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Terror accusations against the Hizmet Movement and the truth

In the early 2000s, the AKP emerged with a democratic, peaceful, and inclusive discourse. However, after 2009-2010, it started to deviate from the principles of law and democracy, resorting to illegitimate means such as corruption and bribery to strengthen its power and violating basic rights and freedoms.

By effectively using religious arguments and portraying itself as the protector of religion and Muslims, it gained the support of many religious communities and orders. It even demanded unconditional allegiance from them. However, the Hizmet Movement did not side with Erdoğan because it believed that the policies pursued by Erdoğan and the AKP government would have destructive consequences for the country and the future of religion. It did not turn a blind eye to his illegalities and corruption. It criticized within legitimate frameworks and tried to obstruct them within the boundaries of the law. Erdoğan saw the Hizmet Movement as a major obstacle to the autocratic regime he wanted to establish, so he sought to eliminate or at least crush and intimidate it.

Knowing that it couldn’t legally and normally eradicate a movement that had rendered great services to the country and gained significant reputation among the people, and one that carried out all its activities within legal and ethical boundaries, Erdoğan launched a massive defamation campaign, enlisting all the power and violence apparatuses of the state. He first brought up the allegation of a “parallel state structure,” using the corruption investigations that took place on December 17-25, 2013, as an excuse, claiming that the Hizmet Movement was attempting to overthrow the government.

Citing the murky July 15 coup attempt, the fog around which still remains, he labeled the Hizmet Movement as a “terrorist organization” and declared citizens with any kind of “affiliation” or “contact” with the movement as “terrorists.” He mobilized all the resources of the state to make the public accept his fabricated lies and slander about Hizmet volunteers. By effectively using the media outlets under his control, he conducted a terrifying perception management and black propaganda campaign against the Hizmet Movement. Without presenting any concrete evidence to convince anyone, he fabricated unimaginable accusations and slanders against them.

“He didn’t stop at that. His main aim was to bring Hizmet volunteers to court and impose different criminal sanctions on them. However, this wasn’t easy because Hizmet volunteers consisted of honest, moral, and clean individuals. They had not been involved in any criminal activities. The only way to label them all as “guilty” was to define the Hizmet Movement, to which they belonged, as an illegal organization.

Therefore, besides declaring the Hizmet Movement as a terrorist organization, he also used the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) to legitimize the criminal sanctions imposed on Hizmet volunteers in the eyes of the Muslim population. Diyanet, with its entire staff, attempted to fulfill Erdogan’s ambitions. By exploiting religion and using religious arguments, it tried to portray the Hizmet Movement and Hizmet volunteers as a “deviant” group in religious terms. It even went as far as to engage in excommunication. As a result of all these actions, a “witch hunt” was initiated against Hizmet members, subjecting the Hizmet Movement to a social and economic genocide. Imprisonments, exile, asset seizures, and torture caused Hizmet members to experience severe tragedies.

So, how much do all these claims put forward by Erdogan, using institutions like the Presidency of Religious Affairs, which holds the official representative status of religion in the country, correspond to reality? Is there any possibility that the Hizmet Movement is a terrorist organization? Is the Hizmet Movement, as claimed by the President of the Presidency of Religious Affairs, Ali Erbaş, a more dangerous structure than terrorist organizations such as ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab?”

The answer is a resounding “NO!”, as everyone who knows the Hizmet Movement and its volunteers, including the claimants, is well aware. There is no example whatsoever of any individual, let alone the entire movement, resorting to violence or using force, disrupting public order, or threatening basic rights and freedoms. They are well aware of this themselves, which is why they initially attempted to change the definition of terrorism. When they couldn’t do that, they declared the Hizmet Movement a terrorist organization using a coup attempt planned and controlled by themselves as a pretext.

The reality is very different from the narrative being presented. In the written and spoken works of Fethullah Gulen, who is a source of inspiration for the Hizmet Movement, there is not the slightest expression supporting terrorism. Moreover, throughout the experience of the Hizmet Movement, which has been going on for over half a century, there is no activity that can be classified as terrorism.

For the past seven to eight years, the AKP government has disregarded the law, justice, basic human rights, and moral values, subjecting Hizmet volunteers to unprecedented pressure, restrictions, persecution, and torture. Despite enduring severe human rights violations during this process, Hizmet volunteers have not resorted to any acts of violence. They have not threatened anyone’s life or property. They have not engaged in acts of destruction. They have not used weapons. They have not even changed their discourse. They have not radicalized. Their stance during this period is the greatest evidence of their opposition to terrorism and violence.

The truth is that the Hizmet Movement is one of the most peaceful, reconciliatory, and humane movements among the religious movements that have emerged in the Islamic world. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, who laid the foundations and principles of the Hizmet Movement, expressed that the material sword has been sheathed and that victory over hearts can only be achieved through persuasion. He adopted a positive approach as his principle.

Fethullah Gülen, who holds a special value for his style and ideas, has always been on the side of democracy. He has repeatedly condemned acts of terrorism and violence, using the strongest language to denounce suicide bombers. In an environment where many other Islamic scholars expressed different views and some hesitated to openly state their opinions similar to his, he initiated activities promoting tolerance and dialogue with people of different religions. He has been at the forefront of establishing “islands of peace” worldwide and emphasized that humanity cannot tolerate a third world war, calling for the construction of “breakwaters” consisting of love and peace to counter waves of violence.

In his countless hours of sermons and speeches, as well as in his more than eighty works, Gülen has never endorsed terrorism or violence in any way. On the contrary, his works are filled with ideas that exalt peace, love, compassion, forgiveness, unity, harmony, tolerance, and dialogue from beginning to end. Gülen consistently opposed radical interpretations of Islam and emphasized the harms of harshness and rudeness to Muslims, becoming a pioneer of a moderate and peaceful interpretation of the religion. The statement, “It is a very important mission for believers who have strong faith in Allah to demonstrate and explain to everyone that Islam is not a religion that nourishes violence and radicalism but is, in fact, the greatest antidote to these two calamities afflicting humanity,” belongs to him (source: https://www.herkul.org/kirik-testi/siddete-karsi-mucadele/).

It is possible to provide dozens of quotes from Gülen’s works that support the observations mentioned above. As an example, let us mention a few of his statements emphasizing peace, tolerance, and reconciliation:

“In order to embrace all of humanity without discrimination of race, color, faith, or sect, and to ensure that different nations and communities intertwine with each other, we need to strive for the dominance of fundamental human values not only in the Islamic world but throughout the entire realm of humanity. In an era where deadly weapons are present everywhere, such a broad perspective is desperately needed.” (Fethullah Gülen, The Destiny of the Path, p. 148-149)

“Believing hearts of our time, regardless of their scale, should explore peaceful ways, establish dialogue platforms, create platforms for agreement, and if necessary, establish arbitration committees, considering the possibilities and needs of the current circumstances, in order to solve social problems.” (Fethullah Gülen, The Journey of an Ideal, p. 158-159)

“If only we could build mosques, churches, and synagogues with shared gardens. If people coming out of their places of worship could come together in the same garden, drink tea together, eat together, and thus have the opportunity to get to know each other better. If they could shed their prejudices and see that they do not devour each other. If they could create an atmosphere where everyone can freely express their thoughts, smile at each other, and embrace each other. There is a strong need to demonstrate such humane behaviors towards each other.” (source: https://www.herkul.org/kirik-testi/uzlasi-kulturu/)

It is a great contradiction for those who have criticized the Hizmet Movement in the past for its “moderate Islam” view and its initiatives promoting tolerance and dialogue to now portray it as a haven for violence and terrorism. This indicates their insincerity and pursuit of ulterior motives.

Fethullah Gülen expressed his clear stance against terrorism after the issue of Islam and terrorism entered the agenda of the global media and radical organizations like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram began carrying out terrorist acts. He consistently and unequivocally condemned terrorism without any qualifiers or exceptions. Perhaps he is one of the few Islamic scholars who took such a firm position against suicide bombers from the very beginning, stating that they cannot be associated with Islam in any way, and declaring, even at the risk of becoming a target of these organizations, “A terrorist cannot be a Muslim, and a Muslim cannot be a terrorist.” (Fethullah Gülen, The Ideal of Sustaining, p. 212).

He did not resort to any excuses or justifications like some scholars did, nor did he mention martyrdom for suicide bombers or allow retaliatory acts against indiscriminate killings committed by others. He did not consider Muslim weakness and helplessness as an excuse, nor did he express any positive opinion on the matter. On the contrary, he emphasized that the means used must be legitimate, highlighted how Islam considers killing as a grave crime, emphasized that individuals do not have the authority to initiate wars, stated that even in war, the killing of innocent people is not permissible, and stressed the need to protect the image of Islam, consistently opposing terrorism and suicide attacks on every occasion.

Fethullah Gülen has not only opposed terrorist acts but has also stood against any form of conflict and discord that would sow seeds of hatred and animosity among people. He has repeatedly emphasized and explained that Muslims cannot achieve anything through street movements. Through his verbal and written statements, he has consistently worked to reduce tension and eliminate polarization in the country. And he has been quite successful in this regard. Through the dialogue and tolerance activities he pioneered, he has brought together diverse groups that were distant from each other around the same table. Like Bediüzzaman, he has defined ignorance, poverty, and conflicts as the three greatest enemies of humanity and has taken important steps to eradicate them. He has called upon those who love him and value his ideas to combat these three enemies that pose a threat to humanity and has mobilized them in this direction.

The projects and activities carried out by the Hizmet Movement, shaped by Fethullah Gülen’s ideas, are the most concrete and powerful response to the terrorism accusations against him. Hizmet volunteers have contributed to education by establishing hundreds of educational institutions both in their own countries and in various parts of the world, producing successful and well-equipped individuals. Through their dialogue centers and cultural venues, as well as their tolerance activities, they have interacted with people from different nations, religions, and cultures, built bridges of friendship, and carried out joint projects for the common benefit of humanity. They have also been the ones who have implemented the most concrete and beneficial projects for solving the terrorism problem in Turkey. In the Southeastern region of Turkey, they have reached out to young people, guiding them and preventing them from joining militant groups, through the schools, study centers, and reading rooms they have established.

Fethullah Gülen has consistently condemned terrorism, highlighting with religious and intellectual arguments how it is a deadly poison for both Islam and humanity. He has emphasized crucial principles for its prevention. The Hizmet volunteers have contributed to the establishment of a more peaceful and livable world through their educational and tolerance activities, while also declaring war on ignorance, conflict, extremism, radicalism, and discrimination, which can potentially lead to terrorism. Therefore, it is intellectually, morally, legally, and religiously unacceptable for the state of Turkey, led by the AKP, to label them as “terrorists.”

It is impossible for the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı), which is expected to ensure the unity and solidarity of Muslims, to declare a religious movement that has provided undeniable services to Islam and humanity as a terrorist organization and to engage in condemnation and excommunication. There is only one explanation for this: the excessive politicization of Diyanet in the past decade and its adoption of a organizational structure similar to that of the AKP. The distortion in the relationship between politics and religion in recent years has even made Mehmet Görmez, who served as the head of Diyanet between 2010 and 2017, uncomfortable, prompting him to make the following statement: “The politicization of religion, the transformation of religion into a purely political system, is as great a fallacy as the politicization of politics, presenting politics as religion, which is a great danger.” However, during his tenure, he himself acted as an apparatus of the political will and used very harsh expressions about the Hizmet Movement while fulfilling the demands of politics.

Labeling the Hizmet Movement as a “terrorist organization” or using terms like “rebellious” and “disobedient” about it does not reflect the truth in any way. The warnings, admonitions, criticisms, opposition, and passive resistance carried out by the Hizmet Movement against the AKP government have no connection whatsoever to “terrorism,” “rebellion,” or “betrayal.” The Hizmet Movement has supported the government’s beneficial and legitimate actions while attempting to prevent activities it deemed detrimental and harmful to the country within the limits of its capabilities and the rights granted to citizens by the law. If the attitude and behavior of the Hizmet Movement are to be named with a concept from Islamic literature, then it should be called “enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong” (emr-i bi’l-ma’ruf nehy-i ani’l-münker).

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YUKSEL CAYIROGLU
YUKSEL CAYIROGLU
Professor Yuksel Cayiroglu is a scholar focusing on Islamic Law and Religous Studies.
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