Monday, August 08, 2016

 

Fethullah Gülen

US resident and Turkish expatriate Fethullah Gülen has been fingered as a coup plotter by the Turkish regime. It's hard to know exactly who was behind the events in Turkey earlier this month but Gülen certainly has an interesting background. In 2012, when Gülen was still reckoned as an ally of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he was discussed at length in a New Yorker profile of Erdoğan. Citing the work of indicted Turkish journalist Ahmet Şık, author Dexter Filkins writes:
Gülen is considered one of Erdoğan’s most powerful allies but is reviled and feared by much of Turkey’s population. Born in either 1938 or 1941—publications distributed by his organization cite both dates—Gülen fled to the United States in 1999, as Turkish authorities were preparing to arrest him, for “trying to undermine the secular system.” He now lives in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, in the Poconos, and has emerged as the leader of one of the world’s most important Islamic orders, surpassed only by the Muslim Brotherhood in its reach and influence. His public message, in the books and glossy pamphlets his acolytes distribute, is almost entirely apolitical, but his critics suspect that his ambitions are deeply political.

Gülen’s followers operate a network of schools in a hundred and thirty countries. They also run a network of for-profit college-prep courses, which some Turks say earns tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue. (A prominent Gülenist in Turkey told me that the courses were not that profitable.) Turkish businessmen donate money to build Gülenist schools in countries whose markets they are trying to enter, and the schools serve as beachheads of good will. According to the movement’s followers, Turkish businessmen who are Gülenists often make deals with one another, sometimes in Turkey, sometimes in faraway lands that have nonexistent or weak governments. In person, Gülenists often come across as amalgams of Dale Carnegie and Christian missionaries: clean-cut, polite, and relentlessly cheerful.

In Turkey, Gülen’s followers own the newspaper Zaman and the TV channel Samanyolu, which editorialize on behalf of the A.K. Party and the Ergenekon prosecutions. (While Erdoğan himself is not believed to be a Gülenist, President Gül is said to be one, as are several other senior members of the government.) Gülen is thought to have between two and three million followers in Turkey, including as many as sixty members of parliament—about ten per cent of the total.

The Gülenists insist that the organization is too diffuse to function as a political movement. But many Turks say that the Gülenists have ambitions and that these may or may not include Erdoğan. A former member of parliament who was once a confidant of Erdoğan’s told me that, in 1999, he met Gülen in Pennsylvania. Gülen, he said, told him that he had a twenty-five-year plan to take control of the Turkish state, and that this would be accomplished by a group of followers he referred to as “the Golden Generation.” “There isn’t any question that Gülen wants political power,” the former legislator told me. (A spokesman for Gülen denied that he had ever advocated “regime change.”)

The most widely held perception in Turkey is that the Gülenists have taken control of the Turkish National Police—and that they are behind the arrests in the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases. James Jeffrey, a former Ambassador to Turkey, wrote in a cable to Washington, revealed by WikiLeaks, that at least part of that proposition appeared to be true: “The assertion that the T.N.P. is controlled by the Gülenists is impossible to confirm, but we have found no one who disputes it.”

Gülen has cultivated some powerful friends in the United States. When U.S. officials were trying to expel him to face criminal charges in Turkey, he was able to call on Graham Fuller, a former senior official in the C.I.A., to help him remain. When he applied for permanent residency, Morton Abramowitz, another former Ambassador to Turkey, wrote a letter on his behalf. Fuller’s relationship with Gülen, in particular, has prompted conspiracy theories in Turkey about the C.I.A.’s involvement in Gülen’s rise.
(Abramowitz also teamed up with neo-con Eric S. Edelman, another Jewish former US ambassador to Turkey, to rise to Gülen's defense in 2014 in a Washington Post op-ed). In 2013, The Economist also took note of a possible Israeli dimension in the Gülen-Erdoğan split: "A source of enduring speculation is why Mr Erdogan has chosen this moment to go after the Gulenists. The most likely answer is that Mr Erdogan wanted them to show their hand well before the presidential elections. An increasingly paranoid prime minister is said to believe that a 'Gulen-Israel axis' is bent on unseating him. His suspicions were fuelled by Mr Gulen’s very public criticism of Turkey’s rupture with Israel in 2010."

Earlier this month, just days after the attempted coup, Raphael Ahren wrote a piece in the Times of Israel mentioning Gülen at length. He writes:
[Efrat] Aviv, who teaches at Bar-Ilan’s Middle Eastern studies department and is a fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, has done extensive research into the moderate Islamic Gülen movement and its connection to Israel and the global Jewish community.

In an article she published in Turkish Policy Quarterly six years ago, she researched Fethullah Gülen’s interfaith outreach, which included meetings with several Jewish groups both in Turkey and the US.

“Gülen sees great importance in disseminating tolerance because of the fact that the world is a global village, and it is imperative to lay the foundation for communication without making distinctions between Christians, Jews, Atheists or Buddhists,” she wrote.

“Because of this approach, of perceiving dialogue as both a religious and a moral-national-social obligation, Gülen met with countless leaders and key people from the three religions during the 1990s. He met with Jewish leaders, both secular and religious, inside and outside of Turkey, in order to promote dialogue between Judaism and Islam.”

In the late 1990s, the reclusive imam met at least twice with senior delegations from the Anti-Defamation League, which at the time was headed by Abraham Foxman, according to Aviv.

“Gülen talked about his moderation regarding Islam, the Jews, Israel, and expressed reasonable and non-extremist views,” Kenneth Jacobson, who currently serves as the ADL’s deputy national director, recalled in 2005 about his first personal encounter with Gülen in New Jersey. “It was a very good meeting, very friendly.”

Jacobson’s second meeting with Gülen took place in 1998 at Gülen’s initiative — and at his Istanbul residence — and was also attended by then-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Leon Levy, Aviv writes.

“We met, and it was another pleasant encounter. We were given gifts,” Jacobson recalled, adding that Gülen reiterated his message of moderation. “He presented himself as someone that cares about moderation in Turkey and cares about a moderate Islam and as someone interested in good relations with Israel and the Jews.”
In 1998, Gülen met with Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron in Istanbul, a televised visit that came about at the initiative of the cultural attaché in the Israeli consulate. “This was the first time that a chief rabbi came on an official visit from Israel to Turkey, and the second visit of a chief rabbi in a Muslim country,” according to Aviv.

Israel’s consul-general to Istanbul at the time, Eli Shaked, participated in the meeting.

“The Israeli Foreign Ministry thought that a meeting with Gülen could help quell the hatred and resistance to Israel and/or Jews, and therefore they authorized it,” Aviv wrote.
More recently, Alon Goshen-Gottstein, also writing in the Times of Israel, says:
Israelis consider the Mavi Marmara a watershed point in Israeli-Turkish relations, despite gradual difficulties that had set in the relationship up to that point. Israel has recently patched things up with Turkey, more or less. But one relationship was permanently damaged and the Mavi Marmara played a major part in its unraveling. This is the relationship of Prime Minister, now President, Erdogan and Gulen. The two had been close in terms of political collaboration, even though Gulen was all the while in the United States and even though he does not represent a political party but a broad social and educational movement. When asked by a journalist about the Mavi Marmara and the Gaza flotilla, Gulen condemned the initiative, arguing for Israel’s sovereignty and urging that support for Gaza ought to be channeled through the state authority ...

He also recognizes Israel, enough to have distanced himself from Erdogan’s position on Gaza and the flotilla ... I believe Israel owes a debt of gratitude to a principled Muslim voice that recognized its sovereignty, at severe cost.
Given Fethullah Gülen's pro-Israel bona fides is it any wonder that his star seems to be rising in the West and the New York Times has given him a platform for him to profess his innocence and to critique Erdoğan as "an autocrat who is turning a failed putsch into a slow-motion coup of his own against constitutional government"? You can read Gülen's 2010 remarks on the Mavi Marmara massacre in the Wall Street Journal.

P.S. Gülen also likes Hillary Clinton.

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