For many of those who have admired the ideas of the scholar Fethullah Gülen and at varying levels took part in fulfilling those ideas for the service of humanity, it has been a lamentable fact that the international community does not know as much as it should about either Gülen or the worldwide Hizmet (Service) Movement he has inspired.
Apparently, this will no longer be the case thanks to his opponents, who have been systematically flooding the Internet and print media with wild allegations about him and the movement. After all, who in his or her sane mind would hear such a wild allegation as Gülen being the “most dangerous Islamist on Earth,” and not bother to do a Google search for “Fethullah Gülen”? Then, what he or she will find, in addition to some more of those allegations, is rather scholarly research on Gülen’s thoughts and practice, some of which include Jill Carroll’s “A Dialogue of Civilizations: Gülen’s Islamic Ideals and Humanistic Discourse,” Helen Rose Ebaugh’s “The Gülen Movement: A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam,” Muhammed Cetin’s “The Gülen Movement: Civic Service Without Borders,” and John Esposito and Ihsan Yilmaz’s “Islam and Peacebuilding: Gülen Movement Initiatives.” More importantly one would find Gülen’s very own writings and statements as well as the actual works produced by volunteers inspired by his ideals. So, bringing him to the attention of those who would otherwise not know anything about Gülen and the global civic movement he has inspired, Gülen’s adversaries are inadvertently making him ever more popular and well-known worldwide through their systematic defamation campaign. In this regard, one should expect Gülen soon to be recognized by the international community for his contributions to world peace. Then, one should also expect his adversaries to allege in self-denial that Gülen himself had designed this defamation campaign in order to attract global public attention.
But the question is, why do they make such wild allegations about Gülen and the Hizmet Movement, which based on all available and credible evidence seem to be unsubstantiated and untrue beyond any reasonable doubt? Subsequently, in what ways do they carry out their defamation of Gülen as an individual and the millions of people from different nationalities, races, creeds and religions, whose voluntary service makes up what is called the Hizmet Movement? At this point, one should note that as Kerim Balcı of Today’s Zaman rightly puts it, those allegations take different, and often self-contradicting, forms depending on the perceived fears of the target audience. For instance, if the target audience is Russian, then Gülen and his initiatives are accused of being the US’s and more specifically the CIA’s designs. If the audience is Americans and Christians, then he is accused of being an Islamist terrorist aspiring to establish a global Islamic empire. If it is the audience is Jewish, then he is portrayed as being anti-Semitic. If it is anti-democratic Arab leaders, then he is argued to be not only a Turkish nationalist bent on reviving the Ottoman Empire, but also an agent of the Greater Middle East Project by the US, that foresees the overthrow of those leaders. In terms of methodology, just like John Mearsheimer describes the different forms of public lies, these allegations too vary from outright false statements to the true facts spun in a way that would lead the target audience to make erroneous conclusions about Gülen and the Hizmet Movement.
In the American context, they lie about Gülen and his work, because the latter stands as living examples that repudiate the deliberately produced stereotypes of Islam being inherently violent and hostile, and of Muslims being a potential threat to the so-called “Judeo-Christian” nature of American society. This in turn threatens the socio-economic and political interests of those who have not only consistently injected such stereotypes into the American conscience, but also cashed in heavily on the fears fed by these stereotypes by manipulating America’s domestic and foreign policies accordingly.
Defamation of Islam and demonization of Muslims in the American conscience
As Edward Said puts it in his “Covering Islam,” for Americans, Islam and Muslims have been no more than mere elements within and of political and security concerns by the US; not because they are indifferent to learning about Islam and Muslims, but because the news coverage and the so-called expert analyses of the incidents taking place within Muslim communities had often engendered too simplistic and rather negative views of Islam and Muslims in the minds of Americans. According the prevailing discourse, Islam was, and according to a considerable number of Americans still is, a heretical religion/cult predominant across regions where the US has massive political and economic interests. It was the system that oppressed women, restricted freedom of thought and religion and encouraged its adherents to fight Jews and Christians. Academics like Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis, as well as commentators such as Daniel Pipes, built up such a skewed image of Islam inch by inch over the last several decades.
When Lewis argued in “Islam and the West” that history was simply a struggle between Christians and Muslims for world domination and in “What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East” that Muslims are enraged by the West in general and the US in particular because Islam lacks the cluster of “Western” values such as democracy, human rights and freedoms, he was basically producing pseudo-academic arguments for the disposal of the like-minded academics, policy makers, journalists and opinion leaders. Along similar lines, in his book, “The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking of World Order,” Huntington coined the concept of “the bloody borders of Islam,” suggesting that at any given time most of the conflicts across the globe either involved, or took place within “Muslim” communities, because Islam was inherently violent and not open to pluralism. Following this line, Pipes and many other like-minded pundits/columnists in prominent American newspapers and analysts at influential think tanks have frequently written rather short “opinion” pieces as well as “policy” papers propagating the same argument. Consequently, the American public has to a great extent digested this false image of Islam and Muslims. In his recent opinion piece titled “Ambitious Turkey,” Pipes’ use of heavily loaded and defamatory descriptions such as “the tyrannical, Islamist, and conspiracist mentality generally dominating Muslim peoples,” well illustrates the case in point.
So, for Americans, who have so long been bombarded with the violent images and perceptions of Muslims, Gülen and the work he inspires is an unexpected but most welcome surprise. However, for those who have for decades portrayed Islam as anything and everything that the so-called “Judeo-Christian” nature of American society is not, Gülen, his ideas, the people who are inspired by his ideas and the humanitarian-educational work that they have produced are understandably posing a threat. Such a threat exists not because of the very nature of the work that they produce, but because it defies the deliberately constructed and established image of the “Muslim” as a savage from the Middle Ages who is inherently against the Western way of life and eager to wage a “jihad” against Americans.
Consider the following cases: (1) Following protests and Quran burning in the United States hundreds of “Muslims” in Afghanistan resort to violence, killing seven UN workers; and (2) “Muslim” civil society and humanitarian aid organizations, including both men and women, were among the first to reach “non-Muslim” Haitians immediately after the devastating earthquake, serving 40,000 Haitians hot meals and constructing a hospital in Port-au-Prince to meet the medical needs of impoverished Haitians. Or, (1) An “Islamic” leader vows to wipe Israel off the map (possibly by nuking it), as well as destroying its main sponsor, which he calls the Great Satan; and (2) An “Islamic” scholar publicly suggesting that any humanitarian assistance to Palestinians should be delivered through coordination with Israeli authorities and without breaching international law. Or, (1) “Muslim” children in Hezbollah camps in southern Lebanon are indoctrinated with fundamentalist “Islamic” ideology and receiving armed training with AK-47s in their hands; and (2) “Muslim” students in cooperation with their non-Muslim counterparts from around the world compete in the international science competitions and undertake research in such vital fields as curing cancer, eradicating poverty, preventing environmental pollution and overcoming global energy shortages. The latter example in each pairing is what Gülen and the movement engenders. Quite understandably, in a country like the United States, where the news is more of an instrument manufactured to manipulate public opinion to accept certain socio-economic and political practices, any development that challenges the established “negative” image of Islam and Muslims would be unwelcome by those who have a vested interest in the perpetuation of such a negative image.
How they try to defame Gülen
In this regard, there are two major allegations that are currently employed in the United States by Gülen opponents in order to discredit and cause fear mongering about him: One that the charter schools opened in various states by Turkish-Americans are connected to Gülen, and that they are spreading “Islamic fundamentalism;” and the other that Gülen is behind the ongoing Ergenekon investigation in Turkey, which has led to the detainment of many active duty and retired army officers as well as journalists. The first allegation begs the following question: Would the US authorities that have authorized and overseen these schools, not be aware of any such wrongdoing, if any? The second allegation is a mere distortion of the facts on the ground. Currently there are 26 journalists being detained in relation to the Ergenekon investigation, and none of them are being held because they exercised their freedom of expression, but rather because of their suspected involvement in verified coup plans that aimed to overthrow Turkey’s democratically elected government. In fact, it is similar to the case of The New York Times’ Judith Miller, who was sentenced to 18 months in jail in 2005 due to her involvement in the leaking of an active CIA officer’s identity. One wonders if anybody then opposed the court decision by arguing that she was exercising her freedom of expression as a journalist. Similarly, was a Hutu radio host exercising his freedom of expression when he incited his fellow Hutus to massacre Tutsis ahead of what eventually amounted to the Rwanda genocide? Furthermore, even if a prosecutor or a police officer who happens to admire Gülen and is involved in the Ergenekon investigation went rogue and broke the law, what does it have to do with Gülen himself or the millions of others who admire his ideals?
In the final analysis, the real threat perceived by accomplices of Gülen opponents, in major capitals including Washington, D.C., actually seems to be the possibility of Turkey’s Ergenekon investigation inspiring and encouraging peoples of other countries, as well as investigating deep state arrangements that have long been running in the veins of their own societies. For them, the threat is clear and imminent: Apparently, Turkey is no longer the old Turkey, where it was easy to deal with the “real” owners of the regime, meaning corrupt military generals, bureaucrats and politicians; but with its growing civil society and strengthening economy, it is no longer easy or possible to manipulate Turkey. What if the same happens in other countries that have long been in the orbit of special interest groups within these major capitals? More importantly, what if their own masses mobilize to break the glass ceilings and claim their rightful share of political and economic resources that have traditionally remained under the monopoly of these special interest groups? Speaking of a so-called “Islamist” threat in the United States, the real questions that disturb the adversaries of Gülen are the following: What if Muslim Americans want to serve as judges on the US Supreme Court, and as senators and representatives in Congress? What if they want to command the US armies as generals? What if they want to manage giant American corporations? And, what if, one day, one of them were to become the president of the United States? What is at stake with the democratization of Turkey is quite high and critical for those whose interests have depended on it remaining an anti-democratic satellite state. It is only normal then that in all their despair, hopelessness and panic, adversaries of Gülen both inside and outside Turkey are trying to demonize him, for he and the millions inspired by him are in fact behind the democratization of their country.
* Mehmet Kalyoncu is an independent political analyst and author of “A Civilian Response to Ethno-Religious Conflict: The Gülen Movement in Southeast Turkey.”
Published on Today's Zaman, 19 April 2011, Tuesday