Does Fethullah Gülen propose a return to Ottoman patterns?

Fethullah Gülen

No, Fethullah Gülen does not propose a nostalgic return to Ottoman patterns. His references to history contain no hint of cultural politics. He makes no attempt to disparage any historical epoch, especially not those moments associated with the origins of modernity in Turkey. He does not evoke the past in order to express a wish to restore the sultanate as a shortcut to unity and order, nor does he idealize “homeland”, “religion”, and “family” for a cause. He recognizes and understands the complexities of the modern world.

Since the inception of the Gülen Movement, Fethullah Gülen has presented models for self-improvement leading to social transformation. He does not see the past as a strategy for reinforcement of the present political order, nor does he consider that a new model based upon the past can or should be reinstated in the present. In fact, he has called that kind of thinking a grotesque anachronism, and said that no sane person could believe that such a jump in time could come to fruition. In his view, Turkey will not regain the transnational hegemony it exercised before the First World War. To Fethullah Gülen, the very idea of such cultural imperialism is incompatible with current economic, military and geographical realities. The Gülen Movement and Fethullah Gülen’s efforts are very different from reactionary projects which seek to revive or restore the past. Fethullah Gülen repeatedly affirms that “if there is no adaptation to new conditions, the result will be extinction.”

Fethullah Gülen looks to the past for examples to follow and mistakes to avoid; that is, he looks to the past for the means to go beyond what has remained in the past. He has said, “Today, it is obviously impossible to live with out-of-date conceptions which have nothing to do with reality. Continuing the old state being impossible means either following the new state or annihilation. We will either reshape our world as required by science, or we shall be thrown into a pit together with the world we live in.”

However, being aware of history clarifies the concepts of the present that are mostly shaped by the concepts and the events of the past. On this topic, Fethullah Gülen has said, “If keeping your eyes closed to the future is blindness, then disinterest in the past is misfortune.” By presenting a very broad range of historical themes and characters, Fethullah Gülen instills hope and gives his audience access to the necessary measures for reform and advancement in globalized society. To him, knowing history is the road to an innovative and successful future in which people are able to know where they are going.

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