April 24, 2017

Opposing Injustice vs. Endorsing Accused

Michael Rubin

Since last year’s abortive coup attempt in Turkey, the Turkish government has unleashed a massive crackdown on followers of Fethullah Gülen, an exiled theologian who now lives in Pennsylvania, and demanded Gülen’s extradition for his alleged role in last year’s failed coup. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hints that Gülen could be subject to the death penalty once he is returned to Turkey. The same threat looms over tens of thousands of Turks imprisoned on suspicion of supporting Gülen, all of whom Erdogan, Turkish officials, and his court journalists have labeled the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO). Ankara has sought to tar anyone—myself included—who questions the official narrative put forward by Erdogan about last summer’s coup attempt, Erdogan’s own misbehavior, or Turkey’s general orientation as being associated with terrorists.

Let me be clear: I am neither a follower of Gülen nor a lobbyist for him. Rather, I have long been a critic, even speculating back in 2008 that, should he return to Turkey with Erdogan’s blessing (the two were then allies), he could leverage his network to accelerate the decline of the secularist order and replace it with an Islamist one.

That was almost a decade ago, and much has changed in the interim. In 2013, a feud erupted between Erdogan and Gülen that led to a break between the two. The real reason for the feud depends on who is asked: Erdogan and his followers complained about Gülen’s extensive network. Gülen’s followers spoke of Erdogan’s corruption and his desire to purge any independent sources of influence.

The basic issue which the Turkish government misses is that one does not need to be supportive of Gülen to oppose the case against him. Principles regarding the impartiality of judiciaries and standards of evidence should trump any complaints about what the victim of a politicized judiciary may believe. To turn the judiciary against a broader movement as part of a political grudge does not tarnish those associated with Gülen but rather simply reflects poorly on the Turkish judiciary.

Excerpted from the article published on Commentary, 24 April 2017, Monday