60 Minutes, Fethullah Gulen and the End of Gulen Charter Schools Myth

Fethullah Gulen in his bedroom
As a scholar studying the Hizmet Movement for more than a decade, I have opened this blog to clear some confusion/suspicion about Fethullah Gulen. My concern is not about the so-called Gulen Charter Schools, but rather for Mr. Gulen, who has no relationship or connection with any of the so-called Gulen (inspired) schools around the world (let alone the high achieving charter schools in America). Even if Fethullah Gulen was associated with Harvard or Oxford University, I would still object to that, because he himself would be the first person to do this. that is why, he never visits any of the schools he is claimed to inspire, nor does he have ownership or any other affiliation with any of them.
That is actually what makes the story of 60 Minutes very intriguing, because we see someone who constantly avoids associating himself with any of the educational institutions throughout the world. That is something rare in our American society. If we accomplish something, we fully take the credit for that accomplishment. But here we have someone who prefers self-exile and seclusion instead of publicity. Fethullah Gulen rarely talks to the media due to his health problems and "60 Minutes" was no exception. But even if he talks, he does not take the credit for the schools, charity works, and other activities of the Hizmet Movement. 

That is also what baffles the producers of "60 Minutes". They probably thought that they would not be declined and it seemed that they were so close to their "target", but they just could not make it. We see a worldwide phenomenon, but the source of inspiration stays away from all the hustle and bustle. "There is a kingdom, but there is no king around." But the objection voiced in the media about Mr. Gulen's seclusion is not right, because Fethullah Gulen gave interviews to New York Times and Wall Street Journal earlier this year. In fact, he is not that secluded at all. He is not a shady figure, either. He is just "picky" in terms of giving interviews. Maybe he first considers the intention of the media outlet that tries to get an interview from him. 

Meanwhile, let me also relate some of my observations on "60 Minutes" segment:

Some of the high achieving charter schools are associated with Fethullah Gulen, but we see no single evidence that would support that claim. I really wonder how such an alleged relationship is established by just uttering a few sentences. No official document and no interview with an administrator/teacher/parent/student/alumnus of these schools about this hypothetical connection. Isn't that weird?

Maybe that is why, it is not fair to put the name of Fethullah Gulen in front of some charter schools.

The choice of interview with Andrew Finkel was not the ideal one, because Mr. Finkel is a former columnist for Today's Zaman, one of the newspapers of the Movement. His job was terminated several months ago and this could easily be a conflict of interest. I do not think that Mr. Finkel could be impartial on this issue. Besides, Mr. Finkel's answer to a question about the Movement (if they were cult or not) was cut after he said "Yes, but...".

To define Hizmet Movement a "cult" is a misconception at best. First of all, as opposed to United States, there is almost no cult-like formation in Turkey except some extremely marginal groups whose members do not exceed a few hundred people. However, we are talking about a social global movement (not a religious one) whose membership exceeds millions. Hizmet Movement is not a cult-like Movement. Moreover, the degree of attachment people display is also very different. Some people are just sympathizers, while some people actively engage in the activities of the Movement. Certain individuals make donations, while some others dedicate their time to charitable works. There is no rite of initiation, ceremony, formal membership or official "acceptance" within the Movement. Also, the Turkish-Muslim volunteers of the Movement have the same Islamic worship styles. Then how can the producers imply a cult-like formation?

I also read several of the comments under the video and I especially liked some of them. One of the viewers mentioned the existence of two positive stories and the effort to combine these two different positive stories into a negative story. I agree with that viewer. This is nothing but an odd interpretation.

Anyway, let's turn back to the initial topic. In that "60 Minutes" broadcast, did you notice the simplicity of the room Mr. Gulen makes his internet talks for his guests? The picture above also reflects this simplicity. Does it look like the room of a super-rich person as claimed by some detractors? I think this is what makes Mr. Gulen different from other inspirational leaders. Mr. Gulen lives what he preaches. In his youth, he, as an imam, used to live in a shack for many years. Before the years spent in the shack (or a hut), he was staying by a window in the mosque he preached.

I believe even our closets are larger than his small window.