Twenty-First Century Utopia and the Dervish Tradition

by Nevval Sevindi on . Posted in Commentaries

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Turning the other cheek

At first Gülen displays a refined and modest reserve before others. It is obvious that he does not enjoy leaving the richness of his inner world to face routine questions. He is accustomed to winding around the curves and on the edge of his inner world's boundaries. He does not talk loudly or in anger or command. He does not know how to say "No," and suffers the results. He accepts the axiom of "turning the other cheek." I understand that ugly politics and politicians play a big role in his high blood pressure and diabetes.

He believes in modern science and free enterprise

Gülen has faith in the victory of hope and will. Trusting in the individual and newness, he explains the importance of integrating the mind and heart through love: "Until ignorance dries up, the masses can't attain enlightenment." He sees self-renewal as the only condition of continued existence. He sleeps two or three hours a day, eats little, and reads a lot.

He genuinely believes in and encourages free enterprise. According to him, believers both in Turkey and abroad must be wealthy. He emphasizes education arm-in-arm with development, and economic and cultural togetherness for the future... He recommends the dynamic of knowledge against ignorance, work against poverty, and solidarity and wealth.

A tripod encompassing life's "economic, cultural, and spiritual" dimensions.

Gülen's understanding, which rests on a tripod, encompasses life's "economic, cultural, and spiritual" dimensions. The tripod of religion, economics, and education is the main dynamic of his view's vitality. As long as knowledge is not operative in life, it has no value for him. As long as the ways of earning money are not learned and money is not spent to benefit the country, it is greed itself. Unless methodology and system replace memorization, he believes that education cannot be beneficial.

Gülen activates people to solve their problems, produce plans and programs, earn money, and make their knowledge operative in their lives. He recommends that education result not only in learning, but also produce people as social creatures with spiritual and all other values.

Turkish renaissance

Gülen is nurturing and enlarging the thousand year-old Anatolian Turkish-Islamic tradition under today's conditions. At the same time, he's using his religious knowledge and depth for today. He believes in a Turkish renaissance. If only people could come out of their small cages and move to not only a broad horizon of the heart, but also to a wide mental horizon as well. If only the foundation of this polarized society where everyone sits in his or her own cell and believes all other ideas to be hostile were to become green and we were to take our rightful place in the world. If only we could open the closed doors of a world that produces no ideas, and if people could understand that they have nothing to fear except themselves. If only we could build bridges to each other and understand each other by talking and debating. As the Hodja said: "If keeping your eyes closed to the future is blindness, then disinterest in the past is misfortune."

The cultural Islamic synthesis in modern Turkey

Intellectuals who do not produce a national cultural synthesis and who deny the Seljukid-Ottoman synthesis have not reached the people. Their baseless, imitative view blew them about like the wind. Since they could not throw off their exploited coercive mentality, they could not produce an ideology for the rising Turkish middle class. Intellectuals and bureaucracies that could not produce a synthesis from this country's history, conditions, and culture have always imposed their own view, belittling everything except themselves.

Gülen is a child of the Turkish republic, and approximately the same age. He is not an imitator, for he knows how to produce a new value from the materials at hand. He does not see knowledge as a heap of rocks, but as a mental activity or process that will create a pyramid or a building. For this reason he is alone. Struggling with fixed ambitions, arguments, and habits, he is having a difficult journey.

He is the "Muslim European Turk" that the Republican ideology wanted to create: a new synthesis of full religion and Western formation. A synthesis that could surpass the Ottoman would be determined by the new Turkish Republic. An understanding of Islam that looks with the Anatolia's eye of the heart, shows affection, and loves with heartfelt Muslimness. It is the Islamic understanding that found spiritual expression in Yunus, Hadji Bektash, and Mawlana, and that encompasses the whole world.

This cultural richness made people inside the Ottoman borders identify with Muslimness, like the Bosnians. In one of the last bloody wars of the twentieth century, this "Muslimness" could not be torn out. Today Turkey still controls the geography of Ottoman culture. The breadth of these borders is an expression of our cultural richness. Central Asia is the place we came from, and Europe is the place we went. Turkey must forego sleeping on this treasure. At the end of 70 years, the Turkish middle class and rising Anatolian bourgeoisie want their need for an ideology fulfilled.

Humanity's scientific and spiritual knowledge

Returning to and leaning on the original source of religion, the Hodja brings a new perspective and horizon. It is new because instead of hearsay, superstition, and traditional customs, there is an effort to base belief on knowledge. The mind and spirit are found together in the human being. People with internal gaps to be filled should not spend their lives with only money and commands. These internal gaps can be filled, and thus closed, with scientific and spiritual knowledge. This is why the Hodja emphasizes individual freedom, education, and free enterprise.

Educational missionaries opening horizons in Central Asia

Young people from Central Asia's Turkish republics are pouring into Turkish universities via the TCS and YoS examinations. They have been specially trained, passed the necessary exams, and earned first-place honors in different branches. In Tajikistan, the most hesitant republic, supporters of Iran and the Ismaili sect could not realize their goals, for the people chose Turkish education. While last year 23 students came to Turkey from Tajikistan, this year 99 people passed the exam and came.

The poverty of ideas shaping Turkish political life; the shallowness of the world around us; the empty, hollow, sterile, short-sighted games being played in the name of political struggle and democratic competition; and the display of superficial politics in Turkey have both saddened and angered me for a long time. As a Turk I am sad; as a sociologist I am upset.

The roads to this country's ability to be governed and to Turkey's taking its rightful place in history have been blocked (or cut), and its political philosophy and foresight have atrophied. There might be many reasons for this that are unknown to me.

Perhaps the reasons for our lack of philosophy should be sought elsewhere. Maybe it is necessary to surmise that the misfortune befalling Turkish political thought comes from other sources. Obviously a trauma occurred and, as a sociologist, I should have diagnosed it.

I wonder if it is only an interesting coincidence that the three great men of sociology Marx, Durkheim, and Weber all put religion in the center of their thought. The first concentrated on rejecting religion and its negativity as a social factor; the other two dedicated almost all their energy to explaining the impossibility of forming a society without religion.

My investigations led me to the writings of Carl Schmitt, a good student of Weber's, and in particular to a book, translated from the German, that I was able to read only a few years later called Siyasi Ilâhiyat (Political Theology).

Schmitt says that all concepts of modern state theory like sovereignty, obedience to and dependency on the state, allegiance to politics are secularized religious concepts carried over from theology to state and political theory. His purpose is not to theocraticize politics, but only to emphasize that subjects exclusive to politics and concepts used in politics have their roots in theology. According to him, an analogy between these two fields must be established if we are to achieve a correct and orderly political philosophy.

By pointing out the conceptual proximity between politics and religion, Schmitt both proves what a close follower of Weber's he was and also opens an enlightening window. In Turkey's case, this window opens on our society's political thought and lack of knowledge about it, in which I share. When I read his words, I understand that ignorance of religion, an ignorance that either is not known or is willfully ignored by academic circles, results naturally in the existing political class' inability to have a flourishing political life on the intellectual plane. Moreover, these circumstances prevent the development of a philosophical perspective related to politics or the conception of a new political model or models. The worst part of this is that in a society where religious scholars have become this blind and where religious knowledge is this absent, political thought, which is trying to crawl in society, becomes a game with blindfolded players. Forget about the present political structure being strengthened; it cannot even be protected. Turkey's political uncertainty, vague ideas, and current instability prove this.

Once again the "deep" Turkey comes to help-and this time in the light of day in a concrete and vivid form. In Turkey, where it appears that a wall has been built to obstruct the horizons, we have set out on a "tour of the horizons" with a man who is obviously and undeniably a product of love and belief a man who has been conceived in the bosom of Turkey, protected in its political genius, and raised jealousy. The Zaman interview that I have been reading for the past 3 days, "A Tour of the Horizons with Fethullah Gülen," appears to us as a sign that the above-mentioned depressive dead-end period is ending and that Turkey's historical and natural style of political thought is producing new shoots. Turkey is learning about today and the future from the analysis of a hodja longing for religion. Hodjaefendi's analysis of our social structure, religious consciousness, and position in the international community are things that maybe we never knew and never heard explained in such a simple, profound, and intense way. But they are things that we always wanted to hear. The composition that Turkey has longingly and patiently waited to see has appeared. The analytical ties between faith and the politics it will follow have been established. Turkey has begun to find answers to the questions of who it is, what its direction is, and how it should be.

The New York Interview with Fethullah Gülen, July 20-29, 1997