Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has inspired a worldwide network active in education, charity and outreach, has described large-scale slander, pressure and oppression his Hizmet movement currently faces as worse than that seen during anti-democratic military coup regimes witnessed by Turkey. He also calls on his supporters to remain patient and steadfast and to not despair.
“What we are seeing today is 10 times worse than what we saw during the military coups,” he said, adding to that “we face similar treatment [as seen during the military coups] but at the hands of civilians who we think follow the same faith as us.”
Gülen's remarks represent a stark reminder of how he feels today in comparison to past military coups, during which he said he was prosecuted and persecuted. His comparison confirms what Turkish opposition parties are saying; namely, that the government in Turkey has staged a civilian coup and suspended the constitution and the rule of law in the country following the breakout of a corruption scandal on Dec. 17 of last year.
“But despite everything, I don't complain. … All we can do is say ‘This, too, shall pass,' and remain patient,” Gülen added. He also predicted that the current oppression engaged in by the government will not last long. “Aggressors will be turned upside down when they least expect it,” Gülen said.
Having stayed largely silent in the face of relentless attacks amounting to hate speech by beleaguered Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was incriminated in a massive corruption scandal, Gülen spoke to Today's Zaman and provided his account of how he sees the recent events in Turkey in the first interview with the Turkish media since Dec. 17.
In an extensive interview that will be published in Today's Zaman as a four-part series starting on Monday, Gülen explains his views on the corruption investigations, upcoming local elections, whether he will support any political party, slander leveled against him, voice recordings that have been leaked to the Internet, the release of suspects in the Ergenekon trial, the settlement process with the country's Kurds, rumors on a possible lawsuit against members of the Hizmet movement after the elections, Hizmet's alleged involvement in the takeover of the Fenerbahçe sports club, how he sees Turkey exiting from the current crisis, his return to Turkey and other questions many have been wondering about.
In the first part of the series, Gülen makes it clear that no conspiracy, slander and smear attacks can overcome truth, prudence and foresight. “What evidence are they relying on when speaking so confidently? I really don't know,” he said, challenging those who spread lies about the Hizmet movement to bring forth evidence in support of their allegations. Recalling that believers have been denigrated throughout history, Gülen emphasized that “everyone acts in accordance with their character.”
Despite attacks and a campaign of defamation, Gülen said almost all of his friends have acted with fidelity. “There was virtually no shock or breakup from among our companions and friends,” he noted in an apparent response to Erdoğan's failed efforts to drive a wedge between the leadership and the grassroots of the Hizmet movement. Erdoğan repeatedly said there is a difference between the leaders of the Hizmet movement and the members of the organization. “While the organization's members at the grassroots level are displaying sincerity, its leaders have taken a different position,” Erdoğan noted, accusing the leadership of conspiring with what he called “international dark circles.”
Recounting the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup, during which he was victimized and forced to leave the country amid the military's ouster of an elected government, Gülen said he tried his best to prevent the coup from taking place, including appealing to political leaders to call for an early election to get a fresh mandate. “Tension was building and everyone was searching for ways to save the country from this predicament [the impending threat of a military coup] with minimal damage. And like many others, I said early elections might be the cure. I suggested early elections should be held under a new election law.”
Gülen also talked about his alleged role in a conspiracy to change the management of the Fenerbahçe sports club, which boasts an estimated 25 million -- some say over 30 million -- supporters. However, a new voice recording leaked on YouTube early in March revealed that Prime Minister Erdoğan had attempted to get a candidate close to him elected as chairman of the Fenerbahçe sports club, instructing his son Bilal on how to prep his favored candidate with talking points.
“It has been understood that this claim [the Hizmet movement taking over Fenerbahçe] has turned out to be an aspersion,” Gülen said in reference to the voice recording. He added that “the emerging trend of our time is to attribute every inexplicable event to the Hizmet movement and use it as a scapegoat.” Gülen underlined that he rejoices the achievements of Turkish sport teams, be it Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray, Trabzon, Beşiktaş or any other team.
Gülen described remarks by Erdoğan's top advisor, Yalçın Akdoğan, as a trick. Akdoğan had suggested conspirators, a veiled reference to Hizmet, had used the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer coup plot trials, in which many military officials, including top brass, were convicted, to target the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). They tried to blame Hizmet for what they had done, he said. Recalling that the government rushed a bill from Parliament to save one man, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, from ongoing legal troubles in February 2012, Gülen said Erdoğan's government could have done the same for the others had it wanted.
You have in recent times been the target of all sorts of preposterous lies and slander. Very strong words have been used. But despite these accusations, you have remained silent, refraining from giving a response.
I have of course been very saddened. What evidence are they relying on when speaking so confidently? I really don't know. I don't know of any historical incident in which an unbeliever [hostile to Islam] had ever uttered a similar word or accusation against those who believe [i.e., Muslims]. I did not expect it from those who uttered them. I do not want to say that they are lying. Rather, I prefer to say that they are misleading the people with incorrect statements. For the time being, I find consolation in the fact that, throughout history, but particularly during times of discord (fitna), we can see that people were defamed and the believers denigrated, and people who did not know the truth about the development were implicated in that sin. So who are we, then? People even hurled accusations at Aisha, the Mother of the Believers, in the Age of Happiness (Asr al-Saadah) [i.e., when the Prophet Muhammad was alive]. Even worse, unbelievers cast aspersions on God. The Quran frequently refers to these aspersions. "God has taken unto Himself a son," they say. Or "The angels are the daughters of God," they say. These inappropriate and improper descriptions about God always bother me. God, the prophets and the saints were all subjected to this improper treatment. And today, some believers do the same to an ordinary, worthless person who is me. This is not a big thing, I conclude, and I find consolation in this fact.
Everyone acts in accordance with their character. People capable of oppression engage in oppression. But because you have no teeth, you cannot bite anyone. And it's better that way. Let them indulge in oppression. Let them go on with oppression. And let us be guided with poise and vigilance and ask for God's mercy and forgiveness for those who have the capacity to turn back from their errors, and let us ask God to save them. Being on the receiving end of slander, aspersions and conspiracies has and always will be the destiny of those traveling on this path. However, prudence and foresight undo such adversity. No conspiracy or slander can resist prudence. Those who let themselves be driven by these conspiracies and illusions should try to revise their path in the light of the Quran and the Sunnah [i.e., the example of the Prophet].
Do you think the following lines from a poem you frequently quote sufficiently describe our time: “Friends are unfaithful, fate merciless, time restless / There is much trouble, and no cure; the enemy is strong, and fortune weak”? (Fuzuli)
Almost all of our friends have acted with fidelity. Despite so much defamation, there was virtually no shock or breakup from among our companions and friends. Yet, it is our wish that everyone should act by their true worth. Sometimes, this expectation does not fully hold true. I do not know if we have the right to expect certain, experienced longtime friends of ours to speak out the truth. However, I would at least like to say that I would expect certain people to be more than just friends when times are good.
There was a person who used to say he was ready to die for me. And after we were released from prison after March 12 , we were working on the construction of the Bozyaka Dormitory. I said let's complete the construction work. And he said, “Please don't involve me in this business.” It is important that people not be shaken in hard times. Capacity matters. In the face of our friends' inability to act properly, we should not resent. In the Hereafter, everything -- including those shameful acts -- will be obvious to everyone. We bear with it for the sake of the Hereafter. We work for eternity [i.e., heaven]. If you seek to attain eternal bliss, you don't look to this lowly world.
We forgive whatever wrong has been done to us. Let everyone hear this. But if any wrongdoing concerns religious or sacred values, the One [i.e., God] to whom those values belong will hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions. Aggressors will be turned upside down when they least expect it. Indeed, we do not even want that to happen because the heart of a human being should be like a rose [i.e., soft and elegant]. Our words should also be like roses so that wherever they are heard they leave behind a nice fragrance.
You are one of the main victims of the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup. A lawsuit was brought against you as a result of an unprecedented media lynch campaign and this lawsuit dragged on for eight years. A group of people who see hostility against you as their raison d'être now claim that you supported the Feb. 28 coup, and by doing so they try to pave the way to further victimization. Do you feel like you are re-living the same events?
We have gone through these kinds of things many times. I was sentenced to six-and-a-half months in prison on the charge of “penetrating into the state apparatus” at the time of the March 12, 1971 military memorandum. At that time, Article 163 [of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK)] stood as a guillotine for Muslims until it was abolished by [former Prime Minister Turgut] Özal. In the wake of the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup, the authorities tracked me for six years as if I were a criminal. Raids were carried out. Our friends were harassed. In a sense, it became a sort of lifestyle for us to live under constant surveillance in a coup atmosphere. What we are seeing today is 10 times worse than what we saw during the military coups.
But despite everything, I don't complain. This time, we face similar treatment but at the hands of civilians who we think follow the same faith as us. I should acknowledge that this inflicts extra pain on us. All we can do is say "This, too, shall pass," and remain patient.
Mention is made about your criticisms concerning Necmettin Erbakan, who served as prime minister at the time of the Feb. 28 coup. You are claimed to have supported that coup.
Everyone knew and saw that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) grew uneasy when the Welfare Party (RP) came in first in the elections. Clouds were gathering, but had not yet turned into a storm. I remember [journalists] the late Yavuz Gökmen, Fehmi Koru and Fatih Çekirge from Ankara. I shared my thoughts and feelings with them. I received unfair and unfitting reactions. Yet there were also others who had realized the imminent danger.
When, riding on the wave of social reactions amassing in the wake of the Susurluk scandal, certain groups implemented the coup, it was too late. My name was added to the report prepared by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) about the Susurluk scandal [the 1996 Susurluk affair exposed links between the Turkish state, the criminal underworld and Turkish security forces] at the last moment. Although I later learned who did this, I never held any suspicions about believers [i.e., pious Muslims]. Then came the Feb. 28 coup. The second article of the infamous statement demanded that our schools be nationalized in accordance with the Law on the Unification of Education. Tension was building and everyone was searching for ways to save the country from this predicament with minimal damage. And like many others, I said early elections might be the cure. I suggested early elections should be held under a new election law. This was not an idea voiced only by me, but also by many others, most notably Korkut Özal. There were even some pro-government groups and media outlets that thought the same and ran headlines to that effect. A brief look through the archives will reveal who said and wrote what.
There is another aspect. I explained to the then-Labor Minister Necati Çelik the coup atmosphere that was forming in the country at the time. Several witnessed this conversation. Alaattin Kaya [the former owner of the Zaman daily] and Melih Nural [a member of the Board of Trustees of Turgut Özal University] were with us during that meeting. "They are planning to get rid of the government," said. I worked hard to avert any anti-democratic development. Minister Çelik enthusiastically listened to my worries, and then left. He conveyed my concerns to Erbakan. However, Erbakan did not opt to take measures to prevent adverse developments.
Likewise, I tried to explain the impending threat to [former Prime Minister] Tansu Çiller, briefing her about the negative developments. "Let us act with moderation," Çiller responded. And this saddened me. I did not venture into details. Having realized that I could not explain the danger to anyone, I was urged to say something to avert an incident that would lead to a possible coup, examples of which we already witnessed in this region.
I am in no position to tell anyone, "You have failed." Everyone knows that I show due respect to the people entitled to represent the nation. At that time, making mention of Abu Bakr [the first caliph] and ‘Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz [an Umayyad caliph known for his righteousness], I asserted that it would not be a regression for the government to resign from office. If a mass resignation of deputies from Parliament -- which would trigger a process leading to early elections -- would avert more serious disasters, it should be employed -- which also applies to the coups of May 27, 1960 and Sept. 12, 1980. Indeed, in response to the e-memorandum of April 27, 2007, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) decided to hold early elections and was thereby able to avert disaster. The tactics employed with this memorandum were similar to those wielded by anti-democratic forces during the Feb. 28 process, and the early elections card really worked. Thus, my message was: "Amend the election law and hold early elections."
I should note that a closer look at the Susurluk report and the memorandum of Feb. 28 reveals that the Hizmet movement was one of the main targets of the junta. What happened later was the implementation of that intention. Any claim to the contrary would be unfair and misguided.
In part two of this series, to be published tomorrow, Gülen says he could not advise people to turn a blind eye to allegations of corruption.
Scapegoating Hizmet became a pattern
In our previous meetings, you had stated, referring to the claim that the Hizmet movement is trying to take Fenerbahçe under its control, that it is absurd to make such a claim. What would you like to say about this claim in light of the latest information that has emerged?
Yes. Fenerbahçe is an outstanding sports club. As far as I see, its management, audience and fans tend to act in unison. This solidarity is the envy of many. And who should be disturbed by this? When Galatasaray saw success in the European championships, I rejoiced over its achievements. It is my hope that Beşiktaş, Trabzonspor and the country's other teams are very successful. They should make their mark in the world. From this perspective, with which apolitical goals can you explain efforts to bring Fenerbahçe or any other club under control? The emerging trend of our time is to attribute every inexplicable event to the Hizmet movement and use it as a scapegoat. It has been understood that this claim [the Hizmet movement taking over Fenerbahçe] has turned out to be an aspersion.
Gov't adopts double standards in court cases
A large number of suspects were released in legal cases and investigations that were closely followed by the people, Ergenekon being the prime example. How do you assess this matter?
We will side with what the laws dictate and specify. The remark that a plot was staged against the army was a trick. They attempted to blame the movement for what they actually did. They convened Parliament to make a law for a single person. They could have acted with the same sensitivity with respect to these people as well. A release is one thing; a trial is another. They are still being tried. The legal decision should be respected. We have always been in favor of the law and universal values. We will remain the same. The law should be respected even in critical times when you are subjected to grave assaults.