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Ed Webb

Turkey Feels Sway of Fethullah Gulen, a Reclusive Cleric - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • the relationship between Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Gulen has sometimes been tense, with the prime minster, a mercurial and populist leader, sensitive to any challenges to his authority. Analysts say that in recent months Mr. Erdogan and other members of his Justice and Development Party have grown increasingly wary, as high-profile arrests of critics of the Gulen movement have embarrassed the government. There is growing talk of a power struggle.
  • The movement is well known for running a network of schools lauded for their academic rigor and commitment to spreading Turkish language and culture. Gulen followers have been involved in starting one of the largest collections of charter schools in the United States. With their neatly trimmed mustaches, suits and ties, and their missionary zeal, supporters here convey the earnestness of Mormon missionaries or Muslim Peace Corps volunteers. Their eyes moisten at the mention of Mr. Gulen’s name, which is invoked with utmost reverence. Sympathizers say the notion of Mr. Gulen as a cultish puppet master is a malicious caricature. The group consists of an informal network of followers and has no formal organization or official membership, they say. Mr. Gulen communicates in essays and videotaped sermons, which are posted on the Internet and appear in other Gulen-related media outlets. His sympathizers say his goal is the creation of a “golden generation” that would embrace humanism, science and Islam and serve the Turkish state. He has publicly affirmed the importance of complying with Turkey’s secular laws, and mathematics and science competitions at Gulen schools overshadow religious expression, which takes place quietly in “relaxation rooms” that double as prayer spaces.
  • The ascent of Mr. Erdogan’s government since 2002 has radically shifted the balance of power, and analysts say the Gulenists have seized the opportunity to settle old scores and tame their former rivals, including the military.
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  • Mr. Gulen lives in self-imposed exile on a 25-acre haven in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. In 1999, he fled Turkey amid accusations of plotting to overthrow the secular government. Around that time, a taped sermon emerged in the media in which Mr. Gulen was heard advising his followers to “move within the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centers.”
  • A 2009 cable by the United States ambassador to Turkey at the time, James F. Jeffrey, made public by WikiLeaks, noted that the Gulen movement was strong within the police force and in conflict with the military. It said that the assertion that the Turkish national police is controlled by Gulenists “is impossible to confirm, but we have found no one who disputes it.”
Ed Webb

Turkey: An Ambivalent Religious Soft Power - 0 views

  • Albania is not the first country to realize that the mosques built with Turkey’s money and other services were also used for political purposes to promote Erdoğan's sociopolitical and religious desires. For instance, in June 2018, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz ordered the closing of seven mosques run by the Diyanet and deported more than 40 Turkish imams and their families in consequence of their political activities under the cover of religion
  • Germany launched an investigation into the Diyanet to explore the possibility that some Turkish imams have spied on members of the Gülen Movement among the diaspora
  • surveillance activities conducted by imams within the territory of foreign states cannot be defined within the concept of religious soft power, which fundamentally means the promotion of religion for a country’s foreign policy purposes. However, these investigations underline that the Diyanet imams are not alone; on the contrary, they have been working with Turkey’s other transnational apparatuses, which have been seen as soft power tools of Turkey in host countries
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  • Since coining the term in the late 1980s, Joseph S. Nye Jr. has modified the concept of soft power multiple times, but he has not explicitly theorized religion as a form of soft power
  • Jeffrey Haynes, as one of the first scholars to talk about the relation between religion and soft power, noted that religious soft power involves encouraging actors to change their political behaviors
  • Starting from the late 1940s, within the multi-party system, political parties have realized that religious rhetoric could be transformed into votes; therefore, both right-wing and centrist political parties tried to enlarge the real authority of the Diyanet to reach religiously sensitive masses of people. After the re-establishment of the democratic order annihilated by the 1960 coup d’état, the Diyanet gained prominence because the state employed it in its struggle against communism. 
  • After the 1980 coup d’état, the Diyanet’s mission included the promotion of Turkish Islam abroad, and it began to play a sociopolitical role in the international arena with the aim of promoting Turkey. Thus, Turkey’s Diyanet and Turkish moderate Islam have been actively instrumentalized in Turkish foreign policy as a soft power tool, providing an advantage over other potential actors since they have been seen as a preventive force against some of the radical Islamist movements and ideologies.
  • With its ascendant economy, domestic reforms aimed at the EU accession process, and a global climate proposing the compatibility of Islam and democracy, Turkey rose as a soft power with religious tools at its disposal. In this, Turkey has become publicly almost more visible than the other Islamic soft power actors in continental Europe, in the Balkans, and in some particular countries like Somalia.
  • opened branches in more than 40 countries, publishing and distributing Qur'ans and religious books in more than 25 languages. It also provides financial support to official Muslim representative institutions in the Balkans, continental Europe, and Africa. Furthermore, the state-run construction companies TOKİ and TİKA have been constructing mosques around the world
  • process of democratic backsliding has manifested through both domestic politics and significant changes in foreign policy, and the increasingly acrimonious rivalry between the Gülen Movement and the AKP has negatively affected Turkey’s capacity to wield effective soft power. In this transformation the AKP has started to instrumentalize Islam quite differently compared to the previous periods of Turkish attempts to exert influence in the Middle East and North Africa, the Balkans, and beyond. Notably, the Diyanet’s policies have been synchronized with the policies of the AKP, and its budget, administrative capacity, and activities have been gradually expanding throughout these years despite the shrinking economic environment within which the AKP operates. Over time, the Diyanet of the now increasingly repressive and less moderate AKP has started to be perceived differently by various countries and groups around the world
  • these religious soft power apparatuses have started to involve themselves in the host countries’ domestic politics, as in the case of Bulgaria, due to Erdoğan’s new foreign policy mentality
  • Turkey’s religious soft power is best characterized in terms of ambivalence—particularly given the increasingly competitive market of Islamic soft power
Ed Webb

Turkey's Alevi community fears more than just IS - 0 views

  • IS isn't the only threat. For nearly 15 years, Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments have instigated anti-Alevi policies and rhetoric and fanned the flames of enmity toward Alevis. Alevis have been resisting state-sponsored efforts at Sunnification and therefore face increasing discrimination at all levels of public life.
  • "Who can guarantee us that the police officers sent to protect us would not be the ones attacking our prayer houses? I mean, what if they are members of the Gulen organization or others? Was it not an active duty police officer who assassinated the Russian ambassador?"
  • Turkey's private security industry has been a burgeoning sector in the last five years. A prominent security expert who owns one of the major companies in Istanbul spoke to Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity and said, "The government has been providing certificates for companies who follow an ultranationalist and Islamist line. You cannot find any left-leaning or Alevi companies in this sector, because they cannot receive certificates." In addition, dozens of security firms were shut down after the July 15 coup attempt for their alleged links to the Gulen organization. Plus, it takes months to complete training and paperwork for certification.
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  • this environment of fear, coupled with police surveillance, prevents observant Alevis from visiting the places where they usually congregate
  • Alevis and many secular Turks don't believe the government is even fighting IS
Ed Webb

Turkey Seeks a Spiritual Leader's Secret Grave - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • “The military rulers were afraid that Nursi would become a symbol of dissent, his grave a shrine to anti-Kemalism,”
  • Through his writings, collected in the “Risale-i Nur,” or “Epistles of Light,” and clandestinely photocopied and distributed by his students, Mr. Nursi’s ideas continued to resonate in Turkey, inspiring a uniquely Turkish Islamic identity and a powerful faith-based movement that shapes the country’s society and politics to this day.
  • a parliamentary commission investigating the coups has called for Mr. Nursi’s secret grave to be revealed at last
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  • Ahmet Er and Numan Esin, who sat on the 38-member junta and are now aged 85 and 83, told the commission that even they had not been privy to that information
  • “About half the Islamic movement in Turkey, meaning the pious, conservative segment of society, are literally direct followers of Nursi, while the other half also respects him,”
  • The hearings have triggered a popular quest for Mr. Nursi’s grave, with new witnesses coming forward in the media and contributing pieces to the puzzle.
  • Only Alparslan Turkes, a former junta member who died in 1997, had known
  • Even without the body, many thousands of pilgrims flock to Mr. Nursi’s empty tomb in Urfa, to the house he inhabited in Isparta, and even to the Urfa hotel room he died in, piously preserved in its original state by the hotel owner right down to the light bulb.
  • Modernity, science and rationalism play key roles in his teachings, as does the individual, distinguishing the Nurcu movement from other currents of Islam.
  • The Nurcu have traditionally steered clear of strident political Islam, rejecting Turkey’s late Islamist prime minister Necmettin Erbakan as too inflammatory, embracing a democratic and pluralistic political system, and hewing to the mainstream conservative parties
  • A year ago, the environment minister, Erdogan Bayraktar, became the first cabinet member to pray at the empty tomb
  • “Said Nursi has long been rehabilitated by the people, but his rehabilitation by the state nevertheless gladdens us, after all those years in which it was considered a crime to read his books,”
Ed Webb

Turkey's Thirty-Year Coup | The New Yorker - 0 views

  • Within the country, the military saw Gülenists as a considerable threat. Gareth Jenkins, a fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Istanbul, said that, during the nineteen-nineties, the armed forces expelled hundreds of officers on suspicion of harboring links to Gülen. In a cable released by WikiLeaks, an American diplomat wrote that secular officers devised a test: they invited fellow-soldiers and their wives to pool parties, reasoning that women who declined to appear in public wearing swimsuits must be restricted by their religion. According to the diplomat, the Gülenist wives became aware of the tactic and came up with a countermeasure: they started wearing bikinis more revealing than their hosts’. When military inspectors began searching officers’ homes, the Gülenists stocked their refrigerators with decoy bottles of alcohol and planted empties in the trash.
  • Hanefi Avcı, the police chief for Eskişehir Province, told me that he saw Gülenist police, prosecutors, and judges fabricate evidence in political investigations. But when he alerted his superiors he was ignored. “I talked to ministers and I wrote memos and didn’t get any replies,” he said.In 2009, Avcı secretly began writing a book detailing the Gülenists’ activities in the police and judiciary. He described a movement of protean adaptability, whose methods resembled those of terrorist groups and criminal organizations; they framed opponents by planting evidence or blackmailed them with information gleaned from wiretaps. “What made the Gülen movement different is that it was inside the state,” he said, noting that infiltrators in his department had sabotaged the careers of at least ten colleagues. The book, called “Simons Living on the Golden Horn” (the title is an abstruse metaphor for not seeing what is in plain sight), became a best-seller. It seemed especially authoritative because Avcı, a conservative Islamist, had two children in Gülenist schools.
  • The judiciary, emboldened by Ergenekon and Sledgehammer, pursued the investigations ever closer to Erdoğan. In the early months of 2012, police issued a subpoena to Hakan Fidan—the chief of national intelligence and a confidant of the Prime Minister—and arrested Ilker Başbuğ, the country’s highest military officer. “They felt that they could arrest anyone,” Gareth Jenkins said. Erdoğan responded in a way that seemed calculated to hobble the Gülenists: he started closing down their schools—a crucial source of income—and working to restrain the police.
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  • On December 17, 2013, police arrested Zarrab and eighty-eight others, including forty-three government officials. Although they did not arrest any of Erdoğan’s ministers, they detained the sons of three of them, claiming that they were conduits for bribes. Erdoğan’s son Bilal also came under suspicion, after a wiretap captured what was alleged to be a conversation between him and his father. Erdoğan has insisted that the tape was doctored, but it circulated widely on social media, and Turks claimed to recognize his voice.Tayyip Erdoğan: Eighteen people’s homes are being searched right now with this big corruption operation. . . . So I’m saying, whatever you have at home, take it out. O.K.?Bilal: Dad, what could I even have at home? There’s your money in the safe.Tayyip: Yes, that’s what I’m saying.A little while later, the two apparently spoke again.Tayyip: Did you get rid of all of it, or . . . ?Bilal: No, not all of it, Dad. So, there’s something like thirty million euros left that we haven’t been able to liquidate.
  • Western officials told me that they regarded the investigation as a Gülenist attempt to topple Erdoğan’s government—but that the evidence seemed credible.
  • On Christmas Day, 2015, Turkish intelligence breached an encrypted messaging app called ByLock—an apparently homemade network with two hundred thousand users. According to Turkish officials, it was set up not long after Erdoğan began purging suspected Gülenists from the government. When the network was discovered, the server, in Lithuania, quickly closed down, and its users switched to Eagle, another encrypted messaging app. “They went underground,” a Turkish government aide told me.The intelligence officials say that they were able to decrypt the exchanges, and one told me, “Every conversation was about the Gülen community.” By checking the ByLock users’ names against government records, they found that at least forty thousand were civil employees, mostly from the judiciary and the police department. In May, two months before the coup, the government began suspending them.In July, the intelligence department notified the military that it had also identified six hundred officers of the Turkish Army, many of them highly ranked, among the ByLock users. Military officials began planning to expel them at a meeting of senior generals that was scheduled for early the next month. “We think the coup happened in July because they needed to move before they were expelled,” Ibrahim Kalın, the Erdoğan aide, told me.
  • it seems that the plotters staked their operation on capturing or killing Erdoğan and persuading General Akar to join them. “If those things had happened, the coup would have succeeded,” Kalın said. But none of the most senior generals of the Turkish armed forces could be persuaded to join, which may have left the plotters without a military leader. By 4 A.M., the coup plotters were running for their lives.
  • For Erdoğan, though, retribution has always come more easily than apologies. The state of emergency that he declared after the coup gave him dictatorial powers, which he used to carry out a far-reaching crackdown that began with Gülenists but has grown to encompass almost anyone who might pose a threat to his expanded authority.
  • Public criticism of Erdoğan has been almost entirely squelched, either by the outpouring of national support that followed the coup or by the fear of being imprisoned. Erdoğan has closed more than a hundred and thirty media outlets and detained at least forty-three journalists, and the purge is still under way.
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