November 10, 2014

A true Anatolian marvel

Şahin Alpay

My column in the Turkish-language Zaman daily turned 12 last week. The first column, published on Nov. 5, 2002 with the title “A victory for democracy,” celebrated the first election victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

It's amazing how times have changed since then! After significantly improving democratic and economic standards and the international standing of the country in its first two terms in power, the AKP government in its third election win has turned increasingly arbitrary, authoritarian, corrupt and arrogant. Zaman, on the other hand, has increasingly embraced the principles of proper journalism and is today one of the few bastions of free press in the country.

It is remarkable that a number of opinion writers of Zaman or other publications affiliated with Hizmet, the faith-based social movement inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, left the group to join pro-government media outlets soon after the corruption scandal involving then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ministers and family members broke out last December. They all agreed with Erdoğan that the corruption probe was a fabrication, a “coup” against the elected government by prosecutors and police officers taking orders from Gülen, who has been residing in the United States since 1999, and all are currently engaged in exonerating and celebrating the Erdoğan government. I trust every one of them have their reasons for behaving the way they do.

There may certainly be some truth in some of the criticisms they are now directing against Hizmet. Hizmet should take heed of these. All who do things surely commit mistakes, and no one is exempt from this. I am, however, strongly convinced that fairness requires that we emphasize rather than its failures and mistakes, the highly valuable services that Hizmet, currently one of the bastions of civil society and thus democracy in the country, renders the country in the fields of business, education, social solidarity and integration with the world and condemn the insults and slanders directed towards it by Erdoğan.

I have not at all given credit to the allegations that the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon judicial cases involving military coup plots, the judicial case against the illegal urban organization of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the corruption probe against the members of Erdoğan government were all based on fabricated evidence by prosecutors and police officers on the orders of Gülen. I simply do not buy into the “Gülenist conspiracy” allegations raised by Kemalists, PKK supporters and recently by Erdoğan and his followers. Why not?

First of all, I know very well that conspiracy theories poison many a mind in this country. It was previously the imperialists, the capitalists, the communists, the Zionists, etc. who were accused of being behind all evil. Nowadays it is the Gülenists, or, in Erdoğan's language, the “parallel state.”

Secondly, I am fully aware that the people who market these conspiracy theories use them to clear themselves of all crime and wrongdoing. The Erdoğan government is going even further and using the “parallel state” conspiracy theory to conduct the current witch hunt aiming at the subjugation of the entire state to its will.

Thirdly, I know too well that Kemalism, which regards all religion as “reactionary” and advocates a state monopoly over Islam and restriction of religious rights, has indoctrinated most minds in this country. This is why we come across elements of Kemalism even in the thinking of Islamists and Kurdish nationalists.

Fourthly, I am well aware that collective punishment conflicts with the rule of law. That is why I can clearly recognize the kind of McCarthyism and witch hunt Hizmet is being subjected to by the Erdoğan government.

Lastly, I have been an observer of Hizmet for the last 20 years. I am not a religious person, but am versed in social sciences. As I see it, Hizmet stands for a kind of Islam that supports human rights, democracy, secularism (as freedom for all beliefs including non-belief), science, education, business and interfaith dialogue while strongly opposing intolerance and violence. It simply represents the opposite of fundamentalist Islam -- that is the Islam of Wahhabis, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS). It is a true Anatolian marvel.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 09 November 2014, Sunday