Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen says his deep conviction in Islam will not allow him to turn a blind eye to allegations of corruption, lamenting the fact that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has failed to take measures to tackle these allegations despite early warnings from state agencies.
“If there are acts of bribery, theft, clientelism, bid rigging, etc., which run contrary to the interests of the nation, and if these acts are covered up, God will hold us accountable for them. But it appears that some people nurtured certain expectations,” Gülen told Today’s Zaman in an exclusive interview at his residence located in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania.
“If among those who conducted the graft investigations were some people who might be connected to the Hizmet movement, was I supposed to tell these people, ‘Turn a blind eye to the corruption charges’?” he asked, adding: “It appears to me that some people were expecting me to do this. Did they expect me to do this? How can I say something that would ruin my afterlife? How else can I act?”
Gülen also criticized Erdoğan’s government for not combating corruption. “The government did not take measures against corruption. But when the police operations were launched under the graft probe of Dec. 17, they apparently thought they could get away [with it] by hurling accusations against certain people or groups,” he explained.
Recalling that the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) had submitted a report to Erdoğan on April 18, 2013, detailing suspicious relations -- bribery and influence-peddling -- among certain ministers and Reza Zarrab, an Iranian businessman and graft suspect, Gülen said “the report was ignored.”
The Islamic scholar, who inspired the Hizmet movement, a world-wide network active in education, charity and outreach, also stated that the government must provide evidence to back up its accusations. Commenting on remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who claimed that some people have threatened the prime minister regarding the government’s plan to shut down prep schools, Gülen said that blackmailing the government is a serious crime and whoever makes such claims must prove it and take the case to court.
Noting that some 3,000 of 3,800 prep schools are not affiliated with the Hizmet movement, Gülen expressed his deep regret over seeing so many prep school owners who have nothing to do with the Hizmet movement victimized.
“I should note that it would be better if they had made their intention public, saying, for example, ‘We don’t want the Hizmet movement to engage in the prep school business.’ They shouldn’t have victimized prep schools that are not affiliated with the Hizmet movement,” he explained.
Pointing out growing problems in education, such as drug abuse, underage drinking and suicide, Gülen said the government should spend more energy and resources to tackle these serious threats.
As for wiretaps on phone conversations of unsuspecting citizens, Gülen said authorities should investigate the illegal recordings, adding that he was also victimized as such. He made a distinction between legally authorized wiretaps carried out under court order and those who relied on illegal methods to record the phone conversations.
“Those who relied on illegal methods to listen in on phone calls should be identified and brought to justice,” Gülen explained.
Here is the second part of Gülen’s interview:
A certain section of the media has claimed that the graft and bribery investigations were masterminded by the Hizmet movement. How do you assess the current state of this matter?
Some people and groups persistently continue to hurl unfounded accusations at the Hizmet movement although we have issued numerous denials, explanations and corrections. As I have noted previously, some prosecutors and judicial police serving under them performed the duties required of them by law, but they apparently did not know that it was a crime to hunt down criminals! In other words, these people did not expect that they would be victimized for performing their duties. A columnist -- I think it was Yavuz Semerci -- recently wrote, “One day, these people will be decorated with medals.” Unfortunately, the officials who conducted the Dec. 17 probe and thousands of officials who had nothing to do with the probe were sent into exile and reassigned. They were victimized and the rights of their families were violated. And then, as if nothing had happened, some people started to accuse the Hizmet movement. And they told lies one after another. They continue to do so.
Graft and bribery investigation not novel
First of all, these graft and bribery investigations were not novel. Eight to nine months ago, the country’s intelligence service reported that a person, who might be a spy for Iran, had established close ties with ministers, their sons and even the Cabinet. This report was ignored. Then this development was reported extensively in the media, particularly in the papers close to the government. No attention was paid then either. The government did not take measures against corruption. But when the police operations were launched on Dec. 17 as part of the graft investigation, they apparently thought they could get away by hurling accusations against certain people or groups.
I have said this before. I have no connection to those who organized these operations. I have repeatedly stated that I do not know any of them, but they continue to claim that those prosecutors and police officers are linked to me.
What disappointed me was the position adopted by certain politicians who I thought to be dignified and honest people. It was my expectation that these people -- whom I have known for a long time and who I believe would not go against their conscience and uprightness -- would not keep silent in the face of corrupt practices and bribery. Or so I thought. I expected them to show the same reaction as, say, Özal would exhibit in the face of such illegal affairs. But they did not. Because they remained silent, others found the courage to proceed with their destructive plans. They did what had never been done in the history of the Turkish Republic. Turkey launched a crackdown on those who investigated the corruption instead of on those who engaged in corrupt practices.
Islam’s sanctions on this matter are clear. There are moral principles that prohibit corruption. There are even punishments for certain acts. No act of corruption can be approved of. No corruption can be left unpunished. From a moral point of view, it should be noted that if sins or errors remain restricted to the individual sphere and they do not affect the society, then Islam preaches that those individuals should be forgiven. Islam does not permit the dignity and honor of those sinners to be damaged. These two points should not be confused with each other. In other words, when the rights of other people are breached during the committal of those sins, Islam urges us to be extremely sensitive. For instance, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab [the second caliph] removed Iyaz ibn al-Ghanem. He removed the governor, the regional governor, the governor of Africa and Amr ibn al-‘As from office.
Likewise, he removed from office another famous governor, the conqueror who fought in the Battle of al-Qadisiya against the Persians, and recalled him to Medina. This governor was in fact not guilty, as there were only rumors about him. ‘Umar concluded that if there are rumors or allegations about him, this means he has lost prestige and could no longer act as governor. ‘Umar even removed Khalid ibn al-Walid from office on the suspicion that he might be involved in corruption. At that time, the Battle of Yarmuk was under way. Don’t think ill of Khalid ibn al-Walid. This magnificent commander had only a horse and a sword when he died. He was a very great commander, God-fearing and pious. In other words, ‘Umar did not turn a blind eye to allegations of corruption. He closely investigated the matter.
If there are acts of bribery, theft, clientelism, bid rigging, etc., which run contrary to the interests of the nation, and if these acts are covered up, God will hold us accountable for them. But it appears that some people nurtured certain expectations… If among those who conducted the graft investigations were some people who might be connected to the Hizmet movement, was I supposed to tell these people, “Turn a blind eye to the corruption charges”? It appears to me that some people were expecting me to do this. Did they expect me to do this? How can I say something that would ruin my afterlife? How else can I act?
This is a point I had previously made. If the people who were accused of being members of a “parallel network” within the state had been in breach of laws or regulations, why haven’t they been punished yet? I heard tens of thousands of public servants were reshuffled or sent into exile, but I heard no investigation launched into any act of misconduct or breach of laws or regulations at those institutions. Did you hear of any?
I have been preaching for about 60 years. I have always said the same thing. Let this be my legacy. Let my brothers and sisters who have sympathy for me -- though I do not deserve it -- distance themselves miles away from such corrupt practices and let them not turn a blind eye to such practices. Let them do whatever they are supposed to under the law. The Quran refers to such corrupt practices as “ghulul.” Ghulul means taking something to which one is not entitled, or benefiting from it in an unfair manner, or stealing something from public funds, or betraying a trust. Thus, abuse of public goods or funds constitutes such a sin. This may be in the form of several cents or dollars or bags full of money. It may be in the form of acquiring a public position without merit or capacity. Any opportunity a person benefits from although they do not deserve it is considered ghulul.
The most tragic part is that, by committing ghulul, one unknowingly damages the very foundations of his or her religious beliefs. When we start to act in a dishonest manner in our personal life, we unknowingly damage how others think, understand and view religion. I think people who are attracted to political posts and positions tend to employ these “spoils” and commissions. In the final analysis, when a contractor or businessman has to pay bribes to public officials in order to be awarded a public contract, he or she tries to compensate for his losses through several methods. The rights of the public are safeguarded by God. Neither Islamic law nor modern legal systems tolerate breaches of these rights. If something is stolen from public funds, you cannot justify it by referring to the principles set forth in the Mecelle [a 19th-century codification of Islamic law by Ahmet Cevdet Paşa] or by indulging in demagoguery. You may set off by giving messages about Islamic principles about honesty and righteousness, but you may find yourselves deep down a dark alley. In such a case, those who invest their hopes in you will suffer from a great disappointment.
We should treat people with compassion
I would like to briefly add here the following: We should treat people with compassion. Our Prophet said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one.” To which the Companions replied, “O Messenger of God! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” “By preventing him from oppressing others,” replied the Prophet. The Prophet advises us to stand against oppression, assault and murder. By explaining the evil character of these acts, people should be discouraged from committing them. When we opt to do this, this will bring about mutual affection and union, not division or conflict.
A certain segment of the media have made much ado about it, distorting the facts. People were deceived with the lie, “He cursed us.” Did you really curse them?
They persistently maintained the misunderstanding. Let me explain with an example. If a person repeatedly attacks you with lies and notoriety, you lose your patience at some point, and say, “If I am as you describe me, then may God curse me; but if I am not, then may God curse you for these lies and slander.” This was the supplication I made at that time. I did not name any person, party or group specifically. I only described certain attributes and acts. “Whoever does this or that,” I said. If they don’t bear those attributes or if they haven’t committed those acts, why do they take the curse personally? I would expect those who voice that slander based on some conspiracies or illusions in newspapers to say “amen” to my supplication. But they couldn’t. On the contrary, they opted to abuse it. I am still of the same position. If we are a gang or organization or “parallel” state, then may God curse us; but if not, may He curse those who attribute this slander to this innocent movement! Those who cannot say “amen” to this supplication with an easy conscience should be concerned over their fate.
Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesperson Bülent Arınç has claimed that some people had threatened the prime minister with regard to the government’s plan to shut down prep schools. He said, “They said, ‘Abandon this plan or we will overthrow your government.’ And I rose to the challenge. I told them, ‘Do whatever you plan to do; we will not retreat’.” Can you comment on this claim?
First and foremost: Whoever makes this claim must prove it and take the matter to court. A public announcement should also be made, naming the people who made that threat. Blackmailing the government is a grave offense. If this claim was made in connection with groundless suspicions, I see no need to comment on it.
As you know, the plan to shut down the prep schools is not a novel development. Indeed, at that time, the names of former education ministers were mentioned and it was said that they failed to implement that plan, and the current minister was named as the person who would implement it. It follows that this plan had long been on the agenda and, perhaps, a promise was made concerning its implementation. There were press reports that such a promise had been made and that records of it can be found in the state’s cosmic rooms [chambers where top secret documents are held]. It has now become crystal clear that the plan to close the prep schools is not justified in terms of improvements to the education system. The obvious intention is to block the Hizmet movement’s educational activities. “Do not send your children to their schools and prep schools,” we can hear being said at the election rallies of the ruling party. In other words, the government’s intention is to start with the prep schools and proceed with the schools. Then they will try to ensure that the Hizmet movement’s schools abroad are shut down. In this context, Nazlı Ilıcak’s analysis seems to be a very plausible explanation. She suggests that the government might have received prior intelligence about the graft investigations, and with the assumption that we could prevent them, it wanted to use the prep schools plan as blackmail or as a psychological operation or a [way to] shelter [itself].
Here, I should note that it would have been better if they had made their intention public, saying, for example, “We don’t want the Hizmet movement to engage in the prep schools business.” They shouldn’t have victimized the prep schools which are not affiliated with the Hizmet movement. It is sad to see that many people who had labored hard to run prep schools will be unfairly treated in this process. It has been said that 3,000 of the 3,800 prep schools are not affiliated with the Hizmet movement. If they had publicly told us, we would have said: “OK. If this is a life and death matter for you, we will ask our colleagues to shut down their prep schools in within a specified timeframe.” This way innocent people would not be victimized in the process.
On a different note, I would like to say the following: The Ministry of Education, and even the government, should concentrate on more serious problems. Currently, social crises and cultural erosion entrap individuals and families. I recently read about it in an academic article. If I remember correctly, the number of suicides rose by 36 percent in 12 years. Likewise, drug abuse is widespread at high schools and 32 percent of students drink alcohol. One psychiatrist says the number of those receiving treatment for drug abuse rose 17-fold in 10 years. These figures are frightening in that they threaten society’s moral and other values.
Given the fact that such huge problems pose great risks for the education system and even the country’s future, how can the plan to shut down prep schools be justified as an effort to save the education system? Will this decay be prevented by closing down the prep schools? As far as I know, the schools and prep schools affiliated with the Hizmet movement try to combat this decay. I am particularly concerned about the potential vacuum that will emerge in the Southeast. I have a hard time understanding how it is that those running the country can so comfortably put the country’s unity and integrity at risk just to pursue their small interests.
Illegal recordings must be investigated
A large number of sound recordings [of phone conversations] have been leaked. Some circles in particular accuse the Hizmet movement of leaking these tapes.
Similar accusations had been made in the past. However, those who direct these accusations have not so far presented evidence. Given that no strong or convincing evidence is being presented on such a critical and delicate issue, it is fair to believe that the accusers have something different in mind.
Everyone is talking on this matter. It is a complicated issue. There are legally wiretaps carried out upon a court order. But there are also illegal wiretaps. No matter what, those who relied on illegal methods to listen in on phone calls should be identified and brought to justice. This should be done regardless of the perpetrator’s identity and affiliation. My friends and I are also victims of illegal wiretapping. Black propaganda methods have been used to undermine our image; we are openly targeted and accused in the media. We can deal with this by relying on legal options only. If someone relied on irregular and illegal methods to wiretap, they should be brought to justice. But I should also note that those who accuse a large movement of the illegal wiretappings despite having no evidence for their accusation should also answer before the law. The judiciary should question them as to how they make these accusations. It is impossible to deal with illegality by relying on illegal means. I believe complaining about the sound recordings but also using some of them as part of election campaigning is not reconcilable with ethical and legal principles.
Islamic Scholar Fethullah Gülen criticizes Erdoğan’s government for not combating corruption, saying, “God will hold us accountable” for actions which run contrary to the interests of the nation.