My name is Larry Geraty**, and I’m the President Emeritus of La Sierra University in Riverside, California.
But my training is actually in archaeology. I received my PhD in Harvard University in 1972 in Syro-Palestinian Archaeology, and, for more than 40 years, I’ve been the director of the Madaba Plains Archaeological Project in Jordan.
I have enjoyed getting acquainted with Mr. Gulen’s books and his writings and his work. I’ve learned a little bit about him and his home in Pennsylvania and the leadership that he provides the movement.
And I’ve been impressed with his lifestyle, with his simplicity, with his genuine kindness, and love of truth, especially the teachings on interfaith dialogue, human rights, non-violence, tolerance for everyone, everybody’s right to believe what they want to believe, to worship in the way they want to worship and so on.
He has a very attractive personality and is somebody who is worth getting to know about.
Islam, in the Western world, has had a bad rap, if you want to put it that way, because of the minority of Islamic movements that are involved in terrorism and in disrupting society.
And so, many Westerners—including Americans—have, I think, a warped view of Islam.
They’ve allowed the fundamentalist variety who’s involved in taking away people’s freedoms; they’ve allowed those kinds of people to represent Islam.
So, a movement like the Hizmet Movement is very important for correcting that misconception of Islam.
And, I don’t know of any group within Islam that has done more to counteract the extremist kind of views that are prevalent in Western society about Islam.
One of the things that I’ve appreciated most about the Hizmet Movement is their emphasis on interfaith dialogue because that takes into account the kind of person I am, the beliefs that I have, and those who are willing to listen to me and to dialogue with me.
And so, it attracts me to fellowship with those kinds of people.
I think that the future success of society depends on people like the Hizmet Movement and its adherence.
Certainly, we could do with more of that in the United States ourselves, as society has become more polarized between the left and the right. And, our politicians, who we elect to work in our behalf in state or federal governments, instead of coming up with policies that help the population, they’re fighting with one another and nothing is getting done.
Contrast that with the Hizmet Movement which promotes dialogue and discussions and reaches out to people who are different from themselves, and says, “Tell me about what you believe and what you stand for, and so on…so that I can learn from you.” And vice versa, so that we can learn as well…
And, in that process, society learns lessons and stands on issues that improve it; and we learn to live with one another in peace and tranquility; and we learn that through discussion and dialogue we can achieve the goals that we have in a way that’s constructive and not destructive of the relationships.
So, I really think that the future of the human race lies with those who are willing to talk to each other rather than fight with each other.
One of the features of the Hizmet Movement that is most prominent is its emphasis on education.
And, I think it is well placed because it’s harder for older people to change their mind.
If you’re going to really make an impact on society, starting with younger people and teaching them the values of tolerance and of dialogue and of non-violence and so on, you’re going to be a lot more successful working with young people. And, as they grow up, they will continue that way of life.
So, I think it’s very wise of the Hizmet Movement to emphasize education and to teach its principles through the schools that they’ve established. I think they’re a model for society.
Another commitment that the Hizmet Movement has demonstrated an interest in and support of, is their relief work, which responds quickly and immediately to disasters that occur, but also to persistent problems of society: people who need help.
And so, it’s one thing to teach young people and to prepare them for a better society and a long term goal—which is extremely important for the future—but I really admire the way the movement takes care of people who are in immediate situations of peril or problems.
And they do it without finding out what your own commitments are, or where you stand politically or what your religion is and so forth. Where there’s a need, they’re willing to help you, whoever you are, whatever your commitments are.
I, frankly, am distressed over the more recent turn of events in Turkey. I’ve been jealous for Turkey’s success and full of admiration for what it’s accomplished and I hope it’s not moving in the other direction now. It looks like freedoms are being curtailed while the ruling party protects its own interest at the expense of others.
And, that’s very distressing to me because the reputation that Turkey did have in the West was certainly improving and people were full of admiration and so on for it.
And now, we’re wondering what’s happening there. ‘How can this happen in a place that we thought was the model?’ And so, I’m just an average individual who cares about the world and I’m interested in politics, but I don’t know a lot of the details except what I read in the newspaper or hear on the TV news and so forth, but I hope that the government very carefully thinks through its more recent actions.
It cannot afford to alienate any members of Turkey’s society. I mean, what was so good about what was happening up until recently was that everybody was working together toward common goals.
And now, it seems that, if you don’t agree with the people in power you’re sort of cut-out of the ability to function and to play a role.
We know from history that that doesn’t work.
And so, the sooner Turkey can get its act together and get back on track, the better it will be, not only for Turkey’s society and for society in general but for the Islamic world because they have had this model that people can look to and, all of a sudden, its reputation is being tarnished.
They really need to get back on track.
**Profile: Dr. Lawrence Geraty is a Professor of Archaeology and Old Testament Studies at La Sierra University in Riverside, California. He served as the second President of La Sierra University. He completed his PhD in Syro-Palestinian Archaeology at Harvard University.
*Produced by Spectra Media exclusively for Irmak TV, Atlas of Thoughts (Fikir Atlasi) connects the scholars, politicians, jurists, religious figures, journalists, and academics reflecting on Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen and the Hizmet Movement with the audience. Each episode features a person from a different segment of the society with diverse experiences regarding the Hizmet activities and its volunteers. If you are interested to hear about the Hizmet and Mr. Gulen from these people’s perspectives, do not miss this show!