Why did Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan not listen to Gülen?

By Dr. Aland Mizell:

I was not surprised to see that Erdogan’s and Gülen’s relations have turned sour. Gülen and his followers are opportunistic. They know how to use people and systems for their purpose. In the 1980s Gülen positioned himself against communism to get the support of the USA. Today, he has allied himself with the Jewish community and with America. Necmettin Erbakan, as Prime Minister, installed an Islamic government, but when the secular military removed Erbakan, Gülen positioned himself with it and so put on a cloak of secularism for the public. He never takes risks but rather determines the direction of the wind, and then his followers will do anything to succeed.

Many people have been reporting that there is a power struggle between Erdogan and Gülen.  This is often the case with groups like the Gülen Movement — their one goal is to obtain a share of the power and nothing else. As history has taught us, power eventually self-destructs. Let’s watch this unfold as the movement with their Machiavellian ways accomplishes their goals.

Political representation means government by elected representatives, that is government carried on by representatives chosen by and responsible to the voter. Voters choose the political figures based on their own needs and desires. If Prime Minister Erdogan listens to the desires of his constituents, and not all his constituents are Gülen sympathizers or supporters, then Erdogan rightly rejects listening to one man’s views. It is true though that Gülenists voted for Erdogan, but the voters do not govern directly and personally. Erodogan did underline the Gülen movement’s presence in Parliament under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) umbrella during the last general election. This subordination of the movement sends the message to Gülenists that the government is in charge of governing the affairs of the state, not Gülen. Gülenists or Gülen himself as a citizen of Turkey answers to whoever is in charge of the government. Whoever is in charge has to have the ability to run the state in the first place.

Granted, Erdogan came to power in Turkey no doubt because of the support of Gülenists and Gülen’s media’s support, but if today Gülen is recognized internationally, it is because of the AKP party. They have managed to use the government as a platform internationally to be recognized and have managed to gain key positions within state institutions and the ruling party. Especially in Turkey’s foreign affairs sector: now most officers are Gülenists and consequently Gülenists get special diplomatic treatment when they travel abroad even though they are not diplomats. Whenever a foreign minister visits another country, he visits Gülen’s schools.

The question is: will Gülenists fight against Erdogan? On one hand, I do not think Gülenists will directly get into a fight with Erdogan and AKP but, on the other hand, they will not support him either. They will criticize him until the best opportunity comes, and then they will use other media outlets to criticize him and to oust Erdogan, sooner or later – but definitely they will find a way of doing it. The Gülenists will regard Erdogan as inadequate in some respect and criticize him, especially his style of speech, and refuse to listen to him.

So what is this fight about? There are several reasons for these quarrels.

First, Erdogan came from a different political background before the AKP was established. He was the second man in the Refah Party and was never considered a serious follower of Gülen. Bringing him out of relative obscurity, Gülen cultivated him to serve his purposes.

Second, Gülen’s style of doing politics is different from Erdogan’s. If an individual wants to be a serious follower of Gülen, he or she must obey absolutely the ideology and the practices of the community, and if anyone has a different opinion, especially one contrary to Gülen’s, then he or she is considered to have betrayed the Movement and consequently is not welcomed in the community; in fact, the group will excommunicate the traitor. Because Gülen’s community is highly centralized, the leader has complete control over his followers–there is no questioning his decision, and the leader is accountable to no one within the group. Gülenists usually deny this notion of the highly centralized nature of the movement, but the denial eludes truth. The Gülen movement is highly centralized with absolute devotion to a single person who is considered to be the Mehdi, the Chosen one, or one connected to Allah; some even argue he is the Messiah, possessing some kind of holy status. This is the way to maintain absolute devotion (Itaat etmek), meaning that his devotees must obey even if the leader makes mistakes, and they must not speak against him. Furthermore, in Gülen’s community, Gülen has a monopoly on knowledge; others do not have a right to object to his ideas.

Whatever Gülen says, it becomes the decree that his followers must obey. For example, when Prime Minister Erdogan was passionately defending the work of the flotilla and vowing vengeance upon Israel, Gülen criticized the aid of the flotilla destined for Gaza. In an interview with an American news organization, Gülen said that the flotilla organizers failed to reach an agreement with Israel before attempting to deliver aid, which was a “sign of defying authority and will not be very helpful.” He added, “What I saw was not good, and it was ugly.”  However, in a previous speech (vaaz) Gülen condemned Israel and America, calling for Muslims to be like a bomb exploding on them because the Al- Aqsa Mosque had been under the Israeli occupation. He is admonishing Muslims not to tolerate the occupation of the Mosque under the Israeli city but is criticizing Erdogan for standing against Israel. Gülen is a radical Islamist who hides secret and sinister agendas with his supposedly moderate message.

Third, Gülen does not want anyone to become more powerful than he is or to challenge him or his views. For example, Erdogan has been very popular and has even been compared to the Ottoman Sultans, to Former President Ozal whom Gülen admired greatly, and to Atatürk; this also makes Gülen unhappy. For example, his newspaper, the Zaman, republished a full-page letter by Gülen, which was originally published in one of his magazines, the Sizinti. The letter gave several warnings for “arrogant people.” Ali Unal, a Zaman columnist known for his relationship with Gülen, had criticized Erdogan for his arrogance and for not listening to some people around him. If anyone in the organization becomes popular and successful, Gülen purposefully will demote him and reduce his popularity with the excuse that his followers should be humble. In this case the movement tried to use Erdogan, but Erdogan did not listen to them and instead put limitations on their influence. Consequently, they are accusing Erdogan of becoming a dictator and not giving them a chance, and charging him with taking advantage of their influence but not letting them be a part of the system.

For Gülenists, as long as you listen to them and do not object to their views, then you are accepted, but once you criticize them, they will slander you and slip into a denial mode that so far has been a very successful tactic. Gülen himself said, “You have to know the truth, but you cannot tell the truth anytime anywhere,” which means that there is a time for a lie as well and a time to deny the truth if it is necessary.

In his weekly sermon on Herkul.org, without mentioning Erdogan by name, Gülen claimed that, whether for himself or for these close to him, he gave favors and jobs to the wealthy, and remarked that those who do this kind of act are not Muslim. He added that when doing this kind of good thing, that once we are involved in self-interest and worldly interest, we lose the credit. Yet, as his movement gains power, they want to have more and more. They teach that as humans, our intentions can be changed, so therefore, they should have some kind of alternate plan, just in case people betray them. They also teach that this kind of thinking means “the devil hit you from the right side.” It does not matter how good a Muslim you are, if you take advantage of other people, you are not a Muslim – a clear irony. The question is: does Gülen believe what he preaches? Does he really leave room for others to criticize him?  Why did they imprison Turkey’s most prominent journalist and writer, Ahmet Sik, who wrote a book entitled Imamin Ordusu (The Imam’s Army) describing in detail how followers of Gülen have allegedly infiltrated the Turkish police since the mid-1980s and criticizing Gülen and his movement? Yet, after he spent one year in jail they released him due to pressure from abroad.

Gülenists try to cultivate the image of the movement and Gülen as being tolerant, peace-loving, and forgiving. Another author Hanefi Avci, who wrote a book critical of Gülen, was jailed and accused of being a supporter of a radical left-wing organization. The reason Gülenists did not like Nedim Sener’s book “Dink Murder and Intelligence Lies” was that, according to his book, the Turkish security agencies allegedly told lies about the background of the assassination of prominent Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, and Sener accused members of the military as well as many senior police officers who are Gülen sympathizers of being involved in the crime. That is why the Gülenists’ media, especially the Zaman, is pushing the Hrant Dink link to Ergenekon and to the secular military and calling it an inside job– to clear their name.

Further, if Gülen tolerates others’ opinions and forgives as his movement claims, then he would forgive Nurettin Veren, who invested most of his life in the movement especially laboring intensively for the schools in Central Asia. When Nurettin Veren came to see Gülen in the USA, Gülen denied him access and did not want to forgive him because Gülen believes that the cassettes that had resulted in a court case against him had been leaked by Veren. Of course, Gülen and Gülenists will not publicly say this is the reason, but they are trying to defame him so that he loses all credibility.

Fourth, Gülen and Erdogan have different approaches to foreign policy in relation to Iran and to Israel. Gülen has great relations with the Jewish lobby, but the AKP’s foreign policy is preventing Fethullah from being on good terms with Israel, and non-Gülenist AKP members are not happy about Gülen’s courting of Israel. Who introduced Gülen to the Washington circle? What was the role of the Jewish community, such as the Anti-Defamation League, in promoting him in the USA?  Gülen knows that the Jewish lobby is still strong in America and will not help him and his true ideology. Therefore, he presents himself as a representative of peace and tolerance touting his claim to establish ecumenical peace, by sponsoring Interfaith Dialogue, but funding non-government organizations (NGO’s), schools, cultural centers, conferences, his own newspaper, civic and cultural events, among many other venues–using them as a platform that promotes his ultraconservative Islamic agenda.

He knows he does not have quite enough power yet and recognizes that Jewish lobbyists are still strong, so he does not want to turn Israel against his movement because such a falling out could harm the cause in the long-term; that is why he criticizes Erdogan’s policy against Israel.

The fifth reason relates to their positions on how to solve the Kurdish issue. Religion has always been used against the Kurds. Gülen‘s recent decree was that the government should let Kurds have basic rights such as education in Kurdish and also should take a tough stance against the PKK. As we see, one more time the Kurdish problem has defined Turkey’s internal and external policies. For a long time the Kurdish question has been exploited, and again it is at the center. We have on one side the Judiciary and police supported by the Gülenists, and on the other side Erdogan and the MIT. Because the Prime Minister asked the MIT head to talk to the Kurdish guerilla groups and to bring a solution to 30 years of bloodshed, mostly the blood of the Kurds, the MIT talked to some of the PKK leaders in Oslo, tried to listen to what they want, and asked if there is a solution to the Kurdish problem.

Now, instead of Gülenists and Gülen being happy that finally there is a government that is willing to solve the Kurdish issue by listening to the Kurdish people, although it was the past governments who created the problem, and that this one believes in dialogue rather than a military solution to it, the Gülenists and Gülen are complaining. They are asking why the MIT is talking to the PKK leaders and believe that the only way to solve the Kurdish problem is to kill all of them who are in the mountains, which is what the previous military regimes believed as well.

Since the 1970s, Turkey has been struggling against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK) which has a desire to live free and to enjoy self-rule internally. As the Indian philosopher Swami Sivananda posits, “Humility is not cowardice nor is meekness weakness. Humility and meekness are indeed powerful.” Gülen assumes that his way is the best, that his followers are God’s chosen people, and that God gave them this mission. Gülen suggests that the Turkish language be an elective in schools, and then he goes on to blame the previous regime for not letting the Kurdish language be an elective in public and private schools in Turkey. Although he made some excuses, mostly blaming the previous regime, Mr. Gülen failed to explain that for thirty years he was cooperating with the same regime and the same military.  Also, Mr. Gülen suggests that the Turkish military is strong, but why then can it not defeat a few PKK thugs?

Mr. Gülen failed to understand that if he really wanted peace, then he should not follow the principles of talking to a friend who praises him all the time; instead he should talk to his enemies or others who do not praise him, and he should show love and tolerance to those opponents. According to him, if the PKK cannot lay down their arms, then the military should kill them, but it would be far more effective to talk to the insurgents and to listen to what they say, especially if saving lives has more value than taking them. Gülen said he and his followers failed to infiltrate all aspects of life of the Kurdish people and to go to their houses, villages, and institutions to assimilate them. Gülen used religion for assimilation, but instead he should have listened to the Kurds just as the MIT is doing in talking to them. In the end the PKK is the solution to, as well as the problem of, the Kurdish issue. If he is really a man of dialogue and peace, he should call for negotiations. History shows true advocates of peace will exhaust all alternatives.

The time is fast approaching for Gülenists to act in a humble manner and not provoke the Kurds but respect the rights, freedoms, and status of Kurdish citizens. The first test of a truly great man is in his humility. Changes happen by listening to the oppressed, not by provoking them, for example, the Kurdish people. Then by starting a dialogue with the people who are committing acts that do not seem right, a leader may correct them. If Turks want peace and want to become a powerful Turkey, then they should be happy for Prime Minister Erdogan to talk and listen to the PKK in order to reach a dignified solution to end the bloodshed. This, of course, shows who really wants peace.

The sixth reason is the Uludere incident and the MIT. The APK has given the Gülenists full access to the judiciary, the police, the bureaucracy, education, foreign policy, and the police, but the only institution they do not control totally is the MIT.  They have people in the MIT, but they lack complete power over it, a goal of theirs. Erdogan rightly did not let them seize it, and that is why this power struggle began. If they do not have any interest in politics and do not politicize religion, then why are they accusing the MIT of crimes?  When the Turkish military killed 36 Kurdish villagers, Gülenists made allegations that it was the work of the MIT, campaigning against it and against Prime Minister Erdogan.  The Uludere incident was the biggest Gülenist campaign against Erdogan thus far. One of the former military generals who was killed in jail said in his letter that Gülenists would denigrate the MIT, and that they want to do it to connect the MIT with the maligned Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) and with Ergenekon to purge it in order to put their people there.

The seventh reason is that Gülen has placed so many of his followers in top positions in the government under the Erdogan leadership, and this has created some disputes among other members of the AKP with some saying that there is nepotism going on.

The eighth reason is match fixing. Another power struggle began with match fixing.  Gülenists are strongly against the match fixing law, according to what they wrote in their media, but they were not successful in thwarting it. Even some of those who are close to Erdogan joined the campaign to block the bill. Bulent Arinc, a deputy Prime Minister, denounced it but later apologized. However, the detractors lost the battle. Despite their having more power, Erdogan did not listen to Gülen, and this never happens, because Erdogan has followed his directives in the past.

Regarding the current match fixing law, Erdogan and Gülen are after different things for the Fenerbahce Sports Club. Remember that the soccer club has been one of the biggest public relations moves and has resulted in frequent contacts with Galatasaray’s star striker, who is now an AKP MP, and whose wedding Gülen later witnessed. Part of Gülen’s community runs the Konya-based company Kombasan Konya Sport and has contacts with their fans. So when we speak of Yildirm, we speak of Aziz Yildirim, we speak of Fenerbahce, and we speak of millions of people. All political parties came to an agreement to allow suspects to be released on bail rather than be kept in custody.  A previous law called for much longer prison sentences but was considered too harsh. For example, if Aziz Yildirim is found guilty on all accounts, he could face 59 or more years in prison, while players accused of being a little fickle could be in prison 12 years or more.  So if Aziz Yildirim goes to jail, he would not be able to be the president of the Fenerbahce Club again. This would give an opportunity to Gülenists, such as Murat Ulker, who knows Gülenists as well, to be the president of Fenerbahce. Thus, Gülen would be able to use Fenerbahce as a PR vehicle to disseminate his ideology domestically and internationally.

For Erdogan a heavy prison sentence would mean losing a few million of AKP’s voters who are protesting against such sentences, and this will have a serious impact on the AKP next term. This also tells why President Gul was willing to veto the bill because he could care less about another term for the AKP, since he will have no place to sit. Also, Aziz Yildirim is involved in a military contract bid, and can now give the Calik Grubu Company competition, since it is in close association with Gülen.

All the reasons for the chilling relationship between  Gülen and Erdogan are about power – and total power corrupts.  We see Erdogan making decisions to move away from his early position of condoning all Gülen’s decisions. We hope that it is a new trajectory and not a mere passing moment of obstinacy. We observe that Gülen is jockeying again to separate himself from a person in power who has outworn his usefulness to the movement. We hope that the world sees his old trajectory and looks deeper into his true motivations and goals.

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 and Kurdish Media.You may email the author at:aland_mizell2@hotmail.com

One Response to Why did Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan not listen to Gülen?
  1. Levent Koc
    March 25, 2012 | 03:01

    I wish this author would be more knowledgeable about Fethullah Gulen and Gulen movement. This is neither first not last biased story I have read about Gulen. I do hope people visit web sites like http://www.hizmetmovement.com to get accurate information.

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