A radical consequence of modernity

The Fethullah Gülen Movement as a Political Power Beyond the Turkish Nation State

Project Report, 2010
16 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table Of Contents



II. Where does the Fethullah Gülen movement have its origins? - An approach to understand Turkey's influential non-state actor

III. Knowledge is power: Education as the key of the Fethullah Gülen movement

IV. “A radical consequence of modernity”: The Fethullah Gülen movement as a Political Power Beyond the Turkish nation-state

V. Conclusion

VI. Bibliographical Reference

I. Introduction:

This work deals with the broad topic of “Politcal Power beyond the State” and shows with the particular example of the Fethullah Gülen movement in Turkey how a non-state actor- or to be more precise- how a movement inspired by the spiritual ideas of a single individual takes political power beyond the nation-state and slowly but surely transforms the identity of the Turkish Republic.

A motivation to work on Fethullah Gülen as a political power beyond the state is the fact that Gülen in a survey of the British magazine on Foreign Policy in 2008 surprisingly was voted to be the most public intellectual in the world (Nuttall, Tom (2008): How Gülen triumphed. Prospect. URL: http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2008/07/howglentriumphed/).

This paper will try to evaluate how a single person could become that influential during the last decades that he is supposed to be one of the leading forces within and/or beyond the Turkish state at the beginning of the 21st century. What aims follows the person whose name is associated with a media empire, with business enterprises and especially a huge education network in Turkey and worldwide? How could a movement, originally inspired by religious thoughts, become that powerful and which motivations are at the bottom of it?

While writing this paper the author assumes that the Fethullah Gülen movement of today is already a political power beyond the Turkish nation-state which influences the economy, media, politics and education sustainable in an immense radius according to its own interests. Therefore, the main focus of this work will be to take a brief look at the motivations, origins and goals of the movement in regard of its activity in the educational sphere. As for the author education of citizens is one of the sovereign rights of a state, the movement seems to undercut one of the key domains of a states legitimacy-forming area: education and knowledge.

In summary, as a starting point for this paper and a general research question serves the demand: Is the Fethullah Gülen Movement just 'a' force beyond the Turkish state, or meanwhile through its strong educational network even 'THE' force beyond the Turkish Republic? As a matter of fact that this a term paper and not a thesis the author will concentrate especially on the movement’s educational engagement while claiming that it can be seen as the key for the community-transforming network.

After a brief introduction into the life of Fethullah Gülen, his main point of views and convictions will be examined. In a further step the educational network of the movement and its major fields of activity will be highlighted. Afterwards, the characteristics of the movement as a power beyond the state will be explained to finally come to a conclusion in Chapter Five.

Regarding the literature the author concentrates mainly on works from M. Hakan Yavuz, who is one of the main researches on political Islam in Turkey and Islamic inspired movements like Fethullah Gülen. Because of the actuality of the topic a detailed research in online mediums through the internet is self-evident.

II. Where does the Fethullah Gülen movement have its origins? - An approach to understand Turkey's influential non-state actor.

If one wants to understand the dispersal and success of the Fethullah Gülen movement in Turkey it is more than necessary to take a look at its historic origins as well as its time of emergence and its core contents.

The life of the eponym of the Fethullah Gülen movement is as diversified as meaningful to understand the character of it. Born as a son of a preacher in the conservative eastern city of Erzurum, probably on April 27th 1941, he got already as an adolescent strongly interested in Sufi Islamic teachings of Said Nursi. After a station as a preacher in Edirne from 1958 until 1966 he was appointed to lead courses at the Kestanepazan Qur’anic School in Izmir in 1966 where he stayed officially until 1988. After the second direct military intervention of 1971 Gülen was arrested for seven months because of being accused to lead a clandestine organization that would act against the Kemalist principles of the Turkish Republic (Yavuz, M. Hakan; Esposito, John L. (2003): Turkish Islam and the Secular State. The Gülen Movement. Page 20).

One of the main breaks in Gülen's life and a shaping event for the emergence of his movement might have been the last direct military intervention of 1980 and the introduction of a more liberal constitution in 1982 and especially the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis (TIS).

The TIS was created by the military as a fusion between Turkishness and (Sunni-) Islam to counter the process of social and political disintegration that took place since the late 1960's and to bring more homogeneity inside the country (Karakas, Cemal (2007): Turkey: Islam and Laicism Between the Interests of State, Politics, and Society).

It is more than interesting that it was the military- traditionally known for its guardian function towards democracy and the six pillars of Kemalism- that brought Islam back into Turkish politics and consequently enabled religious sects to become more active in the spheres of civil society, economy as well as in education and finally in shaping the state. Nevertheless, advantaged by the fact that religious agitation from now on was not only wanted but even directly supported, for example through the introduction of further religious oriented Imam-Hatip-schools through the military, and further promoted by Gülen's close ties to Turkey's then-prime minister and later president Turgut Özal during the 1980's, followers of Fethullah Gülen started to establish own schools that led to an unique, widespread and strategic basis for a worldwide network.

In 1997 Gülen left Turkey officially because of a medical treatment to the United States of America (USA) where he stays until today. Critics assume that the real reason for Gülen's departure to the USA was to forestall his threatening trial because of a dispensed statement of a sermon of Gülen from 1986 when he should have said: “The existing system is still in power. Our friends, who have positions in legislative and administrative bodies, should learn its details and be vigilant all the time so that they can transform it and be more fruitful on behalf of Islam in order to carry out a nationwide restoration" (The National (2009): Faith Community).

The latest since the publication of this statement Fethullah Gülen is one of the most ambiguous persons in the Turkish Republic. For the one, mainly the Kemalist establishment, he is seen as a danger for the secular Turkish state who wants to change the fundamentals of the Republic, introduce the Islamic law of Sharia and turn Turkey into an Islamic Republic. For the others, mainly the new Anatolian bourgeoisie and modern practicing Muslims who always felt disadvantaged by the Kemalist elite, he is a strongly supported man who fights for the freedom of religion and a tolerant handling with Islam in the Turkish state. The main elements of his teachings will show that the fears of the Kemalist elite after his above quoted statement are not without any reason.

M. Hakan Yavuz, a researcher on political Islam in Turkey argues that Gülen was influenced by different features in his life that built also the core of his later movement. First, “the life story of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad and his companions, the Nakçibendi Skeikh Muhammet Lütfi Efendi, known as Alvarli Efe, who inculcated broad and sophisticated cognitive and emotional skills into Gülen; Said Nursi’s understanding of Islam, and the Islamic intellectuals of the Republic” (Yazuz, M. Hakan (2003): Islamic Political Identity. Page 180). Especially Said Nursi’s teachings and his Nurculuk (light) movement seem to be formative for the Fethullah Gülen movement, not for nothing it is also named the “Neo- Nurculuk” movement.

The main characteristics of the Nurculuk or Nur-movement taught by its spiritual leader Nursi (1873-1960) are recovered by the Neo-Nurculuk movement of Fethullah Gülen. These features are: First, the compatibility of science and Islam, e.g. it is stated “the Qur’an is not the source of scientific discoveries, but all scientific discoveries reveal the depth of its message” (Yavuz; Esposito: Turkish Islam and the Secular State. The Gülen Movement. Page 9). Second, employing new communication technologies in the service of Islam and third, regarding the state, the Nurcu- movement has a clear understanding of what its principles should be: “justice, freedom, respect for human dignity, the will of the people, and security” (Yavuz; Esposito: Turkish Islam and the Secular State. The Gülen Movement. Page 11). Even though Gülen never met Nursi personally he is strongly influenced by his teachings and thoughts and felt a desire to promote NursFs ideas after his death in 1960.

Finally, one could state that the theoretical background of the Gülen movement lies in the teachings of Said Nursi, an Anatolian interpretation of Sufi-Islam, a glorification of the Ottomon past and the belief that through a symbiosis of science and Islam Turkey can find a glorious future in a modernized, globalized world.

To explain the main goals of the Fethullah Gülen movement it seems useful to quote Yavuz who states that “Gülen,just like Nursi, tries to fulfill three major goals: (1) to raise Muslims’ consciousness; (2) to reexamine the connection between science and religion in order to refute the dominant intellectual discourses of materialism and positivism; and (3) to recover collective memory by revising the shared grammar of society, Islam (Yavuz: Islamic Political Identity in Turkey. Page 57).

Even though this paper deals with the issue of“Political Power beyond the State” as a general framework it is- especially in regard of Fethullah Gülen as such a political power- necessary and inevitable to talk about its spiritual and religious persuasions because exactly these features are the dominant forces beyond the movement itself.

The following chapter will deal in-depth with the promotion of the connection between science and Islam and evaluate the movement's broad network of educational institutions. As mentioned before the author assumes that education of citizens is one of the key tasks of states. This will be of importance while examining the action of the Fethullah Gülen movement in this field.

III. Knowledge is power: Education as the key of the Fethullah Gülen movement

“The one who has knowledge is useful, the one who does not have knowledge is harmful” (Yavuz; Esposito: Turkish Islam and the Secular State. The Gülen Movement. Page 62), this sentence sounds harsh and irritating first but shows very impressively which ideas lie at the ground of the Fethullah Gülen movement. The above quoted sentence comes from Gülen himself and demonstrates which ideology his movement pursues: only people with knowledge are seen as precious whereas people without knowledge are considered as kind of useless, needless and even harmful to the strategy the movement aims at. The statement also exemplifies in a very clear manner that knowledge and therefore education can be seen as the heart of the movement's efforts. These efforts in turn again were made clear by Gülen himself. One of the main goals of the movement is to establish a “new generation armed with the tools of science and religion: a 'new man' will emerge, that will not only participate in, but even shape modernity” (Yavuz; Esposito: Turkish Islam and the Secular State. The Gülen Movement. Page 57).

This megalomaniac sounding sentence demonstrates the paramount goal of the Gülen movement, namely to transform the society in a long perspective and to raise a young generation that unites religion and knowledge to rule future key positions in economy, media and politics.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


A radical consequence of modernity
The Fethullah Gülen Movement as a Political Power Beyond the Turkish Nation State
Middle East Technical University
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modernity, Fethullah Gülen, Turkey, Nation State, Political Power, state, Political Power beyond the State, Gülen, Turkish
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Thomas Volk (Author), 2010, A radical consequence of modernity, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/153818


  • Maria Erbil on 7/26/2010

    The gulen movement is managing over 100 charter schools in the USA. There is funds mismanagement from the US government and the numerous network of Gulen foundaitons and institutes. The US Attorney's office is one step behind the Gulen movement. http://www.charterschoolwatchdog.com

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