By Suzy Hansen, a writer living in Istanbul
Reviewed by Michael W. Cotter
Turkey has been much in the news recently as prosecutors in that country have brought corruption charges against a number of people close to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The government in turn maintains that the investigation was instigated by followers of a reclusive Turkish figure, Fethullah Gülen, and has fired a number of police officers and prosecutors who, it claims, had been infiltrated into those positions by Gülen. News media in the U.S., however, have provided little information about Gülen or his movement beyond noting that he lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
This article, which originally appeared in the New Republic in December 2010, was recently reprinted by the magazine because of its relevance to the current imbroglio. The author has written extensively for a variety of newspapers and magazines, primarily but not exclusively on Turkish issues. Given the article’s age, it does not shed light on the recent events. In fact, the article suggests that an alliance formed between Erdoğan and Gülen when the former began his rise to power, and notes that some Turks believe Gülen’s followers were involved in the government’s arrest and prosecution of senior military officials in recent years.
The article’s primary value lies in the extensive, and very interesting, background it provides on Gülen and his movement. Gülen himself was trained as a Muslim cleric and became a follower of Said Nursi, a Turkish intellectual responsible for a revival of Islam in Turkey last century. As he preached his version of Nursi’s ideas beginning in 1969, Gülen quickly gained a following. Certainly Gülen is not a radical. He eschews violence and promotes the study of science and equality for women. According to Ms. Hansen, his following reminds some people “… of Opus Dei, Scientology, the Masons, Mormons and Moonies,” Gülen’s followers refer to themselves as “a faith-based, civic society movement.”
Whatever it is, the movement has spread its influence widely. According to a University of Houston professor cited by Hansen, they operate over 1,000 secular schools and universities in over 100 countries, including the U.S. (33 in Texas alone, according to Hansen). Gülenist schools and other activities in the U.S. have garnered some bad press, mostly in Islamophobic circles, but are strongly supported by local officials.
There are many sources of information on the current situation in Turkey, and some on the Web on Gülen and his movement, but few if any provide the degree of insight into the man and his movement that this article does. It certainly isn’t, and doesn’t claim to be, the definitive study of either. Well worth a read if it causes even a few readers to learn more about Gülen, his movement and its influence on current events in Turkey.