In this chapter I examine the competing perspectives within the social field in Turkey and try to understand mobilization and counter-mobilization in terms of the motives, beliefs, and discourses manifested by the actors. I focus on how frames are produced and utilized in different real situations – sometimes utilized quite systematically in fact to mask realities – and on how ideas, beliefs, and culture affect the repertoires of action and contention. The discussion particularly illustrates the relevance of language, leadership, SMOs, and the media, in framing events and processes. I aim to avoid reductionism in the analysis by allowing the plurality of relations and meanings to appear: these are visible, i.e. readily accessible to an outsiderobserver, and multiple, in that the dimensions and processes of mobilization and counter-mobilization overlap and intertwine, requiring a wide array of analytical and conceptual tools. Failure to deploy a sufficiently wide array of such tools can only result in a sterile and repetitive stereotyping of either or both of the mobilizing and counter-mobilizing actors.
It is precisely the intellectual and political sterility in the societal context of Turkey in this period that the service-ethic of the Gülen Movement has labored to address. It has done so without at any stage or in any form challenging the legitimacy or authority of the interests, structures and institutions that have mobilized against it. To the contrary, it has persevered in advocating approaches and techniques for the building of consensus by providing new insights into how people can develop their capacity for positive action, for locating mutuality of interests so that individuals and groups can interrelate and co-operate in terms of shared space, shared goals and universal values.
The themes developed within contemporary social movement theories, if applied separately, are not adequate to explain the kind of multi-form civic action undertaken by the Gülen Movement, which requires a quite different mode of analysis within a syncretic framework. This framework will evolve and expand as the discussion progresses in the following chapters. In this chapter, the principal themes picked up within that framework are: the contested social field; bringing new issues to public space and making them visible; symbolic and cultural production; production of and access to information and the media; vertical and horizontal social mobility and professionalism; reflexivity or symbolic potential; transnational projects and international recognition; altruistic action and its symbolic challenge; definition and redefinition of democratic process; consequences of the success of mobilization; intervention in the decisions of the public authorities and, as a sub-set of such intervention, the February 28 military coup and irregularities. Discussion of these themes will establish how certain collective actors, seeking support and legitimation, deploy ideological masks to distract attention from their real interests and intents; it will illustrate the strategies of mobilization appropriate to the construction of an open civil space conducive to peaceful negotiation of social, cultural, political and religious encounters.
2. The Gülen Movement
2.1. Cultural mobilization: Public space and making new issues visible
Mobilizations with political strategies seek primarily to alter external realities and often have defined material objectives; they tend to focus on change in particular political or economic relations, or particular policy directions or outcomes. Mobilizations that are culturally oriented tend to look to an interior transformation as a means (and goal) of change in value systems; aiming to preserve or restore and revitalize a culture, they focus much more on ideas and beliefs, on values, norms and identities.
The cultural dimension, Fethullah Gülen affirms, is a necessary component of collective or national consciousness, without which a people cannot move forward along a path recognized and valued as their own. He argues that a close relationship obtains between the harmony and stability of the ways in which a people conduct their affairs and their cultural resources. Refusing to see the underlying principles and the components that constitute one’s culture is ‘blindness’ and ‘trying to remove them from society means total confusion’. Turkish society is a complex one, whose needs cannot be articulated without intelligent reference to the cultural resources of its people. The Gülen Movement therefore attempts to mobilize the universal cultural elements within the traditions, codes and idioms of the past to evolve new symbolic systems that can, in important ways, stand out as independent and free of control and standardization by the traditions, codes and idioms that at present dominate in Turkey and elsewhere. This cultural understanding is by no means exclusivist as it expressly moves out, from within a psychologically secure, well-established heritage, towards global integration: ‘Originating in Turkey but becoming increasingly transnational, the Movement represents novel approaches to the relationship between faith and reason, peaceful coexistence in liberal democracies with religious diversity, education and spirituality.’ The approach contrasts sharply with the attitudes, demanding forgetting and selective memory, that were described in the sections on ‘laicism’ and ‘cultural revolution’ in the previous chapter. Sociologist Hendrick concludes that the Gülen Movement, as a ‘ service movement’ is ‘a civil/cosmopolitan mobilization […] in which Islamic morality and ethics might fuse with, rather than combat, the financial and political institutions of neo-liberal globalization”.
An approach that is resolute and consistent in its commitment to ‘fuse […] rather than combat’ most particularly requires opening up new channels of representation and winning access to hitherto excluded themes, projects and services. In an order open to civil society, initiatives like this should lead to reform and improvement of local and national decision-making processes. For the present, that is not the order that obtains in Turkey: rather, the state, with its internal combination of public intervention and private interests, generates pressures for standardization of the cultural space. These pressures affect all groups. The outcome is the reverse of ‘fusing’ or social cohesion; the segmentation or isolation of groups, the near impossibility of constructive encounters in the public space, has long had severely negative impacts on the nation’s development towards participatory democratic processes and distributive justice in respect of economic and social and political opportunity.
The Gülen Movement has systematically shunned contentious, political or direct action, preferring to remain, in principle and practice, non-adver sarial. It has, instead, in order to form and inform the public space, and to consolidate and revitalize participatory democratic processes, exerted itself in constructive efforts to draw contending individuals and groups to collaborate in a common spirit of service. A prominent example of these efforts is its establishment in Turkey of the Journalists and Writers Foundation ( JWF), which brings together academics, scholars, statesmen, and journalists who hold different, even conflicting, worldviews. Under the JWF a number of specific platforms were set up – for example, the Literature, Dialog Eurasia, and Abant platforms. These platforms were a pioneering venture when they started: ‘In regard to those attending and arrangements [this kind of association] had not been seen before in Turkey’. One sociologist commented appreciatively: ‘Scholar-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 platforms continue to bring urgent matters to the fore to be engaged with in a constructive spirit. They lead the public space in starting negotiations on issues that have caused tensions and clashes for decades. The ‘Abant Platforms’ in particular have been widely appreciated as an effective forum for airing dilemmas that many people in Turkish society longed to have openly discussed and resolved. The Movement has thus contributed to the training of a potential for coexistence, for a common sense of citizenship, without the need to clash and with the hope of mutual respect and compromise. Moreover, since the issues aired enter the public space they are presented to decision-making, which transforms the JWF initiatives into possibilities for social change without confronting (still less, seeking to invalidate) the legitimacy and authority of the decision-making apparatuses themselves. As spaces for speech and spaces for naming, these initiatives permit new words to be spoken and heard, different from the words that the dominant power groups in Turkey want to impose, and coming out of a rationale different from theirs. That is not naively ignoring the tendency of those dominant groups to assert hegemonic control over political mechanisms and processes; rather, it is seen, from within the Movement and outside, as teaching wisely and by example the proper role of social institutions, and thereby helping to define what participatory democracy in the country could become.
The JWF platforms generate and disseminate ideas, information, knowledge, and thereby contribute to an improved level of awareness of controversial issues. Through media outlets and other institutions – which will be described fully below (§2.3 and 5.2.4) – as well as the JWF platforms, Movement participants demonstrate a competence to redefine the problem field (spannungsfeld). Intellectuals from a wide spectrum of perspectives are engaged in this effort to improve awareness, and to contribute to the process of naming, of making distinctions, based on information. There is a difference between people being manipulated through the consumption of meanings imposed by external and remote powers, and their being able autonomously to produce and recognize meanings for their own individual and collective lives – only the latter constitutes a communicative action, ‘a consensual co-ordination of individually pursued plans of action’, making visible new powers and possibilities of handling systemic conflicts and new forms of social empowerment and responsibility in a complex society.
Some of the controversial issues aired had been ‘hidden’, in the sense that there was no accounting of them within the rationales of the decisionmaking apparatuses in Turkey, issues such as the ‘analysis of our social structure, religious consciousness and the international community’, and Turkey’s right to have a say in international affairs. As sociologist Vergin put it, people ‘always wanted to know and hear such things, but they came from a preacher and Islamic scholar, in such a simple but profound and intense way.’ The Movement’s addressing these ‘hidden’ issues helped to focus collective attention on the critical choices that the society needs to discuss and decide. Fethullah Gülen has spoken and written on a wide range of such matters – the individual, government, democracy, religion, culture, diversity, integration, alienation, the past and future, tradition and modernity, ethical values, education, tolerance, conflict or co-operation on current events, and so forth. However, Fethullah Gülen’s style of speech and the way he handles these themes is special. Political scientist Ateş commented that Fethullah Gülen ‘dwells more on what should be rather than what is’; Ünal and Williams conclude that he ‘deal[s] with problems or crises that are plaguing Turkey, not specific people, parties or the State’.
Indeed, others in Turkey who assume civic and political leadership, to the extent that they have been able even to broach the themes on which Fethullah Gülen has opened discussion, have done so by touching upon only the outward symptoms of the deeper conflicts and anxieties that affect the societal field. Doing that attracts and inflames collective attention, which has led at times to the development of opposition among different social groups, or counter-mobilization by the protectionist interests in power. Because the issues lie deep, an inappropriate framing of them does not engage the deeper resources of the society to gather and resolve them in ways that do not generate divisiveness and aggravate problems.
The Turkish public space or symbolic field has witnessed a growing tendency to assimilate some of the complex issues – ethnicity, religious observance, secularism, the role of the military in politics, societal cohesion and peace, work ethics, universal values – into the narrower arena of political competition. However, hardly any change has been witnessed, as a result of this politicization of the issues, in the way that public institutions actually function and operate. The long-term dimensions and entail of the underlying problems therefore continue to perplex the nation. Among the collective actors that take on such problems, the Movement has a marked difference in style and strategy. Agai (2002) notes that the Gülen Movement ‘is not ideological but rather seeks to educate people through flexible strategies’. Aslandoğan and Çetin (2006) make the same point more directly:
Rather than dealing with daily politics, the Gülen Movement makes the latent and dormant power in Turkish people visible and forces it to assume a shape in terms of educational, health and intercultural and interfaith services and institutions.
That is to say, the Movement does not contaminate its cultural and educational purposes with political tactics or political ambitions. It gives appropriate expression to the issues that need to be addressed, and calls for change through taking responsibility and dealing with individuals and their needs, rather than with (or against) political and governmental positions.
The Gülen Movement acts as an engine of transformation in the mindsets and attitudes of people. The cultural emphasis of its work raises awareness for the recognition of cultural production and its representation. As a by-product of that, it exposes the contradictions and the silences that the dominant apparatuses of the political system seek to camouflage. The processes of modernizing institutions and making them proficient and effective have undoubtedly gained in strength through the services provided or mediated by Movement participants, but, as Melucci has pointed out, the vested interest groups who need to hide their own neglect in these areas of service, and to hold down the status quo, artificially contrive new problems and new areas of conflict.
2.2. Cultural and symbolic production
Contemporary systems of production and management increasingly intervene in internal processes, in the formation of attitudes, desires and needs, in relational networks and symbolic structures across the whole socio-cultural field – this includes the construction of meanings, codes, public spaces, relations and needs in the lived world, and does not exclude the domains of the imagination and of spiritual reality. Large management projects require extensive control of systems of information, symbols, identities and social relationships. Tension and conflicts arise due to the ways in which management purposes and outcomes are conceived, and to the ways in which tensions and conflicts, and identities and needs, are defined. On the one hand, individuals must have substantial discretion over symbolic resources so that they can express and achieve their potential for autonomy and self-realization. On the other hand, the management effort, seeking (at least cost) to maintain cohesion, integration and order, looks to exert control across the very domains in which the meanings and motives of individual behavior are constituted. It is a dilemma of complexity. The dilemma is resolvable only through a virtuous circle of mobility and exchange (of information, ideas and personnel) between the managers and the managed, and a relationship between them of sustained mutual vigilance combined with mutual good faith and patience – the willingness, on occasions of unusual difficulty, to give each other benefit of the doubt. If a social order fails, overall, to provide for this individual autonomy along with harmonious integration of complexity and multiplicity, it results in exclusion and marginalization, and the fracturing of society into conflicting interest groups – a few very powerful ones, most others relatively very weak, all operating in a climate of distrust and hostility.
Viewing the recent history of Turkey in regard to the issue of faith, Bulaç observed: ‘[it is] a history of tension between people of faith, who would like to have a voice in the civil area, and the state society, which would like to transform the rest of the society in an authoritarian way.’ Viewing the same history in regard to political life and aspirations to democracy, it is clear that there has been substantial, repeated breakdown and failure: the country has experienced four military coups (in 1960, 1971, 1980, 1997) and several other interventions short of an overt coup; destructive and long-lasting armed conflicts of political left and right; ethnic and sectarian terrorism; severe segmentation between the elitist-statist-secularists and the grassroots of Anatolian society; and corruption on a worldbeating scale among top state officials. The dismay and heartache this produces was well-expressed by sociologist Vergin (1996):
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 here have both saddened and angered me for a long time... The roads to Turkey’s ability to be governed and to taking its rightful place in history have been blocked (or cut), and its political philosophy and foresight have atrophied.
In short, Turkey’s recent history has witnessed no virtuous circle reliably linking the state with its people, the managed with their managers. The Gülen Movement’s positive service-ethic can be understood as an offer to mend the broken circle, to re-unite the society, and to heal divisions between society and state. Former President Süleyman Demirel said about Fethullah Gülen that he is striving to ‘strengthen the Turkish nation’s unity and solidarity’. Through its discourse and actions the Movement has aimed to reawaken collective consciousness and direct attention to the radical social, cultural and spiritual dimensions of human needs, which the nation’s ‘politics’ systematically ignores or obscures.
The authoritarian elite’s approach to the management of the nation’s development has been consistently exclusionary – they have sought to impose in Turkey an order and a reality solely of their own making, often expressing it with impatient disdain for the doubts and reservations of those concerned about the ensuing loss of cultural integrity and historical continuity. The Gülen Movement as a collective cultural action symbolically reverses the naming imposed by the dominant protectionist interests, and it reveals the arbitrariness of that naming. It restructures reality using different perspectives, which lead to the crumbling, in the symbolic domain, of the monopoly of power over that domain exercised by a few. Some hopeful shifts in attitude have been observed as a result, both in the political arena and among the people as a whole. Political scientist Barton (2005), reflecting on the work of the Gülen Movement, concludes that it is ‘the sort of movement that offers Turkey’s (and the entire Muslim world’s) best hope of uniting Islam, modernization, and secular, liberal democracy’. Turkish society views ‘the new trend as the expression of a collective conscience and collective sentiment, common thoughts and feelings’. As the Movement’s discourse gained influence through the visibility of its actions and platforms, there was a change in public perception of Islam. Hitherto, there had been efforts, in the service of short-sighted interests, to propagate and manipulate negative images of Islam. Yet, these images were gradually modified. People – from left to right politically, from observant Muslims to ardent secularists, from elder statesmen to ordinary citizens, and from ordinary members to leaders of the non-Muslim communities in Turkey – came together in beginning to question the recent past, to see a different reality, and become open to change and renewal. Armenian Patriarch Mutafian said: ‘People who shared the same religion could not get together in this country [Turkey] until recent times. Now, people from different religions come together at the same dinner.’ He added: ‘The person to thank for this [development] is Fethullah Gülen and the Foundation [of Journalists and Writers] of which he is the honorary president. We followed the path opened by him.’
A prominent example of Fethullah Gülen’s personal participation in intercultural affairs (and of the concomitant opposition to it by the protectionist elite) was his meeting Pope John Paul II. Çandar (1998) interprets the Fethullah Gülen– Pope meeting as a major ‘development’ and sees the activities of the Gülen Movement as ‘closely related to Turkey’s future’. Commenting on the opposition to the meeting and the Movement generally, Çandar wrote:
At any rate, inside Turkey there is no ‘foundation of legitimacy’ in the public conscience for opposition with this intent. If it continues this path, Turkey will have chosen to be fully an isolationist–totalitarian regime. Those who follow such a path will be assumed to be guilty of having decided to destabilize Turkey or continue its ongoing instability. In this respect, the Fethullah Gülen–Pope meeting is a very important security measure for Turkey’s democratization. Indirectly, it is an important contribution toward Turkey becoming a stable country.
Modernity has accelerated fragmentation of identities and breakdown of unitary symbolic space. It has radically drained and emptied the individual’s life of the symbolic functions which used to enable (and condition) social expression, imagination, and aspirations for successful integration into the social fabric. Individuals and groups are forced into an anxious state of ‘rapid change, flux and uncertainty’. Sociologist Göle (1996), reflecting on two decades of confusion and uncertainty among her generation, wrote:
We who have lived in Turkey during the last twenty years have been in a state of shock. We have been swinging back and forth between the desire to catch up with the new age and to know ourselves; wavering among ambition, anger, and excitement; and trying to open a path by hand between our spirit and the world. We are fighting over our unofficial identity and unclear design.
She adds that Fethullah Gülen ‘made [this modern condition of ours] meaningful by a deep mixture [of] conservative thought and liberal tolerance’. Fethullah Gülen’s work indeed focuses on precisely this symbolic reintegration, taking on the task of healing the breach and remaking one’s world. It encourages people to adopt new ways of naming and perceiving reality. It enables people to recompose the various parts of the self and orient their strategies towards recovery of the dimensions of symbolic existence and presentation. It teaches both the theoretical and practical aspects of how to become a rounded human being, how to educate the mind, heart and spirit in order to lead a fulfilled life and be oneself while being with and for others. Göle maintains that ‘Fethullah Gülen’s thought favors individual modesty, social conservatism and Islam in the founding of civilization’, and that ‘his thought gives examples of [both] modest and tolerant people who have not lost their connection with God, and of the individuals worn down by the suppression of tradition and modern excess’. Another sociologist, Özdalga (2005) argues:
Turkey is a country where the nation state has so far not been able to fully integrate its citizens or to meet the demands of society at large; for various reasons – poverty, education, ethnic or religious difference – large sections of the population still experience alienation in relation to the institutions of the nation-state. This is often compensated for through ethnic, local and/or family ties.
Besides such ties of family and ethnicity there are other relational networks, as Özdalga’s analysis shows, through which the Movement acts to counter alienation – such as weekly neighborhood meetings, professional associations, parent-school associations and so on – and operational values such as consultation and collective decision making, collective ownership, and community. In interpreting and tackling the problems of modernity, the Movement helps to formulate solutions at the level of individual autonomy that can prepare for the development and integration of the individual into the modern nation-state and the twenty-first century global habitus. The importance, in Fethullah Gülen’s understanding, of a commitment to dialog, plurality and peaceful coexistence has been ably summarized by Paul Weller:
Fethullah Gülen’s thought offers intellectual and spiritual resources that enable us better to understand the one world in which we all live, as well as to engage with the challenges that living in this world brings. Such resources are needed for understanding the nature and dynamics of the world, and for enabling us to resist the kind of disastrous outcomes which some argue are inevitable, which many others fear, and which all of us have a responsibility and a possibility to do something about.
The Movement affirms the need for autonomy and meaning; it calls for awareness of the limits of human action and life; it requires recognition for the spiritual dimensions of human experience and aspirations, strongly commending the search for a new scientific paradigm to accommodate those aspirations; and it demands respect for different cultures and historical and cultural continuity, peaceful coexistence, and religious broad-mindedness. The strength of this discourse is demonstrated through practical actions, whose outcomes in turn reinforce (and through feedback help ameliorate) that discourse. For just that reason the Movement is strongly mobilized against – namely, that it seems to succeed in challenging and reversing the logic of the dominant instrumental rationality. Social movements, as Melucci explains, by revealing the negligence in power (and the shadowy side of its dealings – misuse of office, authority and resources) enable people to take responsibility for their own action. Movements strive symbolically to name, to elaborate codes and languages, in order to define reality their way. They reverse the representation of the world served up by the dominant models, refusing the latter’s claim to uniqueness; and they offer, through social practices and lived experiences, alternatives to replace the predominant communicative codes and objects of thought. Thus, social movements, of which the Gülen Movement is one particular example, introduce a new paradigm, a redefinition of public space, for norms of perception and production of reality beyond what is inscribed in (or prescribed by) the hegemonic discourse.
2.3. Information and media
Symbolic and informational resources are a new kind of power. Inequality used to be explained and measured primarily as an outcome of the unequal control and distribution of economic resources. It is now also explained and measured as an outcome of having, or not having, a substantial and specific control over the codes and symbolic resources that frame information. There are organizers of information directing its flow and targeting a widening range of social or administrative fields. Their access to the codes and symbolic resources corresponds to a distribution of social positions, power, and interests. Dependence and manipulation are ever present, and symbolic multipliers render the effects of communication unpredictable and disproportionate, and deeply influence politics in critical areas of social life. Being deprived of information is not the problem – even in the shantytowns of the poorest cities in the world, people today are widely exposed to media output – the problem lies in their not having any power to organize this information to serve their own needs. Thus, in the modern world, being dominated is being excluded from the power of naming. It is the unreflected consumption of the naming which frames human experiences and relationships and thereby exerts control over their meaning.
From 1995–2001, the elite and the media in Turkey functioned as a close-knit team, deliberately and systematically distorting reality. About this period, when Turkey was counted among countries with the most corrupted state systems, the Center for Strategic and International Studies ( CSIS) in Washington reported that ‘the powerful Turkish media barons praised and protected politicians with whom they enjoyed close and profitable business relations, [and] jointly cultivated’ the impression of an unusual ‘economic stability with success and determination. [...] The corrupt quadrangle of businessmen, media, politicians, and bureaucrats, with its tentacles in Turkish political and economic life’ played a key part in manipulating and misreporting news; they transformed public and political life into a field of tension and conflicts and ‘produced an atmosphere of crisis in Turkey’.
On a ‘Live TV’ discussion program on Kanal 7 on May 5, 2006, media and bank owner Dinç Bilgin confessed to how this many-tentacled quadrangle, of which he was a member, became instrumental in smear campaigns against journalists and other civilians, how they received military memos and commands from certain generals among the chiefs of staff, how ‘a media cartel’ was instrumental in the fall of the government and a party to interference in tenders for government contracts. In essence, then, the problem concerns the greater or lesser visibility of codes, the pertinent decision- making processes, and a complex game of interactions between the vested interests and ideologically motivated protectionist groups.
Through its skills, the autonomy of its language, and the complexity of the exchanges and organizational strategies that characterize its work, the Gülen Movement has been able to influence the debate about the ways in which reality is constructed by the Turkish media. By filtering imposed messages, activating everyday communicative networks, exercising choice among the various media available, and professionally interacting with the media system, Movement participants have themselves become a new medium in the construction of public discourse.
In terms of electronic communications and the internet, the Movement was the first Turkish social actor to make itself available online and free to the masses. Fethullah Gülen was also the first preacher to have his lectures made available in audio and video cassettes to the general public in Turkey. He encourages the use of mass media to inform people about matters of individual and collective concern. When talking about the qualities of the new type of people who would strive to extend altruistic services to all humanity, he says:
To stay in touch and communicate with people’s minds, hearts, and feelings, these new men and women will use the mass media and try to establish a new power balance of justice, love, respect, and equality among people.
Fethullah Gülen communicates to a broad cross-section of people through media set up by Movement participants since the early 1980s. He regularly contributes editorials and other writings to several journals and magazines. He has written more than forty books, hundreds of articles, and recorded thousands of audio and video cassettes. Fethullah Gülen has given speeches and interviews covering many pressing social, cultural, religious, national and international issues. These have then been serialized in different dailies or compiled into books that are best-sellers in Turkey. His writings are available in translation in the major world languages, in print and electronic form through numerous websites.
Movement participants established a national and international television station – Samanyolu Televizyonu ( STV), a major news agency – Cihan Haber Ajansı ( CHA), an independent daily newspaper ( Zaman) with a daily circulation of over half a million copies nationally, several leading magazines, and a prominent publishing house, The Light, Inc.
Zaman was established in 1986 and was ‘the first to publish a special US edition in North America. Worthy and unsensational, Zaman is the only newspaper to print local Turkic language editions all over the Turkic world’. It was the first Turkish daily newspaper to make itself available online, which it did in 1995. Special international editions for other foreign countries are printed in local alphabets and languages. The paper is acknowledged for its serious, fair, and balanced reporting. It has won national and international awards for its modern page layout and its contributions to intercultural understanding through its foreign editions.
The media outlets all report on and disseminate educational and cultural activities as well as news and the perspectives of Movement participants. They are formally independent of one another; however, they are informed of each other’s activities through diffused, multiple, educational, cultural and professional networks of volunteers, who set a good example for one another, provide alternative perspectives and forums that can be emulated or improved on by others. These media outlets have proved to be very effective during times when the values, services, and institutions of the Movement were misreported by others. They aim to be visible to the decision-making apparatuses, which govern the major media networks and define the political agenda, so that the controversial issues and debates dividing society should not be ‘muffled and veiled behind the facade of formal neutrality and apparent self-referentiality’. In addition, they respect and encourage the public discourse which is created in everyday networks by citizens.
Turkey came to know the ‘contradictions between media–military relations’, as well as the centers and interests which decide on the language to be used and the information to be organized and broadcast, during the most politically and economically turbulent years before and after the February 28 ‘ soft coup’. There were centers controlling language and related information technologies; and there were financial decision-making centers which moved enormous amounts of economic resources through the production and manipulation of information. This was the time when ‘impropriety was maximized. Some of the people in power at the time, both in the civilian and military bureaucracies, took advantage of the situation’. Columnist Bilici lamented: ‘only a small section of our media can stand on [universal] principles in the face of a major crisis, such as the […] February 28 Process […] once again journalism gives way to ideological blindness.’
What became visible at this time were new forms of domination, whose principal power rested in the power to provide patterns of thought for the people. New centralities and marginalities were defined by this privileged control over the production and diffusion of information, as the power behind the media system attempted to impose patterns of cognition and communication which would work far beyond the specific contents diffused as news. A smear campaign against certain prominent journalists and intellectuals was initiated to inflame public opinion. Some journalists were alleged to have provided support for a terrorist organization in exchange for money. A draft proposal for a law that would ‘purge the state institutions of thousands of civil servants who want to destroy the state’ was prepared by a group of chiefs of staff who had masterminded the Feb ruary 28 coup and who later held senior positions at the companies charged with embezzlement and corruption.
Later on, it was discovered that the entire affair was based on a military article that was called ANDIÇ, prepared by Deputy Chief of General Staff General Çevik Bir and General Secretary Major-General Erol Özkasnak. The same duo was instrumental in ensuring that the conspiracy made the headlines and many journalists were dismissed. Bir and Özkasnak personally took part in pressuring the media.
Political scientist Kuru lists the negative effects of the February 28 coup for the faith communities:
The WP–TPP coalition collapsed […] the WP was dissolved by the Constitutional Court. The […] process was very destructive for Islamic education and practicing Muslims in Turkey […] the headscarf was strictly banned at universities, the [state-run] Imam-Hatip secondary schools were closed […] teaching the Qur’an to children under age twelve became illegal. The military expelled allegedly Islamist and avowedly pious officers. […] pro-Islamic corporations and financial institutions faced official discrimination.
Among the individuals attacked, Fethullah Gülen was made the most prominent target. The media group owned by Dinç Bilgin, Atv, which was grossly engaged in the improprieties, broadcast two recordings of Fethullah Gülen. These had been crudely doctored to make him appear to be suggesting that Muslims should infiltrate state institutions. The broadcasts were made not on account of their ‘intrinsic’ news value, but according to the hidden priorities of interest groups and institutions. The intention was to divert public attention onto a prominent figure and thereby distract the masses, meanwhile rampant embezzlement, graft, and apportioning of SEEs, lands, banks, resources and wealth could go on unchecked. In conveying the doctored discourse, the media outlets concerned were exploiting the trust of the people and attempting to shape the attitudes of neutral parties who had hitherto looked favorably on Fethullah Gülen and the Movement. Ergun Babahan, chief editor and director of the media outlets of Dinç Bilgin, later gave a number of interviews to the media and press and wrote several articles about the events. He detailed how they became embroiled in the corruption schemes and attacks on faith communities at the request or command of certain military staff, who were driving the February 28 Process.
Gülen Movement participants, through the efforts of the media organs they had set up, proved themselves, and enabled neutral parties, no longer to be mere consumers of information, receivers of pre-fabricated news. They could no longer be wholly excluded from the discussion about the rationale that organizes the flow of information. They now have some measure of competence to influence that flow of information and the power to shape reality that it carries. Without denying the imbalance of power in this regard, the Movement as collective actor shows itself able at least to render that imbalance visible.
Today, smear campaigns are still used. The Movement attempts to remedy the situation through a growing skill in setting the formal preconditions for any discourse and practice. Every day more is being revealed by the Turkish media as a whole about the ideologically motivated schemes of generals ambitious for power and wealth.
Institutional actors claiming to play ‘the rules of the game’ and simultaneously undermining them is a profoundly anti-democratic characteristic. The rules by which the institutions are supposed to play are the necessary condition for holding the complexity of the social order together. The rules may be discussed and redefined as one goes along, but as long as they remain the rules, they must be respected; otherwise violence, in a subtle form, becomes the de facto rule, as was the case during the February 28 injustices. The state conservatism of those who masterminded the February 28 ‘ soft coup’ is clearly represented in their unscrupulous manipulation of images and information. It is very much manifest in content, verbal violence and schemes to kill, and behind it lies the conviction that, as far as great concentrations of power and wealth are concerned, there are in fact no rules with which they feel any obligation to comply against their will.
The contempt for such attitudes in the public space proves that they do not draw on a groundswell of general opinion or correspond to attitudes widespread in society. Rather, it reveals the limitations and narcissism of those institutional players’ worldview and their contempt for the rules. Unlawful dealings and interference with and subversion of proper procedures are still being gradually revealed in Turkey.
Journalists Birand (2001, 2006a) and Gülerce (2006) concur that ‘[those who] dared to engage in an unprecedented smear campaign’ went on to act in a way that ‘[did] not honor the armed forces’; instead of honoring and preserving its traditions, they had been ‘causing harm to that significant institution’. Such institutions do ‘not keep those [who are] not abiding by the established traditions or [who are] going beyond the mark, even though they are very much applauded for a while’. When the schemes planned and acted out by those generals and their team were later disclosed, and it became known that they did not act in accordance with publicly espoused military traditions, the military had to retire them, and they became an object of contempt in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of the public. Gülerce also makes the point (as did others) that such individuals and the teams under their command have damaged the good name of state institutions.
The columnist Kamış said of the working group within the military (self-styled the ‘West Working Group’) which masterminded the February 28 Process:
The group said this name epitomized their adherence to Western values because Westernization is one of the fundamental principles of the Turkish Republic. However, we now see that they don’t care about Western values. […] They are dreaming of a West devoid of democratization, individual rights, human rights, freedom of worship and civil initiative.
The task of safeguarding democracy means playing the democratic game to its fullest extent: it means demanding that all political players make the reasons for their positions and policies known to the public; it means ensuring that ‘the rules of the game’ are respected; it means struggling against the monopolization of information; it means opposing government policies constructively, i.e. by offering credible alternative policies. It means also that the autonomy of civil society actors must be respected, not by collapsing their concerns into the political arena, but by taking the trouble to respect their distance from that arena. Regrettably, the culture of special interest groups was, on February 28, ill-prepared to undertake the task of safeguarding democracy, for those groups have always sought to reduce everything produced in civil society to political in-fighting, threats or manipulation.
In the 1990s the production and dissemination of information in Turkey and the majority of Turkish media were monopolized by vested interests. When the Gülen Movement joined in the discussion in the media and in the production and dissemination of information, the one-sided game was spoiled. Media outlets set up by Movement participants have gained the trust of the masses and become positively influential in the construction of information and public space. This helps greatly to get nearer to the truth of issues and to rupture the façade behind which the vested interests scheme their schemes.
Vested interest and protectionist groups counter-mobilized during and after the February 28 Process, at the expense of the Turkish public. They collaborated to steal billions of dollars of public money behind a smokescreen of imaginary threats to the regime. They deployed the national security argument without scruple, combining with it accusations that their opponents were ‘reactionary’ and/or ‘subversive’. They got rid of the public servants who would not collaborate with their schemes and protectionist ideologies. They abused their authority and positions, which they claimed were to serve the nation, in order to eradicate its faith and faith communities. They seemed to be winning for some time; eventually, however, their true intentions and wrongdoings came out and, to their further embarrassment, continue to be revealed.
2.4. Social mobility and professionalism
If the formalized institutions of the state do not deliver the services or standard of services for whose management and regulation they are responsible, collective (or, rarely, individual) actors take on the relevant tasks. The reason for that is need: society, especially complex modern society, cannot function effectively without those services. To the extent that collective actors are successful in delivering the needed services, it puts pressure – as we noted in the previous section – on the state and its formalized institutions to assimilate the themes and ideas and the operational values associated with the successful delivery of services. To the extent that a socio-political order is open, this results in amelioration and modernization of the state institutions and agencies concerned – political, economic, cultural – indeed, in some open societies, voluntary local actions have even led to improvements in police functions and practice, a service that almost universally operates as a state monopoly. However, to the extent that a socio-political order is not open, the success of collective actors in managing and providing needed services is perceived as a threat to the authority (perhaps even the legitimacy) of the state, which may then act to disparage and shut down the SMOs engaged in service provision. To understand and evaluate the impact a social movement has on society and state in this regard, cultural codes and the movement’s ability to produce meanings for society as a whole are highly relevant. In the previous section, we discussed some aspects of that in relation to framing of information and media activity. Here, we look at the relationship between collective action, professionalization and social mobility.
Social mobility is important for a number of reasons, the most relevant of which for the Gülen Movement is that: ‘the more mobile a society is, the more open and fairer [it is shown to be], and that mobility affects the way networks and SMOs are formed, and their size and shape, and the professionalism in them.’ Movement participants have long been engaged in non-formalized, philanthropic or altruistic services, which has entailed an extensive, albeit partly invisible, cultural training in new (mostly vocational) skills and intellectualization. The Movement has also been strongly committed to professional services, including retraining processes aimed at better-employed actors in the market and SMOs. Well-educated and qualified members doing proficient work incidentally helps promote the image of the Movement within the larger social field.
In all domains, the Movement has consistently rejected the use of confrontational or direct action tactics. It has instead focused its energies on establishing new enterprises and co-operatives, agencies for personal development, in-service training, and job placement. ‘[It] has proved able to unite and mobilize large numbers of people from many diverse backgrounds to work on significant social projects.’ This is evident in sectors such as education, journalism, television production, radio broadcasting, co-operatives, the accommodation industry (building houses, hostels and hotels), health therapy, and banking/finance. Accordingly, one of the effects of the Movement has been modernization of the society through the expansion of innovative occupational sectors, with notably high turnover of personnel in communications, education and welfare services.
The work of the Gülen Movement, as demonstrated by its sustained outcomes, leads steadily and reliably to modernizing innovation, to more balanced distribution of opportunity and effective welfare services. The scale and professional quality of the services managed by Movement participants, outside as well as inside Turkey, have been widely acknowledged. Their administrative and operational successes have been achieved in extremely competitive environments, and sustained for over thirty years. The successful secular education provided by the Fethullah Gülen-inspired secondary- and tertiary-level institutions, the service-ethic mind-set associated with universal moral values grounded in Islam, combined with the cultural and professional training gained in both the receiving and the providing of education, has led to a marked horizontal and vertical social mobility in Turkey. It has contributed, in short, to a modernization of society – that is not something that could have been anticipated by the protectionist and vested interest groups within the power establishment in Turkey; it is an outcome that runs counter to their assumptions (and prejudices) about any mobilization that strives to make an intelligent, enriching use of the human and cultural resources indigenous to the lands and history of the Turkish people.
The positive outcomes of the Gülen Movement’s work – and that of other collective actors similarly concerned to, and engaged in, trying to make things better – can hold only so long as the state does not impose a bureaucratic centralist approach on society as a whole. Such an approach extends arbitrary controls, impedes participatory processes (and the democratic rights expressed in those processes), and strengthens the protectionist mechanisms and exclusivist values that make society less and less ‘open’ (in the sense explained above). (Just how protectionist mechanisms function in Turkey will be illustrated in the section on the February 28 Process, pp. 89–95.)
The success of the Movement’s mobilization has in some quarters, perhaps predictably, evoked considerable hostility. Leaving aside envy, which is simply a psychological issue, there are a number of political, ideological, and financial factors motivating this hostility. First of all, any collective mobilization – not only or particularly the Gülen Movement – not initiated by the protectionist groups within the power establishment is viewed with disfavor by the establishment, because it tends to regard any independent collective action as a potential threat to itself as establishment. If an independent collective mobilization proves its success or efficacy, the power establishment mobilizes against it because it encroaches upon territory that the vested interests groups need to monopolize in order to pursue particular projects and schemes they have in hand and in order to retain their hold on the levers of power. The Gülen Movement’s projects and activities have educated and trained many thousands of people, provided them with moral orientation and guidance that makes them orderly, law-abiding citizens, an effort that has improved and modernized society, widened opportunity, etc. In doing all this, the Movement has systematically avoided contentious or adversarial action, so that its work should strengthen public order and social cohesion, and not be used (or construed) as a threat to the power or authority of the state and its institutions. Nevertheless, the Movement constitutes an independent mobilization, moreover one that draws on cultural codes and traditions that the protectionist groups within the establishment wish to suppress. That is why they particularly and very publicly chose to target Fethullah Gülen himself and the Movement as a smokescreen to distract public attention (and legal scrutiny) away from their own financial and ideological schemes. Political scientist Yavuz explains:
Fethullah Gülen represents a major threat for these people, because they want to see a backward, radical Islam, in order to justify repression – whereas with Fethullah Gülen, you do not get that. [...] Fethullah Gülen tries to educate the periphery by teaching them foreign languages and providing scholarships for study in foreign countries. This angers the establishment as well, because they want to control the country and not to share the resources with the rest of the population. […] Fethullah Gülen was on the side of the poor, while the establishment did not want to see his movement opening up educational opportunities for the marginal sectors of Turkish society. This frustrated militant secularists in Turkey.
2.5. Reflexivity or symbolic potential
An action is said to be generative of reflexivity or symbolic potential if it enables individuals, within the limits set at any given moment by the environment, to affirm and express their autonomy, their being different from other actors within a system, and to own, produce and represent to others the meaning of their action. Symbolic potential is distinct from the specific content of the action itself and constitutes the collective identity. It is enhanced by belonging to organizational and communications networks, since such networks yield solidarity and build resistance against impositions (of identity or meaning) from above by remote, impersonal power.
The reflexivity of the Gülen Movement is very high, as its collective identity is not based on primary associations – gender, age, locality, ethnicity or religion – but on projects and services for the common and collective good. As Kebede and colleagues (2000) explain: ‘[Reflexivity is] both the product and the cause of collective action […] created in the midst of collective actions, and the process of maintaining [it] stimulates further collective action.’
Being in the service of the common good, not in the service of a private cause, is a particular emphasis of the approach and actions of the Gülen Movement, and a major theme in its discourse. Without reciprocal recognition between collective actors, there can only be oppression and repression, emptying the social field, in which collective identity is produced, of meaning and the potential for positive, fruitful interactions. The Gülen Movement affirms its belonging to the shared culture of the society and its acceptance of the political and cultural diversity of Turkey: ‘[It] can live fruitfully in and contribute to secular and religiously plural democracies.” It does not deny others’ identities. It refuses adversarial discourse and contentious action, whether lawful or unlawful. Nevertheless, according to Özdalga even though ‘the Fethullah Gülen community neither socially nor economically differs markedly from the established elite’, that elite does not recognize the Movement except as ‘the adversary’. This indicates a failure of political (as well as moral) imagination, and a readiness to conceive difference only in terms of conflict. The harm in this attitude lies in the tendency of conflict – whether it concerns material or symbolic resources – to transgress the system’s shared ‘rules of engagement’. An example of this is when Fethullah Gülen and the Movement were attacked, apparently by the Atv media group. In this attack the Movement’s opponents, hiding their identity and motives behind the Atv coverage, sought to create a distorted picture of Fethullah Gülen’s and the Movement’s motives and actions. Thus, ‘Fethullah Gülen himself and his community find themselves in a conflict to affirm their identity, which has been denied them by the opponents’.
The protectionist political elite within the Turkish establishment collaborates with the interest groups mostly formed out of the so-called ‘68 generation’. The experiences of that generation resulted in ideological readings of reality – dogmatism, separatism, sectarianism, violent clashes and armed conflict – that still haunt and prevent the elite’s thinking from keeping abreast of the changing terms of social, economic and political realities in Turkey. The statist, elitist, leftist, militant secularists in Turkey failed to produce either political ideas or the tools with which ideas can be put into practice. They failed to deliver, in other words, not just an alternative point of view but also the means whereby it could be made practicable. They were unable to produce a political design that comprised instruments and models of transformation compatible with the historical, economic, and social context. Also, the effects of their actions at the systemic level did not enable cultural innovation or institutional modernization. Eventually, that inability reduced them to ‘opposition’ in the Turkish Parliament and a minority voice in the wider society; their position and programs are mostly articulated and projected from within the Republican People’s Party, or simply ‘the left’ in Turkey. Political scientist Ergil has summed up the intellectual sterility of ‘the left’ in this way:
First, there is no opposition in the political parties that claim to be the ‘opposition’. Secondly, the opposition does not have a language of its own other than merely criticizing the government for whatever it does on a daily basis although they would do the same when and if they are ever in power. Thirdly, none of the opposition parties or institutions, including the secularist bureaucracy, has an alternative economic program to back up their alternative political positions. Fourth, most of the opposition parties do not have a definite or definable social basis (supporting social-economic groups).
So this group did not contribute much to the development of reflexivity in the larger societal context or social cohesion. It has become a means and source of polarization, segmentation and tension in Turkey. The ‘opposition’ has in practice decayed into a counter-mobilization against all except themselves. That counter-mobilization is especially targeted on religion, religious people, and all modernizing efforts and projects originating from the faith-inspired communities. That is the context of their making Fethullah Gülen and the Movement their major ‘adversary’.
Not all of the ’68 generation have remained intellectually stuck. Some have come to approach certain issues, and especially religion, differently. One of them, political scientist and columnist Alpay said: ‘our eyes opened a little more’, ‘society could not be understood without understanding religion’, and ‘religion is not the people’s opiate, but it might be society’s mortar’. Denying the secularists’ ‘conspiracy theories’ about Fethullah Gülen, he affirms that Fethullah Gülen separates religion from party politics and the state:
I perceive Hodjaefendi [Fethullah Gülen] as a man of religion who separates religion from politics, opposes a culture of enmity that can polar ize the nation, and contributes to our understanding of Islam with his tolerance. His efforts should be respected.
On the accusation that Fethullah Gülen aimed to turn Turkey into a religious state, the leftist-liberal editor-journalist Çevik commented:
All these [allegations] are absurd. Everyone knows Fethullah Gülen has been preaching tolerance and goodwill. He has always encouraged dialogue not only between the believers and non-believers but also among [members of] religions. That is why he met the Pope and sowed the seeds of inter-religious dialogue. [...] Is it wise to push around a person who is obviously not a terrorist? Are we doing a service to our country by discouraging his followers to push ahead with Fethullah Gülen’s project to raise a new generation of well-educated Turks who respect moral values as well?
Morris, writing in the Guardian (2000), said about the leftist Bülent Ecevit, who resisted suggestions by the generals who masterminded the February 28 coup that Fethullah Gülen was a threat:
The Prime Minister Ecevit, who has made his reputation as a staunch secularist, is one of Mr. Fethullah Gülen’s many fans. In particular, Mr. Ecevit has spoken of his admiration for the network of schools and colleges that [the] Fethullah Gülen [Movement] has established across Turkey and [abroad].
At the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2000, Ecevit stressed in his speech, as a matter of pride and prestige, the importance of Fethullah Gülen-inspired schools being all over the world, and how these schools contribute to the cultures and well-being of Turkey and other countries.
It says much of the Gülen Movement’s reflexivity, and its success in weakening or removing barriers between people, that it received recognition from such unexpected sources. It had enabled even those who have no part in its work to reflect on the irrational polarization, rigid separation and closure between different collective entities in Turkish society. The term used to denote such polarization is ‘segmentation’. It takes account of the degree and size of barriers that separate social groupings to explain mobilization: the higher the degree of segmentation, the denser the resulting network of associational and community affiliation that takes place behind them; the more intense the collective participation in this network of relations, the more rapid and durable will be the mobilization of a movement. It is instructive to note how and by whom the segmentation in Turkish society is produced and sustained and how third parties react to that.
The February 28 coup is referred to, by Turkish and non-Turkish scholars, as Turkey’s ‘witch hunt’ period, or its ‘ McCarthyism’. Even before that period, Sabah columnist Mengi (1995) maintained that what Fethullah Gülen started can lead to a much sounder deterrence against religious fundamentalism than that which the state has produced. The door he opened can be a stage on the road to having the chance to live Islam within our own national identity. To open the people’s way and secure peace and tolerance, religion must be protected by contemporary thinkers and institutions. If the developments of the past few days have taught us about this need, how fortunate we are.
In an article written in 2000, rhetorically titled ‘Wasn’t Fethullah Gülen Supposed to Be a Saviour?’, Birand queried the logic of what was going on:
Up until only a few years ago, Fethullah Gülen was portrayed as a major bulwark against religious extremism. Now, an ‘elimination’ operation has been launched. Something strange is going on. […] If Fethullah Gülen was a ‘hazard’, if his schools were providing the kind of education that conflicted with the secular system, then why was he treated as a ‘saviour’ at that time? If he was not a ‘hazard’, why are efforts being made to ‘eliminate’ him today? There is something strange about all that.
He concluded with the question: ‘If Fethullah Gülen had committed a crime, why did the authorities wait until today? [...] To sum up, a highly dangerous process has begun.’
Fethullah Gülen and Movement participants restructured and revived collective energies through the formation of new platforms, identities and new collective services. They activated everyday communicative networks, and succeeded in raising new elites and intellectuals. Their antagonists, by contrast, were being questioned, even mocked, by some formerly from among them. Social scientist Yılmaz has shown that Fethullah Gülen’s discourse and practice have obtained the support of many well-known liberal intellectuals and former Marxists and listed a good number of them. All those people now affirm and accept that the solution to Turkey’s problems depends on reaching a consensus. Moreover, some influential scholars, deemed to be ‘Islamist’ and known as such among Western academic circles, have also modified their discourse and action in line with Fethullah Gülen and express ideas and attitudes different from their earlier positions. Journalist Yagiz (1997) pointed out that Fethullah Gülen had aimed at, and succeeded in, bringing different segments of society together for the common good, in contrast to those who divide and keep people in their different camps in tense opposition:
Fethullah Gülen wants to bring secularists and anti-secularists, who have been artificially separated on this issue, together on common ground. He says: ‘Secularism should not be an obstacle to religious devoutness, nor should devoutness constitute a danger to secularism.’
While the reflexivity or symbolic potential of the Gülen Movement is increasing and playing a reconciliatory and mediating role between strongly segmented communities or groups, the reflexivity of the protectionist group is failing and the rifts they cause enlarging. Özdalga (2005) affirms that the Gülen Movement plays ‘a mediating role in the civilizing process’ and predicts that ‘what the group or movement represents’ may lead some to ‘counteract’. ‘By attacking Fethullah Gülen from all such fronts, they must also be trying to frighten those intellectuals and politicians who give support to the activities that he has recommended.’
2.6. Transnational projects and recognition
Part of the reputation of the Gülen Movement is owed to the success of the collective services and symbolic potential produced by institutions and SMOs outside Turkey. Its transnational and joint projects have yielded significant recognition and co-operation from foreign sources. That success in part motivates the counter-mobilization in Turkey.
The business, educational and interfaith organizations operating across economic, political and cultural boundaries work within a common rationale based on knowledge, skills and shared ethical values. The core of the Movement is an educative mobilization which addresses time, space, relations between people, the self, and the affective deep structure of individual behavior. Its rationale therefore does not exhibit change, whether in Turkey or anywhere else.
Fethullah Gülen encourages people to serve humanity through education, intercultural and interfaith activities and institutions, in order thereby to lessen the gaps between peoples and to establish bridges for the common good and peace. He has explained that society’s three greatest enemies are ignorance, poverty, and internal schism, which knowledge, work-capital, and unification can eliminate. Ignorance is the most serious problem, and it is defeated through education, which has always been the most important way of serving others. It is the most effective vehicle for change – regardless of whether it is in Turkey or abroad, and whether or not people have systems working or failing – as the solution of every problem in human life ultimately depends on the initiative and capacities of human beings themselves. Poverty is mitigated through work and the possession of capital, justly deployed in the service of others; and internal schism and separatism are vanquished by striving, through forbearance, tolerance and dialog, for unity. These principles apply equally outside Turkey as within it. The Movement’s non-violent and peace-making approach and vision have been widely acknowledged and appreciated.
Now that we live in a global village, Fethullah Gülen argues, the best way to serve humanity is to establish dialog with other civilizations, to come together on some common ground, with mutual understanding and respect, and thus to work for peace, the co-operation of diverse peoples, and the prevention of the predicted clash of civilizations. Fethullah Gülen has stressed this consistently in his writing:
We can, by coming together, stand up against those misguided souls and skeptics to act as breakers, barriers if you will, against those who wish to see the so-called clash of civilizations become a reality.
To ensure the understanding and tolerance necessary for securing the rights of and respect for others, Fethullah Gülen particularly urges the social elite, community leaders, industrialists and businessmen to support quality education. This has enabled the Movement to establish several hundred educational institutions in Turkey and other countries. It is important to be aware that ‘the schools inspired by Fethullah Gülen’s educational understanding are not religious or Islamic. Instead, they are secular private schools inspected by state authorities and sponsored by parents and entrepreneurs. They follow secular, scientific, state-prescribed curricula and internationally recognized programs’. The students and graduates of many of these institutions, in Turkey, the Balkans, Europe, Africa, Central Asia and the Far East, continue to take top honors in university placement tests and consistently finish at the top in International Science Olympics, producing a number of world champions, especially in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology.
After some initial disquiet on the part of some commentators, the schools became a means for the Gülen Movement to gain recognition for its identity. When doubts were raised about the effects of the schools in 1999, Metin Bostancıoğlu, the National Education Minister of the leftist coalition at the time, said: ‘There is no problem in the Turkish [Fethullah Gülen-inspired] schools, but there are problems at home [in the state schools in Turkey].’ He noted that ‘there is not a single school in the records of the National Education Ministry which is registered in the name of Fethullah Gülen’; rather, ‘they are all registered in the name of foundations’. He stressed that ‘the ministry carries out the necessary controls in the schools and the hostels’ in partnership ‘with local authorities’, and that ‘mathematics, physics, and English courses are good at the schools’. Moreover, Bostancıoğlu made a particular point of affirming that the schools have no hidden agenda:
I believe that the children are grown up well at [these] schools. The children are successful in the university entrance exams. The schools follow the curriculum. I do not know any hidden targets of schools.
Columnist Özgürel stated (2000) that ‘ Ankara [i.e. the Turkish state] cannot find a concrete complaint or crime by which it can take over the schools’. Faced with the concerns raised by a few about the schools, Fethullah Gülen promised that if anyone could should show that the schools were teaching anything opposed to modern Turkish and democratic values, he would immediately advise people to close the schools. In a letter sent to the secretary of Chief of Staff General Çevik Bir of Turkey, he wrote: ‘If the Turkish State and authorities would give guarantees on covering the expenses of continuing [the] education and on keeping the standard of education at those schools at least as high as it is, the schools would be handed over to the State.’ Cenk Koray, one of the journalists who visited the schools outside Turkey, concluded:
Instead of binding these schools to the Ministry of Education, we should allow Fethullah Gülen to administer the state schools in Turkey! A flower is not easily grown in a swamp. We are trying our best to pull up the flowers, make them fade and destroy them! What a shame! [...] A Russian official succinctly stated the essence of this work: ‘There are two important events in Russian life: One of these is Gagarin’s being sent into space before the Americans, and the other is the opening of these schools.’ If foreigners are thinking like this, what are we doing?
Under the headline ‘Ambassadors back Fethullah Gülen schools in Asia’, The Turkish Daily News reported (in 2000) the positive effect of the schools outside Turkey on the country’s foreign relations
In order to give a new impetus to Turkey’s relations with Central Asian and Caucasian countries, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs held advisory meetings in which Turkey’s ambassadors to these countries participated, and then a report was prepared. The report said that Fethullah Gülen schools in those countries had been playing a positive role in Turkey’s relations with those governments.
In the same year, Birand reported: ‘Fethullah Gülen[-inspired] schools were being praised, even the children of military personnel were enrolling in those schools abroad, [and] the reports our ambassadors abroad sent home on these schools were full of praise.’ Many other people from all walks of life have also visited these schools and witnessed the quality of education and the positive change in those students and the peoples affected, and expressed their approval. The Kyrgyz Constitutional Court President Bayekova described Fethullah Gülen as a person of science, peace, and tolerance. Remarking on the international importance of Fethullah Gülen’s work, Bayekova said:
We saw in Fethullah Gülen an example that, if a person wants, he can achieve as much on his own as a government does. We can establish peace and dialogue if we want. We, as Kyrgyz, work hard to fulfill Fethullah Gülen’s goals.
The Romanian commission of UNESCO presented Fethullah Gülen with an award for his remarkable efforts in activities concerned with dialog and tolerance and his efforts toward co-operation and peace between the nations of the world. In a 2003 report prepared for the RAND Corporation, public policy expert Cheryl Benard stated:
Fethullah Gülen puts forward a version of Islamic modernity that is strongly influenced by Sufism and stresses diversity, tolerance, and non-violence. His writings have inspired a strong multinational following and have proven attractive to young people.
So much positive acknowledgement and recognition outside Turkey of the success of the services and SMOs inspired by the Gülen Movement has provoked anxiety in the protectionist elite and vested interest groups. These groups prefer to isolate Turkey from world realities, as it is then easier for them to impose their control and authority on Turkish society. While they are not recognized for their contribution to any international achievement, they counter-mobilize against others who are, in order to retain their status, in Turkey and the international arena, as the single voice and authority acting on behalf of Turkish people. The capacity of the participants and SMOs in the Gülen Movement to outdo the elite in educational, intellectual, scientific and cultural services and to participate effectively in the international arena has symbolically revealed the elite’s limitations. This hurts the elite’s standing in the eyes of the people (within Turkey and abroad), something that it finds an intolerable irritant.
2.7. Altruistic action and its symbolic challenge
Altruistic action is dealt with here briefly and only in relation to countermobilization: how mobilization is encouraged and framed through altruistic services and why it is taken as a symbolic challenge by the protectionist vested interests. The concept of ‘offering’ and symbolic challenge will be further dealt with in §4.1.5.
Fethullah Gülen’s understanding of duty, to serve humanity especially in the field of education, ‘permits no expectation of material or political gain. Sincerity and purity of intention should never be harmed or contaminated.’ Educationalist Woodhall (2005) explains further:
Fethullah Gülen’s philosophy of education is not utilitarian, nor a social and political activity which can be divorced from the rest of his philosophy or faith, but a firmly integrated and well-developed component of his world view. [...] He indicates that the means must be as valid as the end, apparent or material success is not the only measure [...]
In the same vein, Tekalan, another educationalist, also confirms that the purpose of the movement ‘is to ensure respect for objective and universal human values, to never have ulterior motives to seek material interests nor to impose any ideology or to seize power through politics in any country’.
For over forty years, Fethullah Gülen has urged his audiences ‘to achieve the right balance of social justice between the individual and community; to develop and advance in every individual and the whole nation feelings of love, respect, altruism, striving for the sake of others, sacrificing their own material and non-material benefits and aspirations for the sake of others’. Sociologist Tarcan (1998) asks rhetorically why anyone should be disturbed by altruistic services and so vehemently oppose them:
Who can object to raising youth who use science and the technology it gave birth to for the good of humanity, scientists respectful of moral principles, administrators who serve people sincerely, and officials and managers who do not steal and abuse their position but rather understand administration to mean serving people?
This understanding of service is geared primarily to ‘offering’ in Turkey and abroad. It is a mobilization that presents alternative models of a kind that state systems cannot replicate. That is why it has attracted broad attention, in favor and against, within a short period of time. Melucci explained that ‘offering’ represents a symbolic challenge to the dominant cultural codes and the customary (so-called ‘rational’ self-interest) basis of strategic and instrumental logic in complex societies; the unilateral power of giving (for nothing, sometimes in defiance of immediate self-interest), and thereby generating and providing cultural models, constantly results in a movement’s predominance in societies. The reason is that the autonomous and gratuitous (‘for nothing’) production of cultural models is neither motivated nor regulated, nor can be side-tracked, by cost–benefit calculations.
In the eyes of those who for years have exploited and usurped Turkey’s wealth and resources, the generations raised and those yet to be raised among the Gülen Movement are a challenge to their way of thinking and rationale. They have found their logic upset. For, while they seek to siphon money and resources illegally from the state and people’s pockets, others have begun instead to construct alternate modes of behavior and generate alternative meanings. This offers a symbolic challenge to the rationality of calculation, established bureaucratic routines, and means-end relationships (the cost–benefit calculations mentioned by Melucci). The challenge arises from the given-for-nothing nature of the ‘offering’ and the directness of personal commitment, which demonstrate that sharing with others is not reducible to instrumental logic. In essence, it reminds us of the limitations of a system’s power over people and events, calling into question the system’s sway over us, and inviting us to assume greater responsibility for our choices and actions. In so doing, it becomes a vital component in the renewal of civil society and the reinforcement of social cohesion. For precisely those reasons there is counter-mobilization by vested interests.
2.8. The February 28 process and its aftermath
A complete account of the February 28 Process which followed the ‘ soft coup’ of that date is not relevant here. An outline of the coup events and pertinent issues was presented in the historical narrative in the preceding chapter, §2.2.15–16 (see pp. 45–50). Here we intend to explain and understand why Fethullah Gülen and the Movement were targeted during the February 28 Process, and how the Movement was able to come through the crisis without resort to negativity, to any counter-action or conflictual or coercive means. Before doing so, it may be well to remind readers that the opposition from certain ideological interest groups within the power establishment in Turkey is directed towards any collective actor that is perceived to endanger their schemes and vested interests; however, there are particular reasons why those vested interests made the Gülen Movement a major focus of their counter-mobilizing efforts. The discussion following should bring out those reasons.
Even as this explanation was being written, further exposures about the February 28 Process continued to reveal the main actors, their schemes, wrong-doings, ulterior motives and means, greatly strengthened by revelations by state personnel and organizations, and confessions by the major actors in the Process. (None of the major figures who masterminded the February 28 coup has denied what they are alleged to have done. On the other hand, none of them has yet been subject to legal process. Çandar, Altan and Ilıcak have made individual applications to the courts, so far to no avail. Since major state institutions were exploited in the February 28 Process, Fethullah Gülen has not taken any action against individuals involved so as not to further damage or bring shame to the institutions concerned.)
Before February 28, the Susurluk scandal and its continuing fallout had already revealed the existence of the ‘ deep state’ and the extent of political and military malpractice in the country. It had shown that security officials were involved in illegal operations with right-wing gangsters and politicians associated with some military commanders, ministers and Prime Minister of the time. During these decades, the country has witnessed how ‘democracy is suspended or forced into the background every time its results are not acceptable to the powers that be’. Kramer states that this suspension of the political rules causes acute distress, since the system cannot be trusted to provide the people with the means and risk-reducing facilities with which to overcome the consequences of far-reaching uncertainty. The condition of acute uncertainty went much further, after February 28, when there was no longer agreement on the rules, value orientations, communal ends or collective goals. It was called a ‘ soft coup’ because ‘the coalition government was ushered out of power with strong pressure [...] from the Turkish military and secular elites’ and they did not hang fifty people as they did in the 1980s. As the crisis deepened, emergency laws and martial regulations further suspended rules, values, and goals, and thereby affected the capacity of individuals and groups to respond with certitude to the question of identity: who we were before, and who we are now.
On February 28, 1997, the National Security Council (NSC), presenting themselves as guardians of secularism, released this public statement: ‘destructive and separatist groups are seeking to weaken our democracy and legal system by blurring the distinction between the secular and the antisecular. [...] In Turkey, secularism is not only a form of government but a way of life and the guarantee of democracy and social peace [...] the structural core of the state.’
In what the commander of the navy, Admiral Güven Erkaya, called on national TV ‘a post-modern coup’, the military commanders had pressured politicians by explicit threats of violence, and political and economic pressure, either to implement proposed measures or fashion an alternative government that would do so. Prime Minister Erbakan agreed to an eighteen-point plan to curb Islamic-minded political, social, cultural and economic groups. Later, in June 1997, the military’s supervision of Turkey’s democratically elected coalition government resulted in its forced resignation. Following this, the pressure on the Muslim communities increased, with some secular leaders hoping for a settling of accounts with political Islam.
Nothing in Turkish political life since the military coup of 1980 has been as divisive as the National Security Council (NSC) decisions of February 28. Political scientist Cizre-Sakallioglu thinks that ‘No major element of Turkish politics at present can be understood without reference to the February 28 process’. She adds:
The February 28 process indicates not only the far-reaching implications of the NSC decisions, but also the suspension of normal politics until the secular correction was completed. This process has profoundly altered the formulation of public policy and the relationship between state and society.
The February 28 Process not only altered the relationship between state-bureaucracy and civil society but also between Turkey and its democratic partners and supporters. The assessment of journalist and author Howe is that ‘In the process, basic democratic norms have been violated, which has spawned deep resentment within the country and led to strains with Turkey’s democratic partners.’
Until columnist and Parliamentarian Ilicak (2000) published a memo which had been issued from the General Staff’s Intelligence Bureau, most people remained unaware of the details of the smokescreen of the February 28 coup. The military memo, dated April 1998 and titled ‘Special Action Plan’, revealed an order for ‘a smear campaign’ to silence opposition voices among intellectuals, journalists, politicians and civil society members. According to the memo, just after February 28, Cengiz Çandar, Mehmet Ali Birand and the former Human Rights Association Chairman, Akin Birdal, were among the campaign’s targets. Soon after the apprehension of Şemdin Sakık, the second-in-command in the armed wing of the separatist Kurdish terrorist organization, the PKK, Sakık allegedly ‘confessed’ that these individuals had financial and organizational links to the PKK. Given the apparent source of the information it was likely that most of the public would believe this story. Even graver, an assassination attempt on Birdal followed, which left him seriously disabled. Soon afterwards, it became clear that Sakik’s statement was not genuine. The memo points to the responsible individuals in the Chief of Staff ’s office: Former Deputy Chief of General Staff General Çevik Bir and Chief of General Staff General Secretary Erol Özkasnak.
Journalist Incioglu (2000) interviewed Çandar to uncover further details of the memos. Incioglu comments:
The incident was telling about the journalism ethic and had a financial aspect as well, because it coincided with the investigation of the Sabah management for their shares in the bailed-out Etibank. Sabah columnist Çandar says: ‘My newspaper sold me out.’
Against the accusations that some from the state used the daily Hürriyet’s editor Ekşi and gave him instructions to write his column accordingly, Ekşi (2000), in his article entitled ‘Character Assassination’ confesses:
In the Sakık incident, the state has deceived the members of the press, including me. I am publicly condemning those who have deceived the press and caused me to write things against fellow journalists…(who were implicated as being on the payroll of the outlawed PKK).
The General Staff Secretary confirmed that the memorandum had been issued by its staff. Some analysts interpreted the army’s willingness to confirm its involvement as a sign that the current commanders did not approve of their colleagues’ or predecessors’ actions. Others simply hoped this controversy would be an opportunity to lay the past to rest: ‘The army has admitted the facts,’ said Birand.
The Turkish Journalists’ Association (Türkiye Gazeteciler Cemiyeti) issued a press release on August 10 stating:
It has been observed that the media is involved in a number of conflicts of interest and is furthermore under the influence of certain power centers, and this is reflected in media policies. In light of this, it is not possible to speak of editorial independence.
During this period, some marginal but like-minded people – special interest groups, ideologically motivated individuals, staunch militant secularists (who were anti-Islam), and a few people abusing their judicial authority or military ranks – jointly fabricated news and threats. They selected certain columnists in the press and media to ensure that information spread widely among the public. They aimed to influence public opinion and decrease popular confidence in certain journalists, members of parliament, human rights activists, academics, intellectuals, and civil society members. Fethullah Gülen became the highest profile target. Behind a smokescreen of accusations against him of seeking to overthrow the regime, creating national security issues, and presenting threats of reactionary fundamentalism, those orchestrating the coup tried to conceal their dishonest dealings, graft and plunder of state wealth and resources. For some then, an environment of constant conflict in Turkey was seen as favorable to their interests.
The suspension of rules and values becomes even more evident if we examine the emotional side of the situation. The experience of some individuals involved with the faith communities in Turkey was ambivalent because of the degree of shock produced by the rapidity and unpredictability of the event. It was accompanied by fear and anxiety over what had been lost and the new situation created. New York Times reporter Frantz (2000) wrote that the war of attrition during the February 28 Process ‘sent a chill through his [Fethullah Gülen’s] circle of admirers and raised anxieties among liberals who are not associated with his movement’.
There are always different outcomes to the collective processes that follow an emergency like the February 28 coup. Certain groups in the community may assimilate or suffer more from the negative, destructive and depressive components of the event and may thus be contained within a state of shock, impotence or inertia; others might disintegrate. And yet, once people had recovered from the immediate shock, the aftermath of the coup with its revelations about unlawful, undemocratic practice, also suggested hope or a will for renewal.
The adaptability and reliability of the culture of the Gülen Movement then became an invaluable resource in accommodating to the new situation, whereas more rigid and exclusive cultures would have experienced greater difficulties in coping with the acute uncertainty.
A number of explanations can be suggested for the capacity of the Gülen Movement to respond to such a situation positively and peacefully, instead of retreating into passivity or a sort of collective psychosis at the cultural and group levels (as Melucci has argued can happen). The first is the reliability and legitimacy of the authority that Fethullah Gülen and Movement participants already enjoyed. The second is the density and vitality of their networks of belonging, all the heritage present in the Movement, and the ability to restructure and redirect these in new situations. The third is the Movement’s ability to listen to society at various levels – something that the masterminds of the February 28 injustices had never done.
Kinzer (2001) notes that the incompetence and apparent unwillingness of the army and state apparatus to assist people in the immediate aftermath of the Izmit earthquake in 2000 led, three years later, to the mass disillusionment of the populace with institutions such as the army, the government and political parties. On the continuing growth of this disillusionment, after the assassination at the Supreme Court of Appeals in 2006, one of the victims of the February 28 Process, Çandar (2006) pointed out:
As the haze around this organized gang lifts, we’re coming across perpetrators who have connections to the notorious Susurluk affair that covertly triggered the developments that led to the post-modern coup of 1997 which removed the Erbakan government through military coercion.
The February 28 Process was not limited to Turkish citizens either. Kinzer was among five foreign correspondents who were singled out as having been especially responsible for feeding ‘distortions’ to the world. He was charged by the Chief of Staff and expelled from Turkey on grounds that he along with the other journalists had placed himself at the service of unnamed subversive ‘interests’. Over the decades, Turkish or non-Turkish individuals, whose actions do not suit the protectionist interests, have consistently been accused in the same idiom of posing a threat to the state or national security.
Fethullah Gülen was attacked by some who were marginal in the establishment, and by their extensions in the media and other sectors of the civilian sphere. On the other hand, as Gülerce observed, support for Fethullah Gülen and the Movement within society did not diminish as a result of this war of attrition: ‘Even during periods when Fethullah Gülen was subjected to planned attacks carried out by certain circles, it was observed that he had 85 percent of public support.’
An effective democratic system must be able to absorb the tension between the structures of representation and the demands or interests of those represented therein. It must also devise social and political measures to reduce the distance that separates power from social demands, without ideologically neutralizing the problem. The mere fact that a direct command from certain generals is replaced by representation, mediation, and the capacity to produce negotiated decisions, does not necessarily lead to a process being ‘democratic’; it may result, instead, in non-representative institutional arrangements, as was clearly witnessed through the Susurluk scandal and the military memos related to the events of February 28.
Political scientist Ataman argues that ‘the traditional leadership of Turkey [is] based on its strict nationalist, secularist and bureaucratic-authoritarian understanding. […] Leadership groups first try to maintain their interests and then secure national interests. In many cases, the interests of the leadership group are proposed as national interests.’ Another political scientist, William Hale had reached a similar conclusion earlier:
Turkey has so far not been able to shake off the inherited notion and institution of the authoritarian state and the transmitted undemocratic and non-egalitarian habitus of its military-bureaucratic elite. Around this institutionalized core of the rule of the military-bureaucratic reformers, a new modern elite has emerged in the Turkish Republic. Based on a cartel of interest and legitimized with the Kemalist ideology, this elite controls the resources of the modern sectors of Turkish society. However, whereas the social structural background of this elite is modern, their behavior is characterized by an authoritarian and elitist habitus.
Anthropologist Eickelman points out that ‘the militant secularism of some governing elites – the Turkish officer corps, for example – has been associated until recently with authoritarianism and intolerance more than with “enlightenment values”.’
It is against this background, and within this context, that one can understand why the Gülen Movement was particularly targeted. It was targeted because it operates as a ‘symbolic multiplier’. By the sheer scale and success of the services it provides, it lays bare the weaknesses of the protectionist apparatus and obliges it to justify itself. The articulation, by the Movement as collective actor within the larger society, of collective needs and democratic demands makes it possible for dominant protectionist relationships, interests and privileges to be lawfully questioned, and for decisions taken by the apparatuses to be subjected to measurement against collective needs. Also the hope remains that those decisions can be checked by due process of law.
2.9. (Re)defining democracy
Contemporary social movements concern themselves with ‘a redefinition of what democracy is, can be, and ought to be’. Individuals and groups wish to construct their identities ‘instead of remaining simply recipients [of identities] assigned them from the outside’. Political institutions in a democracy open up a field of participation compatible with the system. They also allow social demands to transform into a collective opportunity to exercise rights and to voice opposition, and an ‘open society is possible where political actors assume a non-totalizing role as mediators of demands’.
After the establishment of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, Fethullah Gülen met with a few political leaders and some government members. A retired general (who would later take part in the February 28 Process), and some from the protectionist elite, criticized these efforts by Fethullah Gülen. In response to the criticism of his meetings, Fethullah Gülen replied:
In a democracy, a system with a fully civil character, popular participation in the administration is encouraged to the extreme, as summed up in the saying, ‘The nation owns unrestricted and unconditional sovereignty’. I have never even thought of going into the street to demonstrate and openly criticize the system, although democracy permits this when necessary. In fact, as such behavior could lead to anarchy, I always approach it with caution. For this reason, not only as a right but as a responsible citizen, citizens meeting with political and state leaders, or state leaders and politicians meeting with people from every social segment, should be appreciated and encouraged.
Fethullah Gülen’s response is strictly in line with what participatory or pluralist democracy requires. He also drew attention to the fact that his meetings ‘operate fully within the legal framework of the Turkish Republic’. In another interview, Fethullah Gülen stated: ‘If we are to proceed to an even more perfect democracy, that can again be achieved through democratic processes.’
Democracy in complex societies consists of more than the competition for access to governmental resources and more than elections. It means the creation of conditions which allow social actors to recognize themselves and be recognized for what they are or want to be. In this sense, democracy means the freedom to belong, to construct social spaces of recognition, and to express oneself in systems of representation. Nonauthoritarian democracy accommodates a dualism: the right to make one’s voice heard through representation and the right to modify the conditions in which it is heard. The Gülen Movement contributes to the achievement of the conditions necessary for an effective pluralist democracy through formal and informal networks such as conferences, platforms, relational and associational neighborhood meetings, and media outlets. Similarly, the premises of a pluralist theory claim that participation signifies acting to promote an actor’s interests and needs, and being part of (or belonging to) a system, thus identifying with the ‘general interests’ of the community. Political participation involves the action of private citizens, aimed directly at influencing the selection of the government personnel and the actions of those personnel.
If, as Fethullah Gülen says – ‘the majority of [the Turkish] media support the [Movement’s] initiatives, regardless of their origin [and a]lmost all state and political leaders and intellectuals have expressed their approval and appreciation’ – how are we to understand the logic of those who oppose his efforts?
The Turkish political system is subject to various degrees of internal manipulation within the system through the constraints imposed by a structure of dominance anchored in social relationships. Although the boundaries determining what issues can be submitted to the decision-making process are structurally set, control over the rules and mechanisms of decisionmaking itself are assumed to be the privilege exclusively of those representing the dominant protectionist interests – as has already been pointed out by the Turkish Journalists’ Association press release. The protectionist elite, as Kramer and Alpay concur, ‘was reluctant to give up its tutelage of the masses’, even though it ‘had hardly any relations with the masses’. For members of that elite, any initiative that does not originate from amongst them and any attempt to shift power relationships within the political system or to acquire influence over decisions, is either a threat, a matter of crisis for the regime, or a national security issue.
Fethullah Gülen holds that this understanding or notion of democracy runs into problems because the world is a culturally diverse place and no single group, nation or culture has the monopoly on democratic ideas and practice:
Democracy, though it still needs to be further improved, is now the only viable political form, and people should seek to modernize and consolidate democratic institutions in order to build a society where individual rights and freedom are respected and protected.
The problem, then, is how to give precise definition to the parameters of pluralist participatory democracy. Undoubtedly, social relations influence such participation in both directions. From the perspective of the protectionist ruling groups, political participation serves to confirm the priority of their own interests and to secure the subordinated consensus of other social groups; participation takes place within the confines and rules determined by their dominating system, thus – to a greater or lesser extent – promoting their interests. To them, the subordinate groups participate politically so as to increase their influence in the decision-making processes or to alter institutional power relationships. However, as these groups are always more or less excluded from involvement in decision-making, their effort is manifested through non-institutional forms of action.
However, the activities of the Gülen Movement take place within the confines and rules of the political system as it is. They do not aim to maximize the advantages of the actor in political decisions. No matter how their worldview or services might empirically affect the political system, they do not threaten to disregard or infringe the rules of that system as given, nor do they transgress its institutional boundaries. The services given by the Movement are not a contest among adversaries for the distribution of control over the allocation of social production and of imbalances of power among social positions. Rather, all the efforts of the Gülen Movement need to be analyzed, using analytical categories other than political ones, as collective social altruism. Özdalga attempts to explain this using Weber’s notion of ‘ worldly asceticism’, and attributes the protectionist groups’ suspicion about the Movement to their underlying power interests:
Rather than advancing political ambitions, his [Fethullah Gülen’s] objective is to foster an ethic that comes very close to what Max Weber described as ‘ worldly asceticism,’ an activist pietism with a tendency toward the rationalization of social relationships.
To intolerant reactions, which allege that he is after political gains or seeking a new political formation – albeit that would be, in any event, quite lawful, permitted under Turkish law and the constitution – Fethullah Gülen responds:
I have absolutely no political aspirations and expectations. I have never been involved in any political effort or activity. […] But I see myself as a genuine member of this nation, as one of the threads in the lace of this culture. So as long as I live, if I have an opinion about an issue related to it, I won’t hesitate to express it.’
On another occasion, Fethullah Gülen commented:
I consider such speculation as a great insult for me. My path consists of searching for God. It is wrong to portray a man who found something in his life according to his own measures as still looking for something. Those who found God have found everything. All other yearnings are futile in life. I always had meetings with political figures but my attention has never wavered from the ultimate goal of my life, that is, searching for God.
The reason that there has been counter-mobilization against Fethullah Gülen and the Movement is that – as columnist Ipekci argues – the dominant protectionist group assume that social, cultural and political representation in Turkey, as well as the identification of any societal problems and their solution, are their sole and exclusive prerogative.
This is, again, best seen in the counter-mobilization during the February 28 Process against SMOs and civil society. It was not based on democratic procedures or political consensus but was and is realized and secured through ideological interpretation. The protectionist system propagates itself and permeates daily life and existential choices. It filters and represses some demands by presenting them as an absolute, existential threat to the very structure of society. When the counter-mobilizing actor cannot compete with any alternative in argument, action and services, the requisite stigmatizations are ready to hand: as we have mentioned earlier, the protectionist system simply assimilates any suggestion or advice, any alternative or opposition, under the familiar rubric of a threat to national security, or some variation thereof.
Despite the fact that such interpretation and counter-mobilization is anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian, it is legitimated in terms of conjunctures and the exploitation of segmentation, radicalization and tension in society. It resurfaces at different conjunctures as improprieties, corruption or concealment of other vested interests. One way for protectionist actors to seek a reduction in the risks involved in a decision is to secure for themselves a preventive consensus through the use of ideological manipulation. This preventive consensus usually goes by the name of ‘ Kemalism’.
According to Hale (1999), the decisions by the dominant protectionist system affect the rest of the social structure. Decisions are implemented only partially, not at all, or in a distorted fashion, according to the practical effect of the particular forces and interests intervening in the implementation process. Direct pressure on administrative bodies can also be used to distort the process or render a decision ineffective, or to secure an advantageous application of the new ruling. This produces a closed political system, in which transparency is minimized and impropriety is maximized.
Journalist Çevik (2002) considered corruption was ‘also a vital issue to be taken up by the National Security Council’. He asked the generals and ‘those who are concerned about the preservation of the Republic and the system [to] realize that under the current corrupt and deficient system, everything could fall apart’. In the same editorial, titled ‘Corruption is Also a Top Threat’, Çevik went on to argue:
The sensitivity and determination shown in the fight against religious radicalism and separatism should also be displayed against corruption, which we feel is the number one menace. Corruption is at the root of many of the ills in Turkey. […] We feel the military should also take up this menace and get to the bottom of the corruption and irregularities which have eaten into our state system.
In the same vein, columnist Ülsever states: ‘Some of the people in power at the time, both in the civilian and military bureaucracies, took advantage of the situation.’ He questions those who claimed to love Turkey more than anyone else and yet held the most important positions during the February 28 Process. He states that those people ‘did nothing at all about improprieties during their reign’:
The enemies of ‘people’s money’ should surely have been captured when these lovers of the country held the most prominent positions. Instead they imposed a closed system where they had more rights than others ‘to protect the country’ and ‘intervene’ when the democratic system made mistakes. However, ‘the economics of impropriety’ was not solved, or even touched then!
Melucci argues that ‘the execution of a decision requires the mobilization of both the administrative apparatus of the state and a sufficient quota of political consensus’. The variable relationship between these two components settles the degree of legitimization attached to the decision. Continuous pressures, negotiations, and the power relationships among political parties and interest groups, play the major part in the legitimation and implementation of decisions. Therefore, the influence or efficacy of a decision cannot be assessed in the abstract but must, instead, be evaluated as part of the extant relationship between the forces and interests in a given society.
The efficacy of and support for decisions during the February 28 Process provide further evidence of whether such decisions were based on democratic values and procedures or to serve vested interests. The generals proposed a decree which would have allowed the dismissal of thousands of public employees ‘suspected’ of ‘sympathizing’ with Islamist, Kurdish or separatist leanings. This decision and the subsequent dismissals demonstrated that the representation of interests within the political system is not realized through transparent replication. Instead, dominant social relationships set boundaries and determine both the potential and limits of action within the system. The coercive character of the decision was not a functional necessity founded on consensus, but illustrative of how dominating relations and interests manifest themselves within the political system. Alan Makovsky (2000) sees the insistence on the purge of all alleged ‘Islamist’ officials in governance, during which Fethullah Gülen too was accused of being implicated, as ‘the regime’s effort to implement a draconian anti-Islamist program without clear public support’.
By contrast with those overt and covert transgressions of the political rules, the discourse and actions of the Gülen Movement – their teaching and projects within Turkish social and cultural life – do not transgress any procedural or institutional boundaries. Their services and organizations do not break the rules of the political game. To the contrary, according to the BBC’s regional analyst, Pam O’Toole (2000):
Fethullah Gülen has been even feted by Turkey’s secular establishment. […] The message he preaches is one of tolerance, promoting a private, non-politicized form of Islam, which can peacefully coexist with Turkey’s strongly secular state.
Nonetheless, a repressive intervention was launched to re-assert the habitual limits of the system, with no excuses as to its blunt manner. Morris (2000) of the Guardian, argued: ‘The case could split Turkish society. Some will regard the allegations as the fruits of secularist paranoia, while others will insist the threat is real and immediate.’
That is indeed what happened during the accusation and trial of Fethullah Gülen. The judge in the case rejected a request by several marginal ideologically motivated groups to be civil parties to the trial. Then certain military officers, the chief prosecutor, and some militant secularist associations attempted to intervene directly in the internal functioning of the political and judicial system. The reason, simply, is that, for them, the presence within the system of a new collective actor either strains the limits of their habitual operation and their dominant social relationships, or – through the success it has achieved in providing ideas, values and services – questions their rationality and efficacy. Whether by accessing the apparatus of the state and the media system or by influencing legislative decision-making, those who represent the dominant interests strive not to lose the structural advantages they enjoy within the political game.
Another reason why initiatives or actions originating outside the protectionist group face exclusion is that they raise awareness so that the people begin to wonder what advantages follow to them from the particular dominant interests’ exploitation of political processes and public resources. In fact, Turkey’s primary problem was not Islamic fundamentalism, as a BBC report noted: ‘Turkey’s number one problem is the economic crisis and the difficulties the people are having in making ends meet. The agenda of the people and that of Ankara are incompatible.’ Nevertheless, the case the Chief State Security Prosecutor filed against Fethullah Gülen claimed that he was the biggest threat to Turkey.
The prosecutor’s repeated attempts to get an arrest warrant for Fethullah Gülen were rejected by the courts for lack of substantial evidence. That tells us a number of things:
First, it explains that the radically exclusionary protectionist ideology has settled in certain sections of the public bureaucracy. That, secondly, creates tensions between different forces and interests within the state’s organizational bodies. Third, it also explains the conflicts that place different sections of the bureaucracy in opposition to each other, as well as the relative resistance to certain policies despite support for others. Lastly, it tells us that not all state apparatuses may be merely docile instruments in the hands of the dominant groups – rather, their operation also reflects a degree of autonomy, and the honesty, of some in the political system.
Melucci explained why ideology denies the ‘adversary’ any legitimacy. By deflecting all negative feedback onto the ‘adversary’, it maintains the legitimacy of its own action and widens its support base and the space within which it can act inside the political system. The attempt to discredit Fethullah Gülen and his services or to turn public resentment against the Gülen Movement and so legitimize repression is one of the essential components of the framing activity conducted by the protectionist vested interests after 1997. Greater control over the flow of information and the media guaranteed a structural advantage for the powers that be, as the game was never entirely open and positions were not those of parity.
However, these interest groups failed to contend successfully for public consensus – partly because of the activities of media outlets inspired by Gülen Movement participants, and partly because the overwhelming majority of journalists, politicians and civil society leaders remained unconvinced by the arguments against Fethullah Gülen, though some were compelled to silence. Çevik (1999b) comments:
There are forces within the state which are trying to use Fethullah Gülen for their own power struggle. Those who started the crusade against [Prime Minister] Erbakan now are testing their strength against Fethullah Gülen, who is not only a moderate preacher but also a man who has won friends in high places. They want to show everyone that they can move mountains and, thus, that they call the cards in Turkey. Let us hope all this blows over with minimum damage to Turkey after the August reshuffling period ends.
The August reshuffling period is the time when military officers are promoted or retirement decisions are taken in Turkey. Before and during this time, national security threats, and faith-inspired movements or communities are always made headlines by some likely-to-be-retired generals.
The allegations against Fethullah Gülen were patently false, indeed absurd. Among those who never accepted the allegations is Bülent Ecevit, the prime minister of the time (between January 1999 and November 2002). Ecevit unwaveringly defended Fethullah Gülen as a respectable spiritual leader and peaceful scholar. He stressed that, had it not been for Fethullah Gülen and the schools he encouraged and inspired, communities and countries in Central Asia would have fallen under the influence of Iranian and Wahhabi fundamentalisms.
2.10. Induced resolution
In 2003, Ankara State Security Court No.2 postponed taking a final resolution on the Fethullah Gülen case. The court ruled that in the event that Fethullah Gülen were to be involved in similar or graver acts requiring a jail sentence, the case would continue; and in the event that he were not, the case would be revoked. Attorneys for Fethullah Gülen objected to the resolution, demanding continuation of the case in solicitation of acquittal. However, Ankara State Security Court No.1 stated that the resolution was final. Essentially he was cleared, yet only as long as he did not commit any further ‘crimes’, as defined by the state. The chief prosecutor opted to leave the case open for the next five years. Thus, if Fethullah Gülen did not die by then, the case against him would finally collapse. So, he remained neither guilty nor acquitted, neither captive nor truly free.
Four years later, in 2006, the Ankara 11th High Criminal Court revealed that it was unable to prosecute Fethullah Gülen and therefore dropped the case, and thus Fethullah Gülen was acquitted.
Despite all odds, the Gülen Movement acts and operates fully in a form and field which is institutionalized and legal within the Turkish system and abroad. Even if their worldview or services might indirectly affect the political system, they do not in any way threaten to infringe Turkish laws, procedures or institutions. The services provided by the Movement are not a contest among adversaries. The Gülen Movement is an apolitical, philanthropic, inter-civilizational civil society movement, which is best characterized under the rubric of ‘ collective social altruism’.
Those who are apprehensive that they might lose their exclusive, direct control over power and their interests within the system counter-mobilize aggressively against the Gülen Movement, in order to protect that control and those vested interests.
2.11. Success of the Gülen Movement
It can be said that the Gülen Movement proves itself successful in the sight of communities in Turkey and abroad by mobilizing inactive, dormant, but innovative energies present in the Turkish and other societies. It absorbs conflicting pressures and eases tension within fragmented communities. It has transformed the potential to use coercive means to induce changes in political systems into peaceful efforts to produce beneficial services. It has, despite provocations and ill-treatment, never shown any inclination whatever towards violence or extra-legal tactics of any kind.
The Movement has involved diverse people within a very short time over a large geographical area to achieve joint projects. It appears to have established the ideal balance between risks and advantages, so that millions of people are taking part in service-projects. By recognizing the outcomes of its actions and securing positive recognition from others, Movement participants compare and perceive its consistency and continuity over time and across borders. By comparing their investments with the results of their actions, they relate the rewards to the resources invested in the action.
The Gülen Movement progressively modernizes its culture and organization. Along with support from the grassroots for the services provided, it connects with, and gains support from, influential people such as community leaders and industrialists, as well as small businessmen. By employing a sound rationality through the obvious neutrality of technical expertise, it is able to appeal to all. It socializes and transmits values and rules in order to oversee the development of personal skills.
The Movement has formed a large number of organizations operating across economic, political and cultural boundaries. It circulates and diffuses ideas, information, new patterns of action and cultures. In this way, it is able to transfer latency into visibility through collective action and services, which are then institutionalized. Through associational and relational service-networks and through the media, the Movement participants harmoniously integrate and liaise between its many layers, formally and informally, as the need arises
The Movement participants and the service-networks see their own limitations through face-to-face discussions, availability of information and communication channels, skilled leadership in SMOs, the feedback from media and public, and consultation. This makes them reflective. By generalizing and accumulating the results of their actions, the service-networks and SMOs access institutional mediation. This yields continuity between individual and collective identity, leisure and commitment, self-fulfillment and participation, particular and global.
The Gülen Movement is also successful because it is a cultural and symbolic multiplier. It is a progenitor movement, that is, setting up original models and successful examples and establishing institutions, which other actors or movements can emulate and adapt.
If the actions of the Movement are measured against the interests and objectives of that sector of Turkish society who are, as Eickelman has expressed it, ‘militant secularis[ts] of some governing elites associated with authoritarianism and intolerance’ then it proves itself successful. Fethullah Gülen and the Movement do not have any aspirations to evolve into a political party or seek political power, as has been observed and repeatedly confirmed by many scholars and journalists. On the contrary, as Karaman and Aras argue: ‘Fethullah Gülen represents the continuation of a long Sufi tradition of seeking to address the spiritual needs of the people, to educate the masses, and to provide some stability in times of turmoil. And, like many previous Sufi figures (including […] Rumi), he is wrongly accused of seeking political power.’
What the Gülen Movement provides and accomplishes, comes up against strong vested interests, as well as the sinecures of protectionists in the Turkish establishment:
Civility and tolerance will not prevail without struggle. The ideals of civil society, democracy, and open debate over basic values-ideals that are explicit in the works of […] Fethullah Gülen […] are up against strong vested interests. […] Not surprisingly, some efforts at reform have been met with threats of violence.
In spite of counter-mobilization, the overwhelming majority of the Turkish public has expressed a favorable opinion about Fethullah Gülen and the Movement in surveys. The cable news company ntv-MSNBC conducted a survey (10,000 people) and showed that ‘96 percent of the public do not consider Fethullah Gülen a threat to the country’. Ajan.net also conducted a survey (36,367 people) and found that ‘91 percent of the public accept Fethullah Gülen as a moderate Islamic scholar and do not consider him a threat or the leader of a subversive organization’.
Whenever collective action openly addresses the central issues affecting society, it redefines the public space. This process affects political life, everyday lives, mental codes, and interpersonal relationships. But no sooner is the new theme raised in the public sphere, than it meets new limits. The mechanisms of the political system become selective, excluding and suppressing some of the dynamic compo nents of the issue. What is excluded, however, remains stubbornly alive and either pushed into marginality or turned into a new voice for societal needs.
So, any analysis of such relationships and participation which does not take into account the limits and exclusions imposed by the politically and ideologically oriented interests groups, or which downplays the reduction of services to politics or something else, becomes a pure apology for the existing situation, for corruption in the status quo, and for radicalization.
The protectionist groups, who are apprehensive that they might lose their direct control over power and their collective vested interests within the system, direct their aggression at the Gülen Movement at least partly in order to repair this loss in the eyes of the general public. However, when the reciprocity of recognition breaks down, aggressive feelings gain prominence and are redirected onto the ‘adversary’. As also witnessed very clearly in the latest presidential election in 2007, and discussions related to these, the protectionist groups, which are in decline within the political system, and which have a common interest in keeping the system closed as far as possible, react predictably to hold on to their established position within that system by resisting the intended outcome, counter-mobilizing against civil society – in our case here, the Gülen Movement – and, wherever it is possible for them to do so, imposing selective and exclusionary restrictions on the criteria for social movement ventures and services.
The collective action of the Gülen Movement announces to the society that alternative definitions and dimensions of human experience are possible. It calls society to responsibility, to social construction, making good in tangible outcomes the social power that, over time, people can accumulate and exercise. The Movement’s discourse and practice are a symbolic challenge to the dominant protectionist patterns of organization in the society, and, through innovative cultural and peaceful projects, it affirms basic rights, equality, and authentically participatory democratic processes.
The protectionist groups in the Turkish establishment seem to be incapable of bridging the rifts modernization generates, which the discourse and services of the Gülen Movement are capable of bridging. Through its work the co-ordinates of meaning, action and serving have been transformed; it proclaims a change which equally entails a change of the self. It affirms a non-contentious difference but does not renounce the validity of other perspectives or rationality. In this lies the strength of the Movement.
The collective action of the Movement may also put pressure on the political market. This pressure is not necessarily demand-oriented or antagonistic. In a manner most marked in the Movement, there appears the dimension of offering, a kind of action in and through which new models of social rationality are developed and anticipated. This action concerns cultural codes, not confrontation and conflict with the political system. It allows a re-appropriation of the multi-formity of roles in service work. Indeed, the very identity of the Movement depends on its success in providing services for the community. This social centrality of the actor, the autonomous role in defining personal needs, the constant mediatory relationship between welfare, health, education and the individual, family, and community, gives everyday experience a function. This situates action along the continuum ranging from difference to innovation or change, to the creation of new arenas for positive action and culture which dominant groups and interests may neglect or may see as explicitly antagonistic in character.
The Gülen Movement maintains a degree of distinction from the imposed cultural codes through the constitution and operation of SMOs which prefigure the goals it pursues, and through its activity it visibly signals the societal and individual problems it addresses. Hence its character may constitute a challenge, but an indirect, symbolic one, not a physical, political or direct challenge.
Through educational initiatives, new media organs and networks, opposition to violent and coercive means and methods, intercultural and interfaith dialog, and co-operation on projects and services, the Gülen Movement has succeeded in its naming – framing new projects and services – thereby revealing the social and political nature of the definitions imposed by the dominant interest groups and their apparatuses. To date it has achieved some significant results in changing public attitudes.
In democracy in general, people are encouraged to ‘participate, in order to have a voice’. However, despite the fact that Turkey is a democratic country, if and when someone other than one of the established actors within the political system does achieve something, the pervasive tendency of the protectionist groups is to start calling for silence, retreat, and isolation, or to solicit participation into its fold, rather than supporting communication, inclusion and socialization. The acceptance of one’s assigned place in society serves as an effective and important processor of information. This tendency then becomes generalized at a cultural level, with the values it propagates manifesting one of the dominant protectionist codes expressed in a society. That is why, when Fethullah Gülen has met with presidents, premiers, ministers, or other officials or authorities, local or foreign, the reaction of the vested interest groups has been vocal and contentious. To them, Fethullah Gülen is merely a preacher who must lead prayers but do nothing more. They do not want to understand why he finds himself dealing with cultural and social issues, or why he is accepted as a partner in dialog by world leaders, such as the late Pope John Paul II.
Fethullah Gülen and the Movement started to bring to the surface, and act towards the elaboration of, precisely this neglected side of human experience: the need for meaning. The message of the Movement is embedded in its actions – not in what it states for the record or claims as its content. For, while it generally does not ask for goods, advantages, or reforms, it nevertheless brings these forward by making visible new meaning through its practices and services.
That effort is perceived by the protectionist forces as a challenge to the powers within the establishment. The Movement presents society with cultural gifts through its actions: it reveals new possibilities, another face of reality. When it acts, something has been said by that action – a message has been incorporated into the social arena, and a transforming debate can get under way. Whether or not the issues become topics for political contestation depends on the extent to which they may be taken up (or not) by politically relevant agents or otherwise translated into political agendas for the public. Regardless, the Movement proves itself capable of bringing about a change in the way people’s experiences are perceived and named. Thus, it becomes the bearer of the hidden potential for change, and it announces new possibilities to the rest of society.
The institutionalization of the social understanding of the Movement indi cates its cultural potential embedded in an issue or in a specific social field, and opens up more new arenas for innovation and change. The institutionalization of societal dynamics in a complex society is a more appropriate measure than simply asking whether or not the Gülen Movement is politically effective. The institutionalization of the services is a success and indicates that people in the Movement ‘have gained new life for their activities via traditional not-for-profit foundations, which help legitimize them and represent an important method of linking society’s past and culture. It is also an important indication of the culture’s requests for unity and modernity’.
One problem humanity faces at the global level has to do with the way in which we can coexist and develop common goals while respecting indelible differences. In order to act collectively at any given time, it is necessary to define a concept of ‘we’; however, this definition is not likely to be set once and for all, but has to be agreed upon over and over again in a continual negotiation. The Gülen Movement’s ongoing projects, the ever-increasing number of educational institutions, the cultural and dialog centers, and the non-profit, non-governmental organizations, are each important civic initiatives constituting this continual negotiation.
As stated earlier, in the context of any given political system, the capacity to create alliances, connections, and definitions of common goals becomes a central issue for the Gülen Movement and its successes. The Movement sees a radical form of ‘identity politics’ to be dangerous for society because of its intolerance, exclusivism, and self-defeating fundamentalism. Polls carried out by independent institutions and organizations indicate that the overwhelming majority of the Turkish public and other non-Turkish societies approve of the works and deeds of Fethullah Gülen and Movement participants, which implies acceptance of their values and goals.
In short, the collective mobilization of the Gülen Movement continues to this day because the actor has succeeded in realizing – and through the course of action continues to realize – a measured integration or harmonization between many contrasting requirements:
Modern Turkey is unique in the Islamic world […] in its aggressive, totalizing approach to secularism and secularization. There is no question that the Gülen Movement is deeply critical of the positivistic character of Turkish secularism. But to argue that it is opposed to secularity and democracy is to misread the Movement by projecting the dark anxieties and phobias of the more militant elements of the republic onto precisely the sort of movement that offers Turkey’s (and the entire Muslim world’s) best hope of uniting Islam, modernization, and secular, liberal democracy.
In all circumstances around the world, Fethullah Gülen and Movement participants act meaningfully to reduce aggression, adhering to a simple maxim of paramount value: ‘Peace is better.’ Fethullah Gülen and the Movement prove definitively that they are ‘on the side of peace at home and abroad […] offering Muslims a way to live out Islamic values amidst the complex demands of modern societies and to engage in ongoing dialogue and co-operation with people of other religions.’ Fethullah Gülen himself has explained why this approach is necessary, indeed may be the only one that can work:
The peace of this (global) village lies in respecting all these differences, in considering these differences to be part of our nature, and in ensuring that people appreciate these differences. Otherwise, it is unavoidable that the world will devour itself in a web of conflicts, disputes, fights, and the bloodiest of wars, thus preparing the way for its own end.
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