August 1, 2014

Self-criticism by the Hizmet movement

İhsan Yılmaz

Some critics of the Hizmet movement argue that Hizmet never engages in self-criticism. That is not true. Let me explain why.

First of all, Hizmet is composed of volunteers who are heterogeneous in terms of religiosity, ideology, lifestyle, occupation, degree of involvement in Hizmet activities and so on. Second, since Hizmet is not a hierarchical organization, it does not have a headquarters. As a result, it is difficult to talk about Hizmet's mistakes. One can talk about the mistakes of some Hizmet volunteers or institutions that are affiliated with Hizmet. Reasonable criticism about Hizmet can only be about the movement's general ideas, ideals and actions that are shared by all volunteers and participants of the movement. Other than this, only self-criticism from Hizmet volunteers (or individual Hizmet institutions) should be expected.

All this do not mean that there is no self-criticism in Hizmet or that Hizmet volunteers never engage in self-criticism. On the contrary; Hizmet gets its dynamism from its volunteers' constant evaluations of their projects, their actions and their behavior. This is quite normal. If these activities of self-criticism and self-evaluation did not take place, Hizmet could have never produced successful institutions in more than 160 countries. It is true that almost none of these criticisms are known by the wider public. Let me mention a few probable reasons that I can think of for this:

First, this criticism is about the internal affairs of Hizmet and it really does not concern outsiders. Second, those who do not know the movement well may easily misunderstand these criticisms and may not have a balanced picture of the movement. Third, religious groups in Turkey have almost always been banned and oppressed in Turkey. Even today, Hizmet is under siege by the state, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is now allegedly in close cooperation with the Ergenekon terrorist organization. In such a climate, such groups will find it difficult and even dangerous to talk about their mistakes in public. Especially nowadays, when Hizmet is facing an existential threat by the anti-democratic and even despotic state run by Erdoğan's clique, it is unjust to ask Hizmet to criticize itself. It is now struggling for survival. We must not forget that self-criticism is closely related to self-confidence.

Despite all this, from time to time, some individuals affiliated with Hizmet publicly criticize the movement's projects and the actions of some Hizmet institutions and volunteers. For instance, Fethullah Gülen repeatedly states that we are all human and we all make mistakes. He says that whenever we face hardship, we must question our deeds, actions and intentions, since Allah punishes humans for their mistakes. On relations with the Justice and Development Party (AKP), he made a general criticism and said that we trusted the AKP too much and we were too close to it. We can apply this self-criticism, for instance, to the media affiliated with the movement. The Hizmet media could have shown more balanced coverage of the opposition parties in the past. They could have been more critical of the Erdoğan government while Hizmet's relations with the AKP were good. They could have been more critical of the mistakes of the Ergenekon and Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) trials, such as long detentions and the detention of journalists. With the pro-Ergenekon media trying to dilute the judicial investigations by constantly denying the credibility of the cases and focusing only on the mistakes, criticizing these trials was not, of course, easy for the pro-democratic camp, but the Hizmet media could have been more careful.

As far as I am concerned, I have tried to criticize myself and Hizmet volunteers in this column for years. Whenever I criticize practicing Muslims in this column, it definitely includes myself and Hizmet volunteers. I remember using the phrase “we practicing Muslims” many times in this column when discussing all sorts of issues. I gave an interview to the Armenian-Turkish weekly Agos and criticized some actions of the majority of Hizmet volunteers. But since I do not loathe the Hizmet movement and do not say that “Hizmet is dangerous,” these polite and constructive criticisms never catch the attention of the adversaries of Hizmet.

Published on Today's Zaman, 01 August 2014, Friday