On the way to becoming global CSO

In a recent sermon titled "Surprising openings in the wake of pressures," Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi drew attention to a historic fact we tend to ignore and moved on to express his hopes, predictions and expectations.

Here is his observation in his own words: "When you face pressures concerning [student] houses, you start running student dormitories. Another wave of pressures forces you to turn those dormitories into schools. Eventually, you start to establish schools around the world. Perhaps, thousands or millions of people start to feel sympathy for you."

This is perfectly true. Indeed, even a cursory look at the politically motivated operations launched during the coup d'état of 1980, the postmodern coup of Feb. 28, 1997 and the blackmailing campaign of June 17, 1999 is enough to show us the developments that ensued. Fethullah Gülen noted that God endowed us with paths for improvement or development in the wake of pressures in the past, and if we are able to show our readiness for similar openings, God will certainly grant us similar ones after today's pressures.

Fethullah Gülen terms this process "forced grace," borrowing the phrase from Bediüzzaman Said Nursi. I think the International Language and Culture Festival is good example of this process. Let me explain: In his article that appeared in the Zaman newspaper, Uğur Kömeçoğlu made a critical observation. In the article titled "A sociological correction: It is a movement, not a community," Kömeçoğlu argued that the Hizmet movement emerged as a religious community in the mid-1960s in İzmir but has today evolved into a supranational civil society movement. I completely agree with him because I am part of that movement and can personally feel the change. Kömeçoğlu further argues: "A community is a grouping of people with similar origins, status and culture who have emerged in a national geography and most of whom know each other. These groupings generally consist of people with fixed levels of dedication or participation."

This description could aptly be attached to Hizmet before the 1990s. The community's openings abroad have helped it evolve further. "The social formation that emerged in Anatolia has turned into a supra-national civil social movement with numerous participants and sympathizers around the globe," Kömeçoğlu maintains.

The International Festival of Language and Culture is proof of this supranational, civil and social identity of this movement. But I should note that the name of this festival was the Turkish Olympiads until two years ago and the Language Set before that. The programs conducted under these names were more restricted in name, scope, content and form compared to today's festivals. In other words, those programs were better suited to the community identity. The fact that this event has undergone a number of changes to its name, content and form and, most importantly, its venues --from country-specific ones to global ones -- is proof that the community has broken its protective shell and acquired an international quality.

This would have happened sooner or later. But the Turkish government's move to declare the community an enemy in the wake of the graft and bribery scandals that went public on Dec. 17, 2013 has accelerated this process. In the context of the Olympiads, this process was triggered by the following remark by the former prime minister of Turkey: "We will not allow the Olympiads or its other incarnations. This is the end of it." This statement that many didn't want to accept initially became a reality through a number of unlawful practices. The government refused to provide venues for the event and sent tax inspectors to the businessmen who used to sponsor them. At this point, the community realized it is actually a movement and changed the name, content and venues of the event. This year 60 programs were conducted in indoor sports halls, prestigious movie theaters and parliament buildings in 18 countries. Ironically enough, there was not a single venue in Turkey.

Here is the evidence showing how the community has evolved into a movement based on this program alone: (1) Its old name was the Turkish Olympiads, but its new name is the International Language and Culture Festival; (2) It was conducted only in Turkey in the past but is now held in many countries around the world, except for Turkey; (3) Its old content consisted of Turkish poems, songs and folk dances, but its new content comprises the language, music and folk dances of participating countries; (4) It was formerly presented only in Turkish but is now presented both in Turkish and the language of the country where it is held; (4) Attendance...

We need to stop here. Its audience has changed as well. As its name implies, the people from the country where it is held attended it with purpose. But the people from Anatolia are invariable spectators of these events. As they lent support to the events in Turkey in the past, they also flocked to the venues where the events were held abroad.

The International Festival of Language and Culture, held in 60 programs in 18 countries, is concrete evidence of how the community has evolved into a movement, but does this imply that it has turned into a global civil society organization (CSO)? Given the values and principles it champions, the answer to this question was, is and will be "yes." But it will take some time before more concrete projects can be developed. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this movement, the Turkish Republic's sole gift to humanity.


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