Fethullah Gülen: public intellectual or public enemy?
On July 15, 2016, the Turkish Republic survived an attempted military coup d’état that killed nearly 300 people and cost more than an estimated US$100 billion.
Immediately following the coup, Turkey’s government began a massive purge of state, military, business and civil society institutions in an attempt to remove alleged plotters from the ranks of social power. To date, approximately 75,000 people have been detained or forced to resign.
Human rights groups allege that arbitrary arrest and torture are becoming routine. Turkey’s leaders strongly refute such claims. They argue that security forces are doing what is necessary to protect the nation from a clearly defined enemy. The implications of the failed coup are deeply concerning for Turkey, the region and the world.
What unites the purged are alleged connections to Turkey’s most famous religious personality, Fethullah Gülen.
Presented by his followers as a learned scholar and orator, Gülen leads a transnational social and economic network that participants call Hizmet, from the Turkish word for “service,” and outsiders call the Gülen movement. The Turkish government insists Fethullah Gülen orchestrated the coup, and are demanding both domestic and internationalcooperation to bring him and his alleged co-conspirators to justice.
What do we know about this man and his movement?
The Gülen movement
Anchored in private education, the GM began in the late 1960s. That’s when Gülen established a following of mostly young men attracted to his emotional call for religious Turks to participate in secular education and the market economy.
Gülen discouraged participation in Turkey’s primary Islamic political movement. Instead, he encouraged a patient and calculated accumulation of economic and institutional influence. As a form of “market Islam,” members of the GM moved beyond education to succeed in news and entertainment media, information technologies, manufacturing, finance and other sectors. By the early 2000s, the GM operated schools and businesses in well over 100 countries.