News reports from Turkey have noted that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly blamed the Hizmet (“Service”) movement and its exiled leader Fethullah Gülen for being a “shadow” subversive organization, and the instigators of the recent attempted coup. Erdogan has declared a state of emergency, arrested thousands of Turkish citizens, including Gülen’s nephew, and called for the closure of 1,043 private schools, 1,229 charities and foundations, 19 trade unions, 15 universities and 35 medical institutions over suspected links to the Gulen movement.
Those of us, however, who have known and worked for many years with local members of the Hizmet movement remain highly skeptical about Erdogan’s motives and characterization of Gülen and the movement. Hizmet is a loosely-organized movement comprising hundreds of local groups who have devoted themselves to service in the best sense- education, multicultural relationship-building and emergency relief projects serving disaster victims, the homeless, the hungry, and beyond. In the north and south Bay Area, we have been fortunate to work cooperatively with the members of the Pacifica Institute.
Erdogan calls Hizmet a “terrorist” organization, yet the activities of Pacifica and other Hizmet groups are precisely what counters terrorism. They sponsor meals and gatherings for open conversation and building cross-cultural and interreligious understanding. Pacifica was one of the founding organizations of SiVIC, the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council, in San Jose.
Fethulla Gülen has spoken out against terrorism, denouncing violence, calling on Muslims to show “solidarity with people who seek peace around the world,” stressing the need for Muslims to promote human rights, provide educational opportunities, and stand for religious freedom (“Muslims Must Combat the Extremist Cancer“, Wall Street Journal, August 27, 2015).
Erdogan is using the recent coup as an opportunity to renew his demand that Gülen, who has been living in the U.S., be extradited for trial. As recently as June of this year, a federal judge dismissed a similar suit, declaring that the Turkish plaintiffs “offer only circumstantial and tenuous allegations of a connection between Gulen’s domestic conduct and the violations of plaintiffs’ rights in Turkey.” (APNewsBreak: US judge tosses suit against reclusive cleric, AP, Jun. 29, 2016).
Erdogan appears to be using the coup attempt as an excuse for consolidating his power and control in Turkey by circumventing civil liberties and the democratic process. It is particularly disgraceful that he is casting blame on a group that has devoted itself to humanitarian service and compassionate action. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of our local friends during this time of upheaval.
Read more about Turkey, Erdogan and Fethullah Gülen:
- Special Report from the Pacifica Institute (includes video links) (July 20, 2016)
- The empire of the US-based imam accused in the Turkish coup attempt (Religion News Service, July 20, 2016)
- Turkey’s Demise as a Democracy, Gerald Grudzen, Ph.D.