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Community and Socialization

by Enes Ergene on . Posted in An Analysis of the Gülen Movement

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Often, modern approaches do not consider a particular community's mode of organization as being in line with modern society. The reason for this is that they believe the ideology of modernization increases individualism. This may be true to a certain extent; however, it is not a valid consideration or approach for all kinds of social order. Those who conceive formation of communities to be against modernization—that is, those who conceive it to be a social form that existed in the pre-modern period—consider individualism in modernity as a social given. In the West, the development of a new individualism is perceived as one of the most important gains of modern philosophical thought. All sorts of ideas concerning freedom and liberty emphasize individualism.

In practice, modernization has made individuals lonelier. Individuals are being left unprotected in the face of demanding social and economic processes. This socio-psychological phenomenon has prepared the ground for the cultivation of communities that carved out a public space in the modern society for their participants. Indeed, the phenomenon of increased communities and local formations is not one that pertains solely to late modernizing societies or to societies that failed to modernize. It is a social form that is very visible in the whole of the world today.

When we take the case of the Islamic world in particular, we see that this phenomenon has deep, broad, and long sociological and historical foundations. Islam is a religion that encourages helping one another. The organization of good deeds, solidarity, and sharing is connected to the principles of social justice. Islam encourages solidarity and sharing, and paves the way for public organizations around such good deeds based upon mobilizing every believer's potential for benevolence and virtue. In Islamic history, most institutions of public service have come about as a combination of popular charity and Islamic principles of solidarity. This is why the concept called class struggle has never been an element of the Islamic history rendering class struggle analyses useless for the Muslim world.

There is a need to avoid treating the formation of communities or movements as marginal. The appearance of radical movements has more to do with the alienated sections of the society than with the formation operating within the prevailing religious or cultural framework of the society. Deep feelings of deprivation, coupled with certain feelings of being excluded from the current social identity, turn some small groupings into the catalysts of marginal organizations. While such movements might begin as mere opposition movements, they often transform into political and/or militant challenges. The active members of such organizations transmit an organizational consciousness to their members that conveys a sense of disconnection from mainstream social processes. When this radical disconnection from the general identity is coupled with a cavalier psychology that has no regard for individual lives, we can see what sort of results appear at the end.

The Gülen movement as a catalyst

Conflict and alienation are not necessarily adopted by all formations within the society. Any community or movement that has an encompassing focus has to act in conformity to the existing notions of social identity. Movement or communities that try to provide service in various sectors of the society should be differentiated from non-governmental organizations that choose a single field of effort.

The Gülen movement is an important and ideal example of such formations. As has been mentioned above, its base in the masses is not composed solely of members of the lower middle classes, people from the countryside, or those who have experienced a certain amount of deprivation or exclusion from society. Most participants share Turkey's general social identity, they are mostly educated and open to social interaction. Overall, the movement does not advocate any stance against the current political structure or the version of national identity promoted by the state.

Due to its widespread basis in the society, the Gülen movement can neither be analyzed through classical theories of modernization, nor categorized as a marginal or fundamentalist movement. It should not be forgotten that this movement aims to enrich society through innovative ways of social participation and volunteer work in the principles of positive action and adherence to the law. This makes the function of the movement critically important in terms of playing the role of a catalyst fostering habits of cooperation and mutual respect in the society weakening the tendencies of apathy and indifference to what goes on in the society.

There is a caveat here not to attribute its mission solely to a catalyzing religious awareness. Its willingness to move beyond the limited scope of religious communities shows the movement's capacity to extract from the Islamic ideals a basis of action with broader and more humane themes. This feature of the movement highlights its role to provide a basis of participation for all segments of the population, some of which may be affected by the rapid modernization. It aims to protect individual identities from fragmentation, and it provides a feeling of self-confidence in individuals with fragmented identities (as the result of social transformations) by raising the awareness of one's own identity.