A Contextual Analysis of the Supporters and Critics of the Gülen Movement

Loye AshtonThe faith-based civic society movement inspired by the ideas and work of Fethullah
Gülen has been increasingly recognized as a significant contributor to educational
and economic development in Turkey as well as in an increasing number of countries
where the majority of the population may not be Muslim. The Economist, The New
York Times, The International Herald Tribune, Le Monde
and Forbes have
recently given positive coverage of the impact and activities of the movement in
and outside of Turkey, as have an increasing number of academic journal articles
and books produced by university presses (Yavuz and Esposito 2005, Abu-Rabi 2007,
Yılmaz 2007, Turam 2007). While originating in a predominantly Muslim society, the
movement continues to attract participants in countries and regions with immense
religious and ethnic diversity. Within Turkey, the supporters of the movement include
journalists, academics, civic leaders and politicians, as well as the majority of
current and past Ministers, Prime Ministers and Presidents of the country. According
to Chris Morris of BBC, Gülen is seen as “the most prominent Turkish religious leader
alive,” and is “widely admired and trusted by many ordinary Turkish citizens” (Morris
2005, p.79). While the activities of the movement in education, media, interfaith
dialogue, disaster relief and health care draw praise domestically and abroad, the
movement does have its critics. Critiques of the movement range from academic criticism
based on field studies or literature surveys to politically driven “virulent attacks”
in the media, attempts at economic marginalization, and continuing “legal harassment”
by “radical prosecutors” (Fuller 2008, pp.58-59). While often marginal within the
overall context of Turkish society, some opponents accuse the movement of concealing
a political agenda to change the secular nature of Turkish Republic, which is, according
to Fuller, a “sweeping and unanswerable charge.” When examining such charges, certain
patterns emerge allowing these critics to be identified as three main types: (1)
political/pragmatic opponents who see the GHM as a threat to the establishment’s
power/status structure, (2) ideological opponents such as former or current advocates
of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, neo-nationalists (ulusalcılar), radical political
Islamist groups, and finally (3) those who are misled by some elements of the media
about the nature of the movement. In the rest of this paper, we will analyze the
most significant arguments and actions of those individuals and groups who praise
and support or criticize and oppose the socalled “Gülen/Hizmet Movement.”[1]

by Dr. Ali Ünsal