A Frolic with Fethullah Gülen

February 4, 2015

My fellow editors asked me if I’d care to comment on Fethullah Gülen’s op-ed in The New York Times. I was uncertain whether I could do it without violating our Code of Conduct. I considered whether I might be able to get away with a few choice words in Turkish, but thought, “No, the Code of Conduct is sacred in every language.” I decided words like the ones I reckoned this inspired in Turkey really were too trashy.

No need for that. So I offer just simple a rejoinder, seeing as the Times didn’t see fit to publish a rebuttal side-by-side–or even a clue who this writer is. Had they done so, I would have considered it perfectly acceptable. As it stands, I can interpret it only one of two ways: Charitably, they’re so stupid they don’t even read their own reporting. Less charitably, they’ve fallen in line with Our Thug, but for reasons so cynical–and stupidly cynical–they don’t even rise to the intellectual respectability of the word Realpolitik.


SAYLORSBURG, Pa. (New York Times)— It is deeply disappointing to see what has become of Turkey in the last few years.

Yes, it is. I lived there during that time, unlike you.

Not long ago, it was the envy of Muslim-majority countries…

No, it was not.

…a viable candidate for the European Union

No, it was not.

…on its path to becoming a functioning democracy

No, it was not.

…that upholds universal human rights,

No, it was not.

….gender equality,

No, it was not.

…the rule of law

No, it was not.

…and the rights of Kurdish and non-Muslim citizens.

No, it was not.

This historic opportunity now appears to have been squandered as Turkey’s ruling party, known as the A.K.P., reverses that progress and clamps down on civil society, media, the judiciary and free enterprise.

You found all of this very exciting and pleasing until they came for you, didn’t you? Yes, you did.

Turkey’s current leaders seem to claim an absolute mandate by virtue of winning elections.

Yes, they do. You once found that a very satisfactory argument.

But victory doesn’t grant them permission to ignore the Constitution or suppress dissent,

No, it does not. But you sure thought it did, pretty recently.

…especially when election victories are built on crony capitalism and media subservience.

Yes, as you know, because you did that quite well, until they came for you.

The A.K.P.’s leaders now depict every democratic criticism of them as an attack on the state.

Wonder where they learned to do that? Oh yes, from you, and you both learned it from your elders. That’s what people in power in Turkey tend to do, you know. That’s why it wasn’t such a great idea to encourage anything that concentrated power in their hands. But you were fine with that until it had the predictable consequences. I reckon no one at the New York Times is wondering about the predictable consequences of getting behind you now, either, but I can tell them. They’re not good.

By viewing every critical voice as an enemy — or worse, a traitor — they are leading the country toward totalitarianism.

You’d be much more convincing on this score if you hadn’t been for this until they came for you.

The latest victims of the clampdown are the staff, executives and editors of independent media organizations who were detained and are now facing charges made possible by recent changes to the laws and the court system.

Your guys, in other words. So it’s different this time, I guess.

The director of one of the most popular TV channels, arrested in December, is still behind bars.

Shocking, that it happened to one of your guys. I guess that possibility never occurred to you.

Public officials investigating corruption charges have also been purged and jailed for simply doing their jobs.

I magine that—public officials jailed and purged for doing their jobs. That’s really new, isn’t it? Some people thought it was wrong the last time that happened, too. But you were really in favor of that. Why the change of heart?

An independent judiciary, a functioning civil society and media are checks and balances against government transgressions.

I would have said so. But somehow, you’re still in America, despite our having these things.

Such harassment sends the message that whoever stands in the way of the ruling party’s agenda will be targeted by slander, sanctions and even trumped-up charges.

Guess you’d be the expert on that.

Turkey’s rulers have not only alienated the West,

Unfortunately, you’re too smart for that. And we’re so dumb we’re falling for it.

…they are also now losing credibility in the Middle East.

Well, so’s America, because we’re dumb enough to publish things like your op-eds, so we’re in good company, I guess.

Turkey’s ability to assert positive influence in the region depends not only on its economy but also on the health of its own democracy.

Keep selling that idea. It’s a proven sales winner.

The core tenets of a functioning democracy — the rule of law, respect for individual freedoms — are also the most basic of Islamic values bestowed upon us by God.

Doesn’t matter who you really are: In America, that line will endear you to the New York Times, every single time.

No political or religious leader has the authority to take them away.

Well, you once thought you did, but I’m glad this change in your fortunes has given you pause.

It is disheartening to see religious scholars provide theological justification for the ruling party’s oppression and corruption or simply stay silent.

It was disheartening to me when you did it, too. I understand that feeling.

Those who use the language and symbols of religious observance but violate the core principles of their religion do not deserve such loyalty from religious scholars.

Forget that, why do you have The New York Times’ loyalty? You don’t deserve that. Why are you even in the United States? Why are we getting lectures on loyalty from religious scholars from Fethullah Gülen in The New York Times? Are they out of their minds? Do they even read their own reporting?

Speaking against oppression is a democratic right, a civic duty and for believers, a religious obligation.

That’s nice. That’s what I think, too. I’m glad you came around to this point of view when it was convenient.

The Quran makes clear that people should not remain silent in the face of injustice: “O you who believe! Be upholders and standard-bearers of justice, bearing witness to the truth for God’s sake, even though it be against your own selves, or parents or kindred.”

Why do we care, precisely? If you want to get into a Quran-recitation challenge, you know you’ll lose to Erdoğan, so to whom are you making this point? Are we now having a serious debate about the Quran in the New York Times? I do not think so.

For the past 50 years, I have been fortunate to take part in

“Take part in?” Come on.

…a civil society movement, sometimes referred to as Hizmet,

And sometimes referred to as the thing you don’t even talk about in Turkey for fear they’ll lock you up. The cemaat. Or many other words people in Turkey really know. So they’re looking at this and thinking, “This guy is in The New York Times, now. Either Americans are stupid beyond belief, or supporting him.” Damn. I wonder why we’re not ultra-popular in Turkey.

whose participants and supporters include millions of Turkish citizens. These citizens have committed themselves to interfaith dialogue, community service, relief efforts and making life-changing education accessible.

I like the ones who have done a lot of those things. But the ones at the top, like you, are just rotten to the core.

They have established more than 1,000 modern secular schools,

Why is the word “secular school” a magic password, here? Hold on, Turks who like “secular schools” have a very different view of this. Wouldn’t it be nice if the New York Times had given them as much space to explain this?

…tutoring centers, colleges, hospitals

I’m pro-hospital, and think it’s great that your guys have indeed built these. That’s genuinely good work. Nothing against that.

…and relief organizations in over 150 countries. They are teachers, journalists, businessmen and ordinary citizens.

Some of them are. But you are not, are you.

The rhetoric used by the ruling party repeatedly to crack down on Hizmet participants is nothing but a pretext to justify their own authoritarianism.

It’s exactly the rhetoric you’d have used if you had won this one. We know that, don’t we?

Hizmet participants have never formed a political party


…nor have they pursued political ambitions.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Their participation in the movement is driven by intrinsic rewards, not extrinsic ones.

At least that’s too meaningless to be falsified.

I have spent over 50 years preaching

You sure have.

…and teaching the values of peace, mutual respect and altruism.

No you have not.

I’ve advocated for education, community service and interfaith dialogue.

Yes you have. Fortunately, those continue to be magic words, don’t they? No facts required after you utter them. It’s just like a spell.

I have always believed in seeking happiness in the happiness of others

Really? Make me happy. Stop publishing this nonsense. It would make me so happy. I wouldn’t have to waste time marvelling at this being in the New York Times. I have better things to do. I could build a hospital in the time I’ve wasted learning enough to want to throw up when I see this.

…and the virtue of seeking God’s pleasure in helping His people. Whatever influence is attributed to me,

A lot, but not as much as you’d hoped, it seems.

I have used it as a means to promote educational and social projects that help nurture virtuous individuals.

Really depends on your idea of virtue, there.

I have no interest in political power.

Strange change of heart, but I’m quite interested in it, and thus wondering why you have enough to be in The New York Times.

Many Hizmet participants, including me, once supported the ruling party’s agenda,

You sure did.

…including the 2005 opening of accession negotiations with the European Union.

Let’s hear your theory about this amazing triumph for the EU, which we all know decided, “To hell with whatever’s really going on there. Turkey would be an important model of a country with a majority Muslim population adhering to such fundamental principles as liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.” So really, the details didn’t matter. But it was excellent business, wasn’t it? Oh, and by the way, pre-emptively, to hell with anyone who tells me Muslims can’t be liberal democrats. They can be, but they’re really on their own when the New York Times gets behind Gülen — in the year 2015. They’re really caught between the people who keep insisting they don’t exist and the people who think he’s a liberal democrat.

Our support then was based on principle, as is our criticism today.

I’m really not convinced you have principles, yet.

It is our right and duty to speak out about government policies that have a deep impact on society.

Mine too. Whatever policy resulted in you being in the US and in The New York Times was catastrophic.

Unfortunately, our democratic expression against public corruption and authoritarianism has made us victims of a witch-hunt;

No, your enthusiasm for witch-hunting made it inevitable that no one would care when you were the next witches to be burnt.

…both the Hizmet movement and I are being targeted with hate speech, media smear campaigns and legal harassment.

Wow, man. That’s some nerve.

Like all segments of Turkish society, Hizmet participants have a presence in government organizations and in the private sector.

No argument from me.

These citizens cannot be denied their constitutional rights or be subjected to discrimination for their sympathy to Hizmet’s ideals, as long as they abide by the laws of the country, the rules of their institutions and basic ethical principles. Profiling any segment of society and viewing them as a threat is a sign of intolerance.

All you have to do is use the magic word “intolerance,” I guess. None of the other details matter.

We are not the only victims of the A.K.P.’s crackdown.

No, just the only ones you cared about.

Peaceful environmental protesters, Kurds, Alevis, non-Muslim citizens and some Sunni Muslim groups not aligned with the ruling party have suffered, too.

Now you notice?

Without checks and balances, no individual or group is safe from the ruling party’s wrath.

I sure agree. Odd that this didn’t occur to you sooner, though.

Regardless of their religious observance, citizens can and should unite around universal human rights and freedoms, and democratically oppose those who violate them.

I therefore, regardless of my religious observance, unite around universal human rights and freedoms and democratically oppose you and the idiots who put you on the op-ed page.

Turkey has now reached a point where democracy and human rights have almost been shelved.

How did it get there, I wonder?

I hope and pray that those in power reverse their current domineering path.

Me too, but that’s about the only thing we can do, now, isn’t it? Might have been more helpful if you hadn’t helped them acquire an amount of power that predictably corrupts. Might have been nice if the word “Muslim” didn’t have some talismanic power in the West that makes people lose their minds and throw money at hucksters who loudly say, “I’m a tolerant one.” They do actually exist, but they aren’t helped by anyone who confuses the words, “I am a tolerant Muslim” with “He’s our thug.”

In the past the Turkish people have rejected elected leaders who strayed from a democratic path.

One way of putting it.

I hope they will exercise their legal and democratic rights again to reclaim the future of their country.

Me too, and in the meantime, I hope ours will, too.

Byline: Fethullah Gülen is an Islamic scholar, preacher and social advocate.

And a lot more than that. And The New York Times knows this, so what the hell? It’s too much to hope, but I comfort myself with the thought that they might even believe what he wrote. And if so, I surely do hope they put their money where their mouths are, and just took a bath on BankAsya.

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