Gülen and the claim of ‘moderate’ Islam

Gülen and the claim of ‘moderate’ Islam

“At a time when Western democracies are searching for moderate Muslim voices, I and my friends in the Hizmet [Service] movement have taken a clear stance against extremist violence, from the Sept. 11 attacks by al-Qaeda to brutal executions by the Islamic State [of Iraq and the Levant - ISIL] to the kidnappings by Boko Haram.”

The quotation is from Fethullah Gülen’s article published by The New York Times on July 25, 10 days after the bloody coup attempt in Turkey, which the Turkish government accused him of masterminding. For that reason, Gülen says, the U.S. administration should resist the demand of the Turkish government to send him back to be tried. “Mr. [President Tayyip] Erdogan’s accusation is no surprise” Gülen said in the column, “Not for what it says about me but rather for what it reveals about his systematic and dangerous drive toward one-man rule.”

Gülen is an Islamist preacher who has been living in the U.S. for around 20 years. He runs a network of English language schools in Turkey, the U.S. and many other countries around the world. Gülen used to be a close ally of Erdoğan and through his network of police officers, prosecutors, judges and other civil servants he was carefully cultivating the Turkish state apparatus for the success of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) rule, especially in rooting out the secular, modernist civil servants from the security, judicial and education system. Their roads started to part when pro-Gülen prosecutors wanted to interrogate Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkish intelligence, in early 2012 because of his contacts with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which paved the way to dialogue starting later that year and continued for three bloodless years. The ties broke when corruption probes were opened against Erdoğan’s ministers, party executives and family members in late 2013. Since then Erdoğan and the government have denounced the Gülenist network as the “Fethullahist Terror Organization” (FETÖ). The widespread belief in Ankara is that the Gülenists who have been covertly organized in the ranks for the last three decades were alerted that some 600 of them could be revealed and sacked from the military in the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meeting later in July, so they attempted the coup on July 15, a bit prematurely.

It is interesting that while trying to argue that the U.S. should protect him for his past performance, Gülen claims to be the voice of “moderate Muslims.”

This concept of “moderate Muslim” is a term that Western intelligence services - especially the CIA - and academia very much like. The criteria of being moderate for a political Islamist movement, for example, have never been clearly defined. Today’s moderates for the U.S. and Western Europe could be supplied with arms, money and training only to be denounced as radical terrorist in a few years’ time when those guns turn against the West. Example? The Mujahideen of Afghanistan. When they were fighting against the Soviets in the 1980s they were considered moderate allies of the West. When they seized power and started imposing their regime against Western interests, they suddenly become terrorists.

Gülen showed himself and his “Hizmet movement” (“movement” implies political motivation, rather than philanthropic) as the antithesis of al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda was not considered an enemy when they were fighting against the Soviets. 

With the same logic, it would not be a surprise to see that al-Nusra in Syria, which detached itself from al-Qaeda recently and adopted the name of Al Fath al-Sham (the Conquest of Damascus), will soon be a part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or Free Syrian Army (FSA) and suddenly turn “moderate,” despite all the violence that they have been committing.

It has been popular for the U.S. and Western European countries from the 1950s on to use Islamist movements against the Soviets and leftist movements in the West. The Associations to Fight Communism (KMD) in Turkey during the Cold War was encouraged and funded accordingly. Gülen was a young imam in the Eastern city of Erzurum when he was among the founders of the KMD there. Then he moved to the Aegean city of İzmir and started to cultivate his network.

In the power vacuum of presidential elections in the U.S., as President Barack Obama is about to go in a few months’ time, a certain faction in the U.S. military and intelligence community seems to like sticking with the long-engineered thesis of introducing “moderate” Islam to the Muslim world without seeing the failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt and now in Syria.

U.S. Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford carried out important contacts in Ankara on Aug. 1, in the wake of the failed coup of July 15. At least he should see and show his colleagues back at home that the engineered thesis of “moderate Islam” has failed, it’s over.