How are the intercultural and interfaith activities of the Gülen Movement viewed in Turkey?

The intercultural and interfaith activities of the Gülen Movement are generally seen in a very positive light and as being ‘closely related to Turkey's future’.

A prominent example of Gülen’s personal participation in intercultural affairs (and of the opposition to his work by the protectionist elite) was his meeting with Pope John Paul II. This meeting was seen as a major development. Turkish commentators who criticized Gülen for this meetings were themselves in turn publicly criticized for preferring to be ‘an isolationist–totalitarian regime.’

So, the public and public intellectuals express support for the intercultural and inter-religious activities such as the Gülen–Pope meeting. Such activities are seen as a very important security measure for Turkey’s democratization and an important contribution toward Turkey becoming a stable country.

The Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF) set up a number of platforms were set up – for example, the Literature, Dialogue Eurasia, and Abant platforms. In common parlance they are all often called the “Abant Platforms” or, more accurately, the “JWF Platforms”.

They function as think tanks dealing with contentious social and cultural issues. They bring urgent matters to the fore to be engaged with in a constructive spirit, and start public discussions and negotiations on issues that have caused tensions and clashes for decades. Participants strive to reach a consensus so that diverse views can be peacefully accommodated within society.

These platforms were a pioneering venture in Turkey. At the first meetings of the platforms, those who attended noted that this was the first time in modern Turkish history that scholar-scientists, people of religion, members of the arts, and state officials had come together, sat side by side, and talked and listened to each other with respect.

The platforms have become widely appreciated as an effective forum for airing dilemmas that many people in Turkish society longed to have openly discussed and resolved. The Movement has thus contributed to the training of a potential for coexistence, for a common sense of citizenship, without the need to clash and with the hope of mutual respect and tolerance.

There has been a tendency in Turkish politics to try to deal with some very complex issues – ethnicity, religious observance, secularism, the role of the military in politics, societal cohesion and peace, work ethics, universal values – in the narrow arena of political competition. However, as a result of this politicization of the issues, hardly any change has occurred in the way that public institutions actually function and operate. The underlying problems therefore continue to perplex the nation.

In contrast to that stagnant situation, the JWF platforms have allowed issues to be aired and to enter the public space so they can be presented to decision-making. This transforms the initiatives into possibilities for social change without invalidating the normal decision-making apparatuses of the political arena.

Among the collective actors that take on such problems, the Movement has a marked difference in style and strategy. As it is not a political party and is not trying to gain political power, it does not contaminate its cultural and educational purposes with political tactics or political ambitions. It gives appropriate expression to the issues that need to be addressed, and calls for change through taking responsibility and dealing with individuals and their needs, rather than with (or against) political and governmental positions. In this sense the Gülen Movement is able to be more disinterested than a political party or a political movement.

The JWF Platforms generate and disseminate ideas, information, and knowledge. These ideas have a different rationale and permit new words and ideas to be spoken and heard. They are different from the words and ideas that the dominant power groups in Turkey want to impose. This is not to naively ignore the tendency of those dominant groups to assert hegemonic control over political mechanisms and processes; rather, it is seen, from within the Movement and outside, as teaching wisely and by example the proper role of social institutions, and thereby helping to define what participatory democracy in the country could become.

It contributes to an improved level of awareness and understanding of controversial issues. Through media outlets and other institutions as well as the JWF platforms, participants demonstrate their competence to redefine problems and solutions. Intellectuals from a wide spectrum of perspectives are engaged in this effort to improve awareness, and to contribute to making sound decisions based on accurate information.

The JWF platforms enable people autonomously to produce and recognize meanings for their own individual and collective lives. This is different from other external and remote powers which manipulate people through the consumption of imposed meanings. The platforms constitute a consensual co-ordination of the plans of action that individuals pursue. They make visible new sources of power and possibilities which can all help to handle systemic conflicts in a complex society. They are new forms of social empowerment and responsibility in Turkey.

Gülen and the JWF platforms succeeded in their aim of bringing different segments of society together for the common good. This was in contrast to those who divide and keep people in their different camps in tense opposition.

People– from left to right politically, from observant Muslims to ardent secularists, from elder statesmen to ordinary citizens, and from ordinary members to leaders of the non-Muslim communities in Turkey – came together in beginning to question the recent past, to see a different reality, and to become open to change and renewal. For example, Armenian Patriarch Mutafian said: ‘People who shared the same religion could not get together in this country [Turkey] until recent times. Now, people from different religions come together at the same dinner. The person to thank for this development is Fethullah Gülen and the Foundation of Journalists and Writers of which he is the honorary president. We followed the path opened by him.’

Gülen’s discourse and practice have obtained the support of many well-known liberal intellectuals and former Marxists. All those people now affirm and accept that the solution to Turkey’s problems depends on reaching a consensus. Moreover, some influential scholars, deemed ‘Islamist’ by Western academic circles, have also modified their discourse and action in line with Gülen and express ideas and attitudes different from their earlier positions.

As outlined above, Gülen and the JWF have brought together on common ground secularists and anti-secularists, who had been artificially separated on this issue. Gülen argues that secularism should not be an obstacle to religious devoutness, nor should devoutness constitute a danger to secularism. The JWF platforms help to bring these two groups in Turkish society into dialogue.

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