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By Sharon Higgins This paper contains the following sections: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. A brief overview of the Gulen movement The secretive and controversial nature of the Gulen movement The Gulen movement’s “web of organizations” within the US The Turkic American Alliance The Gulen Movement’s subsidized, guided trips to Turkey References
1. A brief overview of the Gulen movement “Gulen movement” is the most commonly used term for the group of individuals who follow the teachings of Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic but highly controversial Turkish Muslim preacher. Members refer to themselves as Hizmet (“service”). This group is widely known in Turkey as the cemaat (“The Community”). Historically, new members have been recruited at the movement’s tutoring centers, dormitories, and schools. Estimates place the membership of the Gulen Movement at between three and six million. The total population of Turkey is approximately 80 million, 99% of who are classified as Muslim (mostly Sunni). As with all religions, beliefs and degree of practice vary. “The precise number of [Fethullah Gulen Community] members is difficult to estimate since some publicly deny affinity or membership with the movement. They do not mention his name openly, but may refer to him as ‘hocaefendi’ (master hodja) or ‘he’. Although the movement emerged from Turkey, today it has a global reach.” (1) The RAND National Defense Research Institute issued a report in 2008 which provides this overview of the efforts of the Gulen movement. (2) “... A web of organizations propagates Gulen’s vision of Islam. These include Fatih University in Istanbul and an extensive network of schools, hospitals, and charitable and media organizations, including the mass-circulation newspaper Zaman, television stations Samanyolu (Milky Way) and Mehtap (Full Moon), and the English-language Ebru satellite television station in the United States... “The Gulen movement has also developed a very effective international network beyond Eurasia, with many adherents in the United States (where the movement’s founder lives)...
“Gulen himself moved to the United States in 1999 after he was indicted for allegedly plotting to subvert Turkey’s secular state. He was acquitted in 2006 but has remained in the United States because his return to Turkey could become a political issue... “... Also worth noting is TUSKON (Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey), a recently established organization that explicitly represents the interests of conservative Anatolian entrepreneurs in Turkey and abroad... (TUSKON is considered to be the “fourth leg” of the movement, the other three being its education, media, and interfaith dialogue activities.)...” The Gulen movement’s media often reports the activities of organization within the movement’s “web.” The Gulen movement is highly nationalistic and heavily involved with promoting Turkish language and culture. It has been accused of spreading pan-Turkism and neo-Ottomanism.
2. The secretive and controversial nature of the Gulen movement The Gulen movement’s secretive nature and use of strategic ambiguity has caused repeated concern in Turkey and elsewhere. Hakin Altinay, current chairman of the Open Society Foundation in Turkey and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, told The New Republic, “No society would tolerate this big of an organization being this untransparent.” (3) Organizations within the movement’s web, as well as the individuals who are involved, are extremely reluctant to disclose their affiliation to outsiders. Bill Park, a Senior Lecturer in the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London and a British expert on Turkish politics has stated, “Fethullahci are often loath to declare themselves openly as such.” And, “Gulen institutions do not publicize their Gulen affiliation anywhere they operate.” (4, 5) Sometimes members are willing to say that they are “inspired by” Gulen. Sometimes organizations will say that Fethullah Gulen is their “Honorary President.” The Gulen movement is highly controversial in Turkey and even feared, as reflected in a CBS 60 Minutes interview with Andrew Finkel, an American journalist who has been reporting from Turkey for 25 years. (6) Lesley Stahl: So I guess one of the big questions is what kind of an Islamic leader is Gulen? Andrew Finkel: He leads by his own charismatic personality. Lesley Stahl: Would you call it a personality cult? Andrew Finkel: Yes... Lesley Stahl: You know we have confronted real fear about this movement, particularly when we've tried to get critics to give us an interview. What are they afraid of? Andrew Finkel: There's a fear of reprisal...
In 2012, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dexter Filkins wrote, “Gülen is considered one of [Turkish Prime Minister] Erdoğan’s most powerful allies but is reviled and feared by much of Turkey’s population.” (7)
3. The Gulen movement’s “web of organizations” within the US The 2008 RAND report explained that a “web of organizations propagates Gulen’s vision of Islam.” This web is an enormous and expanding global network which includes over 300 organizations in the United States. It takes an informed eye to detect their connection to the Gulen movement. Gulen’s followers began to establish their organizations in the US around the time Fethullah Gulen arrived in Pennsylvania. Now fourteen years later, approximately 180 Gulenist Turkish cultural, interfaith dialogue, and business organizations are operating in nearly every state and 135 charter schools are operating in 26 states. While the American public’s taxes support the Gulen movement’s charter schools, its other organizations are financially supported by members. Very specific types of activities are conducted: • promote Turkish culture via classes, festivals, etc.; • sponsor Turkish language and science competitions (primarily for students attending the Gulen movement’s schools); • seek access to public officials, academics, and other influential people and VIPs, usually to offer a gift, an invitation to a special event or honorary dinner, a trip to Turkey, etc.; • provide greatly subsidized, guided trips to Turkey to groups (sometimes also awarded to students as contest prizes); • engage in interfaith dialogue outreach and activities; • host lectures, luncheons and dinners, e.g. “friendship and dialogue” dinners; • promote other Gulenist efforts, for instance, by featuring them on their websites (e.g. Ebru TV, Today’s Zaman, Helping Hands Relief Foundation, Turkish Review, “sister” and umbrella organizations, etc.). The movement’s most recent expansion occurred in 2012 into Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Turkish cultural centers were established which immediately organized receptions at state capitols and took groups of legislators on guided trips through Turkey. A charter school was attempted in Maine where a new charter school law had just been passed. (8)
4. The Turkic American Alliance The Turkic American Alliance (TAA) is the Gulen movement’s national umbrella organization for six regional federation-type organizations. It was originally called the “Assembly of Turkic American Federations” (ATAF). ATAF changed its name to TAA soon after its public launch in May 2010.
The launch of this national organization was reported by Hurriyet Daily News, a Turkish newspaper not associated with the Gulen movement, in an article titled “The Gulen movement plays big in Washington.” (9) “Six federations, having close proximity to Mr. Fethullah Gülen, joined to form the Assembly of Turkic American Federations, or ATAF, a non-profit organization... “I had a chance to talk with some of the congressmen and senators who participated at the reception. I asked Ms. Gabrielle Giffords, representative from Arizona’s 8th. District, why she chose to come to a Turkic community gathering, considering that there is a very tiny Turkic community in her district. Gifford turned and pointed out a young Turkish man who was standing next to her. According to the congresswoman, that young Turkish man had visited Gifford's district office several times recently and finally persuaded her to show up for the reception "even though I do not like to go such events," Gifford said, before responding my question and telling me that she never heard of Fethullah Gülen. “The Gülen movement accelerated its activities in US, especially since the leader of the movement, Fethullah Gülen settled in Pennsylvania about a decade ago. During the mid ’90s, after almost three decades in the making, it was still operating very much under the radar in Turkey. “The unexpected and sudden decision to combine all of their 180 organizations under one umbrella assembly was a surprising move, at any rate, for those who follow the Gülen movement closely and are aware about its cautious strategies and steps... “This decision of “combining all Gülen-related Turkic or Turkish associations and federations under one assembly,” was decided by Fethullah Gülen, another active member of the movement who came to the reception from a long distance said...” The TAA member organizations are: Council of Turkic American Associations (CTAA, New York) Mid-Atlantic Federation of Turkic American Associations (MAFTAA, Washington DC) Turkish American Federation of Midwest (TAFM, Chicago) Turkish American Federation of Southeast (TAFS, Atlanta) Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians (TCAE, Houston) West American Turkic Council (WATC, Los Angeles) It is important to note that there are a number of Turkish-American organizations which are not at all affiliated with the Gulen movement, the majority of which were founded before Fethullah Gulen arrived in the US. The RAND Corporation report noted: “Secular Turks in mainstream Turkish-American organizations and in the Turkish Foreign Service often note that the secular Turkish diaspora is disorganized, fragmented, and inactive by comparison.”
Because of the highly organized and unrelenting manner in which the Gulen movement has been pressing on its mission, Gulenist-run organizations have surpassed other Turkish-American organizations in number and influence.
5. The Gulen Movement’s subsidized, guided trips to Turkey The Gulen movement has given hundreds of subsidized, guided trips to Turkey to groups of Americans over the past decade. Trips are offered to public officials, academics, journalists, religious leaders, and other influential people, as well as to students, parents, and teachers involved with Gulen charter schools. It is as important to consider what the travelers are not told during the course of their trip as it is to consider what they are told. Itineraries are adjusted according to the type of group. Along with visits to popular tourist and historical destinations are stops at Gulen movement-associated institutions (e.g. Zaman headquarters, Samanyolu TV headquarters, Journalists and Writers Foundation, Fatih University, TUSKON and other Gulen-associated business contacts, certain schools, etc.). Common stops are for meals and/or meetings with local Turkish people who travelers are told are their trip sponsors. Quite often travelers are taken into the homes of Turkish families, possibly to as many as three or four different homes during the course of their trip. It is not known if all the travelers are aware that the individuals with whom they are meeting are members of the Gulen movement who have either contributed money or are volunteering to host visitors as their way to help advance the movement’s goals. It is not known if travelers are fully aware that the interactions their tour guide is facilitating is only with members and businesses associated with a religious subgroup within the whole Turkish population – a subgroup of which large numbers of Turkish people are quite wary. Clearly these sustained, highly affordable and tempting travel experiences are a mechanism by which the Gulen movement can stream its messaging to dependent groups of targeted Americans over an extended period of time.
6. References 1. Jane's Islamic Affairs Analyst, “Gulen Movement: Turkey’s Third Power.” 2/1/2009, http://tool.donation-net.net/Images/Email/1097/Gulen_movement.pdf 2. RAND National Defense Research Institute, “The Rise of Political Islam in Turkey.” 2008, http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG726.pdf 3. The New Republic, "The Global Imam." 11/10/2010, http://www.tnr.com/article/world/magazine/79062/global-turkey-imam-fethullahgulen?page=0,0). 4. Global Politician, “The Fethullah Gulen movement.” 12/31/2008, http://www.globalpolitician.com/25355-fethullah-gulen-turkey) 5. Transitions Online (CZ), “In Albania, Madrasas Even the Secular Love.” 10/19/2012, http://www.tol.org/client/article/23425-albania-islam-turkey-education.html)
6. CBS 60 Minutes, "US charter schools tied to powerful Turkish imam." 5/13/2012, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57433131/u.s-charter-schools-tied-to-powerfulturkish-imam/?tag=contentMain;cbsCarousel). 7. The New Yorker, “The Deep State.” 3/12/2012, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/03/12/120312fa_fact_filkins?currentPage=all 8. Portland Press Herald (ME), “Proposed Bangor charter school linked to Turkish imam.” 2/17/2013, http://www.pressherald.com/news/proposed-charter-school-linked-to-turkishimam_2013-02-17.html 9. Hurriyet Daily News (TR), “The Gulen movement plays big in Washington.” 5/14/2010, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=the-gulen-movement-plays-bigin-washington-2010-05-14.
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