April 13, 2013

The Work of Fethullah Gulen & the Role of Non-violence in a Time of Terror (2)

Steve Wright, Ph.D.*

(cont'd from part 1)

…In many senses, Fethullah Gülen is following the holistic, spiritual and cultural approaches to peace identified by Smoker and Groff. It is now a global faith based movement with schools in more than one hundred countries including Kazakhstan, Kenya, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil and Bosnia. We are informed that today there are more than 300 private high schools and seven universities affiliated with the Gülen community, with over 150 schools in Turkey alone. It is a sign of the health of the Gülen movement that today that number is undoubtedly far greater.

Why should this matter? Well, Gülen’s teaching instrumentalises the teaching of the Qur’an towards performing daily acts of service based peaceful social change. Such an approach in a time of terror can make a difference through interfaith dialogue. To my mind, Gülen’s Abant platform for dialogue is akin to the Pugwash movement when it first began its work to prevent nuclear war in the fifties. Pugwash allowed a backchannel for diplomats and scientists to keep talking even during the difficult days of the cold war and led to the processes which not only ended the Vietnam War but the Cold war too. One of the reviewers of this paper said the analogy was pregnant with possibilities.

Such interfaith dialogue is more important now than ever. The Western stereotypes of Islam need to be constructively challenged by Muslims as well as pundits in the West. Gülen’s active compassion for peaceful change based on a precise reading of the Qur’an, can act as a powerful palliative to those who would smear Islam with the label of terrorism. Such work can only be achieved through making a critical mass of thinkers and doers who will engage in peace in the wider world and that characterizes the Fethullah Gülen movement today.


And yet it is wise to be cautious given the turbulent political changes occurring both within Turkey and on its borders with Kurdistan; Iran; Bulgaria; Georgia; Greece; Armenia; Azerbaijan; Iraq and Syria. It could be argued that the Gülen approach to peaceful change from a truly enlightened Islamic perspective, is necessary but not yet truly sufficient. It continues to be a work in progress. The very success of the Gülen movement could be misinterpreted by those with alternative agendas and alliances in the Middle East, during this time of rapid change and potential instability.

In some senses this very conference is an act of wisdom by the Gülen community in taking the initiative to broaden the worldwide base of associates who are sympathetic do the credos of the movement and wish its work well. The challenge to us all is to find ways of future collaboration that do not undermine our strengths and differences but complement the project and processes with which we are broadly in tune with.

Just as in previous times, wise authorities made provision for famine and flood when there were no signs that these were inevitable so in this time, it is wise to think through future peaceful responses to challenges which may or may not come. For example, the extent to which the Gülen movement can once again respond to state repression using non-violent means may become the test of the integrity of the movement. Many techniques evolved by non-violent activists elsewhere in the world could then come to be of use and significance to the Gülen movement. This is especially important given the emphasis on self-awareness and wisdom in perusing a pacifist approach without compromising beliefs.

The Gülen community is a proselytizing movement in the positive sense in that it is not keeping its beliefs hidden but is actively engaged in widening the base of its activities and is actively engaged in communications with more secular communities of which this conference is just one small but important part.

Inevitably, any new and expanding faith-based movement will draw attention. This is especially so when that movement has the potential to positively influence other Muslims overseas and change the wider perception of what it is to implement the teachings of the Qur’an.

In future times such a role may require new notions of non-violence and civil disobedience within its heart. So far, the movement has steered an intentional course away from confrontation with the authorities. But this very success may bring about future confrontation as the popularity, educational, business activities and economic independence of the movement grows.

I feel sure that the many teachers, thinkers and proponents encompassed by this movement will already be meditating on how they should behave to ensure future progress towards new cultures of peace on Earth. A central purpose of this conference is dialogue and a useful outcome of our exchanges is to share all the organized knowledge that comes from all our communities to truly bring about peaceful change, despite the current difficulties. We have compatible but different learning resources to share.

* Senior lecturer in the School of Applied Global Ethics and an associate director of the Praxis Centre, Leeds Metropolitan University.

**Please refer to the full article for reviews/the analyses of aforementioned Western approaches to non-violence

Excerpted from the author’s paper: "The Work of Fethullah Gülen and the Role of Non-violence in a Time of Terror." Presented at the conference Muslim World in Transition: Contributions of the Gülen Movement, University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, October 25-27, 2007.

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