Friday, August 5, 2016

Fethullah Gulen’s Race to the Top Is Over | Foreign Policy

Fethullah Gulen’s Race to the Top Is Over | Foreign Policy:

Fethullah Gulen’s Race to the Top Is Over

The Turkish cleric's decades-long plan to use schools to acquire political power and cultural influence has ended in shambles.

Like a cancer, this virus has metastasized,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech days after Turkey’s attempted coup. The virus to which he referred was the followers of the Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he blames for orchestrating the attempt to topple him from power.
Turkey’s newly declared state of emergency has armed the government with the powers to purge Gulenists across all state institutions: More than 10,000 military personnel, including 151 generals and admirals, as well as about 3,000 police have been arrested or are now in custody, pending investigation.
But the chemotherapy appears to be focusing on education. Of the 67,000 people suspended in the first 10 days of the state of emergency, at least 42,700 are from the Ministry of National Education. By decree, 1,043 private schools have been closed and expropriated, and 15 universities and 109 student dormitories have been closed. All of the country’s 1,577 university deans have been asked to resign, though many presumably will be allowed back once their records are cleared. Meanwhile, Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz has announced that the government will hire more than 20,000 new teachers this year to make up for the loss.
Education features so prominently in the government’s response to the failed coup attempt because the Gulenists have a decades-long commitment to building a network of schools in Turkey and around the world, which has been crucial for their efforts to expand their influence. Turkey’s political class may not have created the Gulen movement, but it allowed it to move into the state apparatus relatively unhindered. It is now determined to cut it out and is starting with the part that feeds the rest: education.
Like many of Turkey’s religious movements, the Gulenist network represents a reaction to the formation of modern Turkey as a secular republic in 1923. It traces its origins to Said Nursi, a polymath known for his prodigious memory and Gandhi-like resolve who built a movement that engaged in civil disobedience against the secular government.
After Nursi’s death, several religious communities based on his teachings took form. Only one grew beyond its provincial origins — the community nurtured by Fethullah Gulen, who was 25 years old when he first went to the coastal city of Izmir and established himself as an imam known for his emotional style. “He would always cry during his sermons,” an octogenarian who attended a few during the 1960s told one of the authors.
But Gulen also had a unique charisma, and his sermons quickly became popular throughout the region. Nearly all were recorded in audio and later video format and made the rounds among the faithful. Gulen was a state-sanctioned imam at the time and did not come out openly against the Kemalist order — but, being part of the Nursi tradition, he did not condone it either.
Starting in the late 1960s, his followers set themselves apart from other religious communities by emphasizing secondary and higher education. Unlike other religious communities, the Gulenists’ educational system reached into all aspects of life. Each boy would be assigned an abi, or “older brother,” who would mentor him in his studies and also endeavor to shape his character. When girls were incorporated, they were each assigned an abla, meaning “older sister.” They would be typically only a few years older than their pupil, such as a university student mentoring a high school student. This gave members of the movement a strong sense of belonging throughout their lives and established a clear hierarchy and ideological unity.
On Turkey’s political spectrum, the Gulenists were clearly political Islamists. It was their secrecy that made them stand out: Whereas most of Turkey’s Islamists openly resisted secularism through grassroots organization and participation in the democratic system, the Gulen movement sought tosubvert secularism. Move “within the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence,” Gulen advised his followers during a now-infamoussermon.
This process should continue, Gulen went on, until his followers had amassed extraordinary influence. “You must wait until such time as you have all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey,” he counseled in the same sermon.
In Gulenist literature, those who will take the reins of the state when this time comes are among the “Golden Generation.” These people have the resolve to “cross over seas of filth,” meaning secular sin, while remaining pure in their intentions and thus bring about a kind of utopia.
But to play the long game, the movement needed a broader base in society, and the key to that was institutional education. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Gulen movement focused on training world-class teachers who could recruit children into their cause.
“I scored high enough in my university entrance exam to get into medical school, but the jamaat [a common phrase for the Gulenist movement] asked me to become a teacher, so that’s what I did,” a teacher who used to work in a Gulenist school said in an interview. As is typical for Gulenists, these teachers were willing to make huge material sacrifices over long periods of time, motivated by the status they attained in the movement and the Fethullah Gulen’s Race to the Top Is Over | Foreign Policy:

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