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Turkey’s Gulen Movement Sees a Smear Campaign
As the endgame in Turkey's transition to a mature democracy nears, media attacks have sharpened against the Gulen movement — a mass mobilisation vehicle that has, over the years, openly and peacefully challenged the concentration of privileges among the country's military-backed old guard.
Simultaneously, the movement has offered a socio-political alternative based on inclusivity, growth and societal harmony.
On Tuesday, The Journalists and Writers Foundation, affiliated to the Gulen movement, dismissed media allegations that the movement's founder, Fethullah Gulen had supported the so-called “soft coup” of February 1997, which led to the fall of the government of the former Turkish Prime Minister, Necmetin Erbakan.
The attacks on the Gulen movement have not been restricted to Turkish media alone. The International Herald Tribune (IHT) recently ran an article in which critics of the movement accused Mr. Gulen's followers of overwhelming the core organs of government, which, they allege, have begun to systematically target its opponents.
Far from becoming authoritarian, Mr. Gulen's supporters say their movement is being subjected to an escalating smear campaign.
They say the fierce and intensifying assault on the movement has a context. It comes at a time when investigations in the country are picking up steam and exposing in graphic detail the conspiracy by the military-backed “deep state” network, Ergenekon, to stage a coup and subvert the promising democratic process. In a detailed rebuttal of the IHT piece, Bulent Kenes, Editor-in-Chief of the widely-circulated daily Today's Zaman,points out that “some people and groups who are being investigated by prosecutors and courts on charges of having shady ties with the Turkish deep state are trying to carve some protection for themselves and garner public support by falsely claiming that they undergo these investigations because of their criticisms against Mr. Gulen”.
Mr. Gulen is not new to controversy, or worse. For eight years, till his final acquittal in 2008, he was tried over allegations of undermining the secular fundamentals of the Turkish state. Some scholars, such as James C. Harrington, are of the view that Mr. Gulen's “trial has great ramifications both in and outside Turkey because it involves the rise of moderate, democratic movement in the Sufi Islamic tradition and the effort to suppress it”.
Mr. Gulen's ideas of democracy, secularism, public service and business enterprise, immersed in the moderate cultural medium of Sufi Islam have been vigorously rejected also by proponents of Islamist extremism.
Thus, the Gulen movement finds itself in the crosshairs of both hard-line secularists and the Islamists.
Analysing the contradiction, some say that behind its soft veneer, the Gulen movement has been, in large measure, responsible for the fundamental social turnaround that challenged the status quo.
The Gulen movement naturally attached itself to grassroots business enterprises which had emerged mainly in Anatolia. The rise of the Anatolian Tigers, and the new culture of entrepreneurship, piety and orientation towards the international market are seen by some, as an expression of a new Turkish renaissance.
In the words of Vali Nasr, author of The Rise of Islamic Capitalism:Why the New Muslim Middle Class Is the Key to Defeating Extremism, Anatolian businessmen “combine religion, hard work and economic innovation in much the same way as did Calvinist Burghers of northern Europe in the sixteenth century when capitalism was just starting out”.
It is this new entrepreneurial class, riding on Mr. Gulen's ideas, and looking for larger economic and political space, that has seriously challenged the old establishment, and earned its wrath. It is therefore not surprising, some analysts say, that the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the political face of the assertion by the Anatolian Tigers, and the Gulen movement are facing such unprecedented vitriol from a fading bourgeoisie that is still unwilling to throw in the towel.