Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy – a prestigious neo-conservative think tank with ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – has been publishing articles defaming Turkish Islamic philosopher and scholar Fethullah Gulen and the movement of moderate Sufi Muslims who are inspired by him.
The Washington Institute is headed by Robert Satloff, a frequent apologist for Israel’s apartheid wall in Palestine and an outspoken critic of former President Jimmy Carter’s diplomacy in the Gaza Strip.
Cagaptay directs the Institute’s Turkish Research Program and has been a staunch supporter of military control, as opposed to civilian control, over the levers of power in Turkey.
Recently, the democratically elected civilian government of Turkey arrested and charged military leaders with plotting to overthrow the government. In an article in Foreign Policy magazine titled “What’s Really Behind Turkey’s Coup Arrests,” Cagaptay attributes the arrests to a “vendetta” by the Gulen movement against the army.
Many of Gulen’s followers are ardent supporters of the currently ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey. Cagaptay knows they have ample reason for animosity toward the military.
Before the turn of the century, when the military was firmly in control of Turkey, Gulen was charged with corruption and “anti-secular” political activities. In 1999, Gulen fled to the United States for asylum. He was later acquitted of all charges.
In an article for Newsweek titled “Turkey’s Turning Point,” Cagaptay labels Gulen and his followers as “ultraconservative” and contends that the AKP “has become increasingly authoritarian.” These allegations are devoid of proper contextualization.
In the eyes of intolerant “secularists,” all religious people appear to be “ultraconservative.” Gulen and those who are inspired by him need to be placed within a much broader context of political and religious thought.
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My study of Gulen’s teachings indicates that, within the world of Islamic faith, both his political and religious views are relatively progressive, tolerant and enlightened. My experience with his followers has demonstrated that they conscientiously attempt to practice what he preaches. From this broader perspective, to label them “ultraconservative” is a gross distortion.
Cagaptay’s allegation of “authoritarianism” makes much ado over evidence obtained by illegal wiretaps. While allegations of illegal wiretapping are a matter of great concern and should not be swept under the carpet, similar allegations have been made against the government in our own country almost on a daily basis since 9/11.
In my own mind, I am convinced that the current AKP administration is far less “authoritarian” than the administrations set up by no less than three military coup d’etats since 1960. For those interested in an in-depth look at the Gulen movement and its relations with the military, I would recommend Muhammed Cetin’s recent book, “The Gulen Movement: Civic Service Without Borders.”
Turkey suffers under a French model of church-state relations known as laicism, which deprives the citizenry of liberty of conscience and uses the power of government to enforce secularity. The Turkish people would be much better served by the American model of church-state relations, which both disestablishes religion and ensures its free exercise.
For Americans to comprehend the situation in Turkey, they need only imagine what would happen if the military threatened to overthrow the government every time the first lady, in accord with her private religious convictions, wore a cross on her necklace in public.