My name is Karina Korostelina** and I’m Associate Professor at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University.
Our school is the first and still, I am really glad to say, the best school in our field. We produce a lot of PhD students and, by the way, a lot of them also come from Turkiye.
We have Turkish PhD students and Masters students in our school. My major topic is social identity and identity-based conflicts. I study conflicts between different religious groups, ethnic groups and, of course, different conflicts which involve values, perceptions, ideas.
That’s why for me it was important to understand different approaches to conflict resolutions and peace-building.
I think what is important about this movement is that it really provides a lot of values of peace and tolerance.
We know that, unfortunately, now is a declining relationship between different groups and religious hatred, and all this.. It’s very important that such groups really come in with ideas of peace and justice and dialogue. And I think this is what the main values which the Hizmet Movement is providing; values of tolerance, values of listening to each other, and what I think is really the most important, is that they try to really transform not just through young generation, but they try to form young generation, young leaders.
I think this is the most important part of it, not just creating values but, most importantly, it’s very proactive in creating leaders who will have the best values of tolerance, acceptance, love towards different groups.
I, honestly, am very impressed with Fethullah Gulen’s works, in his writings, in his activities because our field, conflict analysis and resolution, is usually Western. It was born in Western societies—Europe, United States..
Again, as I said, our school is the first one. The pioneering work of John Burton, Rich Rochenbach, Galtung and all those people were really based on some Western conceptions.
And because I worked a lot with different groups of people; I’ve done a lot of research in Crimea with Crimean Tatars. We’re doing research in Morocco, we’re doing research in Turkiye and other places.
I found that sometimes Western theories are not enough. People do not really connect to them. There is no value bridge between what Western theories can provide, and they’re very strong and very interesting because I study social identity and it really explains identity based conflicts very well, but we need more ideas, more understanding from different perspectives and I think what Fethullah Gulen is doing is an excellent work of formulating the same ideas of dialogue, of impediment to peace, of ideas about why people hate each other and what should be done about it.
But, he is formulating from his point of view, introducing religious views, introducing more cultural views, and I think the reason I really like his books and I write about it and present at conferences is because I see a wonderful fusion that we connect what we know Western theoretical perspective and what Gulen puts in his writings. It really gives us a strong idea on how different groups, religious and ethnic groups, can come together and how they can create dialogue. For example, Gulen is very honest. He says that negative perceptions actually exist on both sides, There are negative perceptions of Muslims in some societies but Muslims also believe that the West is trying to overpower them and trying to use them. And he is honest in telling that we have to come together and we should stop hating, we should start perceiving.
He also believes that these negative perceptions are overwhelming. He believes that love, positive perceptions, ideas of tolerance towards others are natural to people.
He really believes that we have to come together and think about our commonalities, not about our differences. This is exactly what we can find in social identity series but formulated in different roots, in different ideas, more scientifically. It’s why it’s sometimes hard to reach people on the ground. So, what Gulen is doing is really contributing a lot into peace-building activities.
What usually really impresses about what Fethullah Gulen is doing is that he is really bringing ideas of social dialogue. And, dialogue is sometimes misunderstood. In many cases, people believe that if we are involved in dialogue you have to finally come to some common ground. And this is why sometimes people are afraid to come into dialogue, because they think they will be forced to agree with something, with people they do not understand, or people they do not like, or they do not share particular values with.
What Fethullah Gulen is actually saying is that when you are involved in dialogue, it’s not about agreement, it’s not about coming into the commonality and agreeing on some particular points. It’s not negotiation. Dialogue is opening perspectives; dialogue is about an opportunity to learn what other people are speaking about. And, it’s also connected with past traumas, you have to understand why people are feeling in particular ways at the moment, you have to listen and give an opportunity for the voices of other people. What is usually suppressed is exactly the ideas that we are not interested in what they are thinking about; we’re interested in what they are doing right now and why they are doing it, it’s not what we really want to know.
And dialogue exactly opens ideas of why. How can we construct a meaning of us and others, how can we create possibilities to be open to others about our concerns, our ideas...
Because usually what people bring into the table are their interests, but what Gulen is telling us, together with some Western theories—and I really like the fact that there are a lot of paralell between them—is, let’s go deeper; what are our needs, what are our underlying identities, why do we like some people, why do we not like other people. What is a foundation for common understanding? It’s not about coming together; understanding does not mean that you have to agree. Understanding means that we know why you are so sad, we know why you need this, and let’s try to see how we can actually coexist in the way that the positions—but most importantly—needs of different groups will be satisfied without getting into the space or into the rights of the other group.
And, I think, what Gulen is really bringing into this discourse of peace building is that religion can be a very good foundation of our openness to other sorts, other needs, ideas of other people. This is what I think should be heard by scholars around the globe.
I’m really glad to work exactly on the boundary between Western theories—what I usually write—and Fethullah Gulen’s works and combining them together. And I see that it’s really providing a lot of great ideas.
I remember one conference. I was presenting and I was asked, what about religious conflict. And I answered, it’s not about religious conflict, people do not fight because they belong to different religions, people fight because they belong to different identities. It’s about differences between different groups which pursue their own values and goals. And they use religion. People in northern Ireland do not fight because of some religious beliefs—Catholics and Protestants—they fight because they have different economic positions, power positions, but they do use religion as a foundation, a justification for their fighting.
It’s the same in many other situations. Religion itself does not produce conflict, but religious identity, because it’s very sacred, because it really connects us with the future, with the most important values, it’s very easy to become involved in conflict, very easy to manipulate, very easy to create hatred based on such religious dogmas and so on. And what Gulen is showing us is, do not be manipulated, really see that religious foundation is love not hate.
The more I study conflict, the more I study the conflicts and tensions of people, the more I understand that probably one of the most important forces to prevent conflict and to deal with conflict, especially violent conflict, is education.
Because the more educated people are, the more comparative perspective they have. And I strongly believe in comparative perspective. Then you can compare different values and positions, you can understand them. You don’t have to accept them, and Gulen is actually saying, you don’t have to accept another point of view, what you have to be able to do is be open to different perspectives. Because if people are stuck with only their own values or their perceptions, they do not accept others. They see them as strange, dangerous, violent; they attribute negative intentions to other groups. But, if they are able to come up with an understanding of others—and they can have different perspectives but different does not mean bad—and what Gulen is really describing is how important it is for us to be able to understand different views, and be able to live with them. Again, you don’t have to accept their views, you just have to live with it and understand that there are differences.
And what I believe education is doing is exactly providing us with the ability to be comparative, ability to understand multi-perspectivity of different ideas. So, I do believe that what can be done in a lot of conflicts, to prevent a lot of conflicts, and even in the midst of conflicts, is the idea of education.
What Gulen is doing through the education—it’s a very well-rounded education—is that he really creates those values of being tolerant,the values of being accepting, the values to be open to different points of views. And this is what I think is most important because when do we have violence, we have violence when people think that the only way is their way. What we see now in many conflicts is the exact situation where people decide, you will do as we say, you will behave as we say, you will live as we say, or you will be killed, or you will be expelled. What the Gulen system of education is giving us is the opportunity to see difference, appreciate difference, an opportunity to create deep values of peace and love in others.
**Profile: Associate Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology at Odessa State University, Ukraine in 1994. She is a fellow of the European Research Center of Migration and Ethnic Relation (ERCOMER). Her research topics include identity conflicts, conflict resolution, reconciliation, and peacebuilding.
*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!.