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What do the Gulenists want to accomplish ? (I)

HDN | 7/6/2009 12:00:00 AM | İLHAN TANIR

For the first time, a Gülenists tried to answer some questions about the Gülen Movement.

The title question is being asked in about every circle in recent days: What really do the Gülenists want to accomplish? What is the ultimate goal? In Washington, D.C., recently a representative from the Gülen Institute, Alp Aslandogan, maybe for the first time tried to answer some of the questions from first hand, or from the best hand that can resonate with the American audience, as well as the suspicious minds towards the Gülenist movement.

"The Gülen Movement" titled discussion was organized by an important American think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS. Bülent Alirıza, director of the CSIS's Turkey Project, ran the meeting.

Although I received an invitation for the discussion, I chose not to participate in the meeting. It was not because I did not care or that I am biased. On the contrary, it was because I did not expect to benefit from the presentation. Last time around, a year ago or so, I went to listen to the Gülen Movement's conference at Georgetown University, here in Washington, D.C. However, that experience was painfully boring. First of all, since I was part of the movement for a long time in the 90s while the movement was still very young, unknown and relatively in the making, I felt that listening to remarks on the movement that I was involved in on many levels, in another language, by the “outsiders” in Georgetown felt pretty wasteful. So in brief, I opted for reading that afternoon instead of listening and making sense of the politically correct, thoroughly vetted words that were going to be articulated about the movement.

But, I listened to Mr. Aslandogan's presentation attentively from the link that is provided by the CSIS website. The talk sounded relatively brave and forthright. Forthright does not necessarily mean open and honest all the way, but still Mr. Aslandogan's meticulous remarks gave some insights about the Gülen movement of today.

Let's not kid ourselves: Aslandogan and any other representative from the movement, in essence, cannot respond to some of the tough questions that come from outsiders. And this first of a kind conversation proved me right when it embodied many controversial premises, rather than answers. For example, the remarks that were given about the Gülen movement's relation with Turkish politics and the political parties exemplify some disturbing and problematic ideas about the notion of democracy that the movement values or appreciates. If this is a first signal that the movement wants to open up and talk more about the activities they do and their history or goals, and if we should take this meeting as a start of this kind, in the future, the movement will have to find not only methodically vetted and politically correct answers, but some tangible and satisfactory ones as well.

The Gülen movement attracted a lot of attention in recent years, both in and out of Turkey, and it is because the movement is just too big to ignore now. In the 80s and 90s, while vigorously working under the radar and in very humbled circumstances, seeing an article on Mr. Gülen, or anything related to the movement, was a notable event in the 'light houses' where the students of the movement stayed or the dormitories of the movement. Now, it seems, everybody feels compelled to talk about the movement and the commentaries are published in every kind of periodical, as predicted decades ago by its leader. Therefore, today, taking a picture of any significant episode or occurrence in Turkey without the possible effect of this movement seems incomplete to the majority of observers.

Actually, the CSIS meeting’s realization is also a result of this “too big to ignore” status. This impressive presence must have pressured the movement to go out and explain themselves and dodge or be pre-emptive about the questions before they came their way. Even amid this simple pre-emptive act, one can see how orderly and strategically the movement thinks, progresses and takes guard if needed, and with that, the movement also displays why it is way ahead of the others. Though, the movement must recognize, if they are ready to go on this path, they have to be more sincere and responsive to the some real concerns and questions. Answering Bülent Aliriza’s “ultimate goal” question for example, Aslandogan said, the movement enjoys a successful journey and there isn’t necessarily a final destination. This journey analogy would be adequate for him, but certainly not for people out there that want to hear more specific answers on this end goal issue.

The presentation still was stimulating in many ways. First off, Aslandogan showed that the movement is more at ease in terms of talking about many structural terms of the movement that while in the making were closed to the outsiders before. Aslandogan explained terms such as “hizmet,” which is what you call the movement while you are within; “sohbet,” which is the circle of people gathering for weekly conversations that are being organized among the neighborhoods or different vocational sectors, which were strictly underground gatherings for a long time; and “himmets,” which are the fundraising gatherings among the students, businessmen and various sectors, such as teachers, doctors or engineers.

All those terms have been, for years, for only insiders to know and use. Only a few years ago, none of these terms could have been explicit parts of a conversation while talking to the outcast. Thus the movement, it shows, has decided to open up and talk about these history-making sacred terms now. There was even reference to “kestanepazari,” which is also very revered to the members of the movement as the starting point for Mr. Gülen to shape the first pupils and today’s most respected “abiler,” or elders. However, there are other terms as well that have been used within the movement since the beginning and I am very curious to see how and when those terms will be explained to outsiders. For example, the term “tedbir,” or being cautious, comes to my mind at first.

There are many gaps that the movement is navigating through carefully and questions they are opting not to answer. However, it is not possible to go on this path and not answer some of the legitimate questions and concerns. I am certain that the movement has already planned the next move now. And it should not come by surprise if we see more of these vetted presentations in the future. I will go on with my questions on problematic premises of the presentation, the movement’s relation with politics and some other aspects of the movement in my next columns.

 * İlhan Tanır lives and works in Washington D.C. http://ilhantanir.blogspot.com/

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