Mohamed Nawab Osman*
I refer to the letter “Mastermind of failed Turkey coup should not be portrayed as naive” (July 23), from Mr Omer Celikkol of the Turkish Embassy, in response to my commentary “Democracy on the rocks in Turkey” (July 21).
The view that Mr Fethullah Gulen fled to the United States to avoid persecution for subversion is misleading. A number of figures, including current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, were targeted by undemocratic elements within Turkey’s old political establishment.
Mr Erdogan himself was jailed for four months during this period for religious incitement, after he publicly recited a poem with the line: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”
If Mr Gulen were involved in subverting the state in 1999, this would suggest that some key members of the current government were also involved in such activities, which is inaccurate.
I am glad Mr Celikkol did not refute my point that the Hizmet movement has undertaken positive activities round the world. The testimony of its educational and interfaith work is hard to refute.
The suggestion that Mr Gulen intends to create a new religious political order in Turkey is untrue. He has spoken against political Islam and has always supported a democratic system.
In one of his speeches, he explained: “Islam does not propose a certain unchangeable form of government or attempt to shape it.
“Instead, Islam establishes fundamental principles that orient a government’s general character, leaving it to the people to choose the type and form of government according to time and circumstances.”
To date, the international community has not been presented with evidence of the movement’s alleged subversive activities. Excluding Turkey, no other country has designated the movement as a terrorist organisation.
It was heart-warming to see Turkish society stand up against the coup attempt. Indeed, the Turkish people deserve a robust democratic system where their rights are not transgressed. This is the key argument in my piece.
Beyond the recent arrests, there has been an erosion of democracy in Turkey. The arrest of a 16-year-old boy in 2014 for allegedly insulting the president is an example of this slide in democratic values.
Mr Celikkol suggested that ongoing investigations have proved that Mr Gulen’s organisation staged the coup attempt. In any democratic setting, the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is observed.
Mr Gulen has stated his willingness to be put on trial, and if investigators in the US are convinced of his involvement, then he should be prosecuted within the confines of the legal system.
*Assistant Professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies and Coordinator of the School’s Seminar Series on Muslim Societies in Asia. He has published extensively on the Gulen movement in Southeast Asia. He recently completed an article on the Gulen Movement in Malaysia.
Published on Today Online, 25 July 2016, Monday