‘My son in law is a Gülenist but my daughter is a Muslim’
I had never heard any sentence like the one in the title before. I interrupted the person speaking and asked, “What do you mean? Do you mean that you don’t consider your son-in-law to be a Muslim because he is a Gülenist?”
For those who are not too familiar with the names and the subject, the individual, who I’m not going to name, is a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti). He knew that his son-in-law was a follower of U.S.-based moderate Islamist scholar Fethullah Gülen when his daughter got married. Possibly he was proud of that fact at the time, when Gülen was still a strong ally of Erdoğan. Both Erdoğan and Gülen are pious Sunni Muslims. But now because of the ongoing political conflict between them, this AK Parti supporter was telling a waiting room full of men that “His son in law is a ‘Fethullahçı’ (Gülenist), but his daughter is a Muslim.”
The conversation occurred in the waiting room during a visit to a patient in a hospital ward, in the guest room where many were either MPs, members or supporters of the AK Parti. Perhaps because of the presence of a journalist, the conversation over a glass of tea shifted first to the former ministers now under a parliamentary probe on corruption accusations, then to a possible plot by the “Cemaat” (Gülenists) against Erdoğan, and then to the Cemaat itself.
The father’s answer to my question was as follows: “My daughter is a true Muslim. When my son-in-law tried to take her to his hometown on election day in order to prevent her from voting for the prime minister she resisted and cast her vote.”
As he was walking me out, I asked an AK Parti official how such close fellows could become archenemies, so that they were now casting each other as “not true believers” - an issue so important in their lives. I asked whether this was just an individual case or also represented the wider grassroots attitude.
“You can say it’s a general attitude,” he said. “Our supporters believe that the supra-identity of Cemaat members is no longer ‘Muslim,’ but rather the identity of their group.”
This is a situation in which religion and politics have become mixed up. It also shows just how deep is the divide that the Erdoğan-Gülen conflict has created.
“But you’ve been working together for 11 years,” I said. “Our people think we’ve been cheated by them,” he replied.
It is true that the March 30 elections, where Gülenists stopped supporting the AK Parti and in some places supported the strongest rival, also showed that the Gülenists are not as influential as they have been saying.
It is also true that the Dec. 17, 2013 graft probe was not the point where the conflict first surfaced. Perhaps it was actually the point where the remaining bridges between them were finally burnt at both ends.
Rewinding the tape, one can find the debate over private prep schools (dershanes) from September-November last year, which was interpreted by the Gülenists as a move against themselves. Rewinding a bit further, one can find the conflict over the arrest of former Chief of Staff İlker Başbuğ in January 2012, and the attempt to question Hakan Fidan, Erdoğan’s intelligence chief, over his contacts with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). There are some who claim that the roots of the conflict came in the 2011 leak of wiretappings of secret talks between the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the PKK that were carried out and collapsed in Oslo. According to them, the conflict started over the Kurdish issue.
Regardless of the origins of the conflict, it is now something big. The government has started a purge campaign against alleged members or sympathizers of the Gülen movement within public offices, from the Justice Ministry to the police force, from the Finance Ministry to the banking authority.
The Gülenists seem to be following a lower profile nowadays, but that doesn’t mean they have left the battlefield as Turkey heads for critical presidential elections in August.