Is Fethullah Gülen’s Hizmet Movement Amazing or Terrifying
In the west, there is very little understanding about the political structure and societal preferences in the Middle East. We often have a very difficult time knowing who to root for, who is friends with who, and who the potential enemies really are. Fethullah Gülen and the Hizmet fall squarely into this category.
Better known as the Gülen Movement by westerners, the word “hizmet” is a Turkish word that means “service”. On the surface, it would seem to be the perfect ideological hero for Islam, promoting peace and love as well as unity between the various religions that other Islamic groups openly hate. Behind the scenes, there is so much mystery shrouding the unofficial organization that skeptics are starting to emerge… and are then quickly rebuked.
Nearly everything that is associated with the Hizmet would be considered positive by anyone other than supporters of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkish government. They build charter schools, work for free media in Turkey, and promote unity amongst different religions. They have influence in spreading Islam through education and outreach in 140 countries. Perhaps the most appealing thing about them from a western perspective is that they are very pro-democracy.
They were supportive of the current Turkish government until last year when Erdogan’s party started shutting down Hizmet-backed schools and denying charters. This led to a quick reversal of support. Then the Turkish government started arresting Hizmet supporters in December, 2013. Most who were arrested have been released. In the most recent and boldest attack on the movement, Turkish police started arresting journalists, media executives, and even the scriptwriter for a popular television series on charges of “forming, leading and being a member of an armed terrorist organization.”
The charges are so absurd that it can only lead to two things from a worldview perspective: less support for Erdogan and more support for the Gülen Movement.
Why We’re Worried
There is no real “dirt” on Gülen. Everything that the Hizmet does seems to fall in line with what westerners would want, but history has proven that our lack of understanding can be disastrous. The widely supported Arab Spring has been quickly revealed to be a disaster for the west, putting long-standing allies against us and stimulating turmoil that was controlled before. Most Americans had a flawed understanding of how the Arab Spring would be a bad thing for us and the rest of the world.
The Gülen Movement makes nobody suspicious. They are squeaky clean. They are garnering support globally and yet so few in the west have any idea who they are. Their international influence is greater than other Islamic group, but everything they do is through a perceived grassroots effort. They aren’t loud and boisterous like Hezbollah. They aren’t killing people like ISIS. They are quietly spreading their faith to the masses and doing so with no apparent ties to any particular agenda.
They are huge and yet remain well under the radar of western attention outside of academics and conspiracy theorists. This is why we are worried. The fact that they are focused most fervently on education as a way to bring people to become Muslim gives them the type of power that Hezbollah, ISIS, or any other worldwide Islamic group can only crave.
There is a good chance that they are everything that they claim to be: peace-loving, educational, pro-democracy, pro-freedom-of-speach, and non-violent. They have done nothing to dissuade anyone of this. This means that if they do have a dangerous hidden agenda, they would be able to initiate it faster and smoother than any other organization in the world. That’s they’re strength.
Hope for the best. Plan for the worst. It’s the only way to go with the Gülen Movement.