December 11, 2014

AK Party’s persecution of Hizmet movement exposed in chronicle

The Rethink Institute has published a chronicle of acts committed against Turkey's faith-based Hizmet movement at the hands of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) over the last two years, providing a long list of abuses the movement's followers have been exposed to in the country.

The institute is a Washington-based, independent, not-for-profit and nonpartisan research institution. In the chronicle, the institute aims at exhibiting various human rights violations, acts of defamation, hate speech, unlawful conduct and other misconduct perpetrated by Turkish government officials and pro-government media against the individuals and entities associated with the Hizmet movement, also known as the Gülen movement, inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

The Persecution of the Hizmet (Gülen) Movement in Turkey: A Chronicle by ReThink Institute
The chronicle covers the persecution of Hizmet by the government in five categories: defamation, conspiracy, discrimination, blacklisting and unlawful conduct. The report said that the information provided is not complete and only serves as a representative sample of what has been and is currently happening in Turkey.

The chronicle said that since the outbreak of the corruption scandal in Turkey in December 2013, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time, and the AK Party government have been particularly targeting the movement.

“According to Erdoğan and his lieutenants, the alleged charges brought forward by İstanbul prosecutors on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, were in fact insidious attempts to topple the AK Party government that were orchestrated by Hizmet sympathizers and affiliates in the Turkish state and bureaucracy, including judiciary and police forces. The Hizmet movement, which suddenly found itself on the defensive, has been vehemently denying these allegations, calling them baseless accusations serving to cover up the corruption charges. While the corruption cases were effectively rendered obsolete through a series of laws and executive interventions aimed at courts, the attacks on Hizmet continue in full force, evolving recently from rhetoric to action,” according to the chronicle.

It attributes the government's special focus on the Hizmet movement to two reasons. According to the institute, the first reason is that the attacks on the movement have reached “a level of obsession and collective delirium that makes the situation all the more worrying.”

As its second reason, the institute said Hizmet “has a presence in many countries outside Turkey. This fact, coupled with the efforts of the Turkish government to discredit the movement in the other parts of the world, gives the issue an international dimension.”

Chronicle explains why Hizmet and AK Party diverged

In its introduction, the chronicle also provides a brief history of the relationship between the AK Party government and the Hizmet movement in Turkey. It said the “Hizmet supported AK Party initiatives of membership in the European Union, limiting military influence in politics and expanding rights and freedoms, largely through its media outlets such as the Zaman daily and the Samanyolu broadcasting group. This relationship turned sour in the following years, after AK Party leadership shifted its political vision from further democratization and a new civilian-drafted Constitution to consolidation of power aimed toward an Erdoğan-centered system of governance. Thus, coming to December 2013, this was also exacerbated by the Hizmet media's neutral standing during [last year's] Gezi protests and the tension brought by the prep-school debate in November 2013, and there was not much good will left between the AK Party and Hizmet.”

Pointing to the change in attitude of the government recently, the chronicle states that the “AK Party leadership had previously been drawn from a political Islamist past, but they largely appear to have abandoned this view in favor of a ‘Muslim democratic' view prior to their first election victory in 2002. … However, political Islamist discourses have resurfaced, though in a rather populist and watered down fashion, blended with neo-Ottomanism.”

Because the Hizmet movement “subscribes to a more moderate and at times quite progressive interpretation of Islam that is comfortable with ideas of democracy, universal human rights and interfaith dialogue,” it said, the recent ideological shift of the AK Party “did not leave any room to accommodate a view such as that of the Hizmet movement for ideological and political/practical purposes.” The chronicle also said the ruling party and its leaders attempted to portray Hizmet as a “non-Islamic, foreign-led” adversary that “needs to be outlawed and eliminated.”

Noting also that the AK Party government, taking advantage of the public's confusion, passed a series of laws in the guise of fighting the “parallel structure,” a term it uses to refer to the Hizmet movement, in the state. It essentially revoked the principle of the separation of powers and restricted the rights and freedoms of everyone. “Therefore, the ongoing persecution of Hizmet in Turkey is not only a major blow to pluralism, democracy, and the idea of a progressive, globally appealing interpretation of Islam, but also a harbinger of things to come for all who dare to dissent in this new political setting,” the chronicle said.

Hizmet promotes interfaith dialogue and the resolution of problems through peaceful means throughout the world. However, President Erdoğan and the ruling AK Party have recently been engaged in a bitter fight with the movement. This conflict intensified after the major Dec. 17 and 25 corruption and bribery investigations that implicated many high-ranking state officials and pro-government businessmen.

Published on Today's Zaman, 11 December 2014, Thursday