The Gülen movement is an Islamic transnational religious and social movement led by Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, who has lived in the United States since 1999. The movement has no official name but it is usually referred to as Hizmet ("the Service") by its followers and as Cemaat ("the Community/Assembly") by the broader public in Turkey. Its largest body is the Alliance for Shared Values. The movement has attracted supporters and critics in Turkey, Central Asia, and other parts of the world. It is active in education with private schools and universities in over 180 countries as well as many American charter schools operated by followers. The movement denies that the charter schools have a direct affiliation. It has initiated forums for interfaith dialogue. It has substantial investments in media, finance, and for-profit health clinics. Despite its teachings that are considered conservative even in Turkey, some have praised the movement as a pacifist, modern-oriented version of Islam, and as an alternative to more extreme schools of Islam such as Salafism. But it has also been accused of having "global, apocalyptic ambition", a "cultish hierarchy" and of being a secretive Islamic sect.
The Gülen movement is a former ally of the Turkish Justice and Development Party. When the AKP came to power in 2002 the two formed, despite their differences, a tactical alliance against military tutelage and the secular elite. It was through this alliance that the AKP had accomplished an unprecedented feat in Turkish republican history by securing national electoral victories sufficient to form three consecutive majority governments in 2002, 2007, and 2011. The Gülen movement gained influence on the Turkish police force and the judiciary during its alliance with conservative President Erdoğan, which saw hundreds of Gülen supporters appointed to positions within the Turkish government. Once the old establishment was defeated around 2010 to 2011 disagreements emerged between the AKP and the Gülen movement. The first breaking point was the so-called ″MIT crisis″ of February 2012, it was also interpreted as a power struggle between pro-Gülen police and judiciary and the AKP. After the 2013 corruption investigations in Turkey into alleged corrupt practices by several bureaucrats, ministers, mayors, and family members of the ruling AKP of Turkey was uncovered, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed the movement for initiating the investigations as a result of a break in previously friendly relations. President Erdoğan accused Gülen of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government through a judicial coup by the use of corruption investigations and seized the group-owned newspaper (Zaman— one of the most circulated newspaper in Turkey before the seizure) and several companies that have ties with the group.
Since 11 December 2015 the Gülen movement is classified as a terrorist organization in Turkey under the name Gülenist Terror Organisation (Fetullahçı Terör Örgütü, FETÖ) or Parallel State Organisation (Paralel Devlet Yapılanması, PDY). After the failed coup attempt in 2016, the government of Turkey blamed the group for the coup and authorities have arrested thousands of soldiers and judges. Over ten thousand education staff were suspended and the licenses of over 20,000 teachers working at private institutions were revoked for alleged affiliation to Gülen. Fethullah Gülen strongly condemned the coup, and rejected claims of his involvement.
- 1 Description and membership
- 2 Activities
- 3 Criticism
- 4 Political involvement
- 5 History
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Description and membership
The movement has been characterized as a "moderate blend of Islam". Gülen and the Gülen movement are technology-friendly, work within current market and commerce structures, and are savvy users of modern communications and public relations. In 2008, Gülen was described as "the modern face of the Sufi Ottoman tradition", who reassures his followers, including many members of "Turkey's aspirational middle class", that "they can combine the statist-nationalist beliefs of Atatürk’s republic with a traditional but flexible Islamic faith" and "Ottoman traditions that had been caricatured as theocratic by Atatürk and his 'Kemalist' heirs".
Within Turkey the Gülen movement keeps its distance from established Islamic political parties.
Sources state that the Gülen movement is vying to be recognized as the world's leading Muslim network, one that is more reasonable than many of its rivals. The movement builds on the activities of Gülen, who has won praise from non-Muslim quarters for his advocacy of science, interfaith dialogue, and multi-party democracy. It has earned praise as "the world's most global movement".
"It is impossible to calculate the size of the Gülen movement" since the movement is not a centralized or formal organization with membership rosters, but rather a set of numerous, loosely organized networks of people inspired by Gülen. Estimates of the size of the movement vary, with one source stating that between 200,000 supporters and 4 million people are influenced by Gülen's ideas (1997 Tempo estimate), and another stating that Gülen has "hundreds of thousands of supporters" (The Guardian, 2000). The membership of the movement consists primarily of students, teachers, businessmen, academics, journalists and other professionals. Its members have founded schools, universities, an employers' association, charities, real estate trusts, student organizations, radio and television stations, and newspapers.
The movement's structure has been described as a flexible organizational network. Movement schools and businesses organize locally and link themselves into informal networks. The Gülen movement works within the given structures of modern secular states; it encourages affiliated members to maximize the opportunities those countries afford rather than engaging in subversive activities. In the words of the leader himself and the title of a cornerstone of his philosophy, Gülen promotes "an Ottoman Empire of the Mind".
Critics have complained that members of the Gülen movement are overly compliant to the directions from its leaders, and Gülen's "movement is generally perceived by its critics as a religio-political cult." The Guardian editorial board described the movement in 2013 as having "some of the characteristics of a cult or of an Islamic Opus Dei".
Scholars such as Simon Robinson disagree with the characterization, writing that although "[t]here is no doubt that Gulen remains a charismatic leader and that members of the movement hold him in the highest respect", the movement "differs markedly from a cult in several ways", with Gulen stressing "the primacy of the scriptures" and "the imperative of service" and consistently avoiding "attempts to institutionalize power, to perceive him as the source of all truth, or to view him as taking responsibility for the movement". Zeki Saritoprak argues that the view of Gulen as "a cult leader or a man with ambitions" is mistaken, and contends that Gülen is best viewed in the context of a long line of Sufi masters who have long been a center of attention "for their admirers and followers, both historically and currently".
Beginning in 2008, the Dutch government investigated the movement's activities in the Netherlands in response to questions from Parliament. The first two investigations, performed by the AIVD, concluded that the movement did not form a breeding ground for radicalism and found no indications that the movement worked against integration or that it was involved in terrorism or religious radicalization. A further academic study sketched a portrait of a socially conservative, inwardly directed movement with an opaque organizational structure, but noted that its members tend to be highly successful in society and thus form no threat to integration.
The movement is active in education (kindergarten–university) as well as civic opportunities in other areas such as for interfaith dialogue, humanitarian aid, media, finance, and health.
Most Gülen Movement schools are private; its educational footprint extends to over 160 countries. In 2009 it was estimated that members of the Gülen Movement run schools in which more than two million students receive education. Estimates of the number of schools and educational institutions vary widely; it appears there are about 300 Gülen Movement schools in Turkey and over 1,000 schools worldwide.
Beyond the borders of Turkey, many Gülen schools can be found in countries with large populations of people of Turkish descent. Gülen schools in predominantly non-Turkish Muslim countries provide families with an alternative to madrasa education.
Gülen schools have received both criticism and praise.
Charter schools in the United States
In 2011, it was estimated that over 120 charter schools in the United States in 25 states were operated by participants of the Gülen movement. The largest numbers of such schools were in Texas (33 schools, Harmony schools, run by the Cosmos Foundation); Ohio (19 schools, known as Horizon Science Academies and operated by Concept Schools Inc.); and California (14 schools, operated by the Magnolia Foundation). The Philadelphia Inquirer reported at the time that Gülen schools were one of the largest users of H1B visas, receiving approval for 684 such visas in 2009. The Inquirer reported that the FBI, Labor Department, and Education Department investigating whether some charter school employees employed via H1B visas misused funds by kicking back a portion of their salaries to movement groups. The investigation had no tie to terrorism, and there was "no indication the American charter network has a religious agenda in the classroom."
A 60 Minutes episode profiled Gülen movement-operated charter schools in the U.S. in May 2012. The profile estimated that there were about 130 affiliated schools nationwide, with about 36 Harmony School in Texas, serving "mostly underprivileged students" and all emphasizing math and science. The episode noted that the schools generally received high marks for the quality of education, but also noted that Gülen's reclusive nature "invites conspiracy theories that he's running Turkey from the Poconos and is bent on global Muslim domination" and that "[o]ne accusation involves immigration fraud: that the schools are providing work visas for hundreds of Gülen followers from Turkey."
Professor Joshua Hendrick of Loyola University Maryland, who studies the movement, noted that Gülen himself "does not have a direct hand in operating" the charter schools, and it was reported that Gülen has never visited the schools. The Harmony Schools in Texas do not teach religion, and the charter network says that some 7.8% of its teachers are non-Americans.
The Wall Street Journal reported in 2016 that around 150 U.S. charter schools were tied to the Gülen movement, "ranging from networks in Texas, Illinois and Florida to stand-alone academies in Maryland." The Journal noted that like other charter schools "blacks and Hispanics in underserved neighborhoods" made up the majority of the student body, with common themes including "an emphasis on math and science education, Turkish language classes and sponsored trips to Turkey." Hendrick noted that in the upheaval following the 2016 Turkish coup attempt, proposed new charter schools and charters up for renewal "that are run by Turkish-Americans and are said to be connected with the cleric" could run into increased opposition, as the Turkish government has sought "to bring down Mr. Gulen through U.S. charter schools they claim are connected to him."
The movement's avowal of interfaith dialogue grew out of Gülen's personal engagement in interfaith dialogue, largely inspired by the example of one of his influences, Said Nursi. Gülen has met with leaders of other religions, including Pope John Paul II, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I, and Israeli Sephardic Head Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron. Gülen advocates cooperation between followers of different religions as well as those practicing different forms of Islam (such as Sunnism or Alevism).
Gülen's call for interfaith dialogue has influenced three generations of movement followers.
Gülen movement participants have founded a number of institutions across the World that promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue activities. Notable among these are the Journalists and Writers Foundation in Istanbul, the Rumi Forum in Washington and the Indialogue Foundation in New Delhi.
Movement participants have set up a number of media organizations to promote its core values such as love, tolerance, hope, dialogue, activism, mutual acceptance and respect. These media organs include TV stations (Samanyolu TV, Mehtap TV), (Ebru TV) (English), the newspapers Zaman, Today's Zaman (English), magazines and journals in Turkish like Aksiyon, Sızıntı, Yeni Ümit, The Fountain Magazine (English), Hira (Arabic), The International Cihan News Agency and the radio station Burç FM.
The movement runs charity and humanitarian aid organizations which are transnationally active. The leading one among them is the Istanbul-based Kimse Yok Mu Association (KYM). KYM organizes charity campaigns to help those in need in different parts of the world. Like any other activities of the Gülen-movement, KYM runs local projects responding to specific needs. KYM holds UN Ecosoc Special status.
While being both praised and criticized for being market friendly, the Gülen movement has established various professional associations and business networks. Among them Istanbul based TUSKON is the major non-profit business confederation which claims to promote economic solutions as well as social and political ones. Another one called TUCSIAD is based in China, in addition to DTIK's Asia-Pacific Group which supports the Gülen movement outside of Turkey in China, hoping to influence Turkish politics from the outside.
Fethullah Gülen's and the Gülen movement's views and practices have been discussed in international conferences. In October 2007 in London a conference was sponsored by the University of Birmingham, the Dialogue Society, the Irish School of Ecumenics, Leeds Metropolitan University, the London Middle East Institute, the Middle East Institute and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Niagara Foundation of Chicago, together with several academic institutions, organized "The Gülen Movement: Paradigms, Projects and Aspirations" conference, which was held at University of Chicago on 11–13 Nov 2010.
President Erdoğan and the AKP (the ruling party of Turkey) have targeted the movement since December 2013. Immediately after the corruption allegations, the government subjugated the judiciary, media and civil society which were critical of the government's authoritarian trend in recent years. After the corruption allegations surfaced, Erdogan labelled it as a "civilian coup" against his government. Since then, Erdogan has shuffled, dismissed or jailed hundreds of police officers, judges, prosecutors and journalists in the name of fighting against a "Parallel State" within the Turkish state. The Turkish government took over the Gülenist Zaman Daily, Turkey's largest newspaper, on 4 March 2016. Turkish police entered the Zaman's headquarters by force and fired tear gas at the protesting journalists and civilians. Hundreds of protestors were injured. In his efforts to eradicate the movement within the country the Turkish National Security Council has identified the movement as the "Gulenist Terror Organisation" ("FETO"). The government has also been targeting individuals and businessmen who have supported the movement's organizations and activities.
Questions have arisen about the Gülen movement's possible involvement in the ongoing Ergenekon investigation, which critics have characterized as "a pretext" by the government "to neutralize dissidents" in Turkey. In March 2011, seven Turkish journalists were arrested, including Ahmet Şık, who had been writing a book, "Imamin Ordusu" (The Imam's Army), which alleges that the Gülen movement has infiltrated the country's security forces. As Şık was taken into police custody, he shouted, "Whoever touches it [the movement] gets burned!". Upon his arrest, drafts of the book were confiscated and its possession was banned. Şık has also been charged with being part of the alleged Ergenekon plot, despite being an investigator of the plot before his arrest.
In a reply, Abdullah Bozkurt, from the Gülen movement newspaper Today's Zaman, accused Ahmet Şık of not being an investigative journalist conducting "independent research", but of hatching "a plot designed and put into action by the terrorist network itself".
According to Gareth H. Jenkins, a Senior Fellow of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center at Johns Hopkins University:
From the outset, the pro-AKP media, particularly the newspapers and television channels run by the Gülen Movement such as Zaman, Today's Zaman and Samanyolu TV, have vigorously supported the Ergenekon investigation. This has included the illegal publication of "evidence" collected by the investigators before it has been presented in court, misrepresentations and distortions of the content of the indictments and smear campaigns against both the accused and anyone who questions the conduct of the investigations.
There have long been allegations that not only the media coverage but also the Ergenekon investigation itself is being run by Gülen's supporters. In August 2010, Hanefi Avcı, a right-wing police chief who had once been sympathetic to the Gülen Movement, published a book in which he alleged that a network of Gülen's supporters in the police were manipulating judicial processes and fixing internal appointments and promotions. On September 28, 2010, two days before he was due to give a press conference to present documentary evidence to support his allegations, Avcı was arrested and charged with membership of an extremist leftist organization. On March 14, 2011, Avcı was also formally charged with being a member of the alleged Ergenekon gang.
The Gülen movement has also been implicated in what both Prime Minister Erdoğan as well as the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) have said were illegal court decisions against members of the Turkish military, including many during the Ergenekon investigation.
2013 corruption scandal
On 17 December 2013, an investigation into alleged corrupt practices by several bureaucrats, ministers, mayors, and family members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkey was uncovered, resulting in widespread protests and calls for the resignation of the government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Due to the high level of political influence by the Gülen movement in Turkey, it is rumored to be facilitated by the movement's influence on the Turkish police force and the judiciary, the investigation was considered to be a result of a break in previously friendly relations between the Islamist-rooted government and the movement.
On 14 December 2014 Turkish police arrested more than two dozen senior journalists and media executives connected with the Gülen movement on various charges.
A statement by the US State Department cautioned Turkey not to violate its "own democratic foundations" while drawing attention to raids against media outlets "openly critical of the current Turkish government".
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said that the arrests went "against European values" and "are incompatible with the freedom of media, which is a core principle of democracy".
On 20 January 2015, Turkish police launched raids in Ankara and three other cities, detaining some 20 people suspected of illegally eavesdropping on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other senior officials. The suspects are linked to Turkey's telecommunications authority and to its scientific and technological research center TUBITAK. Local media said the move was aimed at the "parallel structure" — the term Erdogan uses to refer to Gülen's supporters in the judiciary, police and other institutions.
In reaction to the military-lead July 15 coup, the Turkish government quickly alleged the coup's leader to be Gülen. In following days and weeks, a massive crackdown affected all entities affiliated to the Gülen movements, from individuals to businesses, newspapers to schools and universities.
- 1941 – Fethullah Gülen is born in Korucuk, near Erzurum, Turkey
- 1950s – Gülen's first meeting with people from the Nur Movement
- 1960 – death of Said Nursî
- 1960s – Gülen begins attracting disciples while a state preacher in Izmir
- 1971 – Gülen arrested for an alleged crime of organizing and/or participating in activities to change the basis of the constitutional system but is released seven months later.
- late 1970s – Gülen establishes himself independently of other Nurju organizations; first ışık evleri ("houses of light", i.e., student residences) established
- 1978 – First dershane (study center for university exams) opens
- 1979 – Science journal Sızıntı begins publication
- 1981 – Gülen retires
- 1982 – First "Gülen school" opens.
- 1986 – Zaman, a daily newspaper in Turkey, begins publication, later becoming one of Turkey's top selling newspapers
- 1988–1991 – Gülen gives lectures in Istanbul and Izmir
- 1991 – Fall of Soviet Union permits establishment of Gülen schools in Central Asia
- 1994 – The (Turkish) Journalists and Writers Foundation (Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Vakfi) established, with Gülen as honorary president
- 1996 – Creation of Asya Finans (investment bank aimed at former Soviet Central Asia), with Tansu Çiller as an investor
- 1998 – Gülen meets with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican
- 1999 – Gülen movement schools in Tashkent closed by Uzbekistan government after a rift between Turkish and Uzbek governments
- 1999 – Gülen emigrates to Pennsylvania after the Turkish government charges him with attempting to set up an Islamist state in Turkey
- 2004 – Establishment of Niagara Foundation
- 2004 – Establishment of Kimse Yok Mu (Is Anybody There?), a charitable organization; 2010, receives "special" NGO status with United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
- 2005 – Establishment of TUSKON (Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists)
- 2012 – Journalists and Writers Foundation (Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Vakfi) receives "general consultative status" as a Non-Governmental Organization of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations
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