By Ekrem Dumanli, Saylorsburg,
PENNSYLVANIA: Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has inspired a worldwide network active in education, charity and outreach, has described large-scale slander, pressure and oppression his Hizmet movement currently faces as worse than that seen during anti-democratic military coup regimes witnessed by Turkey. He also calls on his supporters to remain patient and steadfast and to not despair.
“What we are seeing today is 10 times worse than what we saw during the military coups,” he said, adding to that “we face similar treatment [as seen during the military coups] but at the hands of civilians who we think follow the same faith as us.”
Gülen’s remarks represent a stark reminder of how he feels today in comparison to past military coups, during which he said he was prosecuted and persecuted.
His comparison confirms what Turkish opposition parties are saying; namely, that the government in Turkey has staged a civilian coup and suspended the constitution and the rule of law in the country following the breakout of a corruption scandal on Dec. 17 of last year.
“But despite everything, I don’t complain. … All we can do is say ‘This, too, shall pass,’ and remain patient,” Gülen added. He also predicted that the current oppression engaged in by the government will not last long. “Aggressors will be turned upside down when they least expect it,” Gülen said.
Having stayed largely silent in the face of relentless attacks amounting to hate speech by beleaguered Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was incriminated in a massive corruption scandal, Gülen spoke to Today’s Zaman and provided his account of how he sees the recent events in Turkey in the first interview with the Turkish media since Dec. 17.
In an extensive interview that will be published in Today’s Zaman as a four-part series starting on Monday, Gülen explains his views on the corruption investigations, upcoming local elections, whether he will support any political party, slander leveled against him, voice recordings that have been leaked to the Internet, the release of suspects in the Ergenekon trial, the settlement process with the country’s Kurds, rumors on a possible lawsuit against members of the Hizmet movement after the elections, Hizmet’s alleged involvement in the takeover of the Fenerbahçe sports club, how he sees Turkey exiting from the current crisis, his return to Turkey and other questions many have been wondering about.
In the first part of the series, Gülen makes it clear that no conspiracy, slander and smear attacks can overcome truth, prudence and foresight. “What evidence are they relying on when speaking so confidently? I really don’t know,” he said, challenging those who spread lies about the Hizmet movement to bring forth evidence in support of their allegations. Recalling that believers have been denigrated throughout history, Gülen emphasized that “everyone acts in accordance with their character.”
Despite attacks and a campaign of defamation, Gülen said almost all of his friends have acted with fidelity. “There was virtually no shock or breakup from among our companions and friends,” he noted in an apparent response to Erdoğan’s failed efforts to drive a wedge between the leadership and the grassroots of the Hizmet movement. Erdoğan repeatedly said there is a difference between the leaders of the Hizmet movement and the members of the organization. “While the organization’s members at the grassroots level are displaying sincerity, its leaders have taken a different position,” Erdoğan noted, accusing the leadership of conspiring with what he called “international dark circles.”
Recounting the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup, during which he was victimized and forced to leave the country amid the military’s ouster of an elected government, Gülen said he tried his best to prevent the coup from taking place, including appealing to political leaders to call for an early election to get a fresh mandate. “Tension was building and everyone was searching for ways to save the country from this predicament [the impending threat of a military coup] with minimal damage. And like many others, I said early elections might be the cure. I suggested early elections should be held under a new election law.”
Gülen also talked about his alleged role in a conspiracy to change the management of the Fenerbahçe sports club, which boasts an estimated 25 million — some say over 30 million — supporters. However, a new voice recording leaked on YouTube early in March revealed that Prime Minister Erdoğan had attempted to get a candidate close to him elected as chairman of the Fenerbahçe sports club, instructing his son Bilal on how to prep his favored candidate with talking points.
“It has been understood that this claim [the Hizmet movement taking over Fenerbahçe] has turned out to be an aspersion,” Gülen said in reference to the voice recording. He added that “the emerging trend of our time is to attribute every inexplicable event to the Hizmet movement and use it as a scapegoat.” Gülen underlined that he rejoices the achievements of Turkish sport teams, be it Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray, Trabzon, Beşiktaş or any other team.
Gülen described remarks by Erdoğan’s top advisor, Yalçın Akdoğan, as a trick. Akdoğan had suggested conspirators, a veiled reference to Hizmet, had used the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer coup plot trials, in which many military officials, including top brass, were convicted, to target the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). They tried to blame Hizmet for what they had done, he said. Recalling that the government rushed a bill from Parliament to save one man, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, from ongoing legal troubles in February 2012, Gülen said Erdoğan’s government could have done the same for the others had it wanted.
1) Recently, you have been targeted with all sorts of preposterous lies and slanders. You have been the subject of serious insults. You have been keeping silence in the face of these accusations, refraining from responding to them.
Of course, I was very sorry and felt blue. What evidence do they have? How can they speak so self-confidently? I really don’t know. I don’t know any historical incident in which any disbeliever had ever utter similar incident phrases or accusations against believers. I wouldn’t expect them from their utterers. I don’t want to say they are lying. But I prefer to say they are misleading people with incorrect statements. For the time being, I find consolation in the fact that throughout history, particularly during the times of disorder or sedition (fitnah), people were defamed and believers were denigrated and people who did not know the truth about the development were implicated in that sin. Who we are? People even flung dirt at Aisha, our virtuous mother, in the Age of Happiness (Asr al-Saadah). Even, disbelievers cast aspersions on God. The Qur’an frequently refers to these aspersions. “God has taken to Him a son,” they say. Or “Angels are the daughters of God,” they say. These inappropriate and improper descriptions about God always bother me. God, prophets and saints were all subject to this improper treatment. Today, some believers are doing it to an ordinary, worthless person who is me. This is not a big thing, I conclude, and I find consolation in this fact…
Everyone acts by their true nature. People who are capable of oppression engage in oppression. But if you don’t have teeth, you cannot bite anyone. That’s better. Let them indulge in oppression. Let them go on with oppression. And let us be guided with self-possession and vigilance and ask God’s mercy and forgiveness for those who have capacity for backpedaling from errors and let us ask God to save them. It has always been and will continue to be the destiny of the travelers on this path to face slanders, aspersion and conspiracies. Yet sagacity and perspicacity undo such adversities. No conspiracy or slander can resist sagacity. Those who let themselves be driven by these conspiracies and illusions should try to revise their path in the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah…
2) Do you think the following lines from a poem you frequently quote sufficiently describe our time: “Friends are unfaithful, fate merciless, time restless / There is much trouble, and no cure; enemy is strong, and fortune is weak”? (Fuzuli)
Almost all of our companions have acted with fidelity. Despite so much defamation, there was virtually no shock or breakup among our companions or friends. Yet, it is our wish that everyone should act by their true worth. Sometimes, this expectation does not hold true.
I don’t know if we have the right to expect certain, experienced longtime friends of ours to speak out the truth. Or at least, I should say: I would expect certain people to be more than friends for good times.
There was a person who would say that he would die for me. After we were released from prison after March 12, we were working on the construction of the Bozyaka Dormitory. “Let us complete the construction,” I said. “Please, do not count me in with this business, for God’s sake,” he replied. It is important that people should not be shaken at hard times. Capacity matters. In the face of our friends’ inability to act properly, we should not resent. In the Hereafter, everything including those shameful acts will be obvious to everyone. We bear with it for the sake of the Hereafter. We subscribe for the eternity. If you seek to attain eternal bliss, you don’t turn to this lowly world.
We forgive whatever wrong done to us. Let everyone hear this. But if any wrong is done to religious or sacred values, the owner of those values will call perpetrators to account for their wrongs. Aggressors will turn upside down at the most expected moment. Actually, we don’t want even that to happen as our hearts should be as lenient and elegant as a rose. Our words should be like roses so that people hearing them should feel like smelling good perfumes.
3) You are one of the main victims of the postmodern coup of February 28, 1997. A lawsuit was brought against you as a result of an unprecedented media lynching and this lawsuit continued for eight years. A group of people who see hostility against you as their raison d’être now claim that you lent support the February 28 coup, and by doing so, they try to pave the way for another victimization. Do you feel like you are re-living the same process?
We have gone through similar processes for many times. I was sentenced to six months and half in prison on charges of ‘penetrating into the ‘state apparatus’ at the time of military memorandum of March 12, 1971. At that time, the infamous Article 163 of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK) was a guillotine for Muslims like the Sword Damocles, until it was eventually abolished by former Prime Minister Turgut Özal. In the wake of the military coup of September 12, 1980, authorities tracked me as if I were a criminal for six months. Raids were launched. Our companions were harassed. In a sense, it became a lifestyle for us to live under constant surveillance in a coup atmosphere. What we face today is ten times worse than military coups…
Despite everything, I don’t complain about it. This time, we face the same treatment in the hands of civilian people who nurture the same faith with us. I should acknowledge that this inflicts extra pains for us. All we can do is to say, “This, too, will pass,” and wait with patience.
4) Mention is made about your criticisms regarding Necmettin Erbakan, who had served as the prime minister during the February 28 coup. It is claimed that you lent support to the coup.
Everyone knew and observed that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) grew uneasy when the Welfare Party (RP) came in first in the elections. Clouds were gathering, and it was clear that the storm was near. I talked to late Yavuz Gökmen, Fehmi Koru and Fatih Çekirge about my forebodings. I received unfair and unfitting reactions. Yet many people had realized the imminent danger. When, riding on the wave of social reactions amassing in the wake of the Susurluk scandal, certain groups implemented the coup, it was too late. My name had been added at the last moment to the report prepared by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) about the Susurluk scandal. Although I later learned who did this, I never sustained suspicions about believers. Then came the February 28 coup. The second article of the infamous statement demanded that our schools should be nationalized under the law on the unification of education. Tension was building and everyone was searching for ways to save the country from this predicament with minimal damage. And like many others, I hinted that snap elections might be the cure. I suggested that snap elections should be held under a new election law. This was an idea voiced not only by me, but also many others including Korkut Özal. Even, some pro-government groups and media outlets had run headlines suggesting snap election as a remedy. A brief search of archives will reveal these groups and media outlets.
There is more. I talked to Then-Employment Minister Necati Çelik about the coup atmosphere in the making at that time. Several witnessed this conversation. Alaattin Kaya and Melih Nural were with us during that meeting. “They are plotting to get rid of the government,” said. I was laboring hard to avert any anti-democratic development. Minister Çelik enthusiastically listened to my worries, and left. He conveyed my concerns to Erbakan. However, Erbakan did not opt for taking measures to prevent adverse developments.
Likewise, I tried to explain the impending threat to Tansu Çiller, briefing her about negative developments. “Let us act with moderation,” Çiller responded. And this saddened me. I didn’t venture into details. Having realized that I failed to raise awareness of anyone about the danger, I was urged to say something to avert an incident that would be similar to what happened Mohamed Mursi of Egypt.
I am in no position to tell anyone, “You have failed.” Everyone knows that I show due respect to people who are entitled to represent the nation. At that time, mentioning about Second Caliph of Islam Abu Bakr and Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz, I asserted that it would not be a regression for the government to resign from office. If mass resignation of deputies from Parliament –which would trigger a process leading to snap elections– would avert more serious disasters, it should be employed –which also applies to coups of May 27, 1960 and September 12, 1980. Indeed, in response to the electronic memorandum of April 27, 2007, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) had decided to hold snap elections and it could avert the disaster in this way. The tactics employed with this memorandum were similar to those wielded by anti-democratic forces during the February 28 process, and the snap elections card really worked. Thus, my message was: “Amend the election law and hold snap elections.”
I should note that a closer look at the Susurluk report and the memorandum of February 28 reveals that the Hizmet movement was of the main targets of the junta. What happened later was the implementation that intention. Any claim to the contrary would be unfair and misguided.
5) In our previous meetings, you had stated, referring to the claim that the Hizmet movement is trying to take Fenerbahçe under its control, that it is absurd to make such a claim. What do you want to say about this claim in the light of emerging information?
Yes. Fenerbahçe is an outstanding sport club. As far as I see, its management, audience and fans tend to act in unison. This solidarity makes many people envy. Who should be disturbed by it? When Galatasaray soccer team became successful in the European championship, I had rejoiced over its achievements. Hopefully, Beşiktaş, Trabzonspor and other soccer teams of the country should be very successful. They should make their mark in the world. From this perspective, with which non-political goal can you explain the efforts to take Fenerbahçe or any other club under control? The emerging trend of our time is to attribute every inexplicable event to the Hizmet movement and use it as a scapegoat. The claim about the Hizmet movement’s taking over Fenerbahçe has turned out to be an aspersion.
6) Deputy Prime Minister and Government Spokesperson Bülent Arınç claimed that some people threatened Prime Minister regarding the government’s plan to shut down prep schools. He said “They said, ‘Abandon this plan or we will overthrow your government.’ And I rose to the challenge. I told them, ‘Do whatever you plan to do and we will not retreat.'” What is your comment about this claim?
Let me put it straight: who makes this claim must prove it and take the matter to the court. A public announcement should also be made, naming the people who uttered that treat. Blackmailing the government is a capital offense. If this claim was made in connection with some groundless suspicions, I am not inclined to make a comment about it.
As you know, the plan to shut down the prep schools is not a novel development. Indeed, at that time, the names of former education ministers were mentioned and it was said that they failed to implement that plan, and the current minister was named as the person who would implement it. It follows that this plan had long been on the agenda and perhaps, promise was made about its implementation. There were press reports that such a promise had been made and the records about it can be found in the state’s cosmic rooms. By now, it has become crystal clear that the plan to close down the prep schools is not justified in terms of improvements to the education system. The obvious intention is to block the Hizmet movement’s educational activities. “Do not send your kids to their schools and prep schools,” it is said in the election rallies of the ruling party. In other words, the government’s intention is to start with the prep schools and proceed with the schools. Then, they will try to ensure that the Hizmet movement’s schools abroad are closed down. In this context, Nazlı Ilıcak’s analysis seems to be a very plausible explanation. She suggests that the government might have received prior intelligence about the graft investigations, and with the assumption that we could prevent them, it wanted to use the prep schools plan as a blackmail or as a psychological operation or as a shelter.
Here, I should note that it would be better if they had made their intention public, saying, for example, “We don’t want the Hizmet movement to engage in the prep schools business.” They shouldn’t have victimized the prep schools which are not affiliated with the Hizmet movement. It is sad to see that many people who had labored hard to run prep schools will be unfairly treated in this process. Too bad! It is reported that 3,000 of 3,800 prep schools are not affiliated with the Hizmet movement. If they had publicly told us, we would say,” OK. If this is a life and death matter for you, we will ask our companions to shut down their prep schools in a schedule.” In this way, the innocent people wouldn’t be victimized in this process.
Off the topic, I would like to note the following: The Education Ministry, and even the government should concentrate on more serious problems. Currently, social crises and cultural erosion entrap individuals and families. I recently read it in an academic article. If I am not wrong, the number of suicide cases rose by 36 percent in 12 years. Likewise, drug abuse is widespread at high schools and alcohol use amounts to 32 percent of students. A psychiatrist maintains that the number of those who received treatment for drug abuse rose by 17-fold in 10 years. These figures are terrific in that they threaten the society’s moral and other values. Given the fact that such huge problems pose great risks for the education system and even the country’s future, how can the plan to shut down prep schools be justified as an effort to save the education system? Will this decay be prevented by closing down the prep schools? As far as I know, the schools and prep schools affiliated with the Hizmet movement try to combat this decay. I am particularly concerned about the potential vacuum that would emerge in the Southeast. I don’t understand why the government authorities should put the country’s unity and integrity at risk by pursuing small interests.
7) For long, the government sources have been attributing all adverse things at home or abroad to the Hizmet movement and all good, democratic or favorable things to themselves. Now, as the defendants at the Ergenekon trial are being released, they resort to same method in effort to bill it to the Hizmet movement. Occasionally, this propaganda works… What is your comment about it?
They tried to delude many social segments with these slanders. For instance, they told some media groups, “We have no problem with you, but the Hizmet movement is messing with you.” Today, we understand from the voice recordings posted on the Internet that the officials who govern the country abandoned their proper duties and worked hard to ensure that these people were sentenced. They directly meddled with the public tenders to push the businessmen who were deservedly awarded the contracts out. What is tragic here is that they commit grave sins by putting the blame of these errors on the innocent people. Gossiping, backbiting, slanders and aspersion abound, and one cannot help feeling sorry about it.
The saddest part is about the military. Those who boasted, behind closed doors, about “making the military submit to civilians” or “putting an end to the military tutelage” told the military authorities, “We would iron out this problem, but the Hizmet movement is preventing us.” Yet, the government had quickly passed a bill specifically for MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan. If the government had really wanted, they could have enacted a bill to save former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ and other senior military officers.
Moreover, I would like to convey a feeling of mine to you. My companions have witnessed a number of times that my eyes were filled with tears, seeing how those retired military officers were detained. “If only those people who wear that honorable uniform should not have been in this position,” I had said. But, I am in no position to meddle with the laws in force or make any suggestion in this context. Coup is a serious accusation and judicial authorities are supposed to investigate coup charges. But perhaps a legal remedy could be found taking into consideration the ages or medical condition of those people who are at advanced ages and who were treated with respect all their lives…
This is how I feel. It has always been so. It really contradicts with the facts to say that it is the Hizmet movement that put them in that position. Recently, a senior retired police intelligence chief gave an interview to a journalist. My companies read it to me from the Internet. “We informed Mr. Prime Minister before every operation we conducted,” he was saying. This statement, mentioned in a column, wasn’t denied by the government. Now, we have the right to ask: if all operations were known to the government beforehand, isn’t it a great sin to talk about a conspiracy and raise suspicions about certain groups? If there was really a conspiracy, why didn’t you take actions to deal with in a timely manner? If you knew, but failed to take actions to prevent it, then wouldn’t this make you an accomplice to the conspiracy?
8) During the Ambassadors’ Conference in Ankara, ambassadors were told to “explain about this organization” at your posts abroad. In a sense, Turkish ambassadors were ordered to denounce the Turkish schools abroad. What is your comment about this order?
When I hear news about Turkish officials’ efforts to undermine the Turkish schools abroad, I become sick at heart and ask God to help me to withstand the sorrow. Unfortunately, this appetite for destruction tends to test all fair limits. These schools were established with great self-sacrificial efforts of Anatolian people. These schools were visited by many people from Turkey, including rightists, leftists, neo-nationalists, religious or atheist people, the officials from the AK Party, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the Grand Unity Party (BBP), the Felicity Party (SP), the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and people from all walks of life. I have never heard anyone say, “These schools are harmful, and they should be closed down.” No rational or political argument or criterion can be employed to advocate the closure of these schools.
Our companions who established those schools faced numerous material or immaterial hardships. They brought Anatolian people’s readiness to embrace everyone indiscriminately to these countries. With them, they brought Anatolian people’s tolerance. They took our universal values with them. To turn a blind eye to the activities of these people who introduce our culture and language to all countries around the world would be utterly ungrateful. You cannot conceal this manifest truth. Whatever they do, this wise society sees and knows everything. Therefore, their failure to prevent these activities or undermine these schools may be leading them into delirium. They are struggling in an uncontrolled manner. This is another thing that should be noted.
If you fail to ensure that voluntary organizations and lobbies lend support to Turkey in the international arena, Turkey cannot emerge as a strong international player in the globalizing world. Turkey cannot survive if it isolates itself from the external world. Given the current conjuncture, this applies not only to Turkey, but also to every state. Turkey needs the support of people who nurture love and sympathy for it everywhere around the world. Societies need to know more about and understand each other for global peace.
I feel extremely sorry to see how these benevolent activities are ignored and how attempt are made to block them in collaboration with foreign authorities. Despite this, we will try to maintain our respect and politeness toward everyone. This is what we always did and will always do as this is what our character tells us to do. In the transient world, we will not speak ill of anyone; we will not break anyone’s hearts; we will continue to promote good and amiable relations with everyone. Our actions will be guided by the following words of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi: “I forgive everyone for the hardships and anguish I suffered from, the torture I was subjected to, and the ordeals I went through for many years! I have known nothing of worldly pleasures in my life of over eighty years. I have spent all my life in battlegrounds, in dungeons or in prison. I was barred from communication for months. I was treated like a criminal at war tribunals. I forgive those who oppressed me, those who sent me into exile for many times, those who sought to put me in prison with manufactured charges, and those who paved the way for my imprisonment.” True, as a believer, I promised to share the same feelings. I will not be cross with anyone. I promised to welcome death smiling and treat divine hardship and bliss as the same.
Yet, our companions should not fall into despair. With God’s grace and beneficence, these services for this nation, for the future of this nation and for humanity will continue. Thanks to God’s grave and generosity, neither slanders nor ill-intentioned campaigns can halt this bandwagon of service. People with pure conscience and mind will soon discover these slanders and lies…
As I noted elsewhere, there may be certain fanatical efforts to block our path, but as long as there are souls who are open to dialogue, tender people who throw everyone smiles, conscientious people who are aware of their sins, souls who regret for their wrong or misguided deeds, and wise people who seek to build their future on reasonableness, we will mend our shattered souls and recover ourselves and continue to love everyone anew. This is what we should do in respect of the recent developments.
On the other hand, I believe it is extremely dangerous to polarize the society along various cleavages or identities in Turkey. This is like playing with fire. How can a father incite provoke certain members of the family against other members with different ideologies? We are a large family with roots dating back to several centuries ago. We must refrain from treating our differing ideologies or diverse identities as a means for quarrel or conflict. Everyone must respect diversity. The freedom of speech and expression cannot be restricted. While the views of the majority certainly deserve respect, the views of minority groups should be treated with the same level of respect as well. If you suppress masses, this will trigger mobility along social cleavages. And this is such a big risk that no political party can take for whatever political gains.
Unfortunately, this was what happened during the Gezi Park protests. People voiced democratic demands and, initially, there were innocent protests. These protests could be tolerated. Officials could visit the protesters and learn about their demands. Instead, the protests were violently suppressed. Does the shopping center to be built there worth a single drop of human blood shed during those incidents? Does it worth a human life? Naturally, pressures led to violence and a local issue turned into a national security issue. And the evil networks which were waiting for an opportunity for chaos stepped into the stage, and we were very concerned at that time. Our companions all around the world prayed for peace. They said prayers asking God’s help for our company. Yet, some evil-minded people even utter the slander that these protests were masterminded by the Hizmet movement. May God endow them with fairness.
9) Certain media outlets claimed that the graft and bribery investigations were masterminded by the Hizmet movement. What is your assessments regarding the current state of this process?
Some people and groups continue persistently to hurl unfounded accusations at the Hizmet movement although we have issued numerous denials, explanations and corrections. As I noted previously, some prosecutors and police officers acting as the judicial police performed their lawful duties, but they apparently didn’t know that it was a crime to hunt down criminals! In other words, these people didn’t guess that they would be victimized for performing their duties. A columnist –I think he was Yavuz Semerci– recently wrote, “One day, these people will be decorated with medals.” Unfortunately, the officials who conducted the December 17 probe and thousands of officials who had nothing to do with the probe were sent to exile and reshuffled. They were victimized and rights of their families were violated. Then, some people accused the Hizmet movement as if nothing had happened. And they told lies one after another. They still do.
First of all, these graft and bribery investigations were not novel. 8-9 months ago, the country’s intelligence organization reported that a person, who might be a spy for Iran, had established close ties with ministers, their sons and even the Cabinet. This report was ignored. Then, this development was reported extensively in the media, particularly in the papers close to the government. No attention was paid, then either. The government did not take measures against corruption. But when the police operations were launched under the graft probe of December 17, they apparently thought they could get away by hurling accusations against certain people or groups.
I had noted this before. I have no connections with those who organized these operations. I have repeatedly stated that I don’t know any of them, but they continue to claim that those prosecutors and police officers are linked with me.
What disappointed me was the position adopted by certain politicians who I thought to be dignified and honest people. It was my expectation that these people –whom I know for long and who I believe would not contradict with their conscience and righteousness– would not keep silent in face of corrupt practices and bribery. So I thought. I would expect them to show the same reaction, say, Özal would exhibit in the face of such illegal affairs. But they didn’t. As they remained silent, others found courage to proceed with their destructive plans. They did what was never done in the history of the Turkish republic. Turkey launched a crackdown on those who investigated the corruption instead of on those who engaged in corrupt practices.
Islam’s sanctions about this matter are clear. There are moral principles that prohibit corruption. There are even punishments regarding certain matters. No act of corruption can be approved. No corruption is left unpunished. From a moral point of view, it should be noted that if sins or errors remain restricted to the individual sphere and they do not affect the society, then Islam preaches that those individuals should be forgiven. Islam does not permit dignity and honor of those sinners to be damaged. These two points should not be confused with each other. In other words, when the rights of other people are breached during the committal of those sins, Islam urges us to be extremely sensitive. For instance, Second Caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab al-Faruq removed Iyaz ibn al-Ghanem. He removed the governor, the regional governor, the African governor and Amr ibn al-As from office.
Likewise, he removed from office another famous governor who was the conqueror who fought the war of Al Qadisiyah against Persians and he relocated him back to Medina. This governor was actually not guilty and only there were rumors about him. Umar concluded that if there were rumors or allegations about him, this means that he lost prestige and he could no longer act as a governor. Umar even removed from Khalid ibn Walid office with the suspicion that he might be involved in corruption. At that time, the battle of Yarmuk was underway. Do not think ill of Khalid ibn Walid. This magnificent commander had only a horse and a sword when he died. He was such a great God-fearing pious commander… In other words, Umar didn’t turn a blind eye to corruption allegations. He closely investigated the matter.
If there are acts of bribery, theft, clientelism, bid rigging, etc., which run contrary to the interests of the nation, and if these acts are covered up, God will call us to account for them. But it appears that some people nurtured certain expectations… If among those who conducted the graft investigations were some people who might be connected to the Hizmet movement, was I supposed to tell these people, “Turn a blind eye to the corruption charges”? It appears to me that some people were expecting me to do this. Did they expect me to do this? How can I say something that would ruin my afterlife? How else can I act?
This is a point I had previously made. If the people who were accused of being members of a “parallel network” within the state had been in breach of laws or regulations, why weren’t they punished until now? I heard tens of thousands of public servants were reshuffled or sent into exile, but I heard no investigation launched into any act of misconduct or breach of laws or regulations at those institutions. Did you hear any?
I have been preaching for about 60 years. I have always told the same thing. Let this should be my last will. Let my companions or people who have sympathy for me –I don’t deserve it, though– distance themselves miles away from such corrupt practices and let them not turn blind eye to such practices. Let them do whatever they are supposed to do under laws. The Qur’an refers to such corrupt practices as “ghulul.” Ghulul means taking something to which one is entitled or benefiting from it in unfair manner or stealing something from the public resources or betraying the trust. Thus, abuse of public goods or funds constitutes such a sin. This may be in the form of several cents or dollars or bags full of money. It may be in the form of acquiring a public position without merits or capacity. Any opportunity a person benefits from although s/he does not deserve it is a ghulul.
The tragic part is that by committing ghulul, one unknowingly damages the very foundations of his/her religious beliefs. When we start to act in a dishonest manner in our personal life, we unknowingly damage the thought, mentality and perspective about religion. I think political posts and positions tend to employ these ‘spoils’ and commission as a means for boosting their fellowship. In the final analysis, when a contractor or businessman has to pay bribes to public officials in order to be awarded with a public contract, s/he tries to compensate for his losses through several methods. The rights of the public are safeguarded by God. Neither Islamic law nor modern legal systems tolerate breaches of these rights. If something is stolen from the public resources, you cannot justify it by referring to the principles set forth in Mecelle –a codification of Islamic law by Ahmet Cevdet Paşa– or by indulging into demagoguery. You may set off by giving messages about Islamic principles about honesty and righteousness, but you may find yourselves deep down in dark alleys. In such a case, those who invest their hopes in you will suffer from a great disappointment.
I would like to make a brief note here: we should treat people with compassion. Our Prophet said, “Help your sisters and brothers even if they are oppressors or oppressed.” “O Messenger of God, how can we help an oppressor?” the Prophet’s Companions asked. “By making him/her stop his/her oppression,” replied the Prophet. The Prophet advises us to resist oppression, offense and murder. By explaining the evil character of these acts, people should be discouraged from committing them. When we opt for doing this, this will bring about mutual affection and union, not division or conflict.
10) Certain media outlets made much fuss about it, distorting the facts. People were deceived with the lie, “He uttered a curse on us.” Was it really a curse?
They persistently maintained the misunderstanding. Let me explain it with an example. If a person repeatedly attacks you with lies and notoriety, you lose your patience at some point, and say, “If I am what you describe me to be, then may God inflict curse upon me, and if I am not, then may God inflict curse upon you for these lies and slanders.” This was the supplication I voiced at that time. I didn’t name any person, party or group specifically. I just described certain attributes and acts. “Whoever does this or that,” I said. If they don’t bear those attributes or if they haven’t committed those acts, why do they take the curse on themselves? I would expect those who voice those slanders based on some conspiracies or illusions in newspapers to say “amen” to my supplication. But they couldn’t say it. On the contrary, they opted for abusing it. I am still in the same position. If we are a gang or organization or “parallel” state, then may God inflict curse upon us; if not, may He curse those who attribute these slanders to this innocent movement! Those who cannot say “amen” to this supplication with an ease of conscience should be concerned over their fate.
11) What do you think about the Settlement Process and its current state?
This is a point I had previously made on a number of case. A believer always favors peace. S/he adopts the attitude required for peace. There are problems that have accumulated over time. In the past, violence was wielded to solve these problems. But this didn’t settle it, but exacerbated it further. Now, there is a process of peace and reconciliation. This shouldn’t be disrupted. This is a good opportunity for both sides to forget about hostilities and revise their mistakes.
A state must be fair with its citizens. Fundamental rights and freedoms shouldn’t be seen or used as a card in the bargaining.
Even before the Settlement Process started, I had expressed my perspective about education in mother tongue. But, no step was taken to this end. This matter is still in abeyance. At once, we must raise teachers who are capable of teaching in Kurdish. This is not something that can be done upon demands from the public. The state must take the first step. In taking this step, we must refrain from words, attitudes and behaviors that may give the impression that we are doing this as a favor. The region was home to numerous major civilizations and smart people. In addition to endowing its Kurdish citizens with their due rights and freedoms, Turkey must extend a helping hand to the Kurds of other geographies. We must reestablish and reinforce our cultural and historical ties with them.
We have three basic problems: these are, to borrow from Bediüzzaman, ignorance, poverty and disunity. These problems have bred despair, deception, circumvention, mutual distrust, etc. We need to discuss these problems on a common platform. This is not something that can be done with disdain and arrogance. If a conciliation is to be achieved, this would be all-inclusive, embracing the entirety of the region and diverse groups. No one should be excluded from it. Common denominators should be found to embrace political or non-political groups. We should let local people solve their problems with their own capabilities. If quick steps are not taken in this regard, I fear the Settlement Process may come to a halt. OK. Let us focus on stopping the bloodshed. Even this indicates a certain level of pragmatism. But we should have targets beyond that point. We must create an atmosphere where everyone, including Turks, Kurds, Sunnis, Alevis, Arabs, Syriacs, etc., can co-exist as the members of the same family with happiness and prosperity.
12) Speculations abound regarding your stay in the US and about whether you will return to Turkey. What are your comments about this matter?
I wanted to think well of those who asked me to return to the homeland. Previously, similar calls had been made. Regarding these calls, I could sense the real intention. But I continue to stick to courtesy and positive attitude toward believers. Let me put it straight: I am just a believer among the many. I have always kept my feet on the ground. This is the way I have lived my life. In my opinion, the highest station one can attain is to be a true servant of God. It is my wish to die in this station. I have no connection or ties with any external power, force or group. Such a thing is out of question. Those who are caught in the web of external powers, forces or groups are those who are running after prosperity, power and other worldly stations or posts. Unfortunately, those who aspire to seize the power despotically upon growing stronger and to never abandon it start to see as a danger those who don’t nurture aspirations for power and who even specifically refrain from such pursuits with focus on how to attain God’s contentment and His bliss in the Hereafter. They try to portray these people as a threat to the state, but they essentially perceive them as a threat to their plans.
Even in the most underdeveloped societies, people are tried for their words and acts and verdicts are passed about them based on what they say or do. People and authorities know and observe my acts and words for the last 50 years. Is it possible for a person who has a secret agenda to conceal this agenda for 50 years?
I will decide about whether to return to Turkey not based on the convictions of certain people, but after consulting to my companions whose intentions I find considerably sincere. As I said before, if I return, I will return not like someone else, but as I am, i.e., as the Ramiz Efendi’s son, who was working as the imam of Üç Şerefeli Cami.
13) The Hizmet movement is accused of being a gang or organization. Even it is rumored that a crackdown on it will be launched…
Unfortunately, many things are being uttered out of rage. I think every possible insult has already been uttered. They have consumed many things. Meanwhile, totally unfair accusations have been voiced. In the wake of the campaign for tossing around such labels as “organization,” and “gang,” efforts are also being made to influence the judiciary. Now it is clear that as it is uttered in election rallies, a lawsuit will be launched. If there is no crime despite hectic search for it, it hurts the sense of justice to push laws beyond limits to invent one, doesn’t it? The concept and ambiguous accusation “parallel structure” applies virtually to every social segment. That is, there is no end to inventing offenses based on beliefs, ideologies, communal identities or parties of the people who work at public institutions. Today, you may declare a specific community as a “parallel” structure or as a “gang.” In future, others may claim the same for other communities. Thus, any person who works for the state and who has sympathy for any social, political or religious community may be accused of membership to a “parallel state.” Even, no one can guarantee that those who parrot these “parallel state” accusations will not face the same accusations in future. The practice of creating suspicions about certain people or groups with such unfounded imputations destroys the very sense of fairness, justice and order.
If a public servant does not comply with the orders of his/her superiors, there are laws that set forth the sentences for this offense. His/her noncompliance is punished under laws. Yet if the matter is taken outside the legal courses and thousands of people are labeled and reshuffled unlawfully, this oppression cannot be explained or justified neither in this world nor in the next.
To force the judicial authorities to invent crimes and launch lawsuits against these people would be amplified oppression and the general public will find it unacceptable. Moreover, sham trials will not be successful. Moreover, if you call these people who make total compliance with laws their lifestyle as a network, then people will ask: You have been working with these people for 12 years and they were good people during that time, but suddenly, after the launching of the graft and bribery probe, you realize that they are evil, is that it? We must never forget the verse ritually recited during sermons at Friday prayers: “God commands you to act with fairness.” That is, He orders us not to breach the rights of other people.
14) On the surface, it appears that there is a row between the government and the Hizmet movement. Articles were written to make analysis on this row. Some say, “We can change the party we don’t like through elections, but how can we change the community we don’t like?” What do you think about this?
First of all, I must note that this is not a row between the AK Party and the Hizmet movement. There is a serious regression regarding fundamental rights and freedoms for the last few years. The offending and subversive language of politicians is otherizing every social segment and polarizing the society. During the Gezi Park protests, I raised my objection to the description of protesters as “çapulcu” (bandit). This applies to Alevis as well. Turkey fails to introduce democratic solutions to their most fundamental rights. Perhaps, there is a deliberate procrastination in this regard. We lent support to the project of building a joint mosque and cemevi complex, but we received unexpectedly harsh reactions.
Second, we are not and won’t be a political party. Therefore, we are not a rival of any political party. We stand at an equal distance to everyone. Nevertheless, we make public out hopes and concerns about the future of our country. I think this is one of our most natural and democratic rights. I don’t understand why some people don’t like us to enjoy this democratic right of ours. Telling the people at the helm of the country, “I have such and such ideas,” shouldn’t be a crime. In advanced democracies, individuals and civil society organizations (CSOs) freely disseminate their views and criticisms about the country’s political issues, and no one expresses any concern about this.
I must add that every institution established and run by our companions are open to public scrutiny and operate with full compliance with laws. In other words, there is a completely transparent structure in place. The recent developments have shown clearly who are actually not transparent. The participation to Hizmet movement is voluntary. It is regrettable to see that the volunteers of the Hizmet movement are depicted as members of a clandestine organization despite the fact that these people exhibit full compliance with laws. There are public servants from diverse ideological groups in every public institution. A public servant may be rightist, leftist, Alevi, Sunni, non-Muslim, Kurd or Turk, etc., but s/he is supposed to perform his/her duties properly. What matters is their compliance with laws and regulations in performing their duties. If public servants are profiled or accused with unfounded charges, this is a breach of their fundamental rights and freedoms. If you talk about an imagined “parallel structure” out of the blue, then your illusions will create thousands of such structures for you. And you end up with oppression against those people.
15) Why are you now opposed to a political party you have been supporting over the last 12 years? Were your interests aligned and reconciled before?
We have never established cooperation based on recognition of interests with anybody. We have abstained from doing this because this is the lesson we draw from Qur’an and Sunnah. I have always seen pursuit of strong and influential positions as betrayal to our values. I would never say anything about choices others people make. But I have always viewed pursuit of worldly and material gains as detrimental to my afterlife. This is also the case with my companions. We have never asked for a position as general manager, governor, district governor or minister. If somebody had done so in the past –which I do not recall– they are no longer linked to us. I have forwarded this sentiment of mine to state officials.
We have tried to extend support in such issues as the improvement of democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms. We would support any party to make sure that anti-democratic practices come to an end and that the culture of pluralist democracy would become permanent. Unconditional partisanship is one thing, and lending support to democratic practices is another.
We now stand where we were before. We should look at who is moving away from this standpoint. A political party which has up until recently taken steps to expand the sphere of fundamental rights and freedoms is now considering censoring the Internet and introducing bills that would make this country an intelligence state. Is it possible to think of us as supporting the attempts to do harm to social cohesion through strong and insulting discourse and to shelve the democratic customs? If the whole issue is restricted to the Hizmet movement, you may try tolerating the repressive measures. However, the ongoing developments should be analyzed from a broader perspective. Unfortunately, Turkey is being alienated to the world. A Turkey which becomes lonely on the global stage and loses its democratic richness will be hurtful not only to the people in this country but also to everybody who takes Turkey as a model for themselves.
16) Recently, some circles, referring to a term, “supreme mastermind,” to undermine the image of the Hizmet movement, imply that the movement is supported by external actors.
It is a grave responsibility and sinful act to make this accusation. I suppose that people have never been insulted or encountered such extensive lies and slanderous remarks before. If there is something they are aware of, they should inform the public about it; otherwise, they are denigrating Muslim people. The smear campaign is so unbearable that we are witnessing new lies and even slanders every day. Desire for prosperity makes hearts insensitive; in that case, you cannot properly feel. You ignore spirituality; you even humiliate it. When the heart becomes insensitive and attaches great importance to the world through desire for prosperity, you’ll suppose that it is all about this world. And then, you just do not worry about committing sins. Qur’an recommends sensitivity and emotionality in the heart. When the hardness of the heart takes the soul hostage, one would resort to every method to attain his goals regardless of they are legitimate or illegitimate. Sadly, one of the reasons for current stalemate is hardness in the hearts. But if they are looking for a mastermind of the Hizmet movement, I would say it is the solidarity and protection that God bestows to consultation and brotherhood.
The Hizmet movement does not depend on any fading and mortal power or actor; it has made advances because God has been graceful; as long as He protects, nobody will ever hurt it. Muslims are supposed to act with caution. They do not make offensive remarks on their sisters and brothers based on false reports. Unfortunately, there is no room for the afterlife in the agendas of those who express their desires for worldly possessions all the time. This may drive the people towards social deviation and religious distortion. Many unusual statements that contradict with the religious beliefs were made. The media outlets made extensive coverage of them. These are contradictory to religious norms; but even those who are supposed to remain silence are talking. We can save our souls from the disorder and corruption surrounding us by renewing our thoughts and emotions on a daily basis. Hearts are hardened if the theoretical Islam turns into a lifestyle and in that case, one forgets about his own responsibility and slanders the Muslims all the time. Things will be settled down eventually. People in this country will look each other’s face again. People who perform their prayers in the same direction should avoid making strong remarks that they would feel ashamed of in the future.
17) Election time is approaching. There are debates on which party the movement will support in the upcoming mayoral elections.
I cannot ascribe talking about this all the time and thinking that the election box is the real meaning of the life to Muslims. Of course, election box holds crucial importance for the future of this country; but it is not everything. It is impossible not to become upset realizing that focusing on the election box only makes some people comfortable in telling lies. As for the debate on who we should vote for…I have always asked my friends to cast their votes based on their personal conviction. I believe that asking them to vote for a certain party is a type of pressure; in addition, I also consider engagement with a certain party isolation from the other segments in the society. Our clear and plain stance in the referendum was not for a certain party; it was for introduction of democratic steps. It appears that this stance is not being appreciated.
There is now a party chair who constantly makes insults. And unfortunately, the wise men of that party prefer deep silence. With the exception of strong partisans, I have frequently noticed that the AK Party support base is upset with this. If a person internalizes and acknowledges such grave accusations and insults, then he or she votes for that party; but I believe that these remarks which would be hurtful to anybody have also been hurtful to our friends. Everybody will consider their own situation and analyze the mayoral candidates. In the end, this is not a general election. The candidates are more important than the parties; there are many valuable candidates in all parties. You will not have committed a sin when you would not vote for a certain party.
18) A large number of suspects were released in popular legal cases and investigations including Ergenekon. How do you comment on this?
We will side with what the laws dictate and specify. The remark that plot was staged against the army was a trick. They attempted to blame the movement for what they actually did. They convened the parliament to make law for a single person. They could have acted so sensitively with respect to these people as well. Release is one thing; the legal process is another. They are still being tried. The legal decision should be respected. We have always been in favor of the laws and universal values. We will remain the same. Law should be respected even in critical times when you are subjected to grave assaults.
19) You suspended delivering sermons over the internet. Those who are affiliated with the movement wonder about your sentiments under such huge pressure and insults. Is there anything you want to tell them?
We have to remain patient vis-à-vis what happens to us. We should never abandon our lenient and decent style. People have suffered from different problems in different periods. Some memorial figures including Imam Rabbani, Hassan Shazali and Mawlana Baghdadi have suffered. Brutality and persecution Bediüzzaman was subjected to should be remembered. He was subjected to all sorts of brutalities. We are not comparable to these remarkable people. But if this is their case and this is their method, then we need to be willing to take all sorts of sufferings. We should not resent. We need to pray to God all the time and tell Him, “We are content with God as our Lord, and with Islam as our religion, and with Muhammad as our Prophet.” We should never feel offended by the way He treats us. We should always be content with Him. Troubles are temporary. If our communication and relationship with God is perfect, we would secure our afterlife even when we experience huge troubles. If they do not seek worldly advantages and assets, those who dedicate themselves to this cause will have eternal gains in the afterlife. Everybody should stay where they are. Depending on the circumstances and the conjecture, different options should be tried to reach the destination even if they block the main road and options. That destination is universal humanitarian values. These people I referred to above have never been pessimistic; so we should be like them. We should keep our hopes high. Hopelessness is such a quagmire that if you fall into that, you will be drowned; but if you grab on to your resolution, you’ll be saved. This is what our famous poet, Mehmet Akif, says about hopelessness. We believe that this bleak weather and climate will eventually disappear. We have always held this hope.
You also referred to what I have been subjected to so far. I did not complete my military service when the May 27 coup was staged. I was persecuted then. I was persecuted in the March 12 coup. I had to run away like a bandit for six years during the September 12 coup. Former president Turgut Özal exerted his authority at a time when he was feeling strong; so they left me alone. But this was not the end. I traveled to Mecca to perform Hajj. Things were unpleasant for me once again. I gave statement in the state security court. The legal case Prosecutor Nuh Mete Yüksel filed in the aftermath of the February 28 lasted for years. Despite the denigration I was subjected to in this case, the chief prosecutor here in New Jersey paid respect to me. He welcomed me outside. He took me to the chair all by himself so that I would have a seat. He then washed his own glass, filled it with water and offered it me, telling me that my mouth may go dry given that I was giving a testimony. I had this experience here. He did not know me at all. Then we discussed as to whether we should send him a gift over this gentle treatment. When I presented him a gift, he said he would not take a gift from a person whose legal case he handled before. I said to myself that these people still survive despite all negative developments thanks to this legal philosophy. Because of this legal understanding, they still play an influential role in world politics.
I should also tell you that I was imprisoned during my military service because I was delivering sermons. A commander who was protecting me allowed me to deliver sermons which he was also attending. He told me on his leave that I would face repression after him. He was right. They sent me to prison. I have also been subjected to different types of persecution and repression in different times. However, things I experience now are not comparable to what I experienced in the past. The lies, insults and denigrating remarks…But everybody reflects their own character in their attitudes and remarks. In the end, we cannot say anything to anybody.
20) Some recorded tapes were leaked. Particularly some circles accuse the Hizmet movement of leaking these tapes.
Similar accusations had been made in the past. However, those who direct these accusations have not so far presented evidence. Given that no strong or convincing evidence is being presented on such a critical and delicate issue, it is fair to believe that the accusers have something different in their minds.
Everybody talks on this matter. It is a complicated matter. There are legally authorized recordings based on a court warrant. But there are also illegal tapes. No matter what, those who relied on illegal methods to record tapes should be identified and brought to justice. This should be done regardless of the perpetrator’s identity and affiliation. I and my friends are victims of illegal wiretapping. Black propaganda methods have been used to undermine our image; we are openly targeted and accused in the media. We can deal with this by relying on legal options only. If somebody relied on irregular and illegal methods in wiretapping, he or she should be brought to justice. But I should also note that those who accuse a large movement of the illegal wiretappings despite that they have evidence for their accusation should also answer before the law. The judiciary should question them as to how they make these accusations. It is impossible to deal with illegality by reliance on illegal means. I believe that complaining about the tapes but also using some of them as part of the election propaganda is not reconcilable with ethical and legal principles.
21) Turkey is going through hard times. Sometimes, people become pessimistic because of the ongoing turmoil. How would Turkey deal with this atmosphere?
Above all, I should stress that in such times, it is strongly necessary to pray to God and seek refuge in His mercy. We should be worried about the fate of those who are not worried about their fate. Those who feel content all the time and hold doubts about the faith of the others will face a great danger from a religious perspective. Righteous Caliph Omar was concerned about his fate. So we should be worried about our fate. We need to seek refuge in His mercy and protection. We need to praise, “Hold my hand; otherwise, I will be doomed.” Like individuals, faith and submission are sanctuaries for the communities as well. Those who do not seek refuge in this sanctuary may be crushed under their ego. May God protect us from this.
This is one side of the coin. The other side is as follows: in order to overcome the current turmoil, this country needs a new climate. A new constitution is a must to guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms. I believe that there should be growing popular demand and pressure against the relevant figures and institutions so that they would make a democratic constitution based on the recognition of universal legal principles. Many intellectuals make similar analyses. A Turkey which moves away from its own values and people will also move away from the world.
Today, individuals and societies have greater importance than their states. It is impossible to implement a coerced project that is imposed upon the people. At the beginning of this century, Bediüzzaman said predominance over the civilized is possible through persuasion, not coercion. Therefore, repression over people will not remain the same all the time. They cannot be permanent. We have to approach the events and developments via patience, prudence and caution. If you approach the developments via the patience and submission they deserve and deal with them as such, reason will dominate eventually. And when this happens, those who committed sinful acts before would feel embarrassed; and you open up your hearts noting that this is not a day of condemnation and making sure that they do not feel this way. This has been the case throughout the history. If you are traveling towards the opposite direction when people are moving away from you; the distance between you becomes longer. And on the day you need union and cooperation; you realize that you have made a mistake. You realize this but it is too late. We need to think about nothing but committing ourselves to our services and duties. This is my humble opinion on this matter.