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How do the Gulenists change the rules? (II)

HDN | 7/10/2009 12:00:00 AM | İLHAN TANIR

In my last column I started to analyze the remarks that Alp Aslandogan, a board member of the Gülen Institute in the United States, made to a leading American think tank in Washington, D.C., about, and I believe on behalf of, the Gülen movement.

In my last column I started to analyze the remarks that Alp Aslandogan, a board member of the Gülen Institute in the United States, made to a leading American think tank in Washington, D.C., about, and I believe on behalf of, the Gülen movement. Although especially nowadays, one does not need to have a specific reason to talk and analyze the movement, because it is truly a phenomenon in Turkey and is becoming one in the world as well. The presentation was still an important opening up of the movement, which needs to be pondered upon carefully, diligently and if necessary, harshly. I will do so by trying to follow a path of constructive criticism, rather than a destructive one.

Today, in its glorious days, the movement is becoming increasingly unbounded against any criticism in a sense that it either appears not to care about the outsiders’ observations or, maybe most of the time, it takes any criticism that is being played out as a crusade by some grand coalition and conspiracy. Confusing the real world with the cosmic one, the movement sees itself many times as self-righteous and blessed in every occasion, and surrounded with miracles. Consequently, when hearing any criticism against its wishes and work, it equates suspicious inquirers either with iniquity or having ulterior motives. “Itaat,” or obedience, therefore becomes the first and the most important characteristic of a “good” and “trusted” member. It can be safely said that any member who cannot prove his fealty to the elders, also cannot be trusted with handling sensible issues. Thus, it doesn’t matter whether one is an editor-in-chief of the movement’s newspaper or manages a few students in a humble “lighthouse,” one has to have a deep understanding of obedience. This sense of commitment to the elders and taking their orders in a cultural setting without objection along the years leads to ill-fated personalities and docile followers. Living in such an environment for so long, many of these people simply become afraid to face the outside or are too weak to live in a real world.

Most of the time, the state of self-righteousness in the movement is so apparent that one can witness it in any discussion one engages with its members. Apart from the details, it is almost impossible to convince or make sense to the members on many issues, especially those that relate to the movement. Though this shouldn’t come as a surprise, because as we all know that as long as one believes that one is following the quasi-sacred decrees, the work one does must be also sacred and cannot be understood by outsiders. And amid this detachment, the movement justifies any conduct to achieve its ends at any cost. For instance, if passing school entry test questions to the movement’s pupils is a justifiable way to ride into any kind of school that is important to attend even it can be done for years, even if it means usurping the rights of other pupils. But again, others are just others.

Like many organizations, the Gülenist institutions too are very vulnerable to incompetence of their staff. The incompetence becomes especially evident among the people who run various organizations of the movement. Many of the relatively older generation elders within the movement, unless they are standing up and criticizing the superiors, would keep their jobs for a lifetime. And this kind of cronyism has been choking the efficiency of many of its institutions. The worst part is that we might be already or will be witnessing this incompetence in the ranks of different institutions of the Turkish State. Therefore, one of the worst scenarios is for the movement to weaken not only their own institutions, but amid this disease of cronyism and incompetence, some significant state institutions as well, at some point.

It is true that the schools of the movement are very successful. Whether in Turkey or abroad, these schools are very attractive and giving a better education than its peers, most of the time. Thus the question is: How is it possible to have this incompetence and mediocrity of the movement’s members on the one hand and this apparent success on the other? The answer is: This incompetence displays itself mostly in social sciences, not the hard sciences. In the field of the hard sciences – chemistry, mathematics, etc. – the pupils and alumni of the movement fare much better. However, when it comes to the sciences that require free thinking, debating and opposing, the movement’s institutions fare very poorly. One of the best examples of this naked truth is apparent in the media and TV arms of the movement. These arms have great cutting-edge technologies in form, but in substance they do not have even the courage to ask pertinent questions. They mostly look like a broken megaphone that keeps singing the same song. That does not mean that the song is bad, but singing the same song over again, makes it painful to listen.

Let me return to Aslandogan's remarks: I would argue that one of the most crucial U-turns his presentation showed was when he talked about the movement's relation in respect to Turkish politics. From now on, Aslandogan announced, the movement will side with a political party that is submissive to its demands. This U-turn erodes greatly the credibility of the movement, because the movement claimed its innocence and immunity from the political parties, thus the stormy conditions of the political life for decades, with this very premise of staying away from politics. For years, the movement vehemently opposed, protested or accused anyone who wanted to prove a link between the movement and politics. The movement claimed again during these years of growing that its members are free to vote for any political party they deem fit. But now, suddenly we hear that the rules of the game have changed. Now we are being told that the movement is becoming more involved with politics and it will not shy away to back up one party or another according to their behavior. I will come back to argue why the movement's change of attitude and visible support for any political party is not exactly the same as those religious groups of America. But for now, I would like to say that I am not sure how it is possible for the movement to assure the outsiders which stance of it is never-changing and which one is temporary.

So far it seems that the movement makes up rules as it goes along. The movement wants more tolerance and understanding from the outsiders, but it shies away from telling the whole story. Or maybe the movement, itself also doesn’t know the whole story. Instead, the movement is twisting and changing the rules once it has enough power to make and impose arguments on any issue. This is not good news for anybody. More to follow in the next columns.

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