My name is Robert Spitzer**. I am a retired lawyer and trial court judge living here in southern California.
I first became aware of and learned about the Hizmet Movement in 2008 when I was invited to visit Turkey by a group of Turkish graduate students who were studying at the University of California Riverside.
Alexis de Tocqueville, a nineteenth-century French observer of American culture, had a phrase, in describing America, of “habits of the heart.” And perhaps one of the greatest contributions that the Hizmet Movement can make in the world, or is making in the world, is teaching these habits of the heart, associated with generosity of spirit, of giving, and they do this without any request for payback. It's an unrequited gift, one that is not expecting anything in return; an example of true love.
Most Americans know very little about Turkey, and the little that they know about Islam makes them fearful. The individuals in the Hizmet Movement present to Americans a life of Islam which is not frightening, which, where the values and concerns relate primarily to those of family and faith; and in watching them, around dinner tables and breakfast tables and in groups, they appear just like us. They bridge the gap that fear has created between the Muslim world and, if you will, white America.
A different religion from the one that you acquired from your parents will often raise questions, but it will also arouse fear. In my experience, interfaith dialog between Muslims and non-Muslims translates to experiences which are shared within a group, where people discover that they have more in common, in faith, than what they believe they had coming in. People learn that Father Abraham was the father and prophet of all three monotheistic religions. They learned that Jesus and the Virgin Mary are discussed in the Koran. People learn that the prophet conversed with Jesus and Moses, during the night journey to Jerusalem. All of these educational experiences, as with all education, brings people together, lessens fear, and makes them more like brothers and sisters in a world of faith.
It has also been my experience, with regard to interfaith dialog, that this exposes individuals to opportunities to share their cultural heritage. The opportunity to share food, music, art, dance, in a family context, again, brings people together.
In my experience, the Hizmet Movement has been very involved with interfaith dialog as a dynamic in bringing people together. When I was in Turkey, the Movement guides took me to churches, mosques, as well as synagogues, and were open to discuss the various differences and similarities between the faiths. In southern California, we have an Anatolian Festival every year or two, where communities from Turkey come, including the Armenian community, which has a church, and the Jewish community, and there are opportunities to discuss religion with people of other faiths. Also, the Pacifica Institute, which operates within California and most of the western United States, sponsors occasional or regular, I should say, interfaith dialog groups, where individuals who are interested in discussing matters of faith can come and discuss particular topics. Again, a lot of their interfaith work deals primarily with talking about customs and traditions and holidays, which are the surface of faith, and have the effect of communicating how similar we all are, as opposed to how different the various religions may want to characterize us.
We talk about “playing politics,” and historically speaking, the current conflict between the ruling party and the Hizmet Movement and Mr. Gülen appears like the kind of partisan politics that exist in this country from time to time, and, I would suggest, has always existed between the power of government, or the political power in any given state, and those individuals who would criticize the way that government treats its people, or operates. It has, with regard to the Hizmet Movement, a slightly religious cast to it, but otherwise it's no different than the same kind of criticism that is often imposed on individuals or groups by their political opponents, or people who see themselves as political opponents within their country.
As a social justice and civil society movement, Hizmet is like the communities of first-century Christians. Democracy in America is 225 years old. And we are still struggling with issues of economic equality, civil rights … We fought a civil war after we had been in existence for 100 years, and then it took another 100 years in order to establish the rights of certain minorities in the country, including Blacks and Latinos. And those struggles have continued, so we have a longer view. Turkey and, or should I say democracy and Turkey, and the Hizmet Movement are only a couple generations old. 225 years is about ten generations. So I would want to give more time to see how all of these conflicts—which are natural when people are living together—how they are going to work themselves out, how the people in Turkey will learn to live with each other, and with people who have different ideas than they have. I think it takes about five generations and now you're only two generations old, so I think it will be my children and my grandchildren who will see where Turkey is, and where it will lead. And, in many ways, because they occupy a particular place in the world, geographically; Turkey is in a position to act as an example and model for all of its neighbors, better than the United States, which is pretty far away.
**Profile: Retired Judge Robert Spitzer was a public prosecutor in the Office of the District Attorney, Riverside County, California, 1977-1990. He served as a judge of the Superior Court of the State of California, 1990-2008, where he presided over criminal and civil jury trials. He retired in 2008.
*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!