In order for Turkey to have domestic peace and be regarded with esteem from abroad, what kind of actions does Fethullah Gülen propose and what kind of a role does he assign to his followers in this regard?

Fethullah Gülen

Fethullah Gülen gives different advice for domestic matters and international matters. Domestically, he emphasizes the importance of education and proposes to raise a generation, aware of world realities and understanding the meaning of change in the world. He believes that the republican elite (the founders) attached a great significance to education and thought that by educating the children of peasants, they could build a modern society. Looking at the result, it is obvious it was a futile expectation.

The educational efforts were not accompanied by developing a market economy and integrating into the world economy, which is observed in the model of development of Germany, Japan, and Singapore. For this reason, the well-educated youth had a great difficulty in making a progress beyond being employed by the state and could not contribute meaningfully to Turkey’s development, which had a low growth rate. The people whose passion for consumerism increased, started consuming without producing, and the development was further delayed. For this reason, Fethullah Gülen proposes with great passion a plan to encourage production and an educational policy in conformity with this plan.

However, starting from the assumption that everything would be possible by securing internal peace and security, the internal politics should not be carried out on the bases of ideologies and polarizations, but with cultural diversity and sociological realities kept in mind. Fethullah Gülen notes that the problems that have so far eluded a solution cannot be resolved in a divisive, vicious setting, but by the segments of the society experiencing common problems and their political representatives agreeing on the common denominators.

With respect to his advice concerning international efforts, he again focuses on education. He believes that in the countries where the movement participates, Turkey’s cultural, economic, and diplomatic influence will increase. But on this matter he is realistic. With the best estimate, he believes that the return for the human and material investment will bear results in couple of decades. Furthermore, that the real fruits will be reaped in the long run, and these activities will contribute to Turkey’s global role, even if he does not live to see it. For this reason, he finds it important for the movement to establish bridges based on the sustainable global values through its activities abroad. He enumerates these values as, “justice, security, freedom, brotherhood, humanism.” He wishes that a policy, which brings out empathy to the fore and based on these components, becomes the main strand of Turkish foreign policy. At this point, he touches upon the artificial debates which hinder democratization and opening up to outside world:

In reality, there is neither Turkish-Kurdish fight, nor an Alawi-Sunni fight. No need for an Alawi-Sunni distinction; no need of a division between Kurdish and Turkish. There are only people who share the same fate. When they hurled themselves upon us, they crushed all of us; when they declared a war, all of us were united in one front and fought against them in unison. If there was a possibility to revive the martyrs of Gallipoli, you would see that they would use very different dialects and different languages from each other. But at one place, encountering the enemy, they gave a common fight altogether ... And we treat all of them with great respect and honor considering all of them as martyrs. We show our admiration, we applaud them saying that they have done their share. If your past was that, then today this is your fate, it is togetherness.[1]

Fethullah Gülen’s advice is to accept differences, but not by exaggerating them; common values should be stressed and people treated equally in getting their needs met. The importance of an economic infrastructure that would make it possible to have an honorable and free life for everyone is obvious. If Turkey can expedite its development which has been retarded, it can become an international “point of attraction, a center.” Fethullah Gülen points to the fact that for Turkey to become a center of energy and industrial production, what is required is only good planning and effort, which in possible through domestic peace:

This is the first thing to do. Everyone in Turkey should work hard and thinking how Turkey could be made rich and wealthy, a great effort should be made in this direction. How can the possibilities in our hand could be used and utilized in better ways? Some liberal activities are taking place in many parts of the world. If we go also into such a process, could we have the same advantages? Now we should look at this, and we should make Turkey a point of interest and a center of attraction. For this if you make use of your own potentialities. ... If you enrich your country, they would come to you.[2]

These sentiments also answer the oft-debated matter among the public: “Would the European Union accept us to join their association?” In this answer one finds self-confidence, a realistic proposal for planning based on utilizing the resources efficiently, hard work, and the expectation of social stability. In order to realize this social stability, he states that it is imperative to resolve the issue of the Southeastern Anatolia Region to be resolved:

The Southeast has to be made a center of attraction. You cannot overlook the realities. Now there might be some people in Northern Iraq feeling differently from you one way or another. For some time, they were together with you; after an agreement with Sheikh Idris, for a period of four centuries they did not raise their voice and accepted you. They are always close to us; they are closer to us than the Europeans. Now if we make our region attractive, we would awaken the envious feelings in some other places, they would admire our country. … No matter how much you stress on “Unitarian state” or “indivisibility,” if you do not make your country attractive in terms of welfare and freedom, you would have difficulty in asking the loyalty of the citizens. The relatives of your people on the other side of the border would not take you as a model. But when you make your country attractive, the others would try to simulate you. Who knows maybe there, they would somehow go to the establishment of a confederation. Those in Iraq would say, “Let us have such an alliance with the Southeastern Anatolia.[3]

Fethullah Gülen, who speaks in the same vein as Turgut Özal, former Prime Minister and President of Turkey, envisions a phenomenon of peace. Stability and welfare, spreading from Turkey, could develop into a network of regional alliances and cooperation centered in Turkey. For this reason, the problems prevailing in the Southeastern Anatolia Region have to end and the residents of that region should not be against their country, but as a motivating force standing behind it:

The peace of the Southeast would be the guarantee also for the peace in Turkey. The delay of the project of development and improvement regarding this region would be extremely objectionable. If you drag on these projects, and if the people living there become uncomfortable with this situation, that it would be an economic disturbance, then those who want to exploit it would exploit it, would lead the matter into another direction, they would provoke chauvinism and racism. These are acts of reaction. That is to say, if you say on your own, “I am this and that; I have come from the Altay Mountains.” The others would stand up and say, “I for myself, I have come from Babel.”[4]

If the administration leans on one ethnic element and bases the administration of the nation on that ethnic group, it could trigger negative sentiments among others. For that reason, Fethullah Gülen agrees with the now circulating statement that “Kurdish chauvinism is the illegitimate child of Turkish chauvinism.” He advises the civic society and the state to work together, shoulder to shoulder, to complement each other.

Of course, we cannot do all of these; most of them are the business of the government; these are things that the state can handle with its parliament, respective ministries regarding different things, soldiers and civilians and its security forces. But as citizens we have to be present there, as well. What is left to us is the duty of advising tranquility and peace. If everyone takes the law into his own hands and starts applying punishments, then there would be chaos. In a state of law these do not exist and should not exist.[5]

In summary, Fethullah Gülen proposes a unity and complementary role of state and society, which envisions a division of labor that stresses shared values and common needs and expectations, excluding no one. Fethullah Gülen highlights the fact that the contributions of his movement have been met with approval, even in the problematic region of the southeast. He also emphasizes that these contributions are the inevitable consequence of the duty and responsibility of citizenship:

The indigenous population of the region is open to tolerance and love. Even in the northern Iraq we are opening schools. People there are receiving these educational activities with great appreciation. In different parts of the Southeastern Anatolia so many schools were opened. More or less since the 80’s, the dormitories, youth hostels, university preparation courses were established. Neither in that university preparation neither courses nor in the schools nor in cultural centers so far nothing undesirable took place. Even one of the former prime ministers during his reign, had asked a survey to be carried out in that region. As a matter of fact this is the poll taken by the government. That poll showed that in the province of Van the number of those who went to the mountain to oppose the state through terrorism decreased after the establishment of the school there. The society seems, to a great extent, to be looking forward to the service given by the people of Anatolia. They seem to be saying come, do it!

Furthermore, many of your ministers are from the southeast. Turgut Özal, who served sometime as a Prime Minister and President, is a person from that region. İsmet İnönü was a man from that region. Again, Ferit Melen, who served as Prime Minister, was from the province of Van. I mean the nation has no problem. People do not have any problem with each other. The worst of it is that there might be some inside and outside the country who would take advantage of the chaos produced by some. In such a period, if they desire to make some laws to crush some people, they deem “undesirable,” then societal peace could not be quite possible. Therefore, let us pity on the country and not harm it.[6]

Another source of grief for Fethullah Gülen is for Turkey to remain a closed country. Unconcerned administrations, which closed the doors to the realities of the country and the developments in the world, have generated a society estranged to it and a stranger to universal standards. Now, Turkey would like to confront these domestic and international realities and meet the challenge, but the country is unable to find the keys to the door shut long ago. We are passing our days in vain, quarreling as to the place of the keys and losing time. As a remedy for this situation, Fethullah Gülen submits the following:

I personally believe that a worldwide political vision must be in view. Until the moment we realize that, I carry the conviction that we are going to be in this closed cage. It is absolutely impossible for Turkey which has an important position, by cutting off the relationships with its neighbors, to retain its existence. Within the borders fixed by National Pact [which was made before the War of Independence], imprisoning herself in its shell. The first thing to be done for this country which is encircled by enemies is that, while preparing its citizens to face the challenge of this century, as much as the circumstances allow, to transform its environment as a halo of security. Yes, the citizens of the country have to be brought up along these lines.

… Especially lately, opening up to the world with the cultural and educational activities, I believe that this could be accomplished. These activities are admired nowadays anyway, by saying, “Turkey was inside a closed cage, these kinds of activities are very good for Turkey,” and an image of a Turkish world from the Pacific Ocean to the Chinese wall. Besides, establishing strong lobbies by Turkey in various countries is very important in terms of securing the future. It cannot be said that there are lobbies in the world which support and defend Turkey, other than several artificial institutions working for a return of a price. If this country is in the defense of the ideal of Devlet-i Ebed Müddet [the Eternal State], it is absolutely necessary for different voluntary lobbies everywhere to be in existence.[7]

While making these practical propositions, Fethullah Gülen stays away from imaginary and ideological fantasies as much as possible:

I do not believe in the imaginative things like “Islamic common market” to dwell on which are useless and futile. But when we become a centripetal force, I am of the opinion that this kind of unions or agreements could come into existence naturally. With this aim in mind, from education to economy from that to cultural activities through all efforts we should give priority to the development of these countries and let them feel that we are always behind them.[8]

[1] “Bir Damla Ülke Kalmış Zaten, Yazık Etmeyelim” (There is only a small portion of the country left, do not ruin it),
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid
[7] Fethullah Gülen 1997b, 182–183.
[8] Ibid., 183.

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