February 20, 2015

Does the Hizmet movement conduct self-criticism?

Mustafa Yeşil*

Principles, values and goals

The Hizmet movement is a social movement and a civil society initiative that emerged to develop projects by voluntary participants in order to advance peace and coexistence in the world with reference to universal values. Participation is based on a voluntary decision; for this reason, it is possible to see many diverse individuals from different backgrounds participating in the movement's services and activities. The individuals, coming from diverse backgrounds, agree on serving humanity and developing projects in different departments of society including media, humanitarian aid, education, dialogue and business.

Hizmet, which has a broad goal of serving all of humanity, enjoys a huge and broad network of diverse participants and volunteers. People from different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds join the movement's projects on a voluntary basis and offer their voluntary support. There are different modes of participation -- some offer more comprehensive participation, whereas others are more limited. It is also possible to argue that personality plays a role in this decision as well.

The movement involves similarities and differences. It is actually not possible or necessary for the diverse participants to have similar tastes, perspectives and views. An agreement on positive action, the advancement of peace, proactivity, nonviolence, dialogue, love and tolerance constitute the very basis of the movement. Those who agree on these common elements preserve their differences -- a movement based on the recognition of social diversity cannot impose homogeneity.

Everybody can make mistakes

It is not possible to argue that the movement does not make mistakes given that all its activities are performed by individuals, and the movement has never made such a claim. Individuals can make mistakes all the time; it is human nature. For this reason, our prophet said that people commit mistakes but the best of those who make mistakes are those who regret that mistake. This reality is best expressed by the saying, “A person cannot be free of errors.”

But this does not necessarily mean that the fundamental principles and values of the movement are wrong and should be questioned because the movement seeks ways to attain the peaceful coexistence of different social segments by recognizing diversity and the fundamental rights of individuals. In its activities it recognizes that despite diversities, the world of human beings is not a divided and polarized world, but is instead a reflection of different strands and colors of the same source.

In other words, the movement's vision for peaceful coexistence by recognizing diversity is appropriate and based on Islamic principles and universal values. To this end, it is not meaningful to question whether or not the movement's vision for peace is proper. Besides, this global vision has a local dimension and reconstructs domestic dynamics by reliance on a universal discourse and the maintenance of relations with other global actors.

The implementation of this vision, however, is not free of mistakes because the movement is not a machine operating by mechanical rules nor is it a homogenous structure run by robots. We are talking about a civilian structure based on human activities that does not have any coercive or punitive measures. These elements may be taken as factors in reducing the level of clarity in civil society movements. To this end, making mistakes is part of the volunteers' jobs and it is not possible to remove all the mistakes. The most significant characteristic of Hizmet participants is that they question their jobs and activities all the time and critically evaluate themselves.

From the observation of personal interactions and media reports, it can be seen that Hizmet's stance over the last decade has been largely misunderstood. To put it briefly, Hizmet's stance during this period was mainly the pursuit of consolidated democracy. This position is consistent with the movement's previous stance as well but it is true that it became more visible in that period because Turkey faced serious coup attempts, the growth of the private sector and more civil society activities, and expanded freedoms and pluralist media. Democracy could be fostered in an environment where different segments of society agreed to coexist peacefully; and yes, this was exciting.

It was only normal for the movement to be excited about the prospect of ending military tutelage by reliance on legal measures, which the movement has viewed as the greatest obstacle to the attainment of consolidated democracy. This was the main reason for the movement's support of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). But it is true that in this process some of AKP's mistakes were not seen and its performance was sometimes exaggerated. I would like to also note at this point that most of us could not possibly see that the AKP would turn into an authoritarian party. Other segments and groups also made this mistake because they believed that the AKP would remain committed to democratic ideals and values. The groups and actors who were unable to see this coming include liberals and the EU, which has up until recently supported the AKP's policies.

The stance of the movement on some crucial issues including Ergenekon, Balyoz, Sarıkız and other similar illegal actions and coup attempts proved to be appropriate and realistic. This movement's stance is being judged in the media and by bureaucracy. While critiques of the movement as regards the media are fairly grounded, I believe that judgments about its bureaucracy rely on some basic assumptions. I would like to touch upon both.

‘Fighting tutelage; supporting democracy'

The print and visual media of the movement, including TV stations, radio stations and internet sites that were founded and run by people who participate in the movement's voluntary activities, expressed full support for the democratic moves and initiatives of Erdoğan's political administration during its first two terms. This support was expressed publicly for two reasons. First, the support was not partisan but principled and expressed with the view that democracy would be consolidated. There has been no deviation in the movement's stance towards democracy and fundamental rights. Second, the support was also based on practical considerations. The movement concluded that the AKP should be supported publicly because it was a young actor that needed strong support.

However, because of overexcitement, the movement was unable to see some of the illegal actions of the political administration and the bureaucratic structure. Ekrem Dumanlı, editor-in-chief of Zaman daily, said in an interview aired by Bugun TV last December: “There was a fight against tutelage during that period. We might have made some mistakes back then but we made these mistakes believing that we would get rid of tutelage and have a more consolidated democracy.” Likewise, Metin Yıkar from Samanyolu TV also said in a meeting that when they supported the work of members of the judiciary and police officers in their struggle against tutelage, they relied on a perspective of democratization but admitted that they failed to fine-tune this support.

Our reference is truth, not power

However, I believe that the context where these mistakes were committed should be well understood. In our country, where the media is close to antidemocratic circles and sources of authority, the movement clearly and publicly supported a struggle against a tutelage structure that viewed itself as the owner of the political system. Instead of timid moves that bore no risk, the movement offered a principled stance and support, paying attention to democratic values.

The perception and assumption of the movement's stance with reference to bureaucratic activities suggests that there are some bureaucrats affiliated with the movement and that they act based on group identity rather than legal rules and obligations. Hizmet is a movement that has no formal procedure for membership and which pays attention to humane aspects, rather than group identity. For this reason, it is not possible for us to even determine whether or not those who fought against tutelage are actually affiliated with the movement. I believe that the main issue should not be overlooked at this point. The movement supported action against tutelage in the past and now it also criticizes the AKP for corruption, avoiding legal investigations, authoritarian tendencies and a radical decline in democratization. I would like to say that there are of course Hizmet volunteers in bureaucracy.

Besides, the institutions of this country should be open to the participation of people from different backgrounds as long as they meet the criteria and nobody should be denied the opportunity to serve in public institutions because of their identity. It should also be noted that the state is the greatest employer. The main motivation of Hizmet volunteers working in bureaucracy -- just like the private sector -- is based on legitimate action and an ethical stance. To this end, just as in the case of the fight against tutelage, the movement will rely on principled action in the fight against corruption and authoritarianism and will not consider the reaction of politicians when developing its stance. Our reference is the truth, not power. We favor the rule of law and democracy, rather than power, because of our principles.

Holding a community responsible for individual mistakes

I would like to conclude by raising a point about “mistakes.” Hizmet is a project-based movement and these projects are run by people. I have myself experienced that a person who works a lot also makes mistakes. Therefore, mistakes will be committed in the future as well. I believe that mistakes should be attributed to the person who committed them and if that person cannot be identified, the state should be held responsible. Individuals -- rather than broad groups -- who commit mistakes should be identified and prosecuted by reliance in accordance with the law. Otherwise, the main principles of law are violated and millions of people are accused of something they did not do.

We are not mistake and error-free. However, we are also not discouraged from doing our work just because mistakes are inevitable. We need to develop a critical stance and approach towards unjust and illegal actions and decisions. The movement is aware that self-criticism is a valuable practice for its survival and it will show its civilized stance on this matter. However, it should be noted that the movement does this because it is the essence of its existence. Of course, members of the movement will carefully consider all criticisms and further strive to reduce mistakes. I wish a peaceful future of coexistence for all of us.

*Mustafa Yeşil is the chairman of the Journalists and Writers Foundation's (GYV).

Published on Today's Zaman, 20 February 2015, Friday