The “Global Imam” through
By Aslı Aydıntaşbaş
Translated By Garabet Moumdjian
16 November 2010
Turkey - Milliyet - Original Article (Turkish)
The Gulen phenomenon is, little by little, starting to awaken the American media. This week, one of America’s most prestigious weekly publications, The New Republic, published a 6,000-word article about Fethullah Gulen.
It can be said that the article, which was penned by Suzy Hansen, is the most comprehensive yet about Gulen’s congregation in the American media. In her article titled “The Global Imam,” Hansen tries to give us an understanding of the congregation, which stretches all the way from Texas to Adana.
From Artvin to Izmir, there is nobody who hasn’t heard about Fethullah Gulen. Those who love him and hate him agree that the man has created a serious social phenomenon and political power, upon which he can deliver — so much so that within political circles in Ankara, Gulen’s organization is known simply as “The Congregation.” Who did it? The Congregation did. Which congregation? The Congregation.
Of course the medal has two sides. Aside from the schools, publications, social and non-governmental organizations that the Gulen community operates through their fans, the organization has a system and hierarchy about which only a few people know.
Fethullah Gulen has lived in the U.S. since 1999. He remains in touch with Turkish public opinion through journalists or supporters, who visit him from time to time.
However, aside from a handful of Turkish experts who live and operate in Washington, ordinary Americans are not aware of the man who lives in Philadelphia.
This is strange, since nowadays Americans are reading and speaking about Islam and Muslims in America to the extent that it has become a daily staple for them. Open any American newspaper and you will see at least three to four news items and several essays about Islam and the geography of Islamic nations. However, the Gulen movement is, quietly but increasingly, establishing its foundation in the U.S. through schools, non-governmental organizations and even a think tank and lobbying organization in Washington.
Thus far, only two serious articles were published in the mainstream American media about the Gulen movement. These were the interviews that Gulen gave to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times during the “Blue Marmara” event, which was associated with the Gaza Flotilla (in both cases he made serious remarks and evaluations regarding the Turkish government’s phobia of Israel).
It is apparent that the Gulen phenomenon, albeit slowly, is starting to arouse interest in the American media. For weeks now I have been hearing from several journalists that they want to do some sort of report on Gulen, but don’t know how to approach the issue. Foreigners are trying hard to understand the structure and the modus operandi of the Gulen organization. According to what I have heard, some of the prestigious media outlets have made Gulen their focal point. However, having difficulty deciphering the organization’s half public (open) and half closed nature, as well as its half centralized and half decentralized structure, it took one of America’s most prestigious publications, The New Republic, some time to print its 6,000-word article, which I referred to above. I read it with a keen interest. It can be said that Suzy Hansen’s article is the most comprehensive one dealing with the Gulen congregation. Hansen, a young journalist living in Istanbul, traveled from Texas to Adana in order to explain the different dimensions associated with the congregation. It is a serious piece of street research, or, more aptly put, “street journalism.”
Far from ideology and all other issues with which Turkish media is maligned, the American writer provides the reader with details about Gulen’s “Golden Generation” living in their Pennsylvania camp (the Islamic movement lives in a tiny Pennsylvania town called Saylorsburg, at the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center, otherwise known as “the Camp”). Moreover, there are details about Anatolian businessmen donating to Gulen’s schools, as well as “The Hanefi Avcı Olayı” (“The Hanefi Hunter Incident,” a book that was published in Turkey and contained conspiracy theory material regarding the congregation), and the association of the congregation with the ruling AK Party in Turkey.
It’s impossible to summarize Hansen’s 6,000-word article here. You can read the complete Turkish translation at: www.tnr.com
What Texas Moms Are Saying:
* After visiting the Turkish school in Afghanistan operated by the Gulen congregation, Hansen also visited the Turkish Olympics site in Texas. There she witnesses how black and Latino kids do their ethnic dances and read Turkish poetry. The congregations’ parochial schools in America have names such as Manolya, Turkuaz, Gökküşağı, Dostluk, Kozmos, Zirve (all Turkish names).
* According to me, Hansen’s article shows that the Gulen school students, which represent the new generation of the movement, are more liberal and more American than the regular American students. “Their stories are really interesting,” writes Hansen. “At least they spoke more freely and honestly with me than others in their age,” concludes the article writer.* I wonder if this American-raised new generation of Gulen’s followers will, later in life, be different from their counterparts who are being raised in Turkey.
* When the writer asked three mothers of students from the black ghetto of Texas if they knew that their children were being educated in a school that is being subsidized by Turkish businessmen from Turkey, Colle O’Brian, one of the moms, answers with a heavy Texan accent: “We never thought about that.”* The moms are extremely happy with the school. However, there are some American circles who have, it seems, started to be aware of the Gulen schools that are mushrooming all over the United States.
* I also read about the project developed in Adana, through which Turkish businessmen are discussing the prospect of opening Gulen schools in Senegal and the Congo. It seems that all political organizations in Turkey are jealous of the congregation, and they know that in order to be competitive, they should reorganize themselves in the manner the congregation has done. This is easier said than done, however.
* Hansen also mentions that there are some disturbing rumors regarding the congregation’s ties to Ergenekon (an ultra-Nationalist cabal whose members are being tried for trying to topple the current Islamist government in Turkey). The writer mentions that the rumors regarding the congregation’s presence within the Turkish police force are also a matter of concern. This brings the writer to the issue of transparency, which is hardly a mainstay of the congregation.
* Hansen’s “Global Imam” article estimates that the congregation’s membership is around 5 million strong, with supporters around the world. However, it seems that despite all the money pouring in, the movement is facing some financial difficulties.
* Gulen ski camp/house in Pennsylvania’s Saylorsburg Township, the center of the “Golden Generation,” has several houses, a lake and something resembling a forest. It seems that one of Gulen’s high ranking officers, Bekir Aksoy, acted as the writer’s guide during her touring of the facility. Among the visitors that were there on the same day were some Turkish businessmen, another journalist, and even a Jewish professor of theology who was fishing at the lake.
* The movement has created a terminology problem in Turkish in terms of what the followers should be called. While members call themselves “Volunteers,” others have attached the moniker “Fethullaji” (followers of Fethullah) to them.
* Hansen has also lectured that Gulen never says or orders anything. He only suggests. According to Aksoy, if a Ph.D. comes to visit Gulen for work and Gulen suggests to him/her to go to the North Pole, the person will be here next morning with a suitcase in hand.
* I learned a lot about the movement from Hansen’s article. The organization was formed in 1983 and has stock in technology industries in some 15 advanced countries. Gulen’s cassette tapes were first sold by the NT chain, in few outlets. Today the chain has more than 110 outlets. Joshua Hendrick, who has written his Ph.D. thesis in sociology on the subject of the Gulen Movement, asserts that academics and academia have been the pivotal point of the movement.
* The movement has its media outlets like “Zaman” (newspaper), “Samanyolu” (“Milky Way,” a television station broadcast all over the world through satellite systems) and Feza Media Systems, as well as Bank Asia and Tuskon. Sociologist Helen Ebaugh of the University of Houston states that 5 to 20 percent of members’ monthly incomes are spent on charity projects. Some members’ yearly dues go as high as $3.5 million.
The congregation has 1,000 schools in 100 countries. The writer is unable to know who the benefactors of most of these schools are, since the answer is always “a sponsor or a Turkish businessman did it.”
*EDITOR'S NOTE: Quotes could not be verified.
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