February 8, 2015

Gülen, followers targeted after scholar’s New York Times article

The pro-government media, the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continue to perpetuate an ongoing defamation and smear campaign against Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen and the movement he inspired as well as figures they believe are affiliated with the movement. Gülen and the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, were targeted due to an op-ed the scholar had written for The New York Times last week.

In the article, Gülen had said Turkey, which not long ago was the envy of Muslim-majority countries with its bid to become an EU member and its dedication to being a functioning democracy, is reversing its 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).

He mentioned remarks delivered by government officials targeting followers of 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.”

Columnist Taha Özhan, who writes for the pro-government Star daily, in his column on Saturday dwelled on Gülen's article in The New York Times, which he described as a “notification” that includes some complaints but nothing about crises that relate to the world, Turkey or Muslims.

Özhan said there is actually nothing new about the content of the article, which he claimed was part of a campaign that had been ongoing in the English-speaking world against the AK Party since it came to power.

Referring to a letter sent by 88 members of the US Congress to US Secretary of State John Kerry on Feb. 2 urging him to support media freedoms in Turkey with reference to a police operation that took place on Dec. 14 leading to the detention of Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı and Samanyolu top executive Hidayet Karaca, Özhan claimed the Gülen movement has taken on the appearance of a “congressionally approved lobbying organization” similar to Armenian and Jewish lobbies, with the confidence of having a warning letter to Turkey come from the US Congress.

He alleged that the movement will comfortably continue its efforts in lobbying and that there will be people supporting it from different world capitals because it is an organization that is not listed on terrorist organization lists.

Cem Küçük, another pro-government columnist who is notorious for issuing threats against government critics and singling out journalists in his articles, talked about a government-backed operation against Bank Asya as part of which the Turkish banking watchdog handed management control of 63 percent of the privileged shares of the bank to the state savings fund in addition to the appointment of several figures to the bank's board of directors.

Voicing his support for the operation, he said the government does not have any problems with its critics but with the parallel structure, a phrase used by the government and its supporters to refer to the Gülen movement after a graft probe went public on Dec.17, 2013 in which senior government figures were implicated.

He said AK Party criticism of journalists such as Nedim Şener are right and legitimate but singled out Mustafa Akyol, saying journalists like him have “finished themselves off by falling into the web of the gang [a reference to the Gülen movement].” “Do not think I am like the others. Some of your friends are calling on me to save you, but you finished yourself off,” Küçük wrote in an implicit threat to Akyol.

President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu publicly attacked Gülen last week for his New York Times piece.

Davutoğlu told Kanal 7 in an interview on Wednesday that Gülen had no right to write an opinion piece for the paper because he is not a representative of Turkey, an academic or columnist. "Why would anyone who claims to be the leader of a religious community write an opinion [piece] for The New York Times?" Davutoğlu asked, when questioned about the op-ed.

Last Friday, President Erdoğan presented a distorted interpretation of Gülen's article in The New York Times, claiming the op-ed is about the takeover of the board of Islamic lender Bank Asya by the banking watchdog.

“You see, a person in Pennsylvania writes for a newspaper in America. Why does he write? About a lender. Hodja, are you really a hodja or a bank boss? Who are you?” Erdoğan had said during a speech in Bursa.

Gülen's op-ed, however, was published hours before the banking watchdog handed over management control of 63 percent of its privileged shares to the state savings fund. The op-ed was published on Tuesday, while the appointment of executives from the state savings fund to Bank Asya took place on Tuesday night.

Moreover, the op-ed, which primarily discussed the reversal of democratic progress in Turkey, did not make any direct reference to the bank or the operation that took place hours after the publication of the piece.

Both leaders said there is a need to question who is behind The New York Times. However, the pro-government Sabah daily where President Erdoğan's son-in-law Berat Albayrak holds a key position has a partnership with The New York Times.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 08 February 2015, Sunday