Nice piece by Ihsan Yilmaz.
Der Spiegel has published a piece about the Hizmet (Gülen) movement. Unfortunately, the piece does not look like a work of journalism.
The wording, selection of so-called experts, and most importantly distortions, misleading points and false information make the piece very problematic. The piece starts with a claim that “Gülen likes to present himself as the Gandhi of Islam”. However, Gülen has never made such a comparison. Without giving any background information about the Turkish politics and law, the piece accuses the movement being secretive. Its readers have a right to know that still in 2012, it is a crime to establish Islamic groups, movements and brotherhoods. These of course exist but they can only exist unofficially and depending on the socio-political situation, the authorities will turn a blind eye to these groupings that would operate normally in any proper democracy. Whenever conditions change, the authorities heavily punish these groups. Thus, as the piece puts the movement does not have an address or bank account but this is not its fault. This does not mean that the movement is secretive. It consists of volunteers, schools, businesses and so on. They operate as loose informal networks that the authorities know about and all these institutions are transparent institutions that regularly inspected by the relevant authorities.
The movement does not deny that some university students who are volunteers of the movement stay at dormitories or houses that are sometimes called “Houses of Light”. They are not secret. The piece says that there are such houses in Berlin. Even this shows that they are not hidden. The police and intelligence organizations can always inspect, chase and wiretap them. Despite the groundless accusations, has there ever been even a single case in Germany or in any other democratic country suggesting that the movement threatens volunteers or former volunteers or creates fear as the piece is trying to suggest?
The movement operates in more than 140 countries but has there even a single case showing that free-exit which is the most important criterion about civil society volunteer organizations is not possible within the Hizmet movement? Of course not. If that is not the case, why do not these so called-threatened people go and complain to the German police who would protect their identity?
The piece prefers to ignore such vital questions and facts that would contradict the piece’s groundless accusations. The piece talks about the piety in these student dormitories. Well, it is not a secret. Gülen calls it grater jihad. There are several academic works about the pietistic life in these student dormitories. They are open to everyone and anyone can quit whenever they like. Nothing is done in these dormitories to the students against their will. For Muslims, it is not shocking to learn that you are not allowed to take your girlfriends to these houses. We are talking about a practicing Muslim group here. As no one is compelled to stay, they can easily move to more relaxed environments. Is there any evidence showing that they are not allowed to leave? Of course not.
The argument about Gülen not tolerating dissent
The piece argues that Gülen tolerates no dissent. A quick search in the internet will show that thousands of people with their true identities keep writing libelous columns, blogs, books and pieces about Gülen and the Hizmet movement. Let alone dissenting him they openly denigrate him and insult him. What happened to these people? Nothing. The books are available on the bookshelves and their authors freely live in Turkey. The authors that the piece mentions are accused of being members of a terrorist organization and their trials are continuing. Their books about Gülen do not contain anything new about Gülen. If the Turkish judiciary is dealing with these people because of their books on Gülen, it would deal with other authors who wrote such books at earlier times and ones who keep publishing new ones.
The piece does not tell us what exactly Martin van Bruinessen says so that we could talk about his criticism. One could see parallels between every human organization so we need concrete points. There is not even single objective expert that the piece has spoken to. The readers may think that there is none but actually there are now hundreds of western experts who are not Muslims but can confidently and objectively talk about the movement. But the piece did not approach any of them. The piece has spoken to Michael Rubin who is a well-known Islamophobe but he is not taken seriously in the USA. Mr. Rubin has never raised objective and sound arguments against the movement but only comes with groundless speculative accusations and mind-reading such as likening Gülen to Khomeini. Rubin never mentions that Gülen hates revolutions since he believes that top-down force would only turn people into hypocrites. Gülen keeps reminding his listeners that the Prophet (PBUH) rejected an offer of being the leader of the Mecca and instead he chose to flee the city in order to convince individuals with arguments, his piety and sincere life. It is also a lie that students staying at dormitories are expected to proselytize since this term suggests taking advantage of people’s weaknesses. Instead, Gülen underlines that instead of preaching about Islam, one needs to be a very good Muslim which he calls preaching by example. In a democracy, nothing is wrong with this.
The piece quotes a German academic who says this about the movement volunteers: “They are everywhere.” Well, history seems to be repeating itself in Germany and Germany’s new “Jews” seem to be the Hizmet movement volunteers, a good target for the Neo-Nazis who are obviously very active under the watchful but forgiving eyes of the German authorities. By publishing this piece, Der Spiegel has done a very good job for them.
The piece argues that the movement’s finances are particularly murky but does not try to convince us. It is just a free-floating accusation without any evidence. Why do not the Western authorities follow the money if something dodgy and murky going on? They chased after the Deniz Feneri, why do they tolerate the Hizmet?
Unlike what the piece claims, Gülen has never taken the West as a monolithic entity. Similar to Nursi, he looked at the issue analytically and while criticizing the imperialists, colonialists, crusaders and so on, he always emphasized that the Westerners have many good Muslim habits such as honesty, integrity, hardworking and “good Westerners” developed sciences, humanity, human rights etc. He is not an Occidentalist. Unlike the Islamists, his constitutive other is not the West. He, first and foremost, criticizes Muslims for their failures weaknesses and sins. The piece distorts Gülen’s ideas and indirectly insults hundreds of western academics who have studied the movement.
Distortion of statements on the PKK
The piece also distorts what he said about the PKK terrorists who burned dormitory teenage students. He prayed God to correct these cruel monsters but if it was not possible asked God to deal with them. Without giving the context and mentioning his former sentences, the piece cuts and pastes only his latter sentences.
It is also distorting to write that “Gülen believes that scientific facts are only true if they agree with the Koran”. According to Gülen, if a scientific fact contradicts our interpretation of the Quran, this needs to be re-interpreted. But he also underlines that science cannot cover every issue about the faith, angels, miracles etc.
The piece falsely claims that Gülen became an adviser of former Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller. They only met a couple of times. With this logic, Çiller must have had millions of advisers.
Unlike what the piece claims, Gülen has never “advised his supporters to undermine the Turkish state and act conspiratorially until the time was ripe to assume power”. His speech was doctored by the military junta of the 28 February coup and now these generals are being tried for their crimes. Gülen explained that he was advising practicing Muslim civil servants to hide their religiosity since anyone detected as religious by the junta would be evicted from the state. He advised patience instead of revolting against the state. It is known that some small Islamic groups at the time could not bear the undemocratic pressure at the time and started talking about some sort of clash. The piece strangely never mentions such cruel undemocratic conditions of Turkey. The piece also falsely claims that “When a recording of this speech was leaked to the public in 1999, Gülen had to flee from Turkey”. The doctored recording was leaked by the General Staff who staged a coup against the democratically elected government, a few months after Gülen left Turkey not before. Thus, the recording is not the cause of his departure form Turkey. The piece hides the fact that Gülen was tried in absentia but was acquitted despite the heavy pressure exerted on the court by the mighty generals and he is free to return to Turkey.
The piece, again falsely, claims that “almost a fifth of the AKP’s members of parliament were members of the Gülen movement in 2004, including the justice and culture ministers”. Today, it is becoming more obvious that Erdoğan would never allow the movement be influential within his own party. There has never been a minister with a movement background. The piece talks about rumors about Hizmet’s influence within the police but one cannot prove the falsity of these accusations. The burden of proof lies with the accuser.
The piece talks about İhan Cihaner’s court case but gives the impression that he was acquitted. That is wrong, his trial still goes on. What is more, his case was snatched from the lower court by the Supreme Court of Cassations which is dominated by the Kemalists. Similarly, the piece makes another similar “mistake” when talking about Ahmet Sik’s case. It puts that “Ironically, it was Şık who, together with a colleague, had exposed the secret coup plans of an Ergenekon admiral in the weekly magazine Nokta in 2007 and who had repeatedly targeted the Ergenekon network”. As Alper Görmüş, editor of Nokta who exposed the plans explained, Sik only read about these plans when Nokta published them but he remained silent when his friends falsely claimed that he was the one who published these plans. Sik is being tried not for his book but his alleged connections with a terrorist network.
Last but not the least, the piece quotes Dani Rodrik who claims that “The movement is up to its neck in dirty tricks,” but hides a crucial fact from its readers that Dani Rodrik is the son-in-law of a retired notorious general, Çetin Doğan, who reportedly prepared a coup plan against the government. He was caught red-handed since he himself officially recorded everything but now claims that they were war games. Nevertheless, to his chagrin, his former general colleagues testified in court that in proper war games, real names are never mentioned. Rodrik’s father in law’s so called game is full of such names including a list of cabinet ministers that would be appointed after the planned coup. Unable to explain this, he claims that the Hizmet movement is conspiring against him and Rodrik who is actually an economist not an expert on Islam, Turkey or the movement is using his Harvard title to voice these groundless accusations. Instead of talking to real experts that studied the movement, Der Spiegel spoke to the movement’s enemies but presents them as objective experts. Der Spiegel also fails to mention that Çetin Doğan recently took his case to the ECHR but the court underlined that the evidence against him was serious. Instead of mentioning this concrete fact, the piece relies on secret unidentified witnesses and false experts who cannot come up with concrete evidence or convincing arguments. This is actually what Der Spiegel claims that the Turkish courts have unjustly been doing against the Ergenekon suspects?