July 31, 2016

Brutal purge shatters illusions of democracy

The crackdown in Turkey following the coup bid raises more questions than answers, writes Aydin Inal.

Turkey is no stranger to military intervention and has lived through dark days following coups. Following the latest coup attempt on July 15, Turks had mistakenly thought that democracy had won.

To everyone’s dismay, the country has been plunged into a three-month state of emergency, arrests, suspensions and firing of thousands of officials as well as the possibility of the death penalty being reinstated.

The Turquoise Harmony Institute (THI) unconditionally condemned the coup attempt, but the widespread public sector purge which has followed is gravely concerning.

Worrying is the undemocratic profiling of public servants being carried out.

At least 70 000 people have been detained, suspended and fired. More than 2 000 judges and prosecutors, 1 400 police officers, 6 000 soldiers including 115 generals, hundreds of high court judges and two constitutional court judges have been detained and about 1 000 schools, 15 universities and 20 news outlets, 35 hospitals, at least 1 000 foundations and dozens of unions have been shut and there have been arrest warrants for 42 journalists.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier warned of implementing a crackdown if necessary.

A pro-government newspaper published a phone number for the public to report “traitors”. Amnesty International had “credible evidence” that detainees are being abused, tortured, raped and refused food and medical treatment.

It comes as no surprise that Erdogan has blamed the coup attempt on Fethullah Gülen and his followers as his regime has used Gülen as an scapegoat for years.

But there are poignant questions with regard to this coup attempt that need to be answered. Worse government leaders have chosen to label any questions put to them as a “defamation campaign”.

Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have come up with an updated version of allegations that were levelled against Gülen in the past for which he has already been tried and acquitted.

They are making baseless accusations through the media, which they have 90 percent control of. Most criticism of Gülen is clearly biased. A typical anti-Gülen article will most often refer to the Hizmet Movement (HM) with adjectives such as “sinister”, “cult”, “secretive”, “having covert aims”, “infiltrating the state and bureaucracy”, etc.

Gülen and the movement he inspired have been pushed into a corner.

Giving interviews to the world media from Pennsylvania, in the US, he condemned the coup attempt and categorically denied any involvement in it, suggesting that an international committee investigate the allegations.

He explicitly said that “if there is anyone within the movement involved in the coup, he or she has betrayed my ideals”.

Gülen is an Islamic scholar and activist who advocates traditional, inclusive and pluralist Islam, and is dedicated to serve anyone regardless of their background. Following 9/11, he stated that “a true Muslim cannot be a terrorist and a terrorist cannot be a true Muslim”.

He has never hesitated to condemn any acts of violence, especially those carried out in the name of Islam. He advocates sincere dialogue and co-operation among all faiths to tackle the social ills of the world.

In light of the current horrific acts of terror across the world, leader such as Gülen are arguably humanity’s last resort to achieving sustainable peace. HM-affiliated institutions across the world are associated with noble ideals such as education, dialogue, universal moral values, peace, tolerance, harmony, democracy, human rights and freedom.

The Erdogan administration’s effort to link Gülen and the HM with violence and terror is a desperate act of diversion.

The HM is a decentralised network of institutions which are run locally and independently. They make their own decisions without having to get approval from Gülen or any other individual. What unites them is their philosophy of service to humanity without discrimination.

HM volunteers operate in 170 countries where they have established positive working relationships with people of these countries and their leaders. In South Africa, HM has been actively operating institutions for nearly two decades in the fields of education (the Horizon Educational Trust and the Fountain Educational Trust), dialogue (Turquoise Harmony Institute) and aid (Gift of Hope), as well as a business, the South African-Turkish Business Association to promote ethically and morally responsible trade and investment.

The THI is dedicated to building positive relationships among people of diverse backgrounds for a more tolerant, cohesive and peaceful South African society. The body conducts regular and ongoing activities to achieve its goals.

As part of its annual initiatives, it presents dialogue awards to those who make contributions to peace and dialogue. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Graca Machel and Ahmed Kathrada are among those who have been recipients of the Gülen Peace Award. Most participants in HM institutions are highly educated because education is the major field of activity of the movement. HM supporters will not blindly follow a person or ideal as alleged by some who refer to the organisation as a “cult”. Calling it a cult undermines the intellectual capacity and integrity of these participants. HM institutions are able to operate in different countries successfully due to the universal nature of the body’s message and its philosophy of embracing everyone.

THI and HM participants in South Africa are determined to remain committed to the principle of positive action and contribute to peace and social cohesion and will not be diverted from this noble cause by the latest adverse developments.

The greatest South African, Nelson Mandela, was also labelled a terrorist but he ascended to become an icon of peace admired by the entire world.

Published on Independent Online, 31 July 2016, Sunday