What is Fethullah Gülen’s view on the “Greater Middle East Project?” Is this project feasible to implement or have the developments in Iraq forced the project to be shelved for now?

by Doğu Ergil on . Posted in Fethullah Gülen and the Gülen Movement in 100 questions

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Fethullah Gülen

Greater Middle East Project was an issue which kept the world busy in recent past, and one of the issues the most talked about. But, the history of the project goes back to 70s. In the past, similar projects were developed and implemented. For instance, in some period in recent history in order to get rid of, and erase from the face of the region, the Sublime State [the Ottoman Empire], to change the balance in the region, in order to replace a state with it, the tribes were provoked, the Arabs were instigated to rebel against the Ottomans, they were asked to revolt against the Sublime State. With racist winds and the fantasies of establishing national states, they had sawn the seeds of hatred and anger among the neighboring countries and still in the hearts and tongues of the administrators at the head of those countries are buried hatred and anger towards the others. Furthermore, even among those who play the game of Arabism, there are those in whose hearts, the dominant feeling is hatred and anger against each other. All these are the consequences of some of the projects put into implementation at the beginning of 1900s.

As early as in 70s in a magazine, there was a talk of a plan to divide the Middle East and the near environs, of 20 countries. Later, when I saw that some of the plans were being implemented, I was not surprised. These were planned even earlier and maybe they were watching out for an opportunity to arise for 30 years. These divisions were, for sure, to be realized by someone. Among the places to be divided were Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran and Iraq. Considering our observation that they were tackling the issue of the Southeast in Turkey, if we think about it, it would be immediately evident that this region was also included in the perspective.

There is this much, what were said yesterday were different things. Nowadays, in the ideas they are pronouncing now, they have been saying that they are aiming at making the region as an island of stability. But, they were not speaking in those terms yesterday. It is probable that the implicit and explicit reactions they received from the region or outside the region, forced the owners of this project to change course. By way of claims that they are trying to establish peace and security, they are trying to soften their rhetoric and presenting a different style so that the countries in the region will see no harm in this project anymore.

Yes, while some talking about these kinds of projects; they are basing themselves on a pretext of democratization of the region. Before everything else, what has to be clear is whether they are sincere in these expressions or not. Are they really sincere in this assertion? In 1911, the man at the head of the force to occupy Benghazi was saying, “We have come here to democratize you.” These days there is an oft-repeated claim: “Democratization of the region.” No one can say anything to democracy and the word of Democracy is really such a soft expression to excuse the things which might come afterwards. The excuse however here is that for democracy to take root, one really has to sacrifice certain things; this is exactly a satanic thinking.

Second, some people, taking along some others also with them ... after setting various ethnic and religious groups pitted against one another, make the innocent looking claim: “The region by itself is unable to establish peace and stability, when there is a source of irritation in one place somehow that threat is reflected in other regions of the world, hence, to prevent such a problem is our human duty, it is an obligation on us and the like.” Can these be a pretext to enter the region, and consolidate their position of being a referee? The thinking of the West can be this, and the aim and goal of another and another, too. ...

In spite of that, in my opinion, whether in the earlier or the later form, to the projects like “Greater Middle East” or “Northern Southern Africa project,” or if there was any, the Far East projects, it would not be right to oppose them just as projects. The reason being is that what is important here is knowing by whom these projects are being planned and presented for implementation and what kind of ultimate plans behind and in front of these projects. If the owners of these projects are not the Middle Eastern countries but some super powers like the USA, Europe, Russia, even China and India with a view of dominating the region, then without knowing what is being stipulated at the beginning, at the end, and since we are not in it from the beginning of the project, supporting that project would not be right. At any stage of the project, entering into it and owning up the project might seem in our favor. But, since we are not in it from the beginning, and we have no say in shaping the rules of the game, it might generate very negative consequences which would hold us responsible in history.

I wish Turkey, in terms of its subconscious heritage, having a great credit, had prepared this project in cooperation with various strategy centers, with the participation of idle Eastern nations and then offer it to the super powers. I wish Turkey said to the Europeans, “I have such a plan, and you say that you fear terror, you are concerned about the people of the Middle East. Do not be afraid, here we are a source of security and guarantee. As long as we are here, no one would touch you.” As a matter of fact, since some of the region’s nations detect this intention and influence of Turkey, they say we wish we can have the support of Turkey and try to maintain good relations with it. It will be strengthened with this togetherness. After all, Turkey has a Muslim past. At the moment, it has a regime which looks with tolerance at Islam and an understanding of democracy. It has a common past with the countries of the Middle East. It lived for a thousand years with this world. Therefore, we have a very important credit with them subconsciously. Yes, we have several thousand years of history and an honorable past. We are a nation dominated almost half of Europe. Even if we are poor today, economic situation is not good, and we have stayed behind some Western nations; still we are a credible nation in the region. In a sense, those who work with us can dominate that world through us. Despite the shortcomings we have, in the eyes of the regional nations, we have a superior position. We have to use this credit.[1]

Some might say we have a strategic partnership with other states, and it is the necessary consequence of that partnership to support this project. Well in reality, the strategic partnership does not mean to participate in the implementation of a plan of which we are not part! Why we were not consulted in the preparation of that project? Why aren’t we consulted, “What do you think about this issue?” Why aren’t we asked, “Should we proceed to do this, do you approve of it?” For this reason, I wish from the inception the plan and the vision belonged to us, we had prepared those arguments. I wish we had fixed the rules of the game. Then we would not have lost. Since the plan was ours, it would have been possible to revise and correct where we made a mistake.

On the other hand, saying in haste “no” to the project might be a mistake, too. Who knows, by not trying to prevent great loss, by not venturing to stop a wrong, we might be mistaken. By merely saying “no” to the matter and stepping aside would not be something right, either. That matter has to be analyzed seriously. In short, I do not know if those, managing the Turkish political life, those who are at the higher echelon of the state, with its government and opposition, with its soldiers and civilians, have properly deliberated on this matter. I do not know if they approach it positively. But, personally, I am not carrying the conviction that it will be in our favor, because the project was not over sighted by us from the beginning and we do not know exactly what the content of the project is. We cannot think of the existence of our interest in a project which is not placed there by us, by not thinking about the interests of Turkey and the people of the region, in a project in which we have no contribution or a project which is not initiated by us.[2]

This analysis not only is viable from a strategic point of view, but it also had been vindicated over time. The destruction and the human drama, experienced as a result of the occupation of Iraq by the Bush administration with false pretexts, opened up the door for political instability that will last for a long duration.

From another perspective, if one goal of the Greater Middle East project is to establish stability, another one was to establish democracy. But it soon became evident that democracy does not come on the tip of bayonets. The bayonets are shedding blood, but the blood does not sustain democracy. On the contrary, it is suffocating it. Nowadays, Turkey is developing its own democracy and is preparing itself as the model that other societies can follow to challenge their own state apparatuses. And Fethullah Gülen had foreseen this development three years before it occurred..

[1] Fethullah Gülen 2005b, 209–212.
[2] Ibid., 213–214.