Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has inspired the popular civic and social movement called Hizmet, has said he is concerned with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government’s moves seen over the last couple of years to cut back on fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey.
“There has been a serious regression in fundamental rights and freedoms over the last few years,” he said, lamenting the offensive and subversive language utilized by politicians in stigmatizing and marginalizing large swathes of Turkish society.
“During the Gezi Park protests, I raised my objection to the description of protesters as ‘çapulcu’ [bandits]. This also applies for the Alevis. Turkey has failed to introduce democratic solutions for their most fundamental rights,” he explained in an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman.
Gülen reaffirmed his position on establishing political party, saying that “we are not and will not be a political party. Therefore, we are not a rival of any political party.”
He also made it clear that he will continue to express his views when necessary, underlining that this is one of his most natural and democratic rights.
“I don’t understand why some people do not like us enjoying this democratic right of ours. Telling the people at the helm of the country ‘I have such and such ideas’ should not be a crime. In advanced democracies, individuals and civil society organizations freely disseminate their views and criticisms about the country’s political issues, and no one expresses any concern about this,” Gülen stated.
Dismissing descriptions of a “parallel structure,” a term invented by embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been incriminated in a massive corruption scandal, Gülen said every institution affiliated with Hizmet is open to public scrutiny and operates in full compliance with the law.
“If public servants are profiled or face unfounded charges, this is a breach of their fundamental rights and freedoms,” he warned.
Gülen also rejected the claim that his movement is seeking a position in government, saying, “We have never asked for a position such as general manager, governor, district governor or minister.”
“If someone has done so in the past — and I do not remember such a thing happening — they are no longer linked to us. I have forwarded this sentiment of mine to state officials,” he added.
As for the government’s interference in the media and the judiciary that was wrongfully ascribed to Hizmet, Gülen said audio leaks posted on the Internet have clearly indicated that it is Erdoğan’s government that is pressuring the media and judiciary, and not Hizmet.
“Today, we understand from the voice recordings posted on the Internet that the officials who govern the country abandoned their proper duties and worked hard to ensure that these people were sentenced. They directly meddled in public tenders to push the businessmen who were deservedly awarded the contracts out. What is tragic here is that they commit grave sins by putting the blame of these errors on innocent people,” he noted.
As for the Ergenekon detainees who were recently released, Gülen said the government could have saved them a long time ago just like it did intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, who was saved with a rush bill in Parliament.
“I am in no position to meddle with the laws in force or make any suggestion in this context,” he said.
He also added that “a coup is a serious accusation and judicial authorities are supposed to, in accordance with the rules that govern them, hold those responsible accountable. But perhaps a legal remedy could have been found while taking into consideration the ages or medical condition of those people advanced in age and used to being treated with respect all their lives.”
Commenting on rumors that Hizmet will face a crackdown after the local elections on March 30, the Islamic scholar said many things are being said out of anger. “I think every insult imaginable has already been made,” he lamented.
“There is no end to inventing offenses based on beliefs, ideologies, communal identities or parties of the people who work in public institutions,” Gülen noted, adding that “the practice of creating suspicions about certain people or groups with such unfounded accusations destroys the very sense of fairness, justice and order.”
Here are excerpts from the interview:
On the surface, it appears that there is a row between the government and the Hizmet movement. Articles were written to analyze this row. Some say, “We can change a party we don’t like through elections, but how can we change a community we don’t like?” What do you think about this?
I must note first of all that this is not a row between the AK Party and the Hizmet movement. There has been a serious regression in fundamental rights and freedoms over the last few years. The offensive and subversive language utilized by politicians is making every social segment into “the other” and polarizing society. During the Gezi Park protests, I raised my objection to the description of protesters as “çapulcu” (bandits). This also applies for the Alevis. Turkey has failed to introduce democratic solutions for their most fundamental rights. Perhaps there is a deliberate procrastination in this regard. We supported a project to build a joint mosque-cemevi complex but received unexpectedly harsh reactions.
Second, we are not and will not be a political party. Therefore, we are not a rival of any political party. We stand at an equal distance to everyone. Nevertheless, we make public our hopes and concerns about the future of our country. I think this is one of our most natural and democratic rights. I don’t understand why some people do not like us enjoying this democratic right of ours. Telling the people at the helm of the country “I have such and such ideas” should not be a crime. In advanced democracies, individuals and civil society organizations freely disseminate their views and criticisms about the country’s political issues, and no one expresses any concern about this.
I must add that every institution established and run by our companions are open to public scrutiny and operate in full compliance with the law. In other words, there is a completely transparent structure in place. The recent developments have shown clearly who is not transparent. Participation in the Hizmet movement is voluntary. It is regrettable to see volunteers of the Hizmet movement depicted as members of a clandestine organization despite the fact that these people exhibit full compliance with the law. There are public servants from diverse ideological groups in every public institution. A public servant may be rightist, leftist, Alevi, Sunni, non-Muslim, a Kurd, a Turk, what have you, but he or she is supposed to perform their duties properly. What matters is their compliance with the laws and regulations when performing their duties. If public servants are profiled or face unfounded charges, this is a breach of their fundamental rights and freedoms. If you talk about an imagined “parallel structure” out of the blue, then your illusions will create thousands of such structures for you. And you end up with oppression against those people.
Why do you now oppose a political party you have supported over the last 12 years? Were your interests aligned and reconciled before?
We have never established cooperation based on the recognition of interests with anybody. We have abstained from doing this because this is the lesson we draw from the Quran and the Sunnah. I have always seen the pursuit of strong and influential positions as a betrayal of our values. I would never say anything about choices other people make. But I have always viewed the pursuit of worldly and material gains as detrimental to my afterlife. This is also the case with my friends. We have never asked for a position such as general manager, governor, district governor or minister. If someone has done so in the past — and I do not remember such a thing happening — they are no longer linked to us. I have forwarded this sentiment of mine to state officials.
We have tried to extend support on such issues as the improvement of democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms. We would support any party to make sure anti-democratic practices come to an end and that the culture of a pluralistic democracy would become permanent. Unconditional partisanship is one thing, and lending support to democratic practices is another.
We now stand where we were before. We should look at who is moving away from this standpoint. A political party which has up until recently taken steps to expand the sphere of fundamental rights and freedoms is now considering censoring the Internet and introducing bills that would make this country an intelligence state. Is it possible to think of us as supporting attempts to do harm to social cohesion through strong and insulting discourse and to shelve democratic customs? If the whole issue is restricted to the Hizmet movement, you may try tolerating the repressive measures. However, the ongoing developments should be analyzed from a broader perspective. Unfortunately, Turkey is being alienated from the world. A Turkey which becomes isolated on the global stage and loses its democratic richness will hurt not only the people in this country but also everyone who takes Turkey as a model for themselves.
In the fourth part of this series, to be published tomorrow, Gülen talks about his support for the settlement process and laments the government’s belated steps to resolve the Kurdish issue.
Hizmet wrongfully blamed for gov’t misdeeds and conduct
For a long time, government sources have been attributing all adverse things at home and abroad to the Hizmet movement, and all good, democratic and favorable things to themselves. Now, with the defendants in the Ergenekon trial being released, they are resorting to the same method in an effort to leave the Hizmet movement with the bill. And occasionally this propaganda works. What do you say about this?
They tried to delude many social segments with this slander. For instance, they told some media groups, “We have no problem with you, but the Hizmet movement is messing with you.” Today, we understand from the voice recordings posted on the Internet that the officials who govern the country abandoned their proper duties and worked hard to ensure that these people were sentenced. They directly meddled in public tenders to push the businessmen who were deservedly awarded the contracts out. What is tragic here is that they commit grave sins by putting the blame of these errors on innocent people. Gossiping, backbiting, slander and aspersions abound, and one cannot help but feel sorry about it.
The saddest part is about the military. Those who boasted, behind closed doors, about “making the military submit to civilians” or “putting an end to military tutelage” told the military authorities, “We would iron out this problem, but the Hizmet movement is preventing us.” And yet they [the government] quickly passed a bill specifically for MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan. Had they really wanted and had they been sincere, they could have enacted a bill to save former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ and other senior military officers overnight.
Moreover, I would like to convey to you a feeling of mine. My friends have witnessed numerous times my eyes fill with tears, seeing how those retired military officers were detained. “If only the people who wear this honorable uniform had not been faced with this situation,” I had said. But I am in no position to meddle with the laws in force or make any suggestion in this context. A coup is a serious accusation and judicial authorities are supposed to, in accordance with the rules that govern them, hold those responsible accountable. But perhaps a legal remedy could have been found while taking into consideration the ages or medical condition of those people advanced in age and used to being treated with respect all their lives.
This is how I feel. It has always been so. It really runs counter to the facts to say that it is the Hizmet movement that put them in that position. A senior retired police intelligence official recently gave an interview to a journalist. My friends read it to me from the Internet. “We informed Mr. Prime Minister before every operation we conducted,” he had said. This statement, mentioned in a column, was not denied by the government. Now we have the right to ask: If the government knew of all operations beforehand, isn’t it a great sin to talk about a conspiracy and raise suspicions about certain groups? If there really was a conspiracy, why didn’t you take action to deal with it in a timely manner? If you knew, but failed to take action to prevent it, then wouldn’t this make you an accomplice to the conspiracy?
Sham trial against Hizmet doomed to fail
The Hizmet movement is being accused of being a gang or [terrorist] organization. There are even rumors that it will face a crackdown after the [local] elections [on March 30].
Unfortunately, many things are being said out of anger. I think every insult imaginable has already been made. They have consumed many things. Meanwhile, totally unfair accusations have been voiced. Following the campaign to toss around such labels as “[terrorist] organization,” and “gang,” efforts are also being made to influence the judiciary. It is now clear that, as has been said in election rallies, a lawsuit will be launched. If no crime can be found despite searching hard for it, it hurts the sense of justice to push laws beyond their limits to invent one, doesn’t it?
The concept and ambiguous accusation of the existence of a “parallel structure” applies to virtually every segment of society. That is, there is no end to inventing offenses based on beliefs, ideologies, communal identities or parties of the people who work in public institutions. Today, you may declare a specific community as a “parallel” structure or as a “gang.” In the future, others may claim the same for other communities. Thus, any person who works for the state and is sympathetic to any social, political or religious community may be accused of membership in a “parallel state.” What is more, no one can guarantee that those who parrot today these accusations of a “parallel state” will not face the same accusations in the future. The practice of creating suspicions about certain people or groups with such unfounded accusations destroys the very sense of fairness, justice and order.
If a public servant does not comply with the orders of his or her superiors, there are laws that set forth the sentences for this offense. His or her noncompliance is punished under the law. Yet if the matter is taken outside the legal course and thousands of people are labeled and reshuffled unlawfully, this oppression cannot be explained or justified in either this world or the next [i.e., on the Day of Judgment].
To force the judicial authorities to invent crimes and launch lawsuits against these people would be amplified oppression and the general public will find it unacceptable. Moreover, sham trials will not be successful. Moreover, if you call these people, who make total compliance with the law their lifestyle, a network, then people will ask: You have been working with these people for 12 years and they were good people during that time, but suddenly, after the launch of the graft and bribery investigation, you realized that they are evil. Is that so? We must never forget the verse recited in every Friday sermon: “God commands you to act with fairness.” That is, He orders us not to breach the rights of others.