His own doing or the handiwork of his hosts?
Initially, Gulen’s movement cooperated with President Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) because both were committed to Islamic piety
The French revolutionaries executed the French Emperor Louis XVI to end the monarchy but Napoleon Bonaparte brought kingship back in a decade. Lenin and the Bolsheviks set up the first communist state in Russia but it was overthrown by people in seven decades. Now, the foundations of the secular republic laid by Mustafa Kemal are shaking in Turkey. The systems of republic in France, communism in Soviet Russia and secularism in Turkey suffered from a common defect i.e. they were harshly imposed on masses by those who assumed power. The objectives of those revolutionaries were to bring about changes for the betterment of the people, however, the masses repelled because they were compelled to adopt new ways of life. Hardly anybody would disagree that the institutions of monarchy and caliphate had not become archaic nonetheless the zeal with which the new ideologies were practised, were bound to cause reaction. In Turkey, this reaction against state secularism manifested in the form of the Gulen Movement which has been the focus of Caroline Tee’s recent research entitled “The Gulen Movement in Turkey—the politics of Islam and modernity.”
The Kemalist Republican People’s Party monopolised political power and imposed its peculiar brand of secularism through coercive institutions of the state. When little or no political space is left for dissent, the dissenters camouflage their ideas in less threatening garbs to express their opposition and ensure their survival. Fethullah Gulen was opposed to the way secularism was enforced and desired reintroduction of Islamic ways in public life. He decided to create a space for the like-minded through the field of education giving the impression as if his was just a civil-society initiative and nothing more. The educational movement that he started in 1960s was meant to produce a “golden generation” of youth which was well-versed in modern science as well as in Islamic knowledge and Islamic ethics, a vision somewhat similar to the one espoused by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in British India in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Gulen, however, was inspired by the vision of the Anatolian sage Said Nursi, who lived in the dying days of the Ottomon caliphate, dedicating his life for the preservation and regeneration of the Islamic faith in Turkey.Thanks to the threat of Soviet communism on the Turkish borders in the 1980s, the then Turkish President General Kenan Evren ushered an intellectual doctrine called the “Turkish-Islamic synthesis” that provided an opening to the Islamic religion to re-emerge as the key unifying feature of the Turkish nation. Gulen made the best of this opportunity. First, the followers of this charismatic preacher set up educational institutions all over Turkey and by 1990s, their educational and business networks expanded to eighty countries of the world.
Initially, Gulen’s movement cooperated with President Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) because both were committed to Islamic piety, shared the ambition to weaken Turkey’s secular military establishment and were resistant to the Kemalist model that had relegated Islam to the private sphere by removing religious influences from the public life; once these goals were largely achieved, ideological differences between the two groups cropped up. Both the groups represent two different religious strands and political philosophies. While Gulen follows Said Nursi’s approach of Islamist activism through the agencies of education, civil service, business, judiciary and media while steering clear of political agendas and creation of a political party; the AKP derives inspiration from the ideas of Necmettin Erbakan, who was the founder of the trans-national Islamist movement, Milli Gorus (National Outlook) and was committed to replace Turkish secularism with Islamic law as well as to strengthen ties with the Arabs instead of the west through political activism.
While his Movement is in tatters, Gulen is safe and sound at his 28-acre ranch in Pennsylvania in the US. In today’s world of media explosion, Gulen and his Movement remain a “Mystery Inc.”
It still remains a mystery as to why did the apparently apolitical Gulen Movement resort to open confrontation with the ruling AKP first in December 2013 by starting an investigation through its sympathisers in the civil services to expose the alleged corruption of influential AKP members including Erdogan and his son, and later on, allegedly attempted a military coup in July 2016 that resulted in the death of about 300 persons and imprisonment of a greater number. Gulen denied his involvement in both the developments. Not only that Erdogan survived the coup, he effectively hit back and crippled the Movement by declaring a war against it; likened it to the “hashshashin”, a medieval sect that was notorious for murders and espionage; vowed to eliminate Gulen and his followers; and officially designated it as the “Fethullah Terror Organisation.” The net result of this confrontation is that Erdogan and his party have come out of the crises stronger whereas the Gulenists face a bleak future inside and outside Turkey.
While his Movement is in tatters, Gulen is safe and sound at his 28-acre ranch in Pennsylvania in the US. In today’s world of media explosion, Gulen and his Movement remain a “Mystery Inc.” His private estate is closed to visitors and journalists are rarely allowed, casting a shroud of secrecy around the whole phenomenon. This secrecy has given birth to conspiracy theories pointing to links to the CIA with regard to his application for residence in the US, for which personal references were provided by senior members of the US diplomatic and intelligence community including Graham Fuller, an ex-CIA agent and vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Erdogan’s repeated calls to expel Gulen back to Turkey have remained unanswered, so far. No one knows for sure how the Gulen Movement works as its leader has been abroad since 1999 while most of its followers are based in Turkey. Moreover, the Movement has no official name and the name “Gulen Movement” has been ascribed to it by the people at large. Not only this, his own role within the Movement is also a mystery because instead of being presented as the head of a structured organisation, he is referred to merely as a source of “inspiration” to a loose network of volunteers. Even the exact number of these volunteers is uncertain as estimates vary between half a million to two million because there is no requirement for official membership in this Movement. No follower of Gulen either knows as to who is No2 in the Movement after Gulen nor does he know how Gulen monitors the activities of the Movement. Equally mysterious is the fact that neither the “Gulen schools and universities” publicly identify with Gulen nor do they share any common name or logo.
In this mysterious haze, at least one thing is clear i.e. Fethullah Gulen’s primary objective has been to grab political power. In a known recording aired to his followers in 1999, which needs to be quoted in detail as it reveals his mindset, he confided that “you must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the power centres… until the conditions are ripe… If they [the followers] do something prematurely, the world will crush our heads, and Muslims will suffer everywhere… You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power… I have expressed my feelings and thoughts to you all in confidence… trusting your loyalty and secrecy.” Although Gulen questioned the veracity of this recording and asserted that it was deliberately distorted to discredit him; the point is that such distortions will continue to happen as long as the aura of secrecy hangs around him and his Movement. The fact of the matter is that whoever conceived this Movement, did it in a highly ingenious and innovative manner with no parallel in the past because though the Movement exists physically beyond doubt, it has neither any official address nor any office bearers or registered members. Gulen heads this Movement but there is no empirical evidence that he is the real head. At one time the network of this Movement extended across dozens of countries yet no one knows how it operated. Is this Movement the brainchild of Gulen or a fantastic prop of his more imaginative and resourceful hosts in Penn?