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Dialogue

by Prof. D. Niyazi Oktem, Zaman on . Posted in Repercussions from Gülen–Bartholomeos Meeting

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The third anniversary of the founding of the Journalists' and Writers' Foundation was celebrated on September 30, 1996, at the Istanbul Lutfi Kirdar Congress Hall. They were kind enough to invite me.

Scientists, people of religion, members of the arts, and state officials who until recently would never have imagined coming together, shook hands, embraced, and sat side by side. The hall was full. Seated on my immediate right was Refik Erduran, the artist-writer who smuggled the worthy Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet to the Soviet Union. On my left was Professor Nur Vergin, who was raised in Western culture and emphasizes the importance of faith in social life. Professor Toktamis Ates, the unwavering defender of secularism, lovingly embraced Associate Professor Ali Bayramoglu, Professor Nevzat Yalcintas, and people from different places in the political spectrum, all of whom are open to dialogue and tolerance.

I heard that all representatives in the faith mosaic had been invited. Alevi elder Muharrem Naci Orhan; the Vatican's Representative to Turkey, Monsignor Pelatre and his assistant Monsignor Marovitch; and Cefi Kamhi and uzeyir Garih were all there. The Armenian Patriarch and his deputy, as well as the Syriac community's representatives, had asked me for the address. They must have been invited, but I do not know whether they came or not.

Meanwhile, the distinguished Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomeos I entered the hall. The front rows were full, but some people occupying the seats reserved for protocol immediately got up and gave him a seat. Last year, however, in UNESCO's "Tolerance" meeting organized by representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, some ministry members had tried to seat him in a rather unpleasant place in the protocol seats. It is impossible not to see the conflict between the state and civilian groups, and not to appreciate the organization of civil groups and their desire for dialogue. A few minutes later, the esteemed Fethullah Gülen entered the hall. He went straight toward Bartholomeos I and, embracing him, sat down beside him. The hall resounded with applause.

There must be something to it if two leaders, in whose communities uncultured and fanatic groups look at each other as "dirty infidel" and "barbarian Turk," can embrace each other. At least, members of society must love each other and meet each other with understanding. The two leaders spoke at the end of the meeting, and gave messages of love and acceptance to each other and the people. They repeatedly emphasized the importance of loving one another and behaving with tolerance in the interest of real peace, regardless of which religion or sect they are from or which philosophical trend they follow. Enmity should come to an end. They embraced each other again, and the audience stood up and applauded both leaders for several minutes.

Freedom, democracy, and respect for all human beings are not just Western principles. True Muslims also advocate these principles. They support dialogue, tolerance, and respect for others' beliefs. They seek to implement these concepts in their own lives, and arrange meetings for this purpose. Sure of themselves, they do not fear dialogue. True Westerners and true democrats also are like this. Deviations should be ignored. If both sides have fully assimilated their respective religion or ideology, there is nothing to fear.