The search for a new brand of Islam in the Middle East: the Gülen Movement
By Dr. Aland Mizell: Kurdistan Tribune – 4.11.2012 – Everything happens for a reason, and today the change in the Middle East is happening for a reason as well. After 9/11, America and the West realized they could not fight the more than 1. 4 billion Muslims in the world; instead America and the West have tried to bring some changes to the Islamic world. The problem is that the Islamic world and the Middle East lack an Islamic model that is fully democratic: one that respects the rule of law, equal justice, freedom to live, freedom to worship and freedom to speak as well as renouncing violence.
Most importantly, however, they seek an Islamic model that will not be hostile to the West, to America, and to Israel.When President Obama came to power, his first speech was at Cairo University. The President said that he sought a new beginning between the United States and the Muslim world and that America and Islam are not mutually exclusive, nor do they need to be in competition. Later, the West and the U.S. helped the Arab Spring in the Muslim world, including the changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and now in Syria. Most of these dictators who were supported by the West and America now have been deposed, and instead Islamists have taken leadership roles. Thus, the rise of political Islam urged America and the West to seek a new brand of Islam in this region of the Muslim world.
There were only four options available for the West to support as an Islamic model. One was the Turkish Islamic movement called ‘the Gülen movement’, led by the known Turkish Hodja imam Fethullah Gülen; second, Iran‘s Shia model; third, Egypt’s model; and fourth, Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism model.
Wahhabism is Saudi Arabia’s dominant faith, an absolute authority for the state. It is an Islamic sect that is based on the literal interpretation of the Koran and one that believes that those who do not practice the Wahhabism (Salafis) form of Islam are enemies of Islam, but those who practice Wahhabism will go to heaven while the rest will not. Iran’s dominant faith, the Shia, and Turkey’s dominate Sunni faith say Wahhabism has distorted and misinterpreted Islam like Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and some Islamic groups in South East Asia.
A series of incidents caused concern regarding the Shia for the West and America. The rise of Shia political power in the U. S.-occupied Iraq, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s violent verbal attacks against Israel, his denying the holocaust, the war in Lebanon when the Shia Hezbollah took the Western hostages there and Iran’s support of terrorism generate Western and American concerns about the Shia version of Islam as a model. Consequently, containing the Shia religion and focusing on a new brand of Islam became an important tactic. Running out of options, the West and America decided to support the Turkish Islamic movement called the Gülen movement as a model for the Islamic world, but at the same time they intentionally fanned the animosity between the different ethno- cultural and religious groups in the Middle East.
As we see, after the regime change, Saddam Hussein’s Sunni minority is now ruled by the Shia majority. In Syria the Assad regime is Alawi, so the minority rules even though the majority is Sunni; but when Assad falls, Turkey will want to install a Sunni regime, one friendly to the Turkish Sunnis and antagonistic to Iran and its influence. In fact, current events in the Middle East are the result of carefully designed covert intelligence with a pre-planned agenda, with Turkey heavily involved.
It is sad to say that America does not have a coherent or smart policy in the Middle East. Nor does it have an effective policy regarding Turkey, especially considering the complex events in Turkey. America supports a non-democratic Turkish government and turns a blind eye to Turkey’s activity in Syria and its treatment of the Kurds although thousands of journalists, Kurdish politicians, and human rights advocates have been jailed there.
So why is the West supporting the Gülen Turkish Islamic Movement or the Turkish Missionary Movement? Gülen does not like the Iranian or Russian influence in the Middle East, and he, like America, is suspicious of Iran and Russia. America supports Gulen’s movement to use it for its own interests and, likewise, Gülen is using America to become more powerful.
The West and America hope to create a more open and democratic society in the Middle East and the Islamic world. The West and the U.S think Gulen’s movement represents the modern face of Islam – in other words, that it is a moderate Islam that promotes service for the common good, advocates interfaith dialogue, supports education, encourages Turkey’s joining the European Union and denounces terrorism, and also they suppose that it is not anti-Israel or anti-U.S. However, in reality America and the West fail to understand the real agenda of Gülen as a power-thirsty opportunist.Gülen lives in the U.S. and enjoys a high level of support and praise from the American government, such as former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and James Baker. The former ambassador to Turkey, Morton Abramowitz, praised Gülen for his contributions to world peace. President Obama appointed one of his followers as his Muslim advisor in the White House. President Obama himself visited the schools and received at the White House ‘award-winning’ students from the Gülen- inspired Pinnacle School in Washington D.C. Several former CIA officers have testified for Gulen saying that Gulen’s movement is a peaceful movement, not a threat to America or to national security. This testimony helped him stay in the U.S. and to enlarge his movement from the U.S.
The New Great Middle East projects includes a new brand of Islam as well. The Gülen movement uses a well-planned and well-coordinated platform to reach his agenda. Today it is the biggest Muslim missionary movement in the world and the biggest lobbyist group in the U.S., even becoming more influential than the Jewish lobby groups. From Kenya to the Philippines, this new Muslim missionary organization is attracting millions of followers and soliciting billions of dollars. It is linked to more than 1000 schools in 140 countries as well as to NGOs, media, TV stations, business companies, newspapers, radio stations, sport clubs, hospitals, universities, and banks.
In the Philippines the Turkish Muslim missionaries have three schools, two located in Manila and one Turkish- Philippine tolerance high school in Zamboanga in Mindanao. Also, there is a Turkish Chamber of Commerce in Manila. This massive network has no formal membership but is led by Fethullah Gülen who emphasizes a Turkish version of Islam, altruism, and education as a platform to reach his agenda of a new global Islamic state.
Sectarian tensions are on the rise in the Middle East, especially with the current uprising in Syria, trying to topple the Alawite-dominated Assad regime in Damascus, which will redistribute the Sunni- Shiite balance of power in the region. With all this rage in this region, interestingly, one country seems quiet. When anti-American violence across the Muslim world and Middle East includes killing the U.S. ambassador to Libya, breaking windows, and setting fires, surprisingly that kind of violence is not seen in Turkey. In fact, right after the week of tumultuous events in Libya, the leader of the Muslims missionaries, Fethullah Gülen wrote an op-ed for the Financial Times.In his article entitled “Violence is not the tradition of the Prophets”, Gülen argues, “Muslims pray each day to move away from the extremes and to maintain balance in our lives. The violent response was wrong and strayed from the straight path”. Gülen did say that whoever speaks against Mohammed is to be condemned, but that the correct response was not violence. This stance confirms America’s view of Gulen’s movement as a new moderate face of Islam and a new brand of the religion; consequently, the U.S. is trying to internationalize this brand of Islam as an alternative to radicalism. The problem is that this movement is run by a non-elected, authoritarian, one-man rule, with absolute power, and this type of leadership goes against the American’s liberal democratic values. America should support Islamic countries to become fully-fledged liberal democracies.
Dr. Aland Mizell is with the University of Mindanao School of Social Science, President of the MCI and a regular contributor to The Kurdistan Tribune, Kurdishaspect.com, Mindanao Times and Kurdish Media.You may email the author at:firstname.lastname@example.org