Conjunctural factors

by Muhammed Çetin on . Posted in The Gülen Movement: Civic service without borders

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Fethullah Gülen

1. Conceptualizing the Gülen Movement

The questions discussed in this section are the ones most frequently asked about the mobilization by the Gülen Movement (GM) or about the counter-mobilization by its opponents at various conjunctures in Turkish history. The questions are:

1) whether the Gülen Movement is a civic initiative, a civil society movement;
2) whether it arises from a reaction to a crisis and/or is the expression of a conflict;
3) whether it is a sect or cult;
4) whether it is a political movement; and
5) whether it is an altruistic collective action.

These questions will be discussed to investigate how far epithets like civil, cultural, political, confrontational, conflictual, reactionary, regressive, exclusivist, sectarian, alienating, competitive, mediating, reconciliatory, pluralist, democratic, altruistic and peaceful can be appropriately used to characterize the Gülen Movement as collective actor or its action. The meanings of these terms are manifold and overlapping, but complementary and useful, and will help us to reach sound conclusions about the nature and potential of the Gülen Movement.

1.1. Is the Gülen Movement a civil society initiative?

Civil society is described ‘as an arena of friendships, clubs, churches, business associations, unions, human rights groups, and other voluntary associations beyond the household but outside the state [… providing] citizens with opportunities to learn the democratic habits of free assembly, non-coercive dialogue, and socioeconomic initiative’.[1] The terms ‘civil society sector’ or ‘civil society organization’ cover a broad array of organizations that are essentially private, that is, outside the institutional structures of government. They are also distinct from business organizations: they are not primarily commercial ventures set up principally to distribute profits to their directors or owners. They are self-governing and people are free to join or support them voluntarily.[2]

Despite their diversity, the services and institutions (SMOs ) provided by the Gülen Movement share important common features that justify identifying them in the social civic sector. They are not part of the governmental apparatus, and, unlike other private institutions, they are set up to serve the public, not to generate profits for those involved in them. In line with the definition given above, the SMOs embody a commitment to freedom and personal initiative; they encourage and enable people to make full use of their legal rights of citizenship to act on their own authority so as to improve the quality of their own lives and the lives of others in general.

The SMOs are not primarily commercial. They emphasize solidarity for service projects and collectively organized altruism. They embody the idea or ideal that people have responsibilities not only to themselves but also to the communities of which they are a part. Within the legal space as given, the Gülen Movement combines private structure and public purpose, providing society with private institutions that are serving essentially public purposes. The SMOs’ connections to a great number of citizens and their multiple belonging and professionalized networks within the civil society sector, enhance the Gülen Movement’s flexibility and capacity to encourage and channel private initiatives in support of public educational purposes and philanthropic services.

The Gülen Movement is distinguished by its substantial and sustained contribution to the potential of citizens to apply their energies to discover and implement new solutions following their own development agendas. It has boosted voluntary participation, multiplied networks of committed citizens in mutually trusting relationships, pursuing, through respectful dialog and collaborative effort, the shared goal of improving community services.[3] The Gülen Movement is thus an agent, on behalf of the country as a whole, for the accumulation of ‘social capital’. In explaining the term, Putnam (2000) says ‘social capital’ refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called ‘civic virtue’. The difference is that ‘social capital’ calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a dense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.[4]

Weller draws attention to the fact that ‘although often overlooked in the social and political constructs of modernity’, faith and faith-inspired organizations ‘form a substantial part of civic society and […] contribute significantly to the preservation and development of both bonding and bridging social capital’ in civic society volunteerism, the third sector and democracy.[5] The voluntary aspect of association with it is an important dimension of the Gülen Movement.[6] Individuals freely join associations and services of their choice, and they are also free to exit, without cost. Whether the underlying motivation for such voluntary participation is self-fulfillment, selfexpression, self-development or something else, it is expressive of the individualistic nature of the concept of civil society.[7]

The fact that, as a thoroughly civic, autonomous initiative, the Gülen Movement is situated entirely outside the conventional channels of political representation – party, government, state, etc. – does not mean that it therefore stands in some way against the political, governmental or democratic system. This would be a grave misreading of the reality of the diffused civic networks of collective action. Through the non-profit-oriented management of its educational and cultural institutions, the Gülen Movement distinguishes itself sharply from political actors and formal state institutions and agencies. Its forms of collective action are multiple, variable and simultaneously located at several different levels of the social space. They do not contend with, or for space in, government or state institutions or agencies.[8] They deal with human beings individually in the public space through independent, legally constituted civic organizations.[9] The Gülen Movement’s field of action – the origin, source and target of what it does – is the individual human being in the private sphere.[10] The natural consequences of this action extend to the civil–public sphere. Its approach is ‘bottom–up’, namely, transforming individuals through education to facilitate the consolidation of a peaceful, harmonious and inclusive society as a result of an enlightened public sphere. It is not the ‘top–down’ approach characteristic of state or government agency. That is indeed the rationale for Gülen’s emphasis on the primacy of education among the Gülen Movement’s commitments:

As the solution of every problem in this life ultimately depends on human beings, education is the most effective vehicle, regardless of whether we have a paralyzed social and political system or we have one that operates like clockwork.[11]

In short, the Gülen Movement’s work demonstrates a shift in orientation from macro-politics to micro-practices.[12] While the Gülen Movement’s origin and services arise from a civil-society-based faith initiative, its discourse and practice affirm the idea that religion and the state are and can be separate in Islam, and that this does not endanger the faith but, in fact, protects it and its followers from exploitation and may strengthen it.[13] After his analysis of the transnational social movements originating from Muslim communities, Hendrick concludes:

The Gülen Movement emerged as the most successful purveyor of Turkey’s improvisation of Islamic modernity, a civil/cosmopolitan Islamic activist movement that seeks to realize its goals of global transformation via ‘moral investment’ in the global economy, ‘moral education’ in the physical sciences, and moral convergence with ‘other’ groups via tolerance and dialogue.[14]

The common features shared by its SMOs justify identifying the Gülen Movement as a civic initiative and a civil society movement.

1.2. Is the Gülen Movement a reaction to a crisis and/or an expression of a conflict?

To answer that question, it is necessary first to distinguish the terms ‘crisis’ and ‘conflict’.

A crisis denotes breakdown of the functional and integrative mechanisms of a given set of social relations in one sector of the system or another. A crisis arises from processes of disaggregation of a system, related to dysfunctions in the mechanisms of adaptation, imbalances among parts or subsystems, and paralyses or blockages therein. A conflict, on the other hand, is a struggle between two actors seeking to appropriate or control resources regarded by both as valuable; the actors have a shared field of action, a common reference system, something at stake between them to which both, implicitly or explicitly, refer.

Conflicts are conceptually distinct from crises. In conflicts the adversaries enter into strife on account of antagonistic definitions of the objectives, relations, and means of social production at issue between them. Whereas an antagonistic conflict manifests as a clash over control and allocation of resources deemed crucial by the concerned parties, a crisis provokes a subsequent reaction on the part of those who seek to correct the imbalance that has happened in the system. The difference between a crisis and an antagonistic conflict is a significant one, one that can help to determine if the collective actor – in this case the Gülen Movement – is conflictual, contentious, reactionary, claimant or otherwise.

The research scholar Webb identified education and health as the major crises in Turkey since the period of the Ottoman state: the problems ‘continually grew larger during the republican period and were even manipulated for political goals’. What aggravated these crises was, in her judgment, the fact that ‘ideological and political concerns rather than logic and science ruled almost all the decisions made in the field of education’. During this time, Turkey did not achieve anything of note in this field in the international arena. ‘To the contrary, the universities, which should have done high-level scientific work, each became a point of political focus and they were in the forefront of the three military coups d’état.’

Interviewee Abdullah Aymaz argued that the dominant interest groups define movements in Turkey without referring to any crises, as if there had never been dysfunctions or faults in the operation of the system.[15] Yet, the Gülen Movement, in the face of the crises related to certain policies (or lack of policies) in Turkey, does not draw upon logic and action based on victim-blaming or systemblaming, or on the adoption of an injustice frame, or on opposition to the ruling system and the dominant interest. Rather than cursing the darkness, it prefers to strike a light against darkness, ignorance, backwardness, disunity, unbelief, injustice and deviations. So it does not concern itself with politically challenging the legitimacy of power or the current deployment of social resources.[16]

Therefore, for Aymaz, the Gülen Movement cannot be defined as a conflictual or confrontational reaction, and, in this sense, the Gülen Movement cannot be seen as a pathology of or antithetical to the social system. Similarly, Ünal and Williams (2000:iii) hold that Gülen and the Gülen Movement do address and try to deal with problems or crises – problems such as the attempted politicization of religion, societal and sectarian tensions and exploitation thereof to keep Turkey off-balance, and undesirable activities such as fundamentalism, dogmatism and coercion – but not specific individuals or groups or political parties or the state.

On the other hand, might some crisis have facilitated the Gülen Movement’s course of action, and contributed to its emergence or visibility in the public space? The appearance of the Gülen Movement has been linked by some commentators to certain conjunctural factors, the most frequent link[17] being to the economic and political liberalization policies of Turgut Özal, who dominated the Turkish political scene for a decade – first as prime minister (1983–89) and then as president (1989–93). Those policies led to socioeconomic processes, like the movement of people to new urban centers, and the establishment of new universities and consequent expansion of mass education. These processes are said to have brought a new consciousness into politics, which prompted people to ‘question the state ideology, participate in formal politics and in the multiple networks of the faith-inspired communities’. Then, it is said, consciousness informed ‘frameworks to discuss identity, morality and justice in society’.[18] While these explanations contain a small kernel of truth, they are reductive and miss the reality and meaning of the Gülen Movement in this period.

An example of such reductionism is Yavuz’s claim that the emergence of the Gülen Movement is attributable to the increased migration from the countryside to the cities, the urbanization, industrialization and modernization of Turkey during the Özal decade.[19] This is at best a very partial explanation, and unsatisfactory because it fails to take account of or distorts key aspects of the Gülen Movement and its history.

Social scientist Jones has shown that what is common to all reductions is that one phenomenon is explained in terms of another of a different nature, one thought to be simpler or more fundamental, so that ‘our desire for understanding at least the reduced phenomenon is satisfied.’[20] Although different kinds of reductionism do not proceed in exactly the same way, an example would be reducing the social dynamics of religions to economic conditions. ‘This process may be a direct substitution of realities or the specification of the real causes at work in the phenomenon.’ Jones adds:

Structural reductions of religious phenomena to non-religious sociocultural phenomena (even if established) cannot rule out that there may yet be more to religion – something other than being a purported sociocultural cause – and so cannot entail the substantive reduction of religion to only sociocultural phenomena. In particular, it would not rule out the possibility that religious experience involves an experience of other realities than those involved in social scientific theories.

Similarly, Mellor maintains that social realities are much more complex than economic models allow, that the real social significance of faith or religion needs to be acknowledged as a causal power affecting people’s views, choices and actions:

Religious influences are located at the heart of all societies rather than in the private or epiphenomenal ‘sub-systems’ envisaged by secularization theorists. […] This underlines the importance of the specifically religious differences for the development of society, and points towards some of the dangers in trying to explain away religious factors through forms of economic and political reductionism.[21]

It is surely obvious that a collective actor like the Gülen Movement cannot have come abruptly into being, with educated, trained adherents ready to seize on the opportunities presented by the opening up of the system or political structure at a specific time and place. Social movements take time to develop; they do not come ready made. In any case, as sociologist Koopmans has argued,[22] the availability of political opportunities does not automatically and promptly translate into increased action and is insufficient to account for the emergence of a collective action and actor. For an organized collective action as large as the Gülen Movement, there has to be, already in place, a sufficient contingent of people with the necessary intellectual and professional skills, and the readiness and will to be employed, before a particular historical conjuncture opens up a window of opportunity.

Linking the Gülen Movement to Özal’s liberalization policies is, at best, an account of the structural conditions that define the action, it is a deficient, reductionist explanation insofar as it neglects to examine the actor itself – in terms of internal factors for example – and so fails to account for the types of behavior observed. In point of fact, the structural conditions explanation is itself of doubtful value, generally and particularly. Generally, because a collective actor or action does not automatically spring from structural tensions or conditions: ‘Numerous factors determine whether or not this will occur. These factors include the availability of adequate organizational resources, the ability of movement leaders to produce appropriate ideological representations, and the presence of a favorable political context.’[23] And particularly, because the example of Özal invalidates the argument since Özal himself was from the faith communities,[24] from the multitude of people already educated, qualified and holding roles and status in Turkish society and the state structure at that time. A single individual could not, by coming to a higher position one day, have produced people like that in such a short period of time, let alone a movement like Gülen’s, when there were already other state bodies functioning independently and when there was in place a large and strong protectionist opposition to what Özal said, planned and carried out.

The hypothesis that political structure opportunities alone account for the existence of a particular group or collective actor is also disproved by asking the obvious question: If Özal and political conjuncture played such a formative role in the emergence of the Gülen Movement, why did the same opportunities not lead other actors to achieve comparable public visibility, resonance and legitimacy? As social scientists Edwards and McCarthy explain: ‘the simple availability of resources is not sufficient; coordination and strategic effort is typically required in order to convert available pools of individually held resources into collective resources and to utilize those resources in collective action.’[25] The reality is that the faith-inspired communities had managed to utilize all the different forms of communication networks and media and, as entrepreneurs independent of state subsidies, had proved themselves successful and profitable in foreign-exchange-earning export industries.[26] Such financial and business acumen cannot be acquired all of a sudden following one person’s accession to political power. In short, the explanation is not a careful evaluation of the conjuncture but social reductionism – it ignores the existence of informal networks, of everyday solidarity circles; it disregards ‘the density and vigor of the networks of belonging, and the associative experiences that individuals have accumulated’.[27]

The mobilization resources of the Gülen Movement were present at the time, ready to be directed towards new goals because already in place. Had they not been, the situation could not have created them, nor could they have benefited from the situation to redirect and reshape their action.

The informal networks and resources, all the heritage, present in the movement need to be taken into consideration. Sociologist Kömeçoğlu (1997) highlights the role of non-visible networks – a movement ‘incubates’ before it emerges into the public. He distinguishes between the discovery of the movement by the mass media and its organizational and cultural origins. Distinguishing between ‘latent’ and ‘visible’ phases in the formation of the Gülen Movement, he deems it necessary to explore the cultural networks that existed before its public appearance. Della Porta and Diani (1999) support Kömeçoğlu’s claim with the argument that adequate organizational resources necessarily precede the mobilization of a collective actor.[28] Thus, prior to the 1980 military coup, Gülen Movement participants had already responded to the crisis in education and the contraction in the field for the expression of moral concerns by setting up institutions such as student halls of residence, university entrance courses, teacher associations, publishing houses and a journal (see the outline of events in Chapter 2.2.8, pp. 30–33). In short, the claim that the Gülen Movement emerged as a consequence of Özal’s economic liberalization is simply a reductionist account and accordingly deficient even as a partial explanation or definition of the Gülen Movement.

The Gülen Movement did not emerge because of, or as the expression of, any conflict, let alone a conflict between the religious-minded and the secularists in Turkey.[29] Webb argues that although the protectionist interest group ideologically frames any effort from the faith-inspired communities as reactionary or fundamentalist, the Gülen Movement has never been mentioned in connection with any anarchy, terror or misuse of office. She adds that any such ‘framing’ has no concrete basis and has been rejected by the public, and indeed by the courts also. Hendrick maintains that the Gülen Movement does not pose any threat to existing political or economic institutions: ‘However conservative, however devout, the Gülen Movement is not fundamentalist.’[30]

A conflict, as we defined it earlier, is the opposition of two (or more) actors vying for control of social resources valued by them.[31] Fethullah Gülen takes no part in this. He argues: ‘for a better world, the most effective path must be to avoid argument and conflict, and always to act positively and constructively’;[32] and: ‘in the modern world, the only way to get others to accept your ideas is by persuasion’; ‘those who resort to force as intellectually bankrupt; for people will always demand freedom of choice in the way they run their affairs and in their expression of spiritual and religious values.’ While it still needs to be improved, ‘democracy is now the only viable political system, and people should strive to modernize and consolidate democratic institutions in order to build a society where individual rights and freedoms are respected and protected, where equal opportunity for all is more than a dream’.

Fethullah Gülen himself neither approves nor ever uses the terms ‘Gülen Movement’ or ‘Gülen Community’. He prefers the action to be called the ‘volunteers service’ because this does not connote any contentious otherness, political separatism or conflictual front. He insists that the Gülen Movement does not and must not involve conflict; the volunteers service must be offered within the framework of the following basic principles: (1) constant positive action that leaves no room for confusion, fighting, and anarchy; (2) absence of worldly, material, and other-worldly expectations in return for service; (3) actions, adorned with human virtues that build trust and confidence; (4) actions that bring people and society together; (5) sustaining patience and compassion in all situations; (6) being positive and action-oriented, instead of creating opposition or being reactionary. Offered in this spirit, Gülen says, volunteer services can be said to be seeking only God’s approval. He encourages all individuals in sympathy with his opinions to serve their communities and humanity in accord with this peaceful, nonconflictual, non-confrontational and apolitical stance.

Ünal and Williams argue that many people from all walks of life and different intellectual backgrounds are attracted to and participate in this service because it permits no expectation of material and political gain and because it is not conflictual. The types of service Gülen mentions – education, health, intercultural and interfaith dialog, cooperation of civilizations – require action, and concern relationships in the everyday lives of all members of society and humanity. The sociologists’ term for this level is the lifeworld. If an action occurs that breaks the rules at the lifeworld level, it is described as conflictual. In conflictual actions or networks, action is taken by simpler and small ‘cells’ against the rules that govern social reproduction in everyday life. These cells go on to generate networks of conflictual social relations and a variety of forms of resistance.[33] Naturally there are forms of such popular resistance in Turkey, but this activity or behavior is absent in the Gülen Movement. Gülen asserts that conflictual or reactionary action cannot reach its goals precisely because it typically offers extremism and violence and gets counter-extremism and counter-violence in return:

Reactionary actions – or movements, no matter how powerful they are – cannot be successful [in] achiev[ing their] purposes, for balance and moderation cannot be maintained in them. Contrarily, they prove to be more harmful […] as people fall into extremism. They thereby cause reactions on the other side. Violence ensures counter-violence from the others, too. What is essential, what ought to be, is positive action.

Aymaz maintained that none of projects in which Gülen Movement participants are involved ever break the rules of society, nor do they try to change “the rules of the game” in whatever field they concern. This is supported by the results of surveys conducted by independent organizations, by the recognition and acceptance of the Gülen Movement’s educational institutions abroad, and by the failure of the legal actions taken by the protectionist elite in Turkey against Gülen:

The Gülen Movement does not do anything which prevents the system from maintaining its set of elements and relations that identify the system as such. Since the Gülen Movement participants and their projects do not breach social limits, the system can acknowledge, or tolerate, them without altering its structure. In this sense, the Gülen Movement has order-maintaining orientations. However, it does not come into being through consensus over the rules governing the control of valued resources. The intention of the Gülen Movement is not to protect the rules and procedures to protect the status quo governing the control of valued resources, any more than it is to challenge them.[34]

Interviewee Ergene stated that the Gülen Movement cannot be described as marginal as it did not come into being to react to the control and legitimacy of the system or its established norms, nor is it a consequence of the inadequate assimilation by some individuals of those established norms. Moreover, the Gülen Movement does not identify a social adversary and a set of contested resources or values. Within the Gülen Movement people express disapproval of actions or traits such as immorality, unbelief, injustice, provoking hostility and violence, and deviations, but disapproval or hatred is not expressed of the people who engage in them. Ergene explained that the protectionist elite within the establishment have attempted to obscure this and the Gülen Movement’s achievements and have thus been led into the reductionism of seeing the Gülen Movement’s philanthropic services and innovative potential as subversive:

Based on Islamic teachings[35] Gülen encourages people to services which are not an opposition [to] interests within a certain normative framework nor do they seek to improve the relative position of the actor so that the actor will be able to overcome functional obstacles in order to change authority relationships. This kind of [altruistic] behavior can be defined as competition for the good or better. It concerns not contending interests but presenting the likely best that can be done for the betterment of the conditions of society and humanity.

Melucci[36] concurs with Ergene that such competition accepts the set ‘rules of the game’ and is regulated by the rights people are entitled to and by the interests that operate within the boundaries of the existing social order. Such competition is indeed different from those forms of solidarity action which force the conflict to the point of infringing the rules of the game or the system’s ‘compatibility limits’.

Interviewee Çapan also stated that the Gülen Movement does not breach the system limits in order to defend the social order, as in the case of ultra right-wing counter- or fascist- movements in history. The Gülen Movement does not claim, compete for, or raise conflict over, something within the state organizational or political system.[37]

‘After 9/11, a lot of groups said they are moderate and changed their rhetoric,’ said Baran. […] ‘But the Gülen Movement for the last 30 to 40 years has been saying the same thing. They have not changed their language because they want to be okay now.’[38]

Since the Gülen Movement is not a struggle or mobilization for the production, appropriation, and allocation of a society’s basic resources, nor engaged in conflict over imbalances of power and the means and orientation of social production, it is not materialistic or antagonistic. Any hypothesis linking the Gülen Movement to capitalist production or political positions and institutions obscures the cognitive, symbolic, and relational components that give the Gülen Movement its distinctive character.

The Gülen Movement does not dispute the shared rules and the processes of representation, or how normative decisions are made through democratic institutions. It aims for the internal equilibrium of society, for exchange among different parts of the system, and for roles to be reciprocally assured and respected so that social life, fairness and the material and non-material prosperity of individuals are maintained and reproduced through interaction, communication, collaboration and education. These relations allow individuals to make sense of themselves, of this world and its affairs, and of what lies beyond.

Undoubtedly, relations and meanings, goals and interests transcend individuals. But the Gülen Movement takes no direct interest in institutional change or the modification of power relationships. Rather, it aims to bring change in the individual, in mind-set, attitudes and behavior. Many forms of the voluntary and altruistic community action undertaken by Movement participants correspond to everyday life and are strictly cultural in orientation, not political. Aymaz, when asked if the Gülen Movement could be considered a political movement, distinguished two types of actions or actors:

The political one presses for a different distribution of roles, rewards or resources and therefore clashes with the power imposing rules within the structural organization of state; and the non-political one strives for a more efficient functioning of the apparatus or, in fact, for that apparatus’ more successful outcomes, without exceeding the established limits of the organization and its normative framework.[39]

In this sense, Aymaz is saying, the Gülen Movement cannot be called a claimant movement either, since it is not seeking to defend the advantages enjoyed by a separate group or to mobilize on behalf of an underprivileged ethnic, religious, social or political group to get for it a bigger piece of the ‘cake’ of public funds or other resources.

Interviewee Çapan was clear that the Gülen Movement neither mobilizes for political participation in decision-making, nor fights against the state ideology, nor pretends to have a bias or tendency so as to get access to decisionmakers. Movement participants have contributed to the opening-up of new channels for the expression of previously excluded demands like intercultural and interfaith dialog and co-operation (rather than conflict) between civilizations, yet in doing so, they do not in any way push their action of service outside the limits set by the existing norms and Turkish political system. Nor do they seek to change the direction of the state’s development policy or otherwise intervene in its decisions or actions. Çapan added that not every publicspirited action is political or antagonistic; rather, there are social, cultural, cognitive, symbolic and spiritual dimensions of such action that can never entirely be translated into the language of politics.[40]

Snow and colleagues[41] class political actors as interest groups and define them in relation to the government or polity, whereas the relevance and interests of social movements extend well beyond the polity to other institutional spheres and authorities. Melucci holds that political actors engage in action for reform, inclusion in and redefinition of political rules, rights and boundaries of political systems; they therefore interact with political authorities, negotiate or engage in exchanges with them. They strive to influence political decision-making through institutional and sometimes partly non-institutional means. Non-political actors, by contrast, address issues in a strictly cultural form or cultural terms, and bring issues forward into the public sphere. They choose a common ground on which many people can work together. They name issues and then let them be processed through political means and actors.[42]

According to the definitions above, the Gülen Movement falls into the category of cultural or social actor rather than political actor. Although political action is legal, legitimate and indispensable for democracy in a complex system like Turkey, the Gülen Movement avoids formal politics, and acts at its own specific level within the limits to which it is entitled by law, aiming at well-defined, concrete, and unifying goals and services.[43] In particular, as Alpay (1995a) has argued, Gülen ‘separates religion from politics, opposes a culture of enmity that can polarize the nation’.[44]

For the Gülen Movement, institutions and the market are not traps to be avoided but instruments to be utilized to the extent that they achieve the common good. In this way it strives to perform a modernizing role within institutions and societies. It contributes to the creation of common public spaces in which an agreement can be reached to share the responsibility for a whole social field beyond one party’s interests or positions. Greek Patriarch Bartholomew confirmed this:

In Turkey, Christians, Muslims and Jews live together in an atmosphere of tolerance and dialogue. We wish to mention the work of Fethullah Gülen, who more than ten years ago began to educate his believers about the necessity for the existence of a dialogue between Islam and all religions.[45]

The moral dimension of these issues and the successful provision of services that transcend any one party’s interests or positions, raise awareness and so fuel reflection and discussion. That is, as it were, the herald of a cultural change that is already well on its way in Turkey and elsewhere. As Fuller points out, this change is perceived by some militant secularists in the army and the old elite structure as an assault against specific interests, an attempt to shift power relationships within the political system, and to acquire influence over decisions. However, Fuller argues, the Gülen Movement promotes an apolitical, highly tolerant and open regeneration of faithinspired values, focused on education, democracy, tolerance and the formation of civil society: the Gülen Movement ‘represent[s] a new Anatolian elite, comfortable with its Islamic heritage while striving to be modern, technologically oriented, and part of the European system as long as that does not mean a total loss of Islamic identity.’[46]

1.3. Is the Gülen Movement a sect or cult?

What distinguishes Gülen and the Gülen Movement from cults and sects? If the distinction is clear why is it said that the Gülen Movement is a sect?

Turkey is a secular state in which freedom of conscience and association are conceived in such a way that religious communities and religious orders (because not regulated by the state) do not officially exist. The Turkish Constitution’s commitment to laicism means that people can be (and many people have been) prosecuted for affiliation to and support of religious orders or sects. Yavuz and Esposito argue that ‘the sharp division between moral community and the political sphere is the source of many problems in Turkey. As the Turkish political domain does not provide an ethical charter, the moral emptiness turned the political domain into a space of dirty tricks, duplicity and the source of corruption’.[47] Politics in Turkey is, regrettably, based on what are euphemistically called ‘protective relationships’, for the sake of which the concepts of both religion and secular democracy are misused.[48] Smith comments wryly, ‘[Critics] say that Ankara [i.e. the hub of establishment politics] has cultivated a seamless web of internal and external threats – some real some imagined – to keep the enterprise afloat.”

The contraction of the field in which moral values can be expressed, combined with the inability or unwillingness of the authorities to deal with acute social crises, prepares people to turn to SMOs.[49] Because the people needed them, faith communities and religious orders not only survived, they have revived and gained prominence in Turkey. Alpay explained this succinctly: ‘modern institutionalization and organization in Turkey remain behind, backward, whereas religious brotherhood and solidarity, basic forms of social organization, continue.’[50] Indeed, those basic forms of organization, bottom–up, civic, faith-inspired initiatives, constituted the necessary social capital and resource for modernization in the country. That success was nevertheless viewed by the protectionist elite with suspicion and described as a potential or actual threat to the foundations of the state.

As the most conspicuously successful and popular effort to generate the social capital that the state was unable to generate, the Gülen Movement and Gülen himself have been particularly targeted. One of the devices to delegitimize them and their services is the accusation that ‘albeit non-political’ they are a sect, backward, and thus subversive. Yet, while accusations of this kind have been plentiful, evidence of (under Turkish law) unlawful association, action or conspiracy has been non-existent. Not a single person from the Gülen Movement has so far been convicted of any of the false charges laid against them by ideologically motivated prosecutors and the protectionist groups behind them. Webb, after listing almost one hundred lower court hearings and judgments concerning Gülen himself, concludes: ‘In the light of the relevant court decisions, and according to the verdicts given, experts appointed by the courts and the courts, the major conclusion is that the allegations and such similar claims [about him] are untrue, baseless and unsubstantiated.’ Webb adds that the authoritative bodies found that there was no sign in his works of supporting the interests of a religious sect, seeking the establishment of a religious community, or using religion for political or personal purposes, or of any violation of basic government principles and order. Gülen’s works consist of explanations of the Qur’an and Hadiths, religious and moral advice, writings that encourage the virtues of good, orderly citizens, what any government would approve and wish for.

Aymaz explained why the Gülen Movement cannot be described as a sect:

The Gülen Movement has never ever attempted to form a distinct unit within Islam. [It is] not a distinct unit within the broader Muslim community by virtue of certain refinements or distinctions of belief or practice. Neither is it a small faction or dissenting clique aggregated around a common interest, peculiar beliefs or unattainable dreams or utopia. The Gülen Movement is already a well-established and transnationally recognized diffused network of people. The Gülen Movement has no formal leadership, no sheikhs and no hierarchy. They don’t have any procedures, ceremonies or initiation [to pass] in order to be affiliated or to become a member.

Aymaz further explained that in the wider society, Movement participants are neither viewed nor act as any kind of closed, special group:

Movement participants, with their words, projects and actions, have proved themselves not to have any strongly held views or ideology that are regarded as extreme by the majority in Turkey and abroad. They have never been regarded as heretical or as deviant in any way by the public, in the media or in the courts. They have not been accused of being different from the generally accepted religious tradition, practices or tendencies. All movement participants are educated, mostly either graduates or post-graduates, serving voluntarily. These volunteers work by themselves, thousands of miles away from a specific doctrine or a doctrinal leader.[51]

Hermansen explains why the Gülen Movement cannot be called a sect or cult in similar terms:

Tibi deprecatingly referred to the Gülen Movement as a Sufi tariqa including as a critique that Gülen functions as the shaykh (Sufi master). Agai concludes that this is a misrepresentation because unlike classical tariqa, there is no requirement of initiation, no restricted or esoteric religious practices, and no arcane Sufi terminology that marks membership in the Gülen Movement. Ergene also strongly disagrees with the characterization of the Gülen Movement as a tariqa in any classical social or organizational sense.[52]

If the Gülen Movement cannot be labeled a cult or sect on account of its actions, can it be so labeled on account of participants’ relations to its founding figure, Fethullah Gülen? This is the issue of ‘charisma’, and the associated process of ‘charismatization’. Charismatization makes the group-leader in the eyes of its members a special, even a super-, being; it entails myths about his childhood, sacralized places, holy objects he has touched, etc. A picture is built up of this super-being who is nevertheless prepared to come down to the level of ordinary people. Charismatization makes the groupleader unaccountable, unpredictable, arbitrary in the exercise of authority and prone to abuse of power:

The authority that is accorded by the followers [of the] charismatic [leader], insofar as it is not bound by rules or by tradition and the charismatic leader has the right to say what the followers will do in all aspects of their life – whom they will sleep with […] marry, whether they will have children, what sort of work they will do, in what country they will live – perhaps whether they will live – and what toothpaste they will use. It really can cover anything; and it can be changed at a moment’s notice.[53]

Fethullah Gülen has been visible in public life through his speeches, actions, and projects since he was sixteen years old as preacher, writer and the initiator of civil society action. He has not led anyone into any absurdities, deviations, violence, killings, suicides or abuse of any sort. He has not presented any attitude of unaccountability or arbitrariness in his thoughts or actions. In Turkey a very few marginal, ideologically motivated individuals and groups have opposed his worldview and projects, yet none so far has substantiated any accusation like that. This is a good indication that Fethullah Gülen and the Gülen Movement are nothing like the sects, cults or new religious movements studied by Barker and others.

We set out earlier (§3.2.5, pp. 79–83) how and why the reflexivity of the Gülen Movement is so high. Movement participants have a clear definition of the services, the field of their action, the goals and the instruments used to achieve them, and as a result, what to expect and not to expect in return for what they are doing. The Gülen Movement also has much accumulated experience, which it is very successful at imparting to its participants and to those outside the Gülen Movement. The Gülen Movement therefore does not experience a gap between unattainable goals and expectations and rewards. The clarity about general goals and particular objectives – the attainability of its projects – the stress on and the adherence to legitimacy of means and ends– the accountability of how the projects are delivered – distinguish Gülen and the Gülen Movement from cults and sects in a clear way.[54]

In the Gülen Movement, the rewards to be expected as a result of services provided are strictly ‘from God’.[55] The Gülen Movement does not offer selective incentives (atomized cost–benefit calculations) to attract participants in the pursuit of collective goals. Direct participation in the services itself provides the motivation – to embody highly symbolic, cultural, ethical and spiritual values, rather than to accrue worldly goods and material gains. Kuru notes: ‘Gülen is against the kind of rationalism that focuses on egoistic self interest and pure materialistic cost–benefit analysis.’[56]

Fethullah Gülen himself has said: ‘If I were to prefer this world, to prefer to be at the top of the State, I would have looked for a position in certain places where such preferences could be realized.’ He never did so, having lived his whole life, including youth, as an ascetic. Recalling his youth when worldly prospects were available to him, he said: ‘If this person refused all the opportunities that came to his doorstep and rather headed for his wooden hut in his youth, how could he have such desires now when he spends every night “as if this were my last”? I think all of these accusations [of seeking position or power] arise from [the accusers’] feelings of hatred.’[57]

Because motivation and incentivization are realized through the relational networks and the services provided altruistically alongside others, it ties the individuals together. The cohesiveness of the group, in contradistinction to cults, does not derive from belonging to it. Belonging is not for its own sake, turned inward, but for the service of others, i.e. always looking outward. Gülen often refers to the maxim: ‘An individual should be among the common folks like any ordinary individual, yet with the constant consciousness that he or she is with God and under His constant supervision.’ This means ‘living among people, amidst multiplicity’.[58] Therefore, unlike sects or cults, Movement participants prefer being with and for people, not avoiding them; they do not draw back into themselves and break off relations with social partners, or sever relations with the outside, nor renounce the relevant and feasible courses of action. To the contrary, Gülen stresses the current realities, the interdependency of communities that has emerged with the modern means of communication and transportation – the world become a global village. He teaches the awareness that any radical change in one country will not be determined by that country alone because this epoch is one of interactive relations, and nations and peoples are more in need of and dependent on each other, a situation that requires closeness in mutual relations. Therefore, people should accept one another as they are and seek ways to get along with each other. Differences based on beliefs, races, customs and traditions are richness, and should be appreciated for the common good through peaceful and respectful relationships. Gülen adds:

This network of relations, which […] exists on the basis of mutual interest, provides some benefits for the weaker side. Moreover, owing to advances in […] digital electronic technology, the acquisition and exchange of information is gradually growing. As a result, the individual comes to the fore, making it inevitable that democratic governments which respect personal rights will replace oppressive regimes.[59]

In another sense also, the Gülen Movement is not closed off from the world – it knows that it needs to be in the world in order to learn from it. Fethullah Gülen explains: ‘People must learn how to benefit from other people’s knowledge and views, for these can be beneficial to their own system, thought, and world. Especially, they should seek always to benefit from the experiences of the experienced.’[60] It seems unlikely that individuals in a movement who have been reading and listening to Gülen would be in a sectlike relationship or structure. Instead, Gülen urges inclusivity and openness to other people: Be so tolerant that your bosom becomes wide like the ocean. Be inspired with faith and love of human beings. Let there be no troubled souls to whom you do not offer a hand, and about whom you remain unconcerned.’[61]

The Gülen Movement does not have an ideology that posits an ‘adversary’ that it then makes an object of aggression, and to which it denies any humanity or rationality or potential for good. It systematically and consistently refuses to activate negative or destructive processes. It has for that reason sometimes been criticized for passivism. On the contrary, however, it encourages a higher motivational level and opens the way for individual and collective responsibility and mobilization. Gülen teaches that the principal way to realize projects is ‘through the consciousness and the ethic of responsibility. [… As] irresponsibility in action is disorder and chaos, we are left with no alternative but to discipline our actions with responsibility. Indeed, all our attempts should be measured by responsibility.’[62]

This consciousness and ethic of responsibility nurtures individual upward mobility in the SMOs established with Gülen’s encouragement. ‘[These] institutions have a corporate identity and their management is in the hands of real people. However, having been appointed as a manager through a social contract, these people are not allowed to utilize the institutions for their own benefits. Those who are now unable to work actively in the movement give over their role to the young people who will carry the torch of the altruistic services of the movement.’[63] Hermansen recalls how a senior participant in the Gülen Movement described its activism in terms of a relay race in which the current generations are running and passing the torch on to the next cohort to take it onward and higher.

Individual upward mobility is for all and always possible in the Gülen Movement because entry and exit, or commitment and withdrawal, are always voluntary and always open. A competitive spirit is also encouraged and predominates over the primary solidarities. Individuals are employed at the SMOs on the basis of professional qualifications rather than on the basis of Movement experience or ‘seniority’.[64] These features all prevent the rise of any dogmatic leaders, ideologues, rites, or exclusivist functions within the Gülen Movement. They also prevent the Gülen Movement from constructing an idealized self-image with exclusive values and symbolic resources and taking refuge in myth.

The Gülen Movement does not have or seek to have private sacred texts exclusive to itself, or develop special rituals and priestly functions, or special costumes or gestures or insignia, or other closed identity devices. It does not offer outcomes or rewards unattainable by the ordinary means of human effort in the real world. It does not seek sacral celebration of the self in an abstract and anachronistic paradigm.[65] The Gülen Movement’s action is not directed against anyone, real or mythical: it has no fantasized ‘adversary’ to blame if there is any shortfall in outcomes. Rather, any failure must be socially defined within the actors’ frame of reference and responsibility. Fethullah Gülen identified the three major problems as the basis of all the trouble in modern Turkey: ignorance, poverty, and internal schism (social disunity). To these he added:

Now to these have been added cheating, bullying and coercion, extravagance, decadence, obscenity, insensitivity, indifference, and intellectual contamination.[66] A lack of interest in religious and historical dynamics, lack of learning, knowledge, and systematic thinking […] ignorance, stand as the foremost reason today why Turkey and the region is so afflicted with destitution, poverty.[67]

The limits of the reference field of the Gülen Movement (its principles and goals) do not permit any sort of aggressive and non-institutionalized mobilization, impractical and incompatible demands or expectations, or anything transgressing boundary rules – either in the Turkish or the international arenas – that could trigger conflict.[68] Movement participants are encouraged to reflect upon and compare their action in different situations at different times – an open process of working out costs and benefits, of measuring effort and outcomes, that enables them to criticize and amend policy, to predict likely outcomes, to learn from mistakes, etc. In this way, the institutions, the services given and their success, do not belong to any single individual and moreover remain oriented outwards to the real world.

Education, as we have emphasized, is the Gülen Movement’s chief priority. In Gülen’s view it is not only the establishment of justice that is hindered by the lack of well-rounded education, but also the recognition of human rights and attitudes of acceptance and tolerance toward others: ‘if you wish to keep the masses under control, simply starve them in the area of knowledge. They can escape such tyranny only through education. The road to social justice is paved with adequate, universal education, for only this will give people sufficient understanding and tolerance to respect the rights of others.’[69] The education supported by the Gülen Movement is oriented to enabling people to think for themselves, to be agents of change on behalf of the positive values of social justice, human rights and tolerance.[70] This again sharply distinguishes the Gülen Movement from the tendency of cults to be oriented inward and to demand conformity from group members (of which the private rites, insignia, etc., are a badge).

The style and content of education is another distinguishing factor. Gülen holds that a new style of education is necessary ‘that will fuse religious and scientific knowledge together with morality and spirituality, to produce genuinely enlightened people with hearts illumined by religious sciences and spirituality, [and] minds illuminated with positive sciences’, people whose actions and life-styles embody humanity and moral values, and who are ‘cognizant of the socio-economic and political conditions of their time’.[71]

Michel argues that for Gülen ‘spirituality’ includes not only directly religious teachings, but also ethics, logic, psychological health, and affective openness – compassion and tolerance are key terms. Gülen believes that ‘non-quantifiable’ qualities need to be instilled in students alongside training in the ‘exact’ disciplines. Michel considers that such a program is more related to identity and daily life than ‘political action’, and believes that it will yield a new spiritual search and moral commitment to a better and more human social life. Those dimensions of education can only be conveyed through example in the teachers’ manners, disposition and behavior, not through preaching: The Gülen Movement does not dictate the curriculum in the educational institutions its participants sponsor and manage. The institutions follow national and international curricula and students are encouraged to use external sources of information, such as the internet and the universities’ information services.

The Gülen Movement, as we said, does not follow (as some cults do) an anachronistic paradigm. It does not romanticize the past. Yet it does emphasize ‘cultural values’. Gülen has said: ‘Little attention and importance is given to the teaching of cultural values, although it is more necessary to education. If one day we are able to ensure that it is given importance, then we shall have reached a major objective.’ Predictably, this emphasis has been seized upon by protectionist critics as a reactionary call to return to pre-Republican Ottoman society – in sociological terms, a kind of regressive utopianism. The term of abuse employed – irticaci – might well be translated in the Turkish context as ‘reactionary’.[72] Gülen has always denied this accusation:

The word irtica means returning to the past or carrying the past to the present. I’m a person who’s taken eternity as a goal, not only tomorrow. I’m thinking about our country’s future and trying to do what I can about it. I’ve never had anything to do with taking my country backwards in any of my writings, spoken words or activities. But no one can label belief in God, worship, moral values and […] matters unlimited by time as irtica.

Melucci has explained how some movements, at their inception, define their identity in terms of the past, drawing upon a totalizing myth of rebirth with a quasi-religious content; their action involves a utopian appeal with religious connotations. This regressive utopianism reduces complexity to the unity of a single all-embracing formula; it refuses different levels and tools of analysis, and identifies the whole society with the sacral solidarity of the group. It translates the re-appropriation of identity into the language and symbols of an escapist myth of rebirth. Melucci adds that the predominant religious accent in these movements makes them susceptible to manipulation by the power structure, to marginalization as sects, and to transformation into a fashion or commodity for sale in the marketplace as a mindsoother. He further argues that contestation in such movements changes into an individual flight, a mythical quest or fanatic fundamentalism.[73]

Other theorists have called that description an over-generalization. Sociologist Asef Bayat points to the reductionism in Melucci’s account, which considers all religious or revivalist movements, especially Islamist, as regressive utopianism.[74] For sure, it is not a description that can fit the Gülen Movement. Gülen’s references to history contain no hint of a cultural politics, no attempt to disparage any historical epoch, especially not those moments associated with the origins of modernity in Turkey.[75] He does not evoke a past so as to express a wish to restore sultanate as a symbolic shortcut to unity and order, nor does he idealize ‘homeland’, ‘religion’, and ‘family’. He is not seeking any ideological alibi to mask deficiencies in his understanding of the complexities of the modern world. Michel is very clear that Gülen does not propose ‘a nostalgic return to Ottoman patterns’.[76]

To the contrary, since the inception of the Gülen Movement, Fethullah Gülen has aspired to present models for self-improvement leading to social transformation.[77] He neither sees the past as a strategy for reinforcement of the present political order, nor considers that a new model based upon the past can or should be reinstated in the present. He has called that a grotesque anachronism, given that no sane person could believe that such a jump in time could come to fruition. He sees it as impossible for Turkey to recover the transnational hegemony it exercised before the First World War. The very idea of such cultural imperialism is incompatible with current economic, military and geographical realities. Michel observes: ‘This is very different from reactionary projects which seek to revive or restore the past. […] Gülen repeatedly affirms that “If there is no adaptation to new conditions, the result will be extinction”.’[78]

Fethullah Gülen looks to the past for examples to follow and mistakes to avoid, that is, for the means to go beyond what has remained in the past:

Today, it is obviously impossible to live with out-of-date conceptions which have nothing to do with reality. Continuing the old state being impossible, it means either following the new state or annihilation. We will either reshape our world as required by science, or we shall be thrown into a pit together with the world we live in.[79]

Nevertheless, ‘If keeping your eyes closed to the future is blindness, then disinterest in the past is misfortune.’[80] Historical consciousness clarifies the concepts of the present that are mostly shaped by the concepts and the events of the past. By presenting a very broad range of historical themes and characters, Gülen instills hope and creates access for his audience to necessary measures for reform and advance in globalized society. To him, knowing history is a feeder to an innovative and successful future in which you are able to know where you are going.

Fethullah Gülen emphatically refuses the model of citizenship that reflects a certain kind of racial, ethnic, cultural and religious homogeneity based on some (often imaginary) society in the past. In point of fact, none of the seventeen states that the Turks historically established were based on any such homogeneity. Consoling oneself with re-telling the heroic deeds of others indicates a psychological weakness peculiar to the impotent who have failed or are refusing to shoulder their present responsibilities to the present society:

Of course, we should certainly commemorate the saints of our past with deep emotion and celebrate the victories of our heroic ancestors with enthusiasm. But we should not think this is all we are obliged to do, just consoling ourselves with tombs and epitaphs. […] Each scene from the past is valuable and sacred only so long as it stimulates and enthuses us, and provides us with knowledge and experience for doing something today. Otherwise it is a complete deception, since no success or victory from the past can come to help us in our current struggle. Today, our duty is to offer humanity a new message composed of vivid scenes from the past together with understanding of the needs of the present.

For the Gülen Movement identity is not something imposed by belonging and membership in a group; it is brought into being, constructed, by the individual in her or his capacity as a social actor. It is always in accord with social capacity. Relationship is formed at the level of the single individual, and awakens the enthusiasm and capacity of the individual for action. Through sociability people rediscover the self and the meaning of life. The altruistic service urged by the Gülen Movement is this effort of human sociability and relationship. Therein lies the core of the distinctiveness of the Gülen Movement. It does not lead to a flight into the myth of identity. It does not draw an individual into an escapist illusion so that he or she is magically freed from the constraints of social action or behavior. It reaffirms the meaning of social action as the capacity for a consciously produced human existence and relationships.

In the same vein, Gülen frequently talks about a renaissance, yet he does not mean by it any sort of magical ‘rebirth’.[81] On the contrary, this renaissance is an active process, a toil – to ‘prevent illnesses like passion, laziness, seeking fame, selfishness, worldliness, narrow-mindedness, the use of brute force’ and to replace them ‘with exalted human values like contentedness, courage, modesty, altruism, knowledge and virtue, and the ability to think universally’.[82] Acknowledgement of differences, multiplicity, the necessity of division of labor, and power relationships within the larger community, attach the Gülen Movement to a form of rationality geared to assessing the relationship between ends and means, to protecting people from the imbalances and divisions created by the forms of power required to govern complexity. ‘Fethullah Gülen’s work is a constant exhortation to greater effort, greater knowledge, greater self-control and restraint.’[83]

Sects, by contrast, resist accepting difference and diversity within themselves and resist accepting their interdependence with the outside world. They lack a solution for handling difference within complexity. Their totalizing appeal does not take into account that people are simultaneously living in a system interdependently.[84] The Gülen Movement does not deny the interdependence of the social field in its worldview, values, or actual organizational frame. It does not have a totalizing ideology that possesses and controls the social field; and so it does not need to identify ‘others’ or ‘outsiders’ in negative terms.

By correctly and accurately identifying the true social character of conflicts, the Gülen Movement avoids producing unpredictable forms or expressions of collective action. Being socially, culturally and intellectually competent, Movement participants respond to the specificity of individual and collective demands, without allowing them to cancel one another out. They do not seek escape into a reductionism that ignores or annuls the individual for the appropriated identity of the movement. Utilizing this social capacity, it does not lapse into the pre-social, or withdraw into a sect or dissolve into a utopian myth. Gülen himself has said, in reference to being or becoming a sect, that he is ‘personally not in favor of such practice’, that Movement participants ‘do not represent a separate and divisive group in society’, and they ‘are not associated with any group, nor have developed such a group’.[85]

The Gülen Movement is different from a sect in that it operates in awareness of its commitment to the social field where it belongs, interacts and contributes. It shares with the rest of the society a set of general issues, and seeks to find and form common grounds and references with others. Gülen writes:

Gigantic developments in transportation and telecommunication technology have made the world into a big village. In these circumstances, all the peoples of the world must learn to share this village among them and live together in peace and mutual helping. We believe that peoples, no matter of what faith, culture, civilization, race, color and country, have more to compel them to come together than what separates them. If we encourage those elements which oblige them to live together in peace and awaken them to the lethal dangers of warring and conflicts, the world may be better than it is today.[86]

A sect by contrast simply breaks any such connection. It creates (ideologically and ontologically) separations, divisions and ruptures that cannot be overcome. Its identity politics and appeal tend to cover up or deny the fundamental dilemma of living a social life in complex systems.[87] Being an exclusive organization, a sect demands a long novitiate, rigid discipline, high level of unquestioning commitment and intrusion into every aspect of its members’ lives.[88] The worldview or collective action of the Gülen Movement is not an isolationist withdrawal into a pure community-based or sectlike structure:

We should know how to be ourselves and then remain ourselves. That does not mean isolation from others. It means preservation of our essential identity among others, following our way among other ways. While self-identity is necessary, we should also find the ways to a universal integration. Isolation from the world will eventually result in annihilation.[89]

If the search for fulfillment within specific closed networks or a society is unable to handle information flow, it withdraws from social life and transforms spiritual needs into intolerant mysticism. A movement’s identity claims pushed too far eventually evolve into a conflictual sectarian organization with an intolerant ideology, so that the movement tends to fragment into self-assertive and closed sects. If certain issues or differences become political and contradictory, and if the political decision-making is limited and incapable of resolving the differences, the movement breaks up into sectarian groupings.

However, the Gülen Movement with its participation in the field of education, interfaith and intercultural issues, and of transnational altruistic projects and institutions, proves itself able to process information and emergent realities. Interviewee Aymaz explained how this works:

The Gülen Movement acknowledges the fact that the common points, grounds, references and problems affecting humanity in general are far more than the differences which separate us. Gülen teaches that ‘one can be for others while being oneself ’, and ‘in order for a peaceful coexistence, one can build oneself among others, in togetherness with others’. The difference and particularism of an actor do not negate interdependence and unity with others. People can come together and co-operate around a universally acknowledged set of values. The way to do so is through education, convincing argument, peaceful interaction and negotiation.[90]

Aymaz emphasized that the Gülen Movement does not engage with identity politics. It does not seek to be different from other people, ethnoreligiously, culturally or geographically. Movement participants accept and abide by Turkish and international norms, regulations and laws. They share the concerns and problems common to people all over the world, and work to contribute to their resolution. The worldview, intentions and efforts of the Gülen Movement are accepted and approved by the overwhelming majority of people in Turkey and by those who know their efforts outside Turkey. It is therefore able to become an agent of reconciliation between diverse communities around the world. These efforts are actualized through legal, formalized and institutionalized means and ends. The Gülen Movement is defined in terms of its social and multicultural relations; the intention of seeking consensus among communities legitimates its transnational projects, so that it does not deviate into, or let others be led astray into, fundamentalism and sectarianism.[91]

Interviewee Ergene also argued that the Gülen Movement does not reduce reality to a small package of truisms. The service-networks are well aware of their capacity so they do not attempt to mask anything from the larger environment. The openness and transparency of its projects make the Gülen Movement effective and strengthen the confidence in it. The spirit of cultural innovation and the true spiritual seeking, alongside other faith-community members, within one’s faith strengthens one’s own sense of security and offers it to others. Interviewee Çapan made the point that, because the Gülen Movement responds to the need for cultural and social innovation, the collective search and engagement for worldly and other-worldly well-being within the Gülen Movement does not assume the character of a flight into militancy or sectarianism. Moreover, ‘in over forty years there has been no case or accusation of crisis, greed, a different theology or drug use and suicide within the Gülen Movement’. The reason for this, Çapan explained, is that people do not experience frustration, isolation, disappointment and exploitation within the Gülen Movement; quite the contrary, they feel and find hope, a true human and humane identity, communication, compassion and peace.[92]

Finally, on the question of the Gülen Movement’s charismatic leader, Ergene affirmed: ‘Though everyone who knows and comes into contact with Gülen acknowledges and respects Gülen’s knowledge, asceticism, piety, expertise and scholarliness on religious, spiritual and intellectual matters, this does not result in any sacral recognition or charisma for Gülen.’ The common description of Fethullah Gülen as the leader of the Gülen Movement – something that the man himself has never accepted or approved – has not resulted in the emergence of an authoritarian personality or personalities. The Gülen Movement has remained committed to the establishment of collective reasoning, consultation and consensus, which prevents the emergence of or lapse into herd mentality or ‘group-think’.[93]

1.4. Is the Gülen Movement a political movement?

Emergent movements in complex societies – movements of all kinds: youth, women, urban, ecological, pacifist, ethnic, cultural – have been interpreted in basically two ways: (1) in terms of an economic crisis; or (2) as a result of deficiencies in political legitimation, that is, exclusion from institutions and access to decision-making.[94] Movements are studied and understood insofar as they are mobilizing against the authoritarianism of a system, struggling for equalization of rights, seeking inclusion in the system and political recognition, or reviving ethnic or religious accents in expressions of identity or behavior considered odd or bizarre by the prevailing social order. Those who would justify that social order then interpret the movements in ideological terms – that is, as a struggle (actually or potentially) to subvert or undermine that same order. This may cause a crisis in the day-to-day fabric of social life, a breakdown in norms, loss of identity and reactive violent behavior. However, not all forms of marginalization, reactions to crises, or efforts to adapt to imbalances necessarily generate a collective action or movement, and not all collective demands assume a political form.[95]

I argued in Chapter 1 that the dominant explanation for collective action and social movements hinges largely upon a particular understanding of the European New Left action and ideology in France, Germany, and Italy after the ‘68 generation and in the 1970s.[96] As a result of the closedness of political institutions, the radicalization of movements, the prevalence of sectarian Marxist organization in the New Left, and even the lamentable turn towards terrorism, the intellectuals of the Left, as the social movement theorists, preached revolutionary ideologies. They dignified social disorder and disruptive behavior with a revolutionary label. They often based their understanding on a reductionist analysis which tended to mask some of the features of collective action. They overlooked the presence of non-political elements in emergent movements. To them, that which was not directly political in nature was folklore and private escapism and only political representation could prevent collective demands from being dissipated into such.[97]

This arbitrary ‘politicization’ of demands constitute a reductionist interpretation in that it underestimated the specificity of the emergent movements. It channeled all collective demands within its scope into rigid forms of political organization of a Leninist type. Emergent collective phenomena in complex societies cannot be treated simply as reactions to crises, as mere effects of marginality or deviance, or purely as problems arising from exclusion from the political market. In reality social movements in complex societies share a number of prominent features as multi-form and diverse as are the areas of social life. The issues are not all objectives of low negotiability, nor are they entirely reducible to political mediation. Indeed, only a portion of collective demands can be mediated and institutionalized through the functions of political representation and decision-making. Demands can re-emerge in other sectors of society, the implications of which are often outside the official channels of representation, rationalization and control by the co-ordinated intervention of state apparatuses.[98]

Also in chapter 1, and again in 3, I pointed to a striking phenomenon in recent forms of collective action, namely that they ‘largely ignore the political system. They generally display disinterest towards the idea of seizing power’.[99] New social movements are less engaged with social and political conflict than before because ‘collective bargaining, party competition, and representative party government were the virtually exclusive mechanisms for the resolution of social and political conflict. All of this was endorsed by a “civic culture” which emphasized the values of social mobility, private life, consumption, instrumental rationality, authority, and order and which de-emphasized political participation’.[100] New social movements are, instead, characterized by open and fluid organization, inclusive and non-ideological participation, and greater attention to social than to economic transformations.[101]

All of this raises questions about the relationship between the Gülen Movement and the political system in Turkey. For, as argued in earlier chapters and in §4.1.2 above, a notable feature of the Gülen Movement is that participants acknowledge and abide by the political system, and display disinterest towards seizing power and gaining control over the state apparatus. The Gülen Movement assumes forms of action and organization which are accountable and amenable to political mediation by the Turkish political system, without becoming identifiable with it. The Gülen Movement therefore does not act like an oppositional action which involves a minority, or which rejects the system in Turkey, or which resists the ‘rationality’ of decisions and goals imposed by the Turkish system.

To a certain extent, within different contexts and in response to different questions, the arguments have established that the Gülen Movement is what Melucci would call a cultural actor, or a social, not a political, movement. So, from here on, the discussion will focus on how the Gülen Movement as collective actor and its action are different from a political party, and the implications for Turkey, democracy, Islamism, subterfuge and dissembling, development or change in Turkey, and Turkey’s integration into the international community.

The chief implication of the Gülen Movement is that political parties are unable to give adequate expression to collective demands. This is because parties are structured to represent interests that are assumed to remain relatively stable, with a distinct geographical, occupational, social, or ideological base. Also, a party must ensure the continuity of the interests it represents. When faced with the task of representing a plurality of interests, the traditional structure of a party may not be able to adjust itself to accommodate them. Indeed, it can hardly mediate between short- and longterm goals. For short-term gains and profits a party may act in favor of unstable, partial and hierarchical interests. In contrast, unlike political parties and bodies, the Gülen Movement’s participation in social projects and in the specific areas of social life demonstrates no interest in hierarchism or short-term gains.

Moreover, the Gülen Movement represents its understanding through formal and institutionalized SMOs. As these institutions are mostly educational they do not take sides with political parties. Rather than being distant to some, Gülen says, they are equally near to all.

The social praxis of the Gülen Movement focuses on the role and needs of the individual. It emphasizes individual needs for self-reflexivity and self-realization. Without straying into forms of narcissistic behavior, or the individualistic search for self-affirmation and instant gratification, the Gülen Movement testifies to a profound change in the status of the individual and his or her problems. Through socio-cultural efforts and services, the Gülen Movement addresses the individual dimension of social life, and thus with the products it provides, it may then affect the whole of society. Its space and the level where new forms of social action originate is not political space or power, nor government, nor regime. It educates and socializes individuals without individualizing and politicizing the social. It acknowledges that neither individuals nor a system ever undergo change at all levels at the same time and in the same way. Change requires a lengthy period of time, enormous sacrifice, commitment and patience, and it can be achieved only through education, peace and co-operation of like-minded citizens and civilizations.

Barton reads Gülen’s optimistic and forward-looking thought as a contemporary reformulation of the teachings of Rumi, Yunus Emre, and other classical Sufi teachers. He argues that Gülen emphasizes the self development of heart and mind through education, engaging proactively and positively with the modern world and reaching out in dialog and a spirit of cooperation between different religious communities, social strata and nations.[102] Weller makes the same point:

Fethullah Gülen has concentrated his efforts on establishing dialogue among the various ideologies, cultures, religions and ethnic groups of Turkey and of the wider world. While Gülen and his thought are rooted in a strongly religious vision of the world, his efforts for dialogue have extended beyond traditional religious circles alone.[103]

Like Barton and Weller, Michel recognizes the centrality of the religious and cultural vision of the Gülen Movement to its activities. The effectiveness of these activities depends on the openness, receptiveness, and efficiency of the available forms of representation. The character of the services that the participants are engaged in providing keeps them away from the everyday, largely pointless partisan fights and rhetoric of political parties; they do not divert or exhaust their energies in political skirmishes.[104] This stands in contradiction to the dominant understanding of social movements as always contentious and conflictual.

This conscious avoidance of political contention is reflected in Gülen’s evaluation of the failures in the last few centuries in Turkish history:

Those who were in politics and those who supported them considered every means and action as legitimate and permissible if it were to gain them position for their own team or party; they devised and entered into complex intrigues and deluded themselves that by overthrowing the dominant group and changing the party in power they would change everything and the country would be saved.[105]

Fethullah Gülen adds that action should have been guided by thought, knowledge, faith, morality, and virtue rather than by political ambitions and hatred.[106]

And yet, Gülen has been accused of politically-motivated subterfuge, of concealing his true intentions, of hiding a political intent and agenda. In 2000 a state security court prosecutor accused Gülen of inciting his readers to plot the overthrow of Turkey’s secular government. In a response to questions from The New York Times, Gülen described the charges as fabrications by a ‘marginal but influential group that wields considerable power in political circles’:

‘Statements and words were picked with tweezers and montaged to serve the purposes of whoever was behind this.’ He ‘was not seeking to establish an Islamic regime but did support efforts to ensure that the government treated ethnic and ideological differences as a cultural mosaic, not a reason for discrimination. […] Standards of democracy and justice must be elevated to the level of our contemporaries in the West’, said Gülen.[107]

Both Gülen and his opponents use the term ‘political power’ in their arguments. It will be worthwhile pausing to reflect on what this term and the associated notions of ‘political demands’ and ‘political participation’ mean.

Political power is generally understood to denote the capacity of certain groups to exert privileged control over the processes of political decision- making, to take normative decisions in the name of society as a whole, and to impose those decisions, where necessary, through the use of coercive means. In order of increasing generality the nature of ‘political demands’ are categorized into three: (1) demands regarding the regulation of exchange between particular groups within the society; (2) demands that call for the modification or adaptation of the rules of the political system, so as to widen or restrict access to it; (3) demands regarding the maintenance or adaptation of the mode of production and distribution of social resources. Political participation is also the defense of specific interests, an attempt to shift power relationships within the political system, to acquire influence over decisions.[108]

The Gülen Movement has not allied itself with any established political party, and this has secured it a certain measure of success. It sees that Islam does not need a state or political party to survive, but does need the educated, the financially well-off and a fully democratic system:

Fethullah Gülen’s ideas do differ from political Islamists and other moderate Islamists by emphasizing the entrance of Turkey and Islam into mainstream global processes and a market economy […] and emphasis on intellectual development and tolerance.[109]

Fethullah Gülen believes that the main problem in the world is lack of knowledge, which involves related problems concerning the production and control of knowledge.[110] Producing, maintaining and disseminating knowledge can only be achieved through education, but not by party politics. Education is the key to becoming a better, productive and beneficial individual, whether one is Muslim or not. He believes also that the sciences, humanities and religion enhance and complement one another rather than compete and clash. Afsaruddin concludes that the effectiveness and spread of the Gülen-inspired schools within and outside Turkey are evidence of the success of Gülen’s educational philosophy, which urges personal enlightenment and lays equal stress on the inculcation of ethical values and a sound training in the secular sciences.[111]

According to Tekalan, the primary purpose of the education in the Gülen-inspired schools is to ensure respect for objective and universal human values. The Gülen Movement has not had nor fostered ulterior motives to seek material advantages or impose any ideology or seize power through politics in the countries where it has SMOs. He adds that for the forty years since the inception of the Gülen Movement, no act contrary to these principles has been witnessed in any country. He affirms that the Gülen Movement has never aimed to seize power economically, politically or culturally inside or outside Turkey; its objective is to serve humankind without expecting any return and consideration for that service. Tekalan reports what Gülen said in 2002 in Zaman newspaper:

Just as I did in the past, I am currently preserving the same distance from all political parties. Even if the power, not only in Turkey, but also in the whole world, is presented as a gift to me, I have been long determined to reject it with contempt.[112]

Rather than leave Turkey to remain a closed society, Gülen has supported initiatives for a democratic, pluralistic and free society.[113] He states that the role of individual morality is pivotal in this perspective to build, strengthen, and preserve ‘a just political order’.[114] In the same vein, he has supported ties to the West – on the basis that Turkish society has much to gain from the achievements of rational knowledge there – whereas many from both the religious circles and the dominant secularist elite have been opposed to such rapprochement. Gülen was among the first and strongest supporters of full European membership and integration,[115] although some Islamist political groups criticized his remarks and opposed such membership. To them, the European Union is a Christian club and a threat to Turkish national and Muslim identity. Gülen was gradually able to bring about changes in the public mentality and attitude in Turkey.[116] He ‘support[s] democracy and tolerance as the best way to govern and membership [in] the European Union as the best way of achieving economic prosperity’. In addition, he has highlighted the need for peace, tolerance, and dialog with ethno- religious minorities within the Turkish community and between nations as an integral part of Islam and Turkish Muslimness.[117]

Fethullah Gülen is ‘critical of the instrumentalization of religion in politics’, and has constantly opposed direct participation in party politics because the modern world exists in a ‘pluralistic experience rather than within an assumed homogeneity of truth’. He is against those who have created ‘a negative image of Islam by reducing Islam to an ideology’.[118] Through words and deeds he underlines the distinction between Islam, a religion, and Islamism, a profoundly radical political ideology that seeks to replace existing states and political structures, either through revolutionary or evolutionary means:

Hodjaefendi [Gülen] opposes the use of Islam as a political ideology and a party philosophy, and polarizing society into believers and nonbelievers. He calls for those who believe and think differently to respect and tolerate each other, and supports peace and reconciliation. In my opinion, Hodjaefendi’s efforts will help us put religion in its rightful place.[119]

Fethullah Gülen has always been in favor of democratic institutions, free elections and other principles at the core of liberal democracy today. He maintains that the Qur’an addresses the whole community and assigns it almost all the duties entrusted to modern democratic systems, that people ought to co-operate by sharing these duties and establishing the essential foundations necessary to discharge them, and that the government is composed of all of these basic elements. He says:

Islam recommends a government based on a social contract. People elect the administrators and establish a council to debate common issues. Also, the society as a whole participates in auditing the administration.[120]

Fethullah Gülen asks people to be careful not to erode the true values which the state or state organizations ideally stand for. He has been against those who cause chaos, societal tension and violence in Turkey or anywhere else. While dealing with tarnished politicians, crooked party politics and corruption, people ought to pay extra attention not to erode in public the true values, authority and respect for a state organization.[121] Gülen strongly holds that anarchic movements and activities destroy the atmosphere of peace, free exchange of ideas, and the rule and supremacy of law and justice:

I have always stipulated that ‘even the worst State is better than no State’. Whenever I voiced my opinion in words such as ‘the State is necessary, and should not be worn down’, I have never sanctified the State as some people have done. This preference is a necessity for me, because if the State were not to occupy a certain place, it is certain that anarchy, chaos, and disorder would dominate there. Then, there would be no respect for ideas, freedom of religion, and our consciences would be violated; justice would be out of the question. In the past there were times when our nation suffered from the absence of the State. Therefore, I regard supporting the State also as a duty of citizenship.[122]

‘Although Gülen is not a politician, he is shaping the consciousness that will determine the future of Turkish democracy.’[123] His call for democratization, freedom, equity, justice, and human rights and the rule of law as the main basis for the regulation of the state–society relationship has symbolically confronted the privileged role and vested interests of the protectionist elite in Turkey. He has brought about a shift towards civil society and culture, rather than party politics, as new reference points in the mindset and attitudes of Turkish people.

Fethullah Gülen’s warning about mixing partisan politics and religion is teaching that politicizing religion ultimately does more damage to religion than to the state, and does it more quickly: ‘Religion is the relationship between people and their Creator. The feeling of religion lives in the heart’s depths. [...] If you turn it into a display of forms, you’ll kill it. Politicizing religion will harm religion before it harms a government’s life.’[124] Also: ‘Religion focuses primarily on the immutable aspects of life and existence, whereas political, social, and economic systems or ideologies concern only certain variable social aspects of our worldly life.’[125]

Politicizing religion is always a reductionist endeavor: it turns the mysterious relationship between humanity and the Divine into an ideology. That does not mean cultivating indifference to what goes on in the public sphere, still less being indifferent to political or economic injustice:

Fethullah Gülen is not arguing that religious or spiritual people should stay out of the political arena or stop concerning themselves with politics. Indeed, such a recommendation would be no better than quietism and is a withdrawal from the responsibilities and obligations of citizenship and social participation. Rather, the lesson here is that confusing political involvement and advocacy with partisanship and party loyalty places the need for religion to speak publicly regarding political issues that affect human dignity and welfare, environmental stewardship, social justice and peace within too narrow a framework of competing power groups that divide, instead of build, communities. Truly religious people who are responsibly involved in their polis are not single-issue voters or single-party loyalists.[126]

Yet, even though Fethullah Gülen has clearly stated and demonstrated that he has no political agenda, that he is against the instrumentalist use of religion in politics, that his emphasis is on the individual and so on, the protectionist elite still, in their ritualized way, accuse him and the Gülen Movement of being a potential ‘threat to the state’.[127] Against this, Barton argues that ‘Gülen is clearly not a fanatic; he is far too consistently moderate in everything he does and says for that to be the case’. He comments on why Gülen and the Gülen Movement are considered a political power and opposition by some militant laicists who see themselves as the guardians of the regime:

His critics, most of whom appear not to be very familiar with his writing and ideas, see him as promoting a different kind of Islam to that recognized and approved by the state. This apprehension is largely based on a false understanding. In fact Gülen is not so much advocating a different kind of Islam but rather an Islam that reaches more deeply into people’s lives and transforms them to become not just better believers but better citizens.[128]

Fethullah Gülen refutes in his speeches and writings Islamist claims for an Islamic political platform: ‘Islam does not propose a certain unchangeable form of government or attempt to shape it. Instead, Islam established fundamental principles that orient a government’s general character, leaving it to the people to choose the type and form of government according to time and circumstances.’[129] He rejects the totalizing ideological character of Islamist political thought and activism as totally foreign to the spirit of Islam, which advocates the rule of law and explicitly condemns oppression against any segment of society. He holds that Islam promotes activism for the betterment of society in accordance with the view of the majority, which complements democracy rather than opposing it:

This introduction of Islam may play an important role in the Muslim world through enriching local forms of democracy and extending it in a way that helps humans develop an understanding of the relationship between the spiritual and material worlds. I believe that Islam also would enrich democracy in answering the deep needs of humans, such as spiritual satisfaction, which cannot be fulfilled except through the remembrance of the Eternal One.[130]

This ‘reading’ of Muslims’ responsibility to Islam is not, of course, peculiar to Gülen, as Eickelman has confirmed: ‘thinkers and religious leaders like Turkey’s Gülen [...] hold that democracy and Islam are fully compatible and that Islam prescribes no particular form of governance, certainly not arbitrary rule [...] and that the central Qur’anic message is that Muslims must take responsibility for their own society.’[131]

Barton explains that Gülen’s rejection of Islamism is not due to merely strategic considerations or even personal preference. Rather, it is based on the argument that the Islamist claims to have found political guidance in Scripture represent a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the Qur’an that dangerously distorts the believer’s approach to it. Gülen himself says:

Such a book should not be reduced to the level of political discourse, nor should it be considered a book about political theories or forms of state. To consider the Qur’an as an instrument of political discourse is a great disrespect for the Holy Book and is an obstacle that prevents people from benefiting from this deep source of divine grace.[132]

As well as Barton, Sykiainen and Eickelman[133] note that Gülen not only directly criticizes Islamist political thought in his many books and articles but also frequently argues in favor of democracy and the modernization and consolidation of democratic institutions in order to build a society where individual rights are respected and protected. He carefully makes clear his position that some forms of democracy are preferable to others and is cautiously optimistic about its development:

Democracy has developed over time. Just as it has gone through many different stages, it will continue to evolve and improve in the future. Along the way, it will be shaped into a more humane and just system, one based on righteousness and reality. If human beings are considered as a whole, without disregarding the spiritual dimension of their existence and their spiritual needs, and without forgetting that human life is not limited to this mortal life and that all people have a great craving for eternity, democracy could reach the peak of perfection and bring even more happiness to humanity. Islamic principles of equality, tolerance, and justice can help it do just this.[134]

On the basis of Gülen’s numerous and consistent comments in favor of modern democratic politics and against Islamist readings of the Qur’an and Sunna, Barton concludes that Gülen is neither an overt nor covert Islamist. He notes that, nevertheless, those who oppose Gülen insist that he is merely pretending to reject Islamist ideology – a tactic of some Islamists politicians and activists who do disguise their convictions and, in the name of political expediency, condone subterfuge and dissembling.[135] That is not Gülen’s way. He has very properly clarified, and done so publicly in both print and broadcast media, that he and Turkish Muslims, like all Sunnis, do not have this concept of subterfuge or dissembling in their faith and practice, nor do they condone it.

Barton points out that we have good reasons for being confident that Gülen is not a secret Islamist and that he rejects Islamist epistemology.[136] For instance, in the struggle of ideas and contest for hearts and minds before and after 9/11, Gülen visibly provided intellectual and moral leadership, condemned all kinds of acts of terrorism with the most courageous and unequivocal public statements, and comprehensively explained related and relevant issues. He stated that the basic principles of religion are totally opposed to the political–ideological interpretations that underlie and motivate acts of terrorism; that these basic principles should be taught to Muslims and other people through the education system; that administrators, intellectuals, scholars and community leaders have a responsibility to try to identify the originators and the motivating factors behind terrorist activities; that there are multi-national organizations which, overtly and covertly, have directed their efforts to destructiveness and the creation of fear in society.[137]

Fethullah Gülen holds religion to be far above politics; he sees it as a source of morality and ethics, which are relevant to, not in conflict with, responsible politics. He does not want religion to become a tool of politics because when politics fails and goes awry people may blame religion. He does not want political aspirations to blemish religion or their potential for corruption to degrade it.[138]

Fethullah Gülen’s ideas and the Gülen Movement became the agent of a mass transformation in Turkey, bringing into the public space a new understanding of religion, science, secularism, and collective, social, altruistic, and educational services. Gülen realized that the development of politics and political institutions was lagging behind social and cultural change. He therefore revived the philanthropic tradition, the altruistic values and benevolence, of his Turkish fellow-citizens, and urged them to make up, through their services, the gap left by government policies and protectionist discrimination.[139]

Views, such as Gülen’s, in favor of the consolidation of democratic and basic human rights, are repressed on account of the threat they are perceived to pose to the structural advantage of the dominant protectionist interests in the society. Such views face exclusion because they are seen as implicitly calling into question the privileges of those interests in utilizing political processes, and, by extension, of questioning their hegemony over the political system. The protectionists fear that certain understandings and demands may alter the balance of the political system and cause the criteria for selection and entry into it to be widened.

When new understandings are widely acknowledged and welcomed, and when people rapidly institutionalize for societal needs and cultural projects, this gives rise to new social models. The models provided by the Gülen Movement are cultural rather than political, they transform patterns of thought and relationship. These models survive because they follow a lawful political and institutional form. The rapid transformation of attitudes, efficient institutionalization of public needs and initiatives, collective or organized philanthropy for education, and apparently simple solutions to societal discord, achieved by Movement participants, were previously lacking in Turkish society, and never attempted by the protectionist political bureaucracy.

The Gülen Movement’s societal projects have different meanings for different people in Turkey. In the eyes of those who look on the Gülen Movement favorably, the Gülen Movement recognizes that it belongs to the system and identifies itself with the general interest of the Turkish community, and acts – lawfully and properly within the boundaries of the legal rules and social norms of the country – in the pursuit of collective shared objectives. However, for those opposed, this participation and contribution are the covert claims of particular competing interests, an attempt to exert influence over the distribution of power to the benefit of ‘the others’ in Turkish society – a claim asserted despite the fact that collective cultural and altruistic services differ in nature from political participation or contention.[140] This reveals not only that the response of the political system in Turkey can vary markedly according to different cases, but also that it differs especially from cases that have been studied in western Europe or North America.

From that observation two outcomes follow. The first is to recognize that social movements like the Gülen Movement provide incentives for the modernization of a political system, consolidation of civil society and pluralistic democracy, and, in the case of Turkey, alert people to the urgent need for institutional reform. Secondly, we can recognize that the prevalent conceptual frameworks are inadequate (in some ways, even, biased) as approaches to faith-inspired communities, especially to peaceful, mainstream Muslims, and cultural Islam. Restricting analysis to the purely political dimensions of the observed phenomena (such as a clash with authority) constitutes a surrender to reductionism. Such reductionism ignores the specifically social dimensions of a collective action and focuses exclusively on those more readily measurable features which, because of their high visibility, attract the attention of the media.

Contemporary Social Movements’ modus operandi is to fashion new meanings for social action and serve as vital engines of innovation. The political dimension often represents nothing more than a residue.[141]

The Gülen Movement sees that the needs of the individual, culture and society, come before politics.[142] This should not be in any way confused with naïve culturalism that may ignore rights and guarantees recognized by political institutions. The issue then is a redefinition and re-shaping of what democracy is, can be, and ought to be. Gülen does not ask individuals to remain passive recipients, just accepting whatever is fed to them from the outside. Rather, he advises them actively to seek possibilities and alternatives to construct themselves. Both means and ends must be non-confrontational, non-violent and non-coercive; they must be grounded in love of human beings and the creation, in reliable information and understanding through education and communication, and in freedom, collaboration and peace.[143]

Enabling people to make better use of their resources, to free themselves from material and other inequalities, and to become reflexive and beneficial to others is achieved through prioritizing knowledge and education rather than party politics or partisanship. Gülen teaches that, for a better future, humanity needs more tolerant and more altruistic individuals with magnanimous hearts and genuinely open minds that respect freedom of thought, that are open to science and scientific research, and that look for the harmony between the Divine laws of the universe and life.[144]

Sociologist Saribay describes Gülen as non-political, as someone who does not want to politicize Islamic values. Agai sees him as a reformist thinker rather than a revolutionary. Karaman and Aras conclude that he ‘seek[s] to address the spiritual needs of the people, to educate the masses, and to provide some stability in times of turmoil. And […] he has been wrongly accused of seeking political power.’[145]

Change is possible through the establishment of fairness, equal opportunities, freedom and justice, which enable needs to become rights without abrupt or violent change in the political setting. If people are given access to cultural freedom and sound educational opportunities, they will be wise enough not to fall prey to the schemes of vested interests or privileged elites who harness public discourse in order to maintain their established control over languages and codes and so mask the aggravation of injustices and inequalities. A society consisting of well-educated, vocationally well qualified and trained people, culturally cognizant of their needs, values and rights, will not slip into the risks of mere folklore, private escapism or terrorist desperation.

The Gülen Movement looks for answers to the questions all people living in complex modern societies face: ‘how to develop humane qualities, good behavior, love for others, enthusiasm for self-improvement, and an active desire to serve others, make a difference in the world, and to persevere in this desire in the face of setbacks and failures.[146] It therefore assumes a non-totalizing role as mediator of demands. It invites and allows society to take responsibility for its own actions within the legal boundaries. It helps to create common public spaces in which an agreement can be reached to share the responsibility for a social field, beyond party interests or positions. This generates innovative energies, keeps the system open, produces innovation and new SMOs, develops elites, brings into the area of the decidable that which has been excluded, and illuminates the problematic areas of complexity in a system. Such a movement is indispensable for the healthy functioning of an open democratic society.

Fethullah Gülen holds that it is through the democratization of Turkey that the possibility of keeping the goals of industrialization and economic development together with a form of nondependent participation in the world system may be achieved. He assigns equal importance to democracy and development, which in his opinion are interdependent, but democracy precedes development.[147] He works for the development of a society freed from hunger, poverty, striking inequalities, and suppression of civil rights. This can be reached only if, along with economic development, society guarantees improved forms of civic as well as political participation, equal rights, and respect for civil and cultural freedom. He does not want change to lead to decreased participation and deeper isolation in the current world system. Without democracy, Turkey cannot conceive development in any meaningful sense. To Gülen, efforts to bring about transformation in institutions and the established mind-set in Turkey should be made through education, interaction, collaboration and consensus, without resort to violent or coercive means and ends.

These non-confrontational, non-conflictual efforts must persevere without modification, despite peculiarly difficult conditions or adverse situations. This will allow Turkey to participate in the world system, not in a merely dependent position but with some capacity to exert influence and engage in dialog and negotiation. By the same token, it is a condition also for making a contribution to democracy on the world scale.[148]

The democratization process may thereby draw attention to a critical weakness and inadequacy of political initiatives for the problems and issues facing us today. It is one of the roles of social movements to bring these issues to public attention, through the proliferation of information and its novel forms. Cultural activities and non-violent forms of action, provided they find the proper channels, can sometimes reach out to address the world and make the difference.[149] Today, such positive change can only be brought about partially and in a piecemeal fashion.

In his sermons and lectures, Gülen speaks a new language, an idiom that is his own. He draws on the heritage of those that preceded him, rooting his arguments in the memory of the past. He then takes the humane attitudes and reasoning he derives from the intellectual and spiritual enlightenment of the mainstream traditional sources and interprets them in accordance with current and predicted needs. He does not adopt the language of previous struggles because he is able to define his own identity. He does not use the symbols, organizational experience, and forms of action, of the movements that preceded this one. He bases his understanding on tradition to convey new meanings. Yet, this does not necessarily imply that he is backward-oriented; rather, his approach embraces modernity without fear.[150]

The Gülen Movement transforms itself into new institutions, providing a new language, new organizational patterns and new personnel. The meanings and motives for behavior that the Gülen Movement attempts to constitute and the internal processes of the formation of attitudes are not merely material and political. Against the imposition of lifestyles which no longer provide individuals with the cultural bases for their self-identification, the Gülen Movement deals with human needs at the cultural and spiritual level. It brings collective energies into focus so that deep-seated dilemmas and critical choices can be addressed. It asserts that the individual can only be educated, cared for, and informed, within a healthy environment and sound institutions.

Fethullah Gülen motivates people for purposes other than those imposed by dominant interests. He speaks for freedom of speech and consolidation of democratic institutions so that actors will not seek to bend multiple meanings to their goals, so that they will not lend meaning to their own vested interests. He calls for the redefinition of social and cultural objects. Behind these words we can detect a plurality of meanings congruent with the true nature that constitutes a civilized human being. Michel expresses it aptly:

Fethullah Gülen holds that the true goal of nations must be civilization, a renewal of individuals and society in terms of ethical conduct and mentality.[151]

1.5. Is the Gülen Movement altruistic collective action and voluntary philanthropic service-projects?

Social Movement theories overlook the presence, in contemporary collective action, of ‘philanthropy, altruism and voluntarism’,[152] which are the core dynamic of the SMOs and services the Gülen Movement provides. Here I discuss how self-motivated philanthropic service-projects and contributions differ from financially motivated ones, and how they address the need for cultural empowerment. I try to answer the questions: How has Gülen urged individuals to contribute to and serve society constructively? How is the relation of education and altruism framed in the Gülen Movement and imparted to the wider public? How did the authorities of other countries learn about the services? What is Gülen’s role, interest and wealth in the services provided? What is the humanitarian, social, or religious dimension of altruistic services? Is there any difference between the Gülen Movement’s understanding and the secularist humanist understanding of altruism? How does altruistic action perform and establish civic and democratizing (empowering) functions?

In Turkey up to the 1980s hyperpoliticization of all issues in society and artificial divisions between people were prevalent. Extremist and ideological issues were raised around the partisanship between rightists and leftists, around the sectarian division between Alevis and Sunnis, around the ethnic distinction between the Turkish and Kurdish, and later around differing definitions of secularism between the laicists and the religious-minded. Such issues so far dominated society that tensions, conflicts and fights began to undermine its security and stability, even indeed its survival. Thousands of people were killed.

Throughout this period, Gülen, as scholar, writer, preacher and civil society leader, strove to draw people out of societal tensions and conflicts. His message reached the masses through audio and video cassettes, as well as public lectures and private meetings. He appealed to people not to become part of on-going partisan conflictual issues and ideological fights. He analyzed the prevalent conditions and the ideologies behind the societal violence, terror and clashes. He applied his scholarship and his intellectual and personal resources to convince others (notably, young university students) that they need not resort to violence, terror and destruction to establish a progressive, prosperous and peaceful society. He maintained that violence, terrorism, death, ignorance, moral decay, and corruption could be overcome through forbearance and compassion, through conversation, interaction, education and co-operation. He reminded them not to expect everything from the system because of its backwardness in some respects, its stifling bureaucratic, partisan and procedural stagnation, and its lack of qualified personnel. He urged people, instead, to use their constitutionally given rights to contribute to and serve society constructively and altruistically. And he convinced them that such service is both the means and the end of being a good person, a good citizen and a good believer.

Fethullah Gülen has always seen education as being at the center of social, economic and political modernization, progress and welfare. Individuals and society can only be respectful to the supremacy and rule of law, democratic and human rights, and diversity and cultures if they receive sound education. Equity, social justice and peace in one’s own society, and in the world in general, can only be achieved by enlightened people with sound morality through altruistic activism. Therefore, education is the supreme remedy for the ills afflicting Turkish society and humanity in general.

A higher sense of identity, social justice, and sufficient understanding and tolerance to secure respect for the rights of others, all depend on the provision of an adequate and appropriate universal education.[153] As so many people are unable to afford such an education, they need to be supported by charitable trusts. For these trusts to function well needs the right human resources – dedicated volunteers who would enter and then stay in the field of service. The volunteers should not be making a gesture (however worthwhile) but a long-term commitment rooted in sincere intention – their motivation should have no part in it of racial or tribal preferences; and their effort should be both patient and persevering and always lawful.[154]

Fethullah Gülen started to talk to people from all walks of life in Turkey. He visited individuals, groups, cafes, small villages, towns and metropolitan cities. From peddlers to industrialists and exporters, from secondary school students to postgraduates and faculty, from the common people to leading figures and elites, he imparted the same message to all: sound education and institutionalization, and to achieve that, altruistic contribution and services. He appealed to values that are present in all traditions and religions: duty, moral obligation, disinterested contribution, voluntary philanthropism and altruistic services.[155]

In this way, student hostels, accommodations, primary, secondary and high schools, universities, study centers, college-preparatory courses, press and media organs, publishing houses, student bursaries and research scholarships came into being. The Gülen Movement participants performed a modernizing role in the educational field, while their behavior towards the outside world translated into institutional support or an advanced form of cooperative social enterprise, ‘alternative entrepreneurship’[156]:

Fethullah Gülen genuinely believes in and encourages free enterprise. According to him, believers both in Turkey and abroad must be wealthy. He emphasizes education arm-in-arm with development, and economic and cultural togetherness for the future. [...] He recommends the dynamic of knowledge against ignorance, work against poverty, and solidarity and wealth.[157]

Fethullah Gülen’s well-defined, concrete, unifying and constructive goals have made his projects, the institutions established on his inspiration, visible at specific levels. The successes and accomplishments of the students and schools of Turkey at national and international levels, in scientific and research contests in theory, practice and projects, drew positive attention from the authorities of other countries. (See §3.2.6.) The disintegration of the Soviet bloc revealed the need for these educational services in various areas and cultures. Education was the best and most meaningful way to contribute to their growth and development.[158]

Educational institutions established by charitable trusts inspired by Gülen presented solutions to areas with ethnic–territorial problems. These institutions accepted differences and rendered them valuable, rich and negotiable. It invited students and other people to coexist peacefully in diversity. It called for tolerance, dialog between different spheres of society and different nations of the world, peace and love, and firm commitment to openness of mind and heart. Students worked to achieve this civilized disposition through the sound education offered them. With the sponsorship of Movement supporters, hundreds of such successful institutions have been set up in over one hundred different countries.

Movement participants have mobilized previous affiliations into a new system of relations in which the original elements have gained deeper meanings. They have encouraged transfer of pre-existing dormant resources to the benefit of a new objective. At the same time, the Gülen Movement has transformed itself into a new transnational social unit capable of creating new resources for education and societal peace through altruistic action.

As Gülen himself has noted, he owns nothing and has no ambition for worldly wealth.[159] His sincerity, clarity, ascetic life-style and practiced example of altruism have successfully motivated teachers as well as parents and sponsors for the common good. As a man of profound scholarship and wisdom, a highly gifted writer and speaker, Gülen could well have had a very satisfying career as a community leader and author.[160] However, he has concentrated his effort on motivating the masses to invest in sound education, and he has led by example.[161] He has always remained aloof from financial management of the institutions and instead encouraged their sponsors actively to oversee the use of their contributions.[162] This has built enormous confidence, not just in Gülen’s honesty and integrity but also that of the people employed at the Gülen-inspired institutions.[163] Furthermore, the students he has educated and his relatives have followed his example.[164] Aside from never accruing any personal wealth, Gülen is reported to have prayed for his relatives to remain poor so as not to raise any suspicion of their having gained from his influence. Those relatives, it is said, smile and say: ‘As long as Hodjaefendi is alive, we have no hope of becoming wealthy!’[165]

One of Gülen’s arguments invited people to live and act not for their own present but for the future of the next generations. He maintained that people in the present and future generations will pay dearly and not know comfort and contentment if people today do not exert the necessary efforts for the coming generations. Giving examples of characters and events in the past, from Turkish and non-Turkish or from Muslim and non-Muslim history, he succeeded in awakening a sense of moral duty and obligation, of selfless generous concern for others. He has used the analogy of a candle, consuming itself but illuminating its surroundings. If people are not financially able to contribute, he asks them to give their time, thoughts, energy and moral support to collective services. Among the examples he frequently gave were the Biblical Prophets and the Messenger of Islam, their companions and disciples, saintly and scholarly people from global communities, or scientists and community leaders – it is common to encounter names like Newton, Pascal, Sir James Jeans, Kant, Gandhi, Iqbal and Rumi in his writings and teachings.[166]

In this and similar ways Gülen persuaded people to take part in altruistic services and educational projects. He presented the world as a market for humanity’s and God’s pleasure and said people should compete in righteous and beneficial services without ulterior motives. He urged them to combine their efforts, resources and energies into charitable trusts, in which no one benefits from what the institutions earn except the students themselves. Citing a saying attributed to Ali, the fourth caliph in the formative era of Islam, Gülen holds that ‘all human beings are one’s brothers and sisters. Muslims are one’s brothers and sisters in religion, while non-Muslims are one’s brothers and sisters in humanity. […] Human beings are the most honorable of creatures. Those who want to increase their honor should serve this honorable creature’.[167]

‘Altruism’[168] a term coined by Auguste Comte, is an ethical doctrine that holds that individuals have a moral obligation to help, serve, or benefit others, if necessary at the sacrifice of self-interest. Most of the world’s religions affirm it as a religious or moral value and advocate altruistic behavior alongside self-discipline and containment of one’s own interests and desires. However, psychologists, sociologists, evolutionary biologists, and ethologists have their different perspectives on altruism.

The Islamic tradition does not equate altruism with the sort of mutual behavioral manipulation seen in certain parasites that can alter the (biochemical) functioning of other organisms. It does not see it as a tactic used in the competition for limited resources within society, as suggested in analogies with sexual or evolutionary selection. It does not see people as by nature incapable of doing anything to violate their preferences but only doing so as a sort of culturally masked (and therefore unconscious) assertion of self-interest. Nor, in the Islamic tradition, is altruism a form of consequentialism, the idea that an action is ethically right if it brings good consequences. Altruism, in the Islamic perspective, does not hinder individual pursuit of self-development, excellence, and creativity, and it is not an ideological fabrication by the weak for the weak or by the weak to sponge off the strong. It is not like game theory which discusses, for a given situation, the available strategies for each player and calculates the average, or expected, outcome from each ‘move’ or sequence of ‘moves’. What Islam teaches is quite different from what is argued by thinkers who see altruism as a variant of individual or species mechanisms for survival or self-projection.

Fethullah Gülen’s approach to altruism is mainly formed by the perspective of Islamic teachings, the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The source, origin, consequences and implications of the ideational and social praxis of the Gülen Movement are accordingly also quite different from those in movements hitherto explored in social movement theory. The question then arises: Why has such a widespread willingness to engage in altruistic action arisen in the Gülen Movement? What is the moral dimension of such educational services and voluntary forms of action?

In terms of political structure and social policies, voluntary forms of action emerge as alternative answers to the shortcomings, deficiency or crisis in the governmental or welfare system in a society. Whether in manmade crises or natural disasters, mis-direction or absence of welfare provisions and services leave people to their own devices. They act to provide adequate public goods or services when a system is unable to overcome structural shortcomings by means of governmental institutions. Such conjunctures or opportunities create a feeling that individuals are bound by duty and morality to work towards the common good and common goals. Forms of action then concentrate especially on the issues and fields relating to health, caring, religion and education.[169]

Bar-Tal notes that altruism, in general, is a kind of behavior which a) benefits another person, b) must be performed intentionally, c) the benefit must be the goal itself, and d) must be provided without expecting any external reward.[170] With respect to the Gülen Movement, Çapan explained that altruistic service outweighs the other dimensions of the Gülen Movement and thus gives it its particular character. That service, Çapan added, has never combined with or been ‘infiltrated’ by marginal and deviant groups present in the societies where the SMOs are located, nor have any aggregate behaviors formed and coagulated within it – the educational services have never dissolved into mere claimant behavior or violent rupture, nor lost capacity to tackle educational issues for the common good.[171]

Interviewee Cahit Tuzcu[172] emphasized the role of religious teaching and inspiration:

The belief that to act for the benefit of others is right and good and the moral duty to treat others fairly justify voluntary action in the Gülen Movement. This moral or philanthropic feature comes from religious inspiration, ‘serving people, serving God’ or ‘The best amongst you is the most beneficial to human beings’. Being charitable is a way of life, a way to purify one’s intentions, wealth and life.

In the same vein, Bahaddin Eker[173] argued:

It is undoubtedly the faith that inspired in people and implemented in Turkish society philanthropy and paternalism through sadaqa [charity] and zakat [the prescribed annual alms] and the vaqifs [endowments]. Helping others and providing resources are the duty of the well-off, the affluent, towards the weak, unfortunate, under-privileged, wayfarers, orphans, widows and students. The rich person must concern himself or herself with the poor because he or she is responsible for them before God. Apart from being a religious duty, this is an act of generosity, an innate feature of being a true human.

Eker went on to explain that philanthropy may assume a number of forms: ‘one’s allocation of time, energy, money, property or a simple smile, care or prayers.’ He sees such provision as ‘an alternative and barrier to egoistic interests at the expense of the others’, and as ‘a remedy for societal discord, conflicts and violence’.

Both Tuzcu and Eker are echoing explicit teachings of Gülen, for example his saying that the path to earn eternal life and the approval of the Giver of Life passes through the inescapable dimension of servanthood to God by means of serving, first of all, our families, relatives, and neighbors, and then our country and nation, with finally humanity and creation being the object of our efforts. This service is our right; conveying it to others is our responsibility.

Another aspect of altruism is that an actor ought voluntarily to support and contribute to collective provision of appropriate services. Faced with the immensity of the problem to be tackled, a single individual freely and voluntarily joins a form of collective solidarity and from personal choice enters a network of relations. Such a choice is marked by unselfish concern for the welfare of others. Altruistic action is characterized by the gratuitousness of the giving – the pricelessness of the resources or the time or whatever it is that is given for nothing in return. In order for an action to count as altruistic, its gratuitousness must also encompass the relation that binds together the actors involved in the collective action. Melucci (1999) distinguishes such action from what may be confused with it, a form of private solidarity regulated by interpersonal exchange. He illustrates the latter with the example of a person who voluntarily and without compensation helps a neighbor with gardening chores. Both of these features are important to understand the nature of the altruistic social services provided by the Gülen Movement. First, the gratuitousness, that the action is done with no expectation of direct benefit or compensation; second, that the action is done through voluntary participation with others in the collective organization and delivery of the service– as Melucci puts it – by the entering into ‘a voluntary bond of solidarity’.[174]

Absence of direct benefit or direct economic rewards does not mean that the workers for the voluntary action do not receive any payment in a work relationship. However, it does mean that economic interests do not constitute the basis of the work relationship among those involved. Also, economic benefit is neither the cause nor the effect between the voluntary actor and the recipients in the performed action. The voluntary action specifically aims at producing benefits or advantages for subjects other than the volunteers or workers. Therefore, its gratuitous nature lies in the free fruition of its product by the recipients. That is why the Gülen Movement is generally acknowledged under the form and name of hizmet, service provided for others.

However, beyond the immediate interest of the actor or workers, other ‘rewards’ (symbolic advantages, prestige, self-esteem, authority) are present in altruistic action, just as much as they are in any other form of social exchange. Altruistic action may also yield indirect economic benefits, insofar as the participant acquires useful skills (e.g., professional skills in a certain occupation), establishes networks of influence (professionally advantageous contacts), or learns leadership qualities. Moreover, it is in the nature of such services and of their objectives, that there may be a multiplicity of secondary or tertiary objectives pursued by individuals. Yet, these sorts of instances are rather infrequent and do not invalidate the altruistic services undertaken and the collective objectives shared by all those involved to achieve the common good. After all, the inner contentment or repute attached to individuals after such services is not what they aim and work for – these are simply an unlooked-for grace which may (or may not) ensue from doing such altruistic work.[175]

Another feature of altruistic action (as noted by Melucci) is that it requires some form of organization for its effective performance, and this organization ought by no means to coincide with an institutionalized, formal, associative structure and hierarchy. Its ends can be achieved by informal, diffused, decentralized, permeable networks of friends, business associates or philanthropically like-minded people gathered around a single project, as in the case of the Gülen Movement.[176] That is how so many projects, services, institutions and initiatives of the Gülen Movement have come to be supported by such a wide range of individuals, companies and organizations.

Interviewee Aymaz[177] pointed out another equally important feature of voluntary forms of altruistic action, namely its civic aspect, alongside its faith-inspired and humanitarian aspects. He argued that this action provides far more opportunities for participation than political activities. Altruistic action expresses membership in a far larger civil community than a political party. It provides people with purpose, a sense of belonging, responsibility, commitment, accountability, with incentives and the inner contentment of trying to be useful and beneficent. Also, since people must reach a consensus on the details of any new social, cultural or educational project, altruistic action performs a distinct civic and democratizing function – people learn how to negotiate and persuade, to present convincing arguments, to be accommodating, flexible about differences, to negotiate, generate and accept consensus.[178]

Aymaz said that the Gülen Movement presents to the wider society new cultural, organizational, and relational models. It teaches individuals to use their constitutionally given rights to contribute to and serve society positively. In general terms, he described the Gülen Movement as ‘a form of collective, purposive, and organized social altruism that has arisen from civic society’. This description is supported by DiMaggio and Anheier’s explanation of how non-profit services are sources of diversity and innovation, which provide, to both people and policymakers, the vehicles, models and solutions to deal with social ills.[179]

Finally, there are orientations of altruistic action whose presence in the public domain discloses the existence of hidden dilemmas deeply embedded in the structures and operation of complex societies. Altruism involves putting the interests of others above one’s own interests; it demonstrates that people are not inevitably driven by only evident and immediate or even long-term or undefined self-interest. That fact signals the persistence in complex societies of human needs and demands which cannot be reduced to bureaucratic routines and politics. Altruistic action invites us to seek change and to assume responsibility. It gives individuals a voice in society and a means to bring issues to light; it enables individual and public to accommodate a space for difference and to reinforce solidarity for societal peace and cohesion.

Using these accommodative, service-solidarity, organizational skills, and the trust it has earned from the people, for the benefit of the needy and the general good, the Gülen Movement has been extraordinarily successful at convincing the public to use its constitutionally given rights to serve humanity positively, constructively, and through self-motivated philanthropic contributions and charitable trusts. For this reason, the Gülen Movement has become, first, a vital component in providing an alternative and barrier to egoistic interests at the expense of others and a remedy for societal discord, conflict and violence; and, second, one of the most significant and leading actors in the renewal process towards a civil, pluralist, democratic and peaceful society.

2. Conclusion

Connecting the rise of movements to their socio-political context of origin seems too general an approach to explain the full range of collective actions that have emerged in Turkish society since the 1960s. That is not to deny the specificity of the causes of the various kinds of mobilization in the country, but merely suggests a key to interpretation of what was common to them and persisted beyond conjunctural variations.

In Turkey, the 1960s marked the beginning of the conjunction between the country’s large-scale modernization and the emergence of antagonist movements. New pressures accelerated Turkey’s change into a post-industrial society and clashed with the archaism of the state structure and a political system paralyzed by vested interests. The predominance of protectionist, particularist interests smothered any attempt at economic planning, and the reforms themselves only grafted the new onto the old, swelling the bureaucracy rather than rationalizing it. This state of affairs has caused congestion and clogs in the political system. The system’s response to the emergence of new collective demands consisted of restricted reforms and repression, alienation, and instrumental use of political wings for violence.

The changes that began in the late 1960s contained in them a cultural and social aspect that was, and remains, irreducible to politics as such. Youth mobilizations, the transformation of lifestyles, the changed role of the media, the growth of voluntary action, new identity demands – all these contributed to a profound change in Turkish culture, mental categories, and everyday relationships. Yet, these significant features have been largely underestimated and attention has rather been focused on the political dimension, on electoral outcomes, on gains for this or that party. The impossibility of reducing society to politics is typical of complexity in general. But in Turkey, the primacy given to party-political struggle has thwarted the potential for innovation present in society; it has paradoxically prevented the development of an autonomous civic culture, and a deeply-felt identification with democratic institutions.

Fethullah Gülen, as teacher and preacher, engaged actively with individuals embedded in the culture of Leftist and Rightist movements, although he was not himself involved in any political movements. He witnessed the demands and the ensuing clashes in the legacy of political forms of organization. He realized that the artificial hyperpoliticization of nonpolitical issues distorted and dissolved many things into violence. He witnessed the resulting crisis of the movements that resulted in an escalation of terrorist activity. He maintained that in such situations where brute force is offered as a solution to problems, ‘it is impossible to speak of intellect, judgment, rights, justice, or law. On the contrary, in their stead, [is] unlawfulness, injustice and oppression’.[180]

Fethullah Gülen was fully aware of the richness extant in civil society, which had (and has still) to express its full potential. This richness had to be developed into a constructive and institutional form. He therefore tried to play a part in dealing constructively and peacefully with the tasks and issues pertaining to the predicament of a complex society. He counseled and convinced individuals to transform themselves and to pool their efforts into forms of collective action, addressing issues like peace, education, dialog and cultural diversity. He has been responsible for a substantial modernization of public attitudes and thinking on these themes. His efforts, along with the contribution of the people who listened to his message, resulted in the emergence of a generation of educated and skilled personnel in education and the media, and in the public services and business. The Gülen Movement has become a meeting point and uniting agent which differs profoundly from the image of the politically organized actor.

The particular form and content of this action was not and has not become conflictual or antagonistic. The Gülen Movement, when compared with the specific occasions of mobilization and struggle based on reactionary, political and antagonistic interests, has distinguished itself as an enduring form of service network. It interweaves closely with the daily life needs and identity of the wider community it serves. This has transformed a potential that was latent into visible collective action. Özdalga concludes that the civil society networks of the Gülen Movement prove themselves mediators and enablers, rather than blockers or retarders, of the civilizing process. They help to find solutions to the problems of modernity at the level of individual autonomy. This allows the development and integration of the individual into the modern nation-state.

The Gülen Movement has reawakened the force for change that was dormant at the roots of civil society. It has managed to embody this apolitical potential in institutions in order to advance education and thus to revitalize and consolidate civic, pluralist and democratic institutions. It has acted as a barrier against actions that reduce everything produced in civil society to party politics. It has prevented the public space from being manipulated for cheap political gains and games. It has demonstrated that there are peaceful, non-confrontational, institutional channels for the handling of demands. It has opened new channels for individual and collective mobility, which certainly obstructs the formation of conflictual actions. The Gülen Movement is not affiliated with any governmental organization or state department inside or outside Turkey and has never induced its participants or others to breach the norms, laws and regulations enjoined there.

The private initiatives and competitiveness which the movement encourages in support of public and philanthropic services are all based on free choice. They are grounded on voluntary participation and located simultaneously at several levels of the social space and system. The Gülen Movement has assumed a bottom–up approach to transforming individuals through education, communication and co-operation, rather than the top– down approach of government, state or regime.

The Gülen Movement therefore has not mobilized to claim a different distribution of roles, rewards and resources, nor clashed with the authorities and power. Through educational and intercultural efforts participants have not pushed the limits of the system. They wish, while holding to their identity and moral values, to be a modern partner and contributor to the European and wider global community.

The common characteristic of participants in the Gülen Movement is their acceptance of the scholarly authority of Gülen. They tend, in addition, to emphasize particular aspects in the practice of their faith, which emerge as distinguishing features or styles in their positive discourse and peaceful action. However, the Gülen Movement’s consciousness of moral and religious values, and its ethics of responsibility towards Turkish and global human societies, the spirit of competitiveness and upward mobility, and the encouragement to acquire knowledge from multiple sources outside the Gülen Movement, are all factors disabling any sort of retreat into a closed group or sect. The Gülen Movement does not attempt to distinguish (and then sever) itself from the Muslim or secular global communities by virtue of a distinctive ideology, myth or utopian vision. The Gülen Movement has no special doctrines or dogmas, no private texts or procedures, no rites, ritual, insignia, costumes or ceremonies that mark people as having ‘joined’. Indeed, there is no membership, properly speaking, and certainly no exclusive one. Leadership is decentralized, resource management and decision-making diffused through SMOs that are in regular informal touch with each other but which, formally and operationally, are independent. The institutions and activities of the Gülen Movements are open to all, providing scientific education, sound moral teaching based on universal ethical values, and they encourage peaceful, positive activism for one’s community and humanity. The Gülen Movement is not linked to any sectarian tradition or affiliation. Networking, participation and affiliation in the Gülen Movement are not exclusive, alienating and sectarian because the Gülen Movement is not closed to the outside world – its very reason for being is collective engagement with the wider public. This is evident in its extensive transnational, intercultural and interfaith activities and organizations; in its having no closed orientation either of a geographical or communal or ideological kind; and in its open and fluid structure.

The Gülen Movement’s discourse and practice demonstrate a consistent understanding of the separation between cultural efforts and actors that can bring an issue to light and the political efforts and actors that may then carry that issue into the political arena. Its worldview and social praxis demonstrate that it is not a political actor, and that it systematically differentiates between socio-cultural issues and political action. Through the outcomes of institutionalized social projects, it turns into a catalyst for societal needs to be seen and analyzed within new conceptual frameworks. Those outcomes prove that the level of individual meanings and cultural dimensions is more significant than the political level because such dimensions and meanings of issues are not immediately identifiable, and politics and politicians can ignore and eliminate them from their analysis between election periods. The Gülen Movement highlights the importance of an open civil society and public spaces, which provide an arena for the consolidation of democratic institutions and for the peaceful encounter between politics and social movements.

The Gülen Movement acts as a civic initiative with the moral duty to treat all others fairly and compassionately. It holds that altruistic service – in the way of education, health and welfare, interfaith dialog and peace – is inherent to being a true Muslim and a true human being. To eradicate ignorance, arrogance, hostilities and gaps within and between societies, the Gülen Movement fosters voluntary forms of altruistic action. This in return yields new cultural, organizational and relational models, projects and responsibilities for the common good. It awakens in people the disposition to accommodate diversity and multiplicity, to reinforce solidarity and humane cooperation between different communities, and to contribute to civil, pluralist, democratic, healthy and peaceful societies.

The nature of the Gülen Movement has an altruistic, social, purposive and collective orientation: altruistic, because participants do not pursue personal, material and political ambitions; social, because interactions are built on social relations, on a one to one basis, and defined by the interdependence and the symbolic exchanges that tie people together; purposive, because individuals and groups act collectively to construct SMOs by means of organized investments; and collective, because people define in cognitive and affective terms the field of possibilities and limits and simultaneously activate their resources and relationships to create meanings and services out of their joint behavior, and also mutually recognize them.

The relationships, services and their outcomes give a sense to participants of being a ‘we’, and sustain an unspoken solidarity among projects and the goals that their institutions pursue. This yields exchange and reciprocal recognition of the identity of the Gülen Movement as collective actor.

Rather than contention and confrontation with the state or its agencies and institutions, or with other non-state actors, the Gülen Movement focuses on social renovations and transforming the mind-set of individuals through science, education, dialog and democracy. Thus it cultivates a holistic peace through a non-violent lifestyle, and both implicitly and explicitly rejects terrorism and violence. It provides stability in times of turmoil and inspires others to co-exist in diversity peacefully. It encourages reciprocal understanding and respect and so enables co-operation for the common good. It instills hope in individuals and, through that hope, inspires voluntary commitment to sound education, institutionalization, and altruistic contributions and services. These and similar qualities of the Gülen Movement have made it into a phenomenon which is, in both theory and practice, quite different from both traditional religious circles and from social movements as understood according to the prevalent conceptualizations.[181]

In sum, we conclude that the Gülen Movement is a civic initiative, a civil society movement. It is not a governmental or a state sponsored organization. It did not emerge as a result of a governmental policy, nor a state ideology. It is not contentious, oppositional, conflictual or political. It is neither a sect, nor a cult, although it started as faith-initiated, non-contentious, cultural and educational service-projects. It is an apolitical, social, altruistic action. It centers on the individual, individual change and the education of the individual. Part of this education is also focused on raising consciousness about legality, lawfulness, human rights and one’s constitutionally defined rights. It also works for the consolidation, therefore, of pluralist participatory democracy and equal rights. It has never condoned proselytization, coercion, terrorism or violence. It insists upon the lawfulness of both means and ends in its action and services. It supports state and church separation and Turkey’s successful integration with international communities. In addition to its success as a provider of educational services, it has been positively acknowledged for its intercultural and interfaith services and organizations. Therefore, the collective action of the Gülen Movement is the result of the combination of its meanings, values, intentions, objectives, actions and outcomes. It presents itself to and interacts with the wider public, and works within limits and constraints, it has shown temporal continuity, and maintains a cohesive peaceful identity inside and outside Turkey.

In this and the preceding chapter, I indicated that, while no one owns the services and authority in the name of the collective actor, the Gülen Movement guarantees its participants access to immediate and verifiable control of the goods and services organized through their collective action. I have also shown that the Gülen Movement is strengthened by flexibility, adaptability, and immediacy – its availability as a channel for the direct expression of needs that state organizations, political parties or other more structured organizations cannot incorporate. The strength of the Gülen Movement’s collective action and its SMOs lies in their ability to pursue general goals over the long term; in their insusceptibility to escapism, extremism or violence; in the simplicity of their decision-making and mediation; in their efficiency and effectiveness, and in their work ethics in which a variety of interests collaborate. These all account for the identity, nature and efficacy of the collective actor as evident to outsider observation. However, we have so far touched only incidentally on internal factors and conditions – participation, affiliation, goals; control, decision-making, accountability and other operational values; the potential for factionalism. To complement the analysis of the previous chapters, I turn in the next chapter to the discussion of these internal aspects of the Gülen Movement, using evidence from interviews and questionnaires conducted among participants.

[1] Hefner (ed.), 2004.
[2] Salamon et al. 2003:ii, 7–9.
[3] Szreter, 1999:2–3; Gülen in cited Ünal & Williams, 2000:21, 318; Çetin, 2006:1–21; Gülen, 2004a:210–14.
[4] Putnam, 2000:19.
[5] Weller, 2005b:272.
[6] Stephenson, 2007:158–60; Gülen, 2005a:43–8; Irvine, 2007:65.
[7] Sirianni & L. Friedland, 2006.
[8] Ünal & Williams, 2000:iii, 326; Hermansen, 2005:4–5; H. Turgut, 1998; Fuller, 2004:53.
[9] Michel, 2005b:351.
[10] Ünal & Williams, 2000:313.
[11] Gülen, 2004a:199.
[12] Göle, 2002:173.
[13] Gülen in Zeybek, 1997; Gülen in Ünal & Williams, 2000:36; Ashton, 2005:3–4.
[14] Hendrick, 2007:30.
[15] Bozdogan & Kasaba, 1997:4–6; Norton, 1997:153.
[16] Interview with Aymaz in January 2005.
[17] Yavuz & Esposito, 2003:xxv–xxvii; Yavuz, 2003a:1; Yavuz, 2003b:37–8; Hendrick, 2007:26.
[18] Yavuz & Esposito, 2003:xxiv.
[19] Yavuz, 2003a:1–2.
[20] Jones, 2000:13.
[21] Mellor, 2004.
[22] Koopmans, 2004:23, 24.
[23] Della Porta & Diani, 1999:57.
[24] Yavuz & Esposito, 2003:125.
[25] Edwards & McCarthy, 2004:116.
[26] Yavuz & Esposito, 2003:xxvi.
[27] Melucci, 1999:376; Kömeçoğlu, 1997:64.
[28] Della Porta & Diani, 1999:57.
[29] Webb, 2000:156–7; Ünal & Williams, 2000:21–2.
[30] Hendrick, 2007:20.
[31] Melucci, 1999:24.
[32] Ünal & Williams, 2000:276.
[33] Melucci, 1999:34.
[34] Interview with Aymaz in January 2005.
[35] Qur’an, 3:92, 2:48, 5:48, 23:61, 35:52. From the Hadith sources: Muslim, Wasiyya 14; Abu Dawud, Wasaya 14; Tirmidhi, Ahkam 36.
[36] Melucci, 1999:25, 29, 31–2, 238.
[37] Interview with Çapan in January 2005.
[38] Murphy, 2005.
[39] Interview with Aymaz in January 2005.
[40] Correspondence with Çapan in March 2005.
[41] Snow et al. 2004:7.
[42] Melucci, 1999:36–7.
[43] Ashton, 2005:3–4.
[44] Also cited in Ünal & Williams, 2000:159.
[45] Bartholomew, 2004:4
[46] Fuller, 2004:53.
[47] Yavuz & Esposito, 2003:xxii.
[48] Fuller, 2004:53; Cerrahoglu, 1995; Ünal & Williams, 2000:152.
[49] Lofland, 1996:229.
[50] Alpay, 1995a. Also Ünal & Williams, 2000:156–7; Sykiainen, 2006:121–2 ; Yilmaz, 2005:397.
[51] Interview with Aymaz in January 2005.
[52] Hermansen, 2005:9–10.
[53] Barker, 2002.
[54] Hermansen, 2005:4–11; Aslandoğan & Çetin, 2006:43.
[55] Hermansen, 2005:4–5, 27; Turgut, 1998; Ünal & Williams, 2000:326; Gülen, 2004a:200–1.
[56] Kuru, 2003:123.
[57] Gündem, 2005:83–4.
[58] Gülen, 2004b:i, 19.
[59] Gülen, 2004a:230.
[60] Gülen in Ünal & Williams, 2000:73.
[61] Gülen, 1998b:19.
[62] Gülen, 1998b:19.
[63] Tekalan, 2005:8.
[64] Aslandoğan & Çetin, 2006:50; Irvine, 2007:66–7.
[65] Barton, 2005:43.
[66] Gülen, 2005a:100.
[67] Ibid., 78–80.
[68] Gülen in Ünal & Williams, 2000:21.
[69] Gülen in Ünal & Williams, 2000:22–3; Woodhall & Çetin, 2005:viii.
[70] Gülen, 1996:103; Michel, 2006:108–9.
[71] Gülen, 2004a:199.
[72] Michel, 2006:111.
[73] Melucci, 1999:104–5.
[74] Bayat, 2005:894.
[75] Woodhall & Çetin, 2005:xviii.
[76] Michel, 2005b:349.
[77] Gülen, 1996:90–3; Woodhall & Çetin, 2005:xviii.
[78] Michel, 2006:107–8.
[79] Gülen, 1996:74.
[80] Gülen cited in Sevindi, 1997a:July 20–29; id., 1997b; Ünal & Williams, 2000:38.
[81] Gülen, 2005a:21.
[82] Woodhall & Çetin, 2005:xv.
[83] Ibid., xiv–xv.
[84] Melucci, 1999:189.
[85] In Ünal & Williams, 2000:277; Michel, 2005b:344–6.
[86] Ibid.
[87] Melucci, 1999:189.
[88] Barker, 2002; Della Porta & Diani, 1999:145.
[89] Gülen, 1996:86.
[90] Interview with Aymaz in January 2006.
[91] Interview with Ergene in January 2006.
[92] Interview with Çapan in January 2006.
[93] Gülen, 2005a:43–8.
[94] Melucci, 1999:97.
[95] Koopmans, 2004:24.
[96] Williams, 2004:92.
[97] Melucci, 1999:98–100; Williams, 2004:92–3.
[98] Melucci, 1999:98, 102.
[99] Ibid.,102.
[100] Offe, 1985:24.
[101] Della Porta & Diani, 1999:12.
[102] Barton, 2005:1.
[103] Weller, 2005b:2–3.
[104] Michel, 2006:107; Tekalan, 2005:3.
[105] Gülen, 2005a:145.
[106] Ibid., 145–6.
[107] Frantz, 2000.
[108] Melucci, 1999:233–4.
[109] Stephenson, 2005:13.
[110] Gülen cited in Michel, 2005b:356; Gülen in Ünal & Williams, 2000:86; Çetin, 2005:5.
[111] Afsaruddin, 2005:22.
[112] Tekalan, 2005:3.
[113] Sevindi, 1997c; Ünal & Williams, 2000:38; Gülen, 2004a:223.
[114] Hand, 2004:27.
[115] Interviews with Gülen: by Akman for Sabah, 28.01.1995; by Sevindi for Yeni Yüzyıl, 22.07 (1997a); by Çalışlar for Cumhuriyet, 21.08.1995. Also Gülen in Ünal & Williams, 2000:187–92; Yilmaz, 2005:399.
[116] Kuru, 2005a:265–8, 274; Yilmaz, 2005:405–6.
[117] Webb, 2000:iv; Aras, 1998.
[118] Voll, 2005:245; Yilmaz, 2005:397; Ashton, 2005:3–4; Zeybek, 1997; Ünal & Williams, 2000:36.
[119] Alpay, 1995a; also cited in Ünal & Williams, 2000:158.
[120] Gülen, 2004a:223.
[121] Gündem, 2005:81.
[122] Ibid., 82.
[123] Hunt, 2007:8–9.
[124] Sykiainen, 2006:110.
[125] Zeybek, 1997; Ünal & Williams, 2000:36.
[126] Ashton, 2005:3–4.
[127] Yilmaz, 2005:398.
[128] Barton, 2005:9.
[129] Gülen, 2004a:220.
[130] Gülen, 2005b:452.
[131] Eickelman, 2002:4.
[132] Gülen. 2005b:456.
[133] Sykiainen, 2006:114, and Eickelman, 2002:4.
[134] Gülen, 2004a:224.
[135] Barton, 2005:17–18.
[136] Barton, 2005:39–41.
[137] Gülen, 2005b:466–7.
[138] Gülen, 2005b:466–7.
[139] Çetin, 2006:1–4; The Fountain, 2002:93; Frantz, 2000; Özdalga, 2005:433.
[140] Lofland, 1996:146.
[141] Melucci, 1999:203.
[142] Michel, 2005b:351.
[143] Sykiainen, 2006:116.
[144] Gülen in Ünal & Williams, 2000:99.
[145] Karaman & Aras, 2000:56.
[146] Michel, 2005b:354.
[147] Gülen, 2004a:230–1; Gülen, 2000c:7–8.
[148] Sykiainen, 2007:130–2.
[149] Michel, 2003:70; Ergene, 2005:313; Aslandoğan & Çetin, 2007:55–60.
[150] Aslandoğan & Çetin, 2006:44.
[151] Michel, 2005a:51.
[152] Melucci, 1999:31, 50, 99; see also Göle, 2002:174; Edwards & McCarthy, 2004:120.
[153] Woodhall & Çetin, 2005:viii.
[154] Gülen, 2005a:94–5.
[155] Gülen, 2005a:50.
[156] Po-Hi, 2002:45–7.
[157] Sevindi, 1997a
[158] Gülen in Ünal & Williams, 2000:22, 328–31; Sevindi, 1997a.
[159] Ünal & Williams, 2000:326.
[160] Aslandoğan & Çetin, 2007:46–7.
[161] Michel, 2005b:356.
[162] Gülen, 2005a:50. Management and leadership will be discussed in §5.2.3–5.
[163] Woodhall, 2005:9–10.
[164] Aslandoğan & Çetin, 2006:43; Erdoğan, 2006:123.
[165] Aslandoğan & Çetin, 2006:43; Gündem, 2005.
[166] Ünal & Williams, 2000:29–45; Aslandoğan & Çetin, 2006:36–7; Gülen, 2004a:4, 148–51, 198–9, 218.
[167] Genov, 1996; Ünal & Williams, 2000:330–1.
[168] French, altruisme, from autrui, ‘other people’, from Latin alter, ‘other’.
[169] Bar-Tal, 1986:5; DiMaggio & Anheier, 1990:137, 153; Piliavin & Charng, 1990:55, 58.
[170] Bar-Tal, 1986; also in Piliavin & Charng, 1990:30.
[171] Interview with Çapan in January 2005.
[172] A sponsor of the educational and interfaith dialogue efforts of the Gülen Movement, a chemicals wholesaler in Istanbul, interviewed in January 2005.
[173] Another sponsor, a knitwear producer and exporter in Istanbul, interviewed in January 2005.
[174] Melucci, 1999:167.
[175] Interview with Tuzcu in January 2005.
[176] Interview with Ergene in January 2005.
[177] Aymaz, interviewed in January 2006.
[178] Interview with Aymaz in January 2006.
[179] DiMaggio & Anheier, 1990:151.
[180] Gülen, 2004a:246.
[181] Kömeçoğlu, 1997:84–7; Bulaç, 2007:118–20; Eickelman, 1999:80–81; Yilmaz, 2005:397–8; Kurtz, 2005:377, 382; Weller, 2005b:2–3.