The Gulen Movement’s Normalization Crisis

Photo by Erhan Elaldı / AA

For days, we have been discussing the political crisis sparked by the normalization pains of the Gulen Movement.

The Movement’s failure to keep in pace with the transformation of Turkey is at the core of the crisis. As many other religious congregations, the Gulen Movement as well has set out on the road to raise devout generations. Since day one, however, the Movement has adopted a line of development which distinguishes itself in many areas from the other religious communities.

Just like they have abstained from having contacts with other religious congregations, the Movement has not wished to share the same fate with them. It has preferred to raise more cadres, positioned them in strategic offices within bureaucracy and developed a religious interpretation that views to remain powerful more important than anything else.

The Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) of the Movement has been formed with an understanding to see itself as the only choice for the future of the country (and perhaps of the world).

This belief of being the only savior has culminated in adoption of an understanding that, if necessary, everything can be put on the back burner (or burned) for the sake of their own existence. The Movement seeing itself more important than anything else has evolved to the belief and modus operandi that everything else can be sacrificed for its own salvation. Morals, belief and politics have been interpreted and adopted according to an understanding prioritizing the affairs of the Movement. In this frame, disciples are given permission to act in collision with Islamic teachings and against the reflexes of the average religious segment of the society.

With this attitude, the Gulen Movement which, in each period, pays special attention to be close to the centers of power, has been perceived as a threat by the State except during the last decade under the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.

For many reasons such as struggles against the tutelage, redrafting the political center and resolving the social exclusion issue of pious segments, the Gulen Movement has found a proper political ground to develop and grow during the AK Party period. In connection with its principle of action to prioritize the Movement, it has exhibited an attitude that has recognized no limitations - be them moral, legal, or religious – in order to weaken other religious entities if it sees them as alternatives to itself, and has never acknowledged other segments’ rights to take part in official-civilian units where the Movement has held power, and occupied all positions to the fullest extent but otherwise open to all segments of the society. The Movement have not at all shied away from exploiting the instruments they have acquired and gained during the AK Party period in order to attract the influential segments of the society. Within this scope, the Movement have become as strong as they could get by turning into a critical guard post to meet the security and safety needs of business tycoons, and carrier and power expectations of young people.

Ultimately, as we have arrived at the day, we face a situation where the Kemalist tutelage has been regressed but replaced by a bigger center of tutelage. The Gulen Movement have taken the stage in the direction of its concept of prioritizing the Movement and being ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of the Movement’s own affairs. Therefore, they have become a new power of tutelage in replacement of the old tutelage that had been regressed already. After the War of Independence, the Kemalist cadre eliminated its nemeses and shaped Turkey all by itself. Similarly, the Gulen Movement has taken action to become the “neo-Kemalist” constituent cadre of the new Turkey by weakening its possible alternative rivals following the regression of the tutelage.

Confronting the Crisis

The February 7, 2013 and the December 17, 2013 plots (against the government) have shown to the politics and the society the possible cost to be incurred if the Gulen Movement maintain today the strategy they adopted under the conditions of the Old Turkey. The Movement had adopted its strategy in an environment where the State was not congenial to the religion, the civil society had failed to penetrate the politics and the bureaucratic power had owned the capacity to influence the society and politics. However, when the Movement chose to maintain this strategy in a new period where all of these factors were no longer in existence, this resulted in a big crisis.

For this reason, we have told since day one that the current crisis is the normalization crisis of the Gulen Movement and that the December 17 operation inevitably will transform into a December 17 process which will culminate in the transformation of the Gulen Movement.

When political-social structures fail to catch up with the spirit of time, they start to become a problem for society, politics and state.

Structures resisting social and political transformation and insist on their founding utopias, in order to maintain this anachronic state, have no choice but to break the routine; compromise both their own understanding and goals, and their social-political affairs which constitute the justifications of their existence. In this case, a movement which is expected to be religious, civilian, local and national ends up having to make concessions in religion-being civilian, local and national. Definitions of friend and foe; and permissible and forbidden change. These pathologies, which are unnoticed in the normal flow of life yet maintain their existence for years, have become visible with the occurrence of a big crisis. With its before-and-after, the Fethullah Gulen and the Gulen Movement profiles that have been revealed through the December 7 operation have caused just such an impact on public opinion. The public had presumed that the congregation was religious, civilian and national, and during this crisis has witnessed its relationship with the big capital and the international power centers; its obsession with intelligence and power; schemes for political engineering; and friendships it has made; and that public has been disappointed. It is improbable for this face-off and awareness not to transform the Gulen Movement. It is the time for all of us - the Movement cadres in particular - to confront the crisis born out of an understanding that places the affairs of the Movement above any sort of Holiness. The face-off itself is to pave the way for a transformation, and change the structure of the Movement.  They will resist the necessity of such a transformation at first.

The more they resist the more they will become ill-tempered. The more they get ill-tempered, the more they will face inescapable tragedies and become isolated. Despite everything, however, they will not be able to resist the change and transformation. It is desirable for this process not to take too long, and end with the minimum cost both for the Gulen Movement and the country. In order to foresee that this is what will be, one may look into transformations of many political-social movements of the past.

For instance, one may examine the transformation the Islamic segment of the society has undergone in the aftermath of the February 28, 1997 post-modern coup. The said transformation was not a voluntary and deliberate one. It was not a result achieved by the coup, but was a process of attunement with the spirit of time which was the result of a necessary self-questioning triggered by the confrontation with the coup.

So will the Gulen Movement go through the same questioning process and adjust itself to the spirit of time. In this process, it is politics’ turn to establish justice, build a democratic system that does not allow any black holes in the system, so to speak, and punish those who are involved in crimes and disarm the Movement. The rest should be left to the nature (flow) of the society and to Divine Manifestation.

Sabah Perspektif, January 18, 2014, Translated by Handan Öz