Has the Gülen Movement ever been convicted of a crime?

Fethullah Gülen

“No” is Fethullah Gülen’s short and categorical answer. Why then are he and the movement he inspired so much of a concern? They are worried because the civil society’s growth in strength and declaration of its will would mean narrowing of the political arena where the state is the main factor. All the influence and privileges of those who participate in politics through the use of the state apparatus until now will come to an end. This worry does not generate a little resistance. In fact, the resistances we are talking about are displayed not only against the Gülen Movement. All the influential civil society organizations are subject to the attacks and pressures from the state or political organizations related to the state. TESEV (Türkiye Ekonomik ve Sosyal Etüdler Vakfı–Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation), a civil society organization, which was founded and managed by an elite class, is no exception. Because of its studies in the field of human and minority rights and its redefining the rights and duties of the armed forces within the framework of the constitution, the organization has received threats and was put in a blacklist. Other independent researchers and writers have been blacklisted as well.

Another feature of the Gülen Movement is its being religious. Turkish official identity is based on being Muslim, even Sunni Muslim. But Turks are not allowed to reveal this identity with a loud voice, especially in the public sphere; religion is not to be visible and influential. The religion, which is squeezed into the privacy of homes and on religious festival days, must be lived far from the eyes.

But over time the religious masses started standing tall in secular sectors in the big cities, in the schools that their children were attending, and even more, in the official positions of the state. When this happened, the alarm bells sounded.

The distinguished sons and daughters of the republic were frightened, as if they saw someone from space, when they saw the people with “funny and strange dresses” (although dressed the same way as their parents once dressed a generation earlier), frequently praying in public, and constantly making references to religion in their speeches. But they were their fellow citizens, living on the other side of their country, of which they had no knowledge outside the few cities, where they had been living. They were the traditional people of the regions that the incompetent administrations did not make any effort to develop. What is more, they were in majority.

The secular sector did not want to share their space with them. It wanted to prevent them from getting economically strong and from sharing power with them, through judicial decisions that were not quite within the framework of legality, through various administrative measures, and even through coups d’état. The mass media also shared in these antidemocratic activities. From this negative picture, the Gülen Movement got its share.

Although Fethullah Gülen knows the answers, he asks:

In my past, which of my acts, which word of mine, or which writing has aroused such a suspicion and concern? About a man who lived among the public for 45 years, and whose writings were published in tens of books, who has hundreds of articles, poems, well over 1000 sermons and again many lectures and conferences, but as against these, there is absolutely no finalized court decision or a sentence, with what kind of conscience, fairness, with what logic or reason, or which legal conception can it be explained or reconciled.[1]

When reminded that he was arrested by the İzmir Martial Court in 1971, he explains:

Martial law, as its name reveals, is an extraordinary state of emergency and its courts are not ordinary courts. The prosecutor of the İzmir Martial Court of the period had explained the reason for our arrest after the 1971 memorandum as, “We have arrested so many from the leftists and punished them. So what, if we have arrested a few from your side in order to balance it?”

Later, the decision given about me at a lower court was overturned by the military appeals court, and the file for the retrial was closed due to the general amnesty declared still later. The case was dismissed. In this case, since the basic principle of legal systems is that “Until proven guilty, everyone is to be considered innocent,” it would be obvious that there can be no talk of any crime of mine.[2]

Then, he makes an interesting comment:

The 40 years of one’s life passed almost under close surveillance, and during that time so many charges, accusations and slanders and inaccurate media reporting took place and yet there is no conviction about him. If there is a suspicion that he might do in the future just the opposite of what he represented all his life, then it means there is no one else in this country that might not be suspected. There remains the fact that those who are making these accusations have a lot of activities, anti-state and anti-regime and convictions in their past, and their present are dubious and stained.[3]

It is interesting that when Fethullah Gülen made these comments, the Ergenekon case—the infamous case of a plot against the government—which might eventually include thousands from all walks of life, including generals, active duty and reserve, and hundreds of different crimes, including associations and involvement with the terrorist activities of the PKK)—had not yet been filed. Those who thought they were the owners of the motherland, the custodians of the state, and declared the majority of the citizens as enemy, and whose dirty linen had not been brought out for the public view.

Let us say that these so far are related to Fethullah Gülen’s person, but there also are criticisms about the institutions belonging to the movement, especially the charges and claims against the schools? Fethullah Gülen responds:

In every period, a certain sector had some weight with the current governments and against these institutions a bombardment of surveillance and inspections were experienced. ... They were subjected to midnight raids. They even raided the dormitories of the girls, and searched every inch of their rooms. They searched under their pillows, raised their beds. We did not know when they were going to inspect. But until now, they could not find anything contrary to the ordinances, rules, and regulations of the Ministry of National Education. Small or great, they did not witness any negative conduct of any student. We gave depositions. There were serious supervision, we were followed, there were listening, checking the books, entering the computers, everything was searched constantly, searched as in no other period things were searched; they could not find anything, one thousandth of a word worth, against regulations, democracy, republic or secularism. Then, what do you say? What do you say about those schools? Here is the state, checking everything, inspecting everything. They are state schools, under constant supervision of the Ministry of Education.[4]

[1] The interview given to Aksiyon magazine, 6 June 1998.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “Bu Hareket Devlete Alternatif mi?” (Is this movement an alternative of the state?), fgulen.com/tr/abd-sohbetleri/kirik-testi/12134-fethullah-gulen-bu-hareket-devlete-alternatif-mi

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