March 17, 2010

Gulen and Academic Research: Propaganda Tour to Turkey and for the Gulen Movement - By Dr. Aland Mizell

According to a press release on Fethullah Gulen’s website, this year the University of Potsdam's Institute of Religion and the Forum for Intercultural Dialogue Berlin organized an international conference on "Muslims between Tradition and Modernity ― The Gülen Movement as a Bridge between Cultures." The release, entitled “Academics Discuss Gülen Movement,” announced, “Academics from around the world have gathered to discuss the Gülen movement in Germany.” Leaders from eight countries where he has schools gathered to discuss “the fact that people regardless of nationality, religion and race can get together and contribute to world peace.”  Nowadays Fethullah Gülen is being presented as a tolerant, moderate, enlightened leader. Many even believe he is the one who is going to save our world.  But what they don’t know about Gulen’s organization is that the organization has a definite hierarchy of power with a person or group of people in charge. They are called (Abi or Imams).  With the founder at the top, under even the slightest scrutiny, it definitely looks like a dictatorship. The adherents believe that Gulen’s view is the third way after the American system collapses. Interestingly, they use the title “Academic” to discuss Gulen’s movement in Germany, as they also do in the USA, UK, and other European countries. Of course, any movement will have some good cheerleaders rallying the people. Yet, it is very astonishing to see Western scholars showcasing Gulen’s value systems. I would cheer anyone who has dedicated his or her life to help others but only those without any hidden agenda, like Said Kurdi and Mother Teresa who devoted their lives to help people. Strangely, these academics celebrate tolerance, not knowing the radical intolerance that it masks. Part of Western or American academic freedom is promoting freedom of thought and speech and freedom to practice dissent without repercussions.  How many people in Gulen’s organization have freedom of thought or speech to object to Gulen’s view? How many scholars who attended these seminars present worldviews other than Gulen’s view? Was any opponent invited? In the Gulenists’ religious movement they are not accepting of anything but Gulen’s ideas. Academic research should be more proof- oriented to convince readers to believe what he claims, but the Gulenists’ goal is to reshape the world in its own image by securing the supremacy of Gulen’s version of religion over politics, education, media, sports, music, and business, in both public and private life. According to the dictionary, academic research is defined as a systematic approach to gathering information that relies on established processes and procedures drawn from scientific research techniques.  The question is does Gülen support his argument with any evidence?  Does he have scientific proof to support his theory? What makes him right?  According to Thomas Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, scientists typically research in the puzzle-solving enterprise of normal science where theories are tested and verified.

In the example of Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates, through their foundation they have dedicated their lives to eliminate the HIV disease in Africa and India. Bill Gates himself has taken several trips to the slum areas of India and Africa to visit poor houses and hold the unfortunate babies. He happens to be rich, charismatic, famous, and cited by the Western media as man of the year. His love for HIV infected children causes him to send them to schools, and he shows no favoritism to any religion expressing respect to all their religions equally.  He invented computer software so many of us could connect to the world, and indeed he brings the world to many impoverished people through his computer donation program. Moreover, he still loves his wife who joins him in his humanitarian work.  Do all the good things that he accomplishes make Bill Gates an expert on everything? Does it make him an expert on academic research?  Does it make President Obama ask advice from Bill Gates on how to run the White House? But Gulen is not making any comment on what he thinks about research or its finding, but he is stating that the research from the university is flawed on the grounds that it has a sampling error, and he is finding it not credible. If someone makes a very strong statement and does not have facts to prove his argument, that statement definitely is not academically credible. If he does not have any academic credentials, why do Western academics discuss him; if he just claims something is so, and his followers take his words and defend his point without thinking for themselves; or if they make no objections to his point of view because they consider what he says to be absolute truth, then where is the cogent logic in that blind acceptance?  Interestingly and ironically, academics are not concerned with the fact that Gulen was criticizing academic research without having any credentials himself. When a person challenges Gulen’s view, then he or she becomes the poster child for Gülen to target and then for his followers to use the opportunity to explain about Gulen’s good works.  How does someone who never finished a formal education such as a university degree consider himself to be an academic or a scholar? How does a personal love for Gülen make him an expert on everything? How does his help in establishing schools give him credentials to make statements about scientific research? Can we say Gulen is right because he is a good guy? 

Gulenists are not just innocently influencing certain professors in certain position, but also Gulenists campaign to persuade others to line up with his way of thinking. They will tell people that Gülen himself is the most valuable teacher and that they are so devout that they will work for no pay at all. Or they ask, “Have you heard of this man named Gülen?” If a person tells a lie so many times, it becomes truth to that person, and he or she even begins to convince others that it is true. Thus, indoctrination is their biggest weapon. In my view the role of the academy is to undertake more research about Gulen’s organization to determine what it is really up to, because Gulenists are hiding behind the mask of their true intent.  For example, when they organize their propaganda tours to Turkey, their true purpose is to indoctrinate people and cause them to line up with their views. Western people do not know that someday Gulenists’ armies will come out of their trenches and turn the world into a dictatorial regime.  Gulenists have constantly changed strategies over the years but always depended on the occasion to achieve their purpose, and that purpose has never changed.

Many columnists are in fact afraid of the sinister ambiguity surrounding Gulenists. Yet, they should ask these questions: if a person on top is in control of everything, if the highest leader dictates every aspect of his members’ thinking, behavior, and actions, then why do millions follow him so wholeheartedly? For example, members of his movement must marry for his purposes, follow his dress code, take the jobs he assigns, work where and how he dictates, have the number of children he thinks they should have, discipline their children by his policy, name them according to his ruling, and live where he assigns them. If a leader is claiming a special, exalted status for himself and the members of his organization, then where is the value of equalitarianism? If Gulenists consider Mr.Gulen as the Messiah, if they think he is a special being and a savior of our universe sent by God for a special mission to all humanity—and they do; if Gulenists have a polarized view of “us versus them” mentality that causes conflict in a wider society—and they do; if the organization sets up an authoritarian pyramid with the self-appointed dictator at the top using mind control techniques; if the demand for purity of the world becomes sharply divided into the pure camp and the impure camp; if they claim the pure camp is the one inside organization and the impure camp is the one outside the organization; if the group has the absolute and totalistic vision of truth; if the group believes that only our way is the way to the truth, salvation, and true happiness; if the group thinks they are chosen for this special mission by God while those who are not in the group are considered evil,  not enlightened, and unsaved; if they use fear and manipulation for keeping their members so that if one leaves the group, it means that he or she leaves God thus losing his or her salvation; if they threaten their members that God will “slam” them and something bad will happen to them—then they are not the moderate, tolerant, enlightened movement they appear to be. Because in their view submitting to the leaders means being submitted to God, if intimidation is the weapons used to maintain their loyalty and devotion to the group, then how can a member possibly think anything other than his or her party’s line? If anyone questions Mr. Gulen’s authority or the imam’s authority, he or she is treated as a rebel and deemed one who cannot be trusted, so that the person is suppressed into not questioning the authority or thus by extension not tainting the group’s mentality or behavior.  If the organization pressures its loyal members, so that they feel that there can be no life outside the group; if they keep them under physical, mental, and emotional pressure and they often send them to study camps to indoctrinate them in the group’s philosophy, then the questions arise: what kind of person can be tolerant, loving, and caring, if they have all those attributes and demands? What kind of society will they establish, so that someone makes all the decisions for them, thinking for them, and speaking for them? It is like a robot designed to follow a certain program and one that will do everything that the master programmed into the robot. In addition, the real servant of God should be humble and not set himself up to be worshipped. The Quran says that humanity has been created to recognize and worship God, not man.  Our worldview should place God in the center of all things, not man. The real servant of God will remove himself or herself from all worldly fame and title, but Gulenists worship their leader, and he is the one on center stage rather than God himself.

When the organization recruits new members, from the beginning they do not tell what the group is really about. The new recruits may think they know the group’s mission and what will be expected from them, but, as in all cults, they do not know anything about it. The leaders slowly indoctrinate them about their supreme leader through deception and manipulation. They try to make the candidate like Gülen, their leader, and their individuality is not welcomed. Members cannot make decisions about alternative ways of thinking, any other books they want to read, the kinds of music they want to listen to, what programs they watch, or what restaurants they eat at. Instead they think their leader must make the decisions for them whether they are right decisions or wrong decisions. The leader has absolute truth, so he knows the absolute truth. Sometimes they even twist the Quran’s verses to use them for their own gain rather than follow the Quran‘s teaching. An example is that in some secular countries members are encouraged not to wear the headscarf so they will not be detected as extremists.  Gulenists use all kinds of ways to justify their means. It is no wonder that Hakan Yavuz and John Esposito are on the side of the Gulenists. If an intellectual does a little homework, however, he or she will find that Yavuz’s and Esposito’s book and articles follow exactly the Gulenists’ agenda. Both of them are acting, not like academics, but rather partisans. The true matter of the fact is that Gulenists hire the people to write about them, bribe the people to attend conferences about the movement, and have their papers published in the news about these “academic” events.

In 2009 the Fethullah Gülen Chair in Muslim and Muslim-Catholic Relations was inaugurated in Australia. The irony is that the Fethullah Gülen Chair is arguably the first academic chair of its kind in the Australian higher education sector yet the “educational project” will allow, according to Gülen, “great potential benefits” to his movement. Gulenists are trying to use the Western and American influence to reach their own hidden agenda. In order to achieve that agenda, they are trying to manipulate public opinion. Gulenists display excessive zealousness and unquestioning loyalty to their leader and regard his belief system, ideology, and practice as the truth. Questioning or doubting their leader is considered a big sin with their being punished by excommunication from the organization as in the case of Nurettin Veren, who worked with Gülen for more than 20 years. After Nurettin objected to some of his ideas, Gülen excommunicated him, and, according to Veren, Gulen threatened to have him killed. Clever people like the Gulenists will recognize and tolerate nothing but cleverness. Everyone’s values are defined by what they will tolerate when something is done to others. Isn’t the most tolerant person the one who allows others to agree with him or her yet supports the rights of people who don’t agree with that position? The test of tolerance will come when Gulenists are in the majority. May the day be far away for academics who, ironically, will lose what they value most--freedom to think and speak.

Dr. Aland Mizell is with the MCI. You may reach the author via email at:


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