February 3, 2015

Gülen says Turkey’s democracy eroding under AK Party rule

Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen has said Turkey, which was not long ago the envy of Muslim-majority countries with its bid to become an EU member and dedication to being a functioning democracy, is reversing progress and clamping down on civil society, the media, the judiciary and free enterprise under the rule of the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

In an op-ed published in The New York Times on Tuesday, Gülen cited the AK Party's election victories, highlighting that Turkish leaders in power seem to claim absolute mandates by virtue of having won elections.

“But victory doesn't grant them permission to ignore the Constitution or suppress dissent, especially when election victories are built on crony capitalism and media subservience. The A.K.P.'s [AK Party] leaders now depict every democratic criticism of them as an attack on the state. By viewing every critical voice as an enemy -- or worse, a traitor -- they are leading the country toward totalitarianism,” Gülen concluded.

Gülen pointed out the pressure against the media and the operations against it and said the members of the independent media were detained and are now facing “charges made possible by recent changes to the laws and the court system.”

“Such harassment sends the message that whoever stands in the way of the ruling party's agenda will be targeted by slander, sanctions and even trumped-up charges,” Gülen said.

Underlining the core tenets of a functioning democracy, Gülen said, “No political or religious leader has the authority to take them away.” Gülen also voiced his disappointment with other religious scholars who provide theological justification for the ruling party's oppression and corruption and those who stay silent. “Speaking against oppression is a democratic right, a civic duty and for believers, a religious obligation,” he said.

He mentioned remarks delivered by government officials targeting followers of the Hizmet movement (also referred to as the Gülen movement), saying the "rhetoric used by the ruling party repeatedly to crack down on Hizmet participants is nothing but a pretext to justify their own authoritarianism.”

Denying the movement's involvement in a political party or pursuit of political ambitions, Gülen also refuted claims that he wants to have a role in Turkish politics.

“Whatever influence is attributed to me, I have used it as a means to promote educational and social projects that help nurture virtuous individuals. I have no interest in political power,” Gülen stated.

Admitting that many of the Hizmet's followers once supported the AK Party's political agenda, including the opening of Turkey's accession process with the EU in 2005, Gülen said, “Our support then was based on principle, as is our criticism today.”

“It is our right and duty to speak out about government policies that have a deep impact on society,” he added.

In regards to allegations that Hizmet followers took positions within the government to have influence over how the country is run, Gülen said Hizmet participants do have a presence in government organizations and in the private sector, but said, “These citizens cannot be denied their constitutional rights or be subjected to discrimination for their sympathy to Hizmet's ideals, as long as they abide by the laws of the country, the rules of their institutions and basic ethical principles.”

Gülen also criticized the Turkish government's attempts to monitor Hizmet, stating, “Profiling any segment of society and viewing them as a threat is a sign of intolerance.”

Underlining that Hizmet followers are not the only victims of the AK Party's crackdown, Gülen said Kurds, Alevis, non-Muslims and Sunni Muslims who don't stand by the ruling party also suffer from the party's oppression.

“Without checks and balances, no individual or group is safe from the ruling party's wrath. Regardless of their religious observance, citizens can and should unite around universal human rights and freedoms, and democratically oppose those who violate them,” Gülen said.

Reiterating that democracy and human rights in Turkey have almost been shelved, Gülen called on the Turkish people to exercise their legal and democratic rights again to reclaim the future of their country.

Published on Today's Zaman, 03 February 2015, Tuesday