Fethullah Gulen candidly answered the questions of The Wall Street Journal.
By Joe Parkinson and Jay Solomon
1. The Prime Minister has repeatedly attacked you and Hizmet in recent weeks. Do you believe that your alliance with his faction of the AKP is now definitively at an end?
If we can talk about an alliance, it was around shared values of democracy, universal human rights and freedoms — never for political parties or candidates. In 2010 constitutional referendum I said that if these democratic reforms, which are in line with European Union’s requirements for membership, were done by CHP before, I would have supported them.
A broad spectrum of Turkish people, including Hizmet participants, supported AKP for democratizing reforms, for ending the military tutelage over politics and for moving Turkey forward in the EU accession process. We have always supported what we believed to be right and in line with democratic principles. But we have also criticized what we saw as wrong and contrary to those principles.
Our values or stance have not changed. We will continue to advocate for democracy. Whether the stance or actions of the political actors are consistent with their earlier record should be decided by the Turkish people and unbiased observers.
2. You have enjoyed a decade-long alliance with Mr. Erdogan – what is the moment that has most upset you about his leadership?
Just to clarify again, if we can talk about an alliance, it was values and principles based. Throughout the AKP period, we supported democratizing reforms and criticized and opposed anti-democratic actions. For instance, in 2005 we criticized the draft anti-terror law that defined terror crimes too broadly and risked harming freedoms.
During the period between 2003 and 2010, the overall trend was toward democratic reforms and a broad spectrum of Turkish population supported them. This was evident in the constitutional referendum of 2010 which received 58% approval. Indeed Turkey has made economic and democratic progress over the last 15 years.
But we would like these democratizing reforms to continue. Turkish people who supported the constitutional amendments of 2010 with the phrase “good but not sufficient” are upset that in the last two years the democratic progress is now being reversed. A new, civilian-drafted, democratic constitution would consolidate the democratic gains and would anchor Turkey at democratic values of EU. Unfortunately, that effort has now been abandoned.
3. What is your reaction to the PM’s moves to purge the leadership of the police force?
If the members of the police force or any other government agency have breached the laws of the country or the rules of their institutions, nobody can defend such actions and they should be subjected to legal or institutional investigation. If, however, they have not done anything illegal and they have not violated their institutional rules, and they are simply being profiled based on their worldviews or affinities, and subjected to discriminatory treatment, then such treatment cannot be reconciled with democracy, rule of law and universal human rights.
Shuffles and purges based on ideology, sympathy or worldviews was a practice of the past that the present ruling party promised to stop while campaigning before elections. It is ironic that members of the police force and judiciary who were applauded as heroes a few months ago are now being shuffled in the middle of winter without any investigation.
4. What is the reason that Hizmet actively encouraged their students to choose a career path in the police and the judiciary?
First of all let’s correct the premise in the question. I can only speak about my personal advocacy, which was addressed to Turkish public in general. I have always believed that education is the best way to nurture individuals and build a solid foundation for a society. Every social problem starts with the individual and can be solved for the long term at the level of the individual. Systemic, institutional or policy level solutions are destined for failure when the individual is neglected. Therefore my first and foremost advocacy was for education.
It is also why many people who agreed with my ideas have established various types of educational institutions from dormitories, exam prep centers, to private schools and free tutoring centers. These institutions provided a wider segment of the society access to quality education, which were hitherto available only to a privileged few.
I have encouraged Turkish people to be represented in all facets of the Turkish society and in every institution of their country, because it is important that these institutions reflect the society’s diversity. But the choices that are made by students and their parents are shaped by many factors such as employment opportunities and expected likelihood of upward mobility. I am not sure how influential my advocacy has been as a factor that these families have considered.
As far as the institutions established by Hizmet participants, I don’t have an accurate assessment of the career choices of their graduates. But contrary to what you may think, for students thinking of a career in the fields you mentioned (police or judiciary), historically it has been a potential cause for discrimination to have graduated from such institutions.