Is the Gülen Movement’s understanding of cultural values and history a kind of regressive utopianism?

Fethullah Gülen

The Gülen Movement does not follow any anachronistic paradigm in the way that cults do. It does not romanticize the past. Yet it does emphasize cultural values. Fethullah Gülen has said, “Little attention and importance is given to the teaching of cultural values, although it is most necessary to education. If one day we are able to ensure that it is given importance, then we shall have reached a major objective.”

This emphasis on cultural values has been seized upon by critics who describe it as a reactionary call to return to pre-Republican Ottoman society – in sociological terms, a kind of regressive utopianism. The term of abuse employed in the Turkish context – irticaci – can be translated as “reactionary.” However, Fethullah Gülen has always denied this accusation: “The word irtica means returning to the past or carrying the past to the present. I am a person who has taken eternity as a goal, not only tomorrow. I am thinking about our country’s future and trying to do what I can about it. I have never had anything to do with taking my country backwards in any of my writings, spoken words or activities. But no one can label belief in God, worship, moral values and […] matters unlimited by time as irtica.”

Hizmet has never defined its identity in terms of the past, not at its inception and not at later stages. It does not draw upon or create an escapist myth of rebirth. Its action does not rest on a utopian appeal with religious or ideological connotations. It does not reduce the complexity of modern life to the unity of a single all-embracing formula. It acknowledges different levels and tools of analysis, and therefore does not identify the whole of society with the sacral solidarity of any group. Its religious accent does not make it susceptible to manipulation by any power structure, to marginalization as sects, or to transformation into a fashion or commodity for sale in the marketplace as a mind-soother. Competition in and among the service-projects does not allow the Movement to be led or to change into an individual flight, a mythical quest or fanatic fundamentalism.

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