled discussion of AKP corruption to the forefront, Hürriyet Daily News discusses the case in a bit more detail. Not surprisingly, it involves several AKP officials seeking to profit off of Iran’s sanctions-busting “Gold-for-Gas” scheme with Turkey:

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Sometimes, bad things happen to bad people. I wrote here last week regarding the political civil war in Turkey which has erupted between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and followers of Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen. Many trusted Turkish interlocutors have written to expand on the topic, which has manifested itself as a bribery scandal. Erdoğan, in true banana republic style, reacted initially by seeking to sack the police chiefs overseeing the investigation. His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is now threatening to classify any information from the bribery scandal as a “state secret,” the publishing of which could be punishable as treason.

Several Turkish journalists and academics point out that the investigation appears to now focus on Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, and one of Erdoğan’s closest aides. Illegality or not, Bağış is one of the AKP’s least-liked figures. AKP colleagues, Turkish journalists, and both American and European diplomats describe him as boorish, arrogant, and a bit of a blowhard. He is also extremely litigious, and has sought to sue Turkish journalists and analysts who have touched on some of his shadier dealings. Now that the arrests have propelled discussion of AKP corruption to the forefront, Hürriyet Daily News discusses the case in a bit more detail. Not surprisingly, it involves several AKP officials seeking to profit off of Iran’s sanctions-busting “Gold-for-Gas” scheme with Turkey:

[Economy Minister Zafer] Çağlayan’s son was arrested during a corruption operation on Dec. 17, together with the sons of two other ministers;Environment and Urbanization Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar and Interior Minister Muammer Güler. The leaks, possibly from prosecutor’s office and police, to Turkish media claim that those ministers, plus Turkey’s European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış have been involved in facilitating the “business” of Reza Zarrab in Turkey by taking bribes and abusing their offices. The “business” is to transfer Zarrab’s money from gold trade over Turkey to Iran via the government-controlled Halkbank… the amount of the total bribery is reported in Turkish media to be as high as 142 million Turkish Liras, nearly $70 million….

Not mentioned in the Turkish press is the fact that the Obama administration issued sanctions waivers on Turkey’s business dealings with Iran because it concluded that the Turkish government was approaching the issue in good faith.

The wall of fear now seems to be breaking down. Newspapers journalists who once only whispered the truth about events in Turkey but whose employers would sanitize whatever they put in print, out of fear that the government might jail them or confiscate their newspaper, now publish what amounts to confessions about just how corrupt the AKP has become. Today’s Zaman, the English-language flagship paper of the Gülen movement, for example, wrote:

A foreign businessman who has been working in Turkey for over 10 years told me last week that he was not surprised at all by the allegations of corruption at the highest level. Without close connections in the ruling party and, apparently, big bribes, it was impossible to win any tender in the highly profitable energy sector, he explained.

The allegations of bribery and corruption are also starting to get too close to Erdoğan for his comfort. Supposedly, one element of the scandal is that the prime minister’s son, his wife, his in-laws, and some close friends set up a foundation last year for the “education of youth.” The foundation opened a residence for university students. Now it turns out the Foundation didn’t pay for the dormitory, but rather public money from the Fatih district municipality, which is headed by an AKP mayor now under detention. So what Erdoğan’s family did with the money they claimed was spent on the dormitory is an unanswered question.

The AKP has long claimed to have advanced Turkey’s democracy. If a core of democracy is rule of law, then Turkey now is put to the test.

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Fethullah Gülen and the Jews

Fethullah Gülen is the U.S.-based Turkish Islamist leader. To his supporters, he is a man who preaches peace and interfaith tolerance, while to his detractors, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who seeks to undermine secularism and the interfaith relations about which he so often speaks.

A scholar helpfully brings to my attention a blog post from late last year that until now I had not seen: Dani Rodrik and Pınar Doğan, two Harvard-based scholars, have uncovered some of Gülen’s writings on Jews which should give pause for thought about where the shadowy preacher truly stands. From their “Balyoz Davası ve Gerçekler” (“Sledgehammer Case and Facts”) blog:

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Fethullah Gülen is the U.S.-based Turkish Islamist leader. To his supporters, he is a man who preaches peace and interfaith tolerance, while to his detractors, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who seeks to undermine secularism and the interfaith relations about which he so often speaks.

A scholar helpfully brings to my attention a blog post from late last year that until now I had not seen: Dani Rodrik and Pınar Doğan, two Harvard-based scholars, have uncovered some of Gülen’s writings on Jews which should give pause for thought about where the shadowy preacher truly stands. From their “Balyoz Davası ve Gerçekler” (“Sledgehammer Case and Facts”) blog:

Even though they have lived in exile here and there and have led an almost nomadic existence, Jews have been able to maintain their racial characteristics with almost no loss. Moreover, the Jewish tribe is very intelligent. This intelligent tribe has put forth many things throughout history in the name of science and thought. But these have always been offered in the form of poisoned honey and have been presented to the world as such. For instance, Karl Marx is a Jew; the communism he developed looks like a good alternative to capitalism at first sight, but in essence it is a deathly poison mixed in honey… Jews will maintain their existence until the apocalypse. And shortly before the apocalypse, their mission of acting as the coil spring for humanity’s progress will come to an end, and they will prepare their end with their own hands.

Their incurable enmity to Islam and Muslims aside, these people, which look with scorn upon even their own prophets and killed many among them, will finally end up in the position of Nazis and will look for a place to hide in the four corners of the earth. Nevertheless, since dwelling on the true causes and motives related to this topic will both oppose the business of truth and result in raising undue passions, we shall let this pass for the moment. Yes, until Islam comes to be represented to the desired extent, it seems like luck will favor the Jews for some time still.

There is much, much more over at their blog, which is certainly worth a read. While the Gülen movement has been scrubbing anti-Semitic content from online versions of their leader’s writings, that merely shows a disturbing discrepancy between Gülen’s preaching for internal consumption and external use only. Perhaps it is time for some of the state legislators and universities that take Gülen’s largesse to reconsider just where they stand.

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What Happens When Fethullah Gülen Dies?

The reclusive Islamic philosopher Fethullah Gülen has been in the limelight recently. Last month, CBS’s “60 Minutes” did a report on his movement’s growing network charter schools in the United States. While some describe Gülen as a modernist dedicated to peace and tolerance, others suspect darker motives about his outreach. There is evidence enough to support both viewpoints. There is absolutely no doubt that many of Gülen’s schools—especially in the developing world—offer the best available education. In recent months, however, the Turkish government sought to confiscate a book manuscript which alleged that Gülen’s followers had created cells within the Turkish police.  While I recognize the sincerity of many Gülen movement members, as I have explained to some followers who have asked me, I remain suspicious of any movement that shrouds itself in such secrecy and troubled by the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories which seem to permeate many of his news outlets, especially in Turkish.

As reports increase that Gülen is unwell—his aides often use his health to excuse his refusal to speak at any length to those invited to his compound—one question which remains unanswered both among Gülen’s admirers and his detractors is what happens when the aging movement’s leader dies? The movement’s website says the Gülen movement is not a Sufi tariqa. In most Sufi orders, the sheikh will nominate his successor, but if Gülen does not envision himself as a Sufi master then the tradition of naming the successor while still living is moot.

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The reclusive Islamic philosopher Fethullah Gülen has been in the limelight recently. Last month, CBS’s “60 Minutes” did a report on his movement’s growing network charter schools in the United States. While some describe Gülen as a modernist dedicated to peace and tolerance, others suspect darker motives about his outreach. There is evidence enough to support both viewpoints. There is absolutely no doubt that many of Gülen’s schools—especially in the developing world—offer the best available education. In recent months, however, the Turkish government sought to confiscate a book manuscript which alleged that Gülen’s followers had created cells within the Turkish police.  While I recognize the sincerity of many Gülen movement members, as I have explained to some followers who have asked me, I remain suspicious of any movement that shrouds itself in such secrecy and troubled by the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories which seem to permeate many of his news outlets, especially in Turkish.

As reports increase that Gülen is unwell—his aides often use his health to excuse his refusal to speak at any length to those invited to his compound—one question which remains unanswered both among Gülen’s admirers and his detractors is what happens when the aging movement’s leader dies? The movement’s website says the Gülen movement is not a Sufi tariqa. In most Sufi orders, the sheikh will nominate his successor, but if Gülen does not envision himself as a Sufi master then the tradition of naming the successor while still living is moot.

There is no denying Gülen’s political influence and his empire could be worth billions of dollars. Yet succession over his interests remains unclear. Perhaps it is time for Gülen to name the person or people who will inherit his empire. Only then will the direction of the Gülenists become clear.

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