TURKEY'S FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: TARGETING THE GULEN MOVEMENT
By David L. Phillips
I received five messages in less than an hour from Turks, warning me about Fethulleh Gulen, head of the Gulen movement, which they called a "terrorist organization." Why is so much vitriol being directed at Gulen? Who's behind these systematic attacks?
The email is alarming. It reads, "We are writing you this letter to draw your attention to a figure, and the movement led by this figure that might have affected you directly or indirectly. The figure is currently being searched for by Turkish authorities for establishing and chairing a terrorist organization, and a red notice is expected to be published for him to be arrested."
The flurry of messages made me want to learn more about Fethulleh Gulen, and his relations with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Fethulleh Gulen went into self-imposed exile in 1999. He fled Turkey for Pennsylvania after Turkey's then secular government accused him of plotting a coup. From exile, Gulen remained a force in Turkish politics. The Gulen movement has millions of members who subscribe to Gulen's message of dialogue and tolerance based on Muslim principles. Gulen's network, "Hizmet," which means "service," established private schools in Turkey and has activities in 160 countries around the world. The schools propagate Gulen's message of tolerance. His critics say the schools are for recruitment and thought control. Others maintain the schools are an alternative to madrasas, which use informal education to fuel extremism and violence.
In the 1990s, Gulen's network supported the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and helped bring Erdogan to power. Erdogan and Gulen were once friends and collaborators. Once allies, however, they became rivals.
Erdogan grew convinced that Gulen was trying to overthrow his government. He accused the Gulen movement of infiltrating the judiciary, police and prosecutors - establishing a "parallel state."
Tensions surfaced last year when Erdogan accused Gulen and his followers of orchestrating a corruption probe against his inner circle. Four cabinet members were forced to resign. A taped conversation surfaced of a conversation between Erdogan and his son, Bilal, in which they plotted to dispose of ill-gotten gains. On the tape, which Erdogan maintains is "fabricated," Bilal is heard promising to remove a stash of money from the family home "in the dark."
Erdogan responded angrily to the leaks. He vowed to crush "evil forces" associated with the Gulen movement. "We are not just faced with a simple network, but one which is a pawn of evil forces at home and abroad." Rumors circulated that Gulen was a CIA asset, working to compromise Turkey's ascendance.
In a purge, thousands of police and hundreds of judges and prosecutors were removed from their jobs. Playing on conspiratorial fears, Erdogan justified a crackdown on freedom of assembly and expression. Critics decry Erdogan's creeping authoritarianism.
The latest crackdown involved media outlets linked to Gulen. Heads of Zaman newspaper and the STV Channel were arrested under charges of forming a terrorist group, along with a dozen journalists and scriptwriters. Their crime: a television drama called "Tek Turkiye" (One Turkey), which tells the story of a doctor who goes to work in the majority Kurdish Southeast where the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is active.
Turkey asked the Obama administration to extradite Gulen for trial by a Turkish court. The attacks on Gulen are part of a pattern to silence dissent, well-documented by Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists. The US should decline Turkey's extradition request.
I, for one, am interested in what Gulen has to say. He is familiar with the inner workings of the AKP, as well as the activities of Erdogan and his family.
The US Congress should invite Gulen to testify. Under oath, he should be asked about the so-called parallel state. He should also be asked about alleged criminal activities of the AKP and Erdogan, including recent suggestions of ties between Turkey's National Intelligence Agency and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Fethulleh Gulen's revelations might shed light on trends in Turkey, prior to national elections in June. They might also inform the growing debate in Washington on Turkey's suitability as an ally of the United States.