My name is Donald Daniel. I am retired now. I worked for most of my career for the US government. And then, after I left the US government, I worked for Georgetown University as a professor there. And, just this past December, I taught my last class at Georgetown.
I am working on a little project for the State Department on issues of peacekeeping and who does peacekeeping and so forth.
My perspective partly is that of an American who feels that we need to have Muslim faith based movements that really focus on positive values. There seems that there are enough movements out there that focus on other than positive values, that want to go out and do things like September 11 or whatever…
And instead, here you have a movement that focuses on service, and tolerance. I think that we need - I am very positive about that-movements that other Americans can look to and say; “Look, not all Muslims are bad people and not all Muslims want to go out to kill people. There are lots of good Muslims.” And so, they provide a positive image and I think that is tremendously important. They need to continue doing that.
There are lots of movements in the Islamic world that are charity based, Hizmet is charity based as well. There are also lots of movements in the Islamic world that are education based and Hizmet does that as well. But, I think the difference with the Hizmet Movement is that the charity goes strictly towards helping people, if I can put it this way, without kind of a basic agenda behind that. Basically, an agenda that might say Muslims are good but everybody else is bad. I get that impression sometimes.
But also, particularly on the education side, though... It seems to me instead of so many of the other movements which strike me as sponsor Madrasas, sponsor Islamic education, I have got nothing against Islamic education, but I think Hizmet is somewhat different in the sense that it also talks much more about Math and Science. There is also Islamic education, there is time for that, but as a much broader perspective, and I really like that broader perspective, and my impression is that the education movement and the charity movement, that is one that is also based on tolerance, where maybe some of these other movements are not quite as tolerant. But I don’t know enough about all of the other movements. I don’t want to characterize all of the other movements. I am just conscious about the fact that Hizmet is oriented towards tolerance and a broad scope of education, which I think is a very good thing.
I think anything that brings people together that are suspicious of one another-or sometimes when you don’t know about something, you are suspicious of it more because you are ignorant- anything that brings people together to talk about issues of faith, issues of value so that people say, the Hizmet people have largely the same values that I have. We all want to have good societies, tolerant societies, educated societies; we all want our children grow up to be productive members of the society. And I think bringing people together can help foster this sense of respect for one another that otherwise gets overcome by ignorance or fear.
The other part of it is, I think, we need to spend more time talking about our different religious perspectives, frankly what we think about God, about lets say, in my case Jesus Christ, in your case, Prophet Mohammed. So, people better understand one another and not that I am going to try to convert any Muslim and not that any Muslim should be trying to convert me. But, I think in a world of tolerance, where we are tolerant, it is actually good to know what other people think about things.
One reason is that you can better respect what they think about things. I would never go out, for instance, and say something that would be considered derogatory towards your prophet Mohammed. Because, I know how sensitive people are and my sense would be, no don’t do that, we ought not to do that. And maybe people that don’t have an understanding of each other’s faiths maybe not as tolerant not as willing to do that.
The thing that strikes me most is the education program. I was extremely impressed by the schools that I saw. I have also seen the children and their families, and how people were involved in that. So, that is what strikes me the most because I think, if anything, the core to better societies, the core to better governance, the core to tolerance is good education. That is what the Hizmet Movement is really contributing. I also got to see some of the hospitals they had in Istanbul. That is good, too as a matter of fact. But I think, when you are educating, you are really building a foundation to go ahead and improve society. That is part that I think I really like the most.
The other part that again I really appreciate is the emphasis on tolerance. Here, I think, people need to advertise Hizmet more or advertise the perspective of the Movement with this idea of tolerance. Because I think that a lot of people, with good reason, don’t always see the Muslims as being especially tolerant. I think that is one of the reasons why sometimes there is a fear because they are afraid of this group, which is not a tolerant group. And, Hizmet gives you a completely different image of the dominant narrative that sometimes shows up on TV.
Don’t get me wrong, but Boko Haram is considered to be a Muslim movement. Is that the picture, if I were a Muslim, that I would want to see on TV? The answer is no. Not really. Instead, I would like to see Hizmet’s schools on TV rather than a movement like Boko Haram or something like that. What makes the news? Schools don’t make the news; it is people that go out and do bad things that make the news. And, I think that needs to be counter-balanced.
The schools maintain their sense of tolerance as long as the schools focus on teaching Math and Science… “Objective.” They are really making a positive contribution. Just like in this country or in other countries where in some cities the best public schools happened to be the Catholic schools. It is the same kind of thing. They are again teaching Math and Science and so forth. They have a very good reputation because they are doing that. To me, the Hizmet schools are kind of comparable to that. The Hizmet schools are in so many different countries, and Catholic schools are in so many different countries. I see there is an analogy between them, and it is a very positive development. We need more people doing that in this world today.
I think you talked about that he had talked about disunity, poverty and ignorance. But, with the schools, he is trying to deal with the issue of ignorance. By teaching them analytical skills, he is tackling the poverty problem too because he is developing people that can go out and be productive members of the society. With his tolerance, which presumably pervades the school, he is trying to reduce the disunity or he is trying to, not so much, say, look at the walls that separate us but rather look at the things which are in common. There are still walls. I am not a Muslim, and I am not going to be a Muslim. That is just the reality of it, but that is OK.
What I mean is, that doesn’t mean that I cant sit the dinner with Muslims, I can t have them as friends. I would love to go to Turkey so that doesn’t mean I am not going to Turkey because I am going to go to Turkey. But that doesn’t mean I have to change you, or you have to change me. But, it means that if we can better understand each other, if we are simply respecting one another and the more you understand, the more respect, you overcome the fear and the ignorance. And I think that is a real problem today, the fear and the ignorance.
It seems to me that kind of thinking which maybe started off more as social education among Hizmet followers, Gulen followers is having an impact on people that have a capacity to engage in action.
For instance, like the prosecutors last December, the Turkish prosecutors, whatever the proper term is, procurators, last December, who kind of basically said that there are people in Mr. Erdogan’s administrations that are corrupt, maybe Mr. Erdogan’s son, everything is not completely right there. I think that is OK. What I mean is, that I think that if you are driven by your social beliefs, which happened to be my positive beliefs to try to come up with good governance, then I think that is a good thing. Even Mr. Gulen has got to be very careful that he doesn’t openly push this but I am glad to see that people are doing that.
To me, the critical issue all over the world today, the most important issue is the issue of good governance. If you can get good governance, all sorts of other things fall, if you don’t get good governance, then you get real problems. That is the sad part to me for Turkey today. I was happy to tell people, let’s say, five years ago, look at Turkey, it is a Muslim country, and it is a participatory democracy. They have got it right. They know what they are doing. And, I thought, Erdogan seems to be the guy behind this, so I actually think he was a real hero. And now, I say in 5 years that dream has been lost, and Turkey needs to get it back. So, if activists in Turkey are reflecting their social understanding from the Gulen Movement to say hey we need to have a government that is not corrupt, we need to change the system and make it more participatory and truly democratic. I think that is a positive thing and actually should be encouraged.
**Profile: Donald Daniel taught at Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. He completed his Ph.D. in Political Science at Georgetown University. Daniel served as a special Advisor to the Chairman at the National Intelligence Council. He received National Intelligence Council Awards for Outstanding Contributions and Exceptional Service in 2002. He made over 100 selected public presentations about US defense and naval policies.
*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!.