On the Issues Episode 18: Emre Celik

My guest today is Emre Celik, President of the Rumi Forum. His work focuses on intercultural dialogue issues related to pluralism, social harmony, and peace building. Celik is originally from Australia, where he was involved in numerous interfaith and education projects in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. He has a degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in teaching.

Below is a full transcript for this episode (lightly edited for clarity).

ABM: I’m Alon Ben-Meir, and welcome to another episode of On the Issues. My guest today is Emre Celik, president of the Rumi Forum. His work focuses on intercultural dialogue issues related to pluralism, social harmony, and peace building. Celik is originally from Australia, where he was involved in numerous interfaith and education projects in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. He has a degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in teaching. You can find his full bio on the page for this episode. And thank you so much Emre for being here, especially now in D.C.

EC: Thank you, yes, thank you to be here. Nice, cool day.

ABM: Yeah. Yesterday was a summer day.

EC: Yes. In less than twelve hours we went from warm to very, very cool.

ABM: Yeah. You know we just had a meeting, you were there.

EC: Yes.

ABM: Talking about Turkey. David Phillips made a presentation about Erdogan and Erdogan’s attention. What do you make out of this, Erdogan’s effort now to basically legally become a dictator by changing, amending the constitution and pushing Turkey ever so steadily toward Islamization?

EC: Yes, we’ve been on that rocky road for depending on where you take as a reference point for the last few years, particularly since the corruption probe, the increased persecution of people affiliated with the Gülen movement, and then thereafter the coup. We have 130,000 people that have been suspended, and that’s just in bureaucracy, not including private enterprise. 90,000 people detained, 46,000 people imprisoned. And many of them are without a court date or access to their files. They don’t know why, other than the fact they’re somehow affiliated on this–

ABM: Now, in which way.

EC: And, this paints a broader picture of course where Erdogan unfortunately is taking Turkey. So he’s going to have legal precedents to be a formalized dictator, unfortunately.

ABM: Yeah. But you know, we’re talking—you mentioned earlier the Fetullah Gülen movement.

EC: Yes.

ABM: And knowing that the two, Gülen himself and Erdogan, were very close friends at one point.

EC: No, I would argue that they weren’t friends. I think there was a convergence–

ABM: Of interest.

EC: Around, yeah, around values. I think even though obviously many movement participants and Gülen himself can now look back and say this was a mistake to trust Erdogan and those affiliated with him, but many people–did you know many people in the EU, in the Obama administration, around the world, looked to Turkey as a model. It was known as a Turkish model because of these values. So just as–

ABM: Are you talking about the values?

EC: Yeah, the values of EU accession – constitutional reform, judicial reform – these are the issues that were on the table. It is around these issues that movement participants, particularly those in the movement-affiliated newspapers, and Gülen himself, said positive things. But similarly many people, many democrats around the world said the same thing. So the minute the AKP and really Erdogan took a u-turn, this is when there was a falling out between the movement’s media and the AKP, but specifically Erdogan.

ABM: But you see, when I have been looking at it, I didn’t see a specific point of departure in terms of the AK Party, pretty much. And the Gülen movement has supported by and large the same principles.

EC: Up until they veered away.

ABM: Yeah, up to a point.

EC: I think the movement held on to those principles. And as a result of those principles, we see that they’re being persecuted today.

ABM: OK. Why the rupture?

EC: They’ve taken the higher moral ground, and this is particularly important because we have a lot of other Muslim-inspired movements in Turkey that aren’t suffering. Why? Because they have bent over backwards to accept and accommodate Erdogan. Gülen, based on principle, didn’t succumb to Erdogan’s anti-democratic stance. The movement, institutions in particular, the public voice of the movement through its media vis-a-vis Zaman, which was Turkey’s number one newspaper, was the only newspaper selling that had a circulation of more than one million. Just three days ago it was its first anniversary, March 9, when Zaman went down in 2016.

ABM: Yeah, but the point is when Erdogan was pursuing aggressively political and social reforms, and certainly he focused a great deal on the economy. And he has managed to build a very powerful constituencies, specifically those who benefited from his economic development. So.

EC: But you’ve got other groups, you’ve got secular liberals, Kurds, many of them supported Erdogan.

ABM: This is true. So–

EC: So you have a broad base of support. So we can’t single out the Hizmet movement or Gülen as–

ABM: But why is it that he was against the Hizmet movement? What is it, what are the principal objections? Where did the cleavage come from? Where did the discord come from?

EC: I think the historical difference is the difference between how they view Islam in the public sphere and how Gülen views Islam. I think Gülen’s understanding, and I think the message that’s been brought home quite well in the Western media, is that there is a struggle between democracy and autocracy. The subplot I suggest was missed out to some degree in that the struggle really in Turkey is civil Islam versus political Islam. This is the ideological difference and the worldview by which Erdogan sees a top-down approach where the state has a role in religion, and Gülen sees it as a personal issue that religion remains in the personal and civic space. And for that reason, it was convenient both for the movement and the AKP as well as other actors–be them liberal, Kurdish, or otherwise–coming around to these values that the AKP initially sought to uphold. Again, judicial reform, giving rights to various minorities and communities, including Kurds.

ABM: But there’s no discord on this issue between the two sides. And the Gülen movement was also focused a great deal on building hundreds, thousands of schools, promoting Islam. So he was not exactly focusing solely on secular teaching, but he also promoted– I was myself several times in many of these schools in Ankara, in Istanbul, and elsewhere. So he pushed Islamic education in a very aggressive manner.

EC: No, the schools do not promote Islam. The schools in all the countries in which they exist, and remember, the movement is active in more than 160 countries. The schools follow the state curriculum. The state curriculum, this is important.

ABM: But there was emphasis on Islam as a subject, a great deal of emphasis.

EC: In Turkey, despite the fact that Turkey is a secular state, it has a subject known as Religion and Culture. Religion and Culture, I wanted to get the name right.

ABM: Okay.

EC: So this is a state sanctioned subject. For example, I’m from Australia. The schools don’t have a religious subject, because it’s not part of the state curriculum.

ABM: Exactly. Now Erdogan is–

EC: So if the school, and remember, these subjects existed pre-Erdogan. These subjects have existed under the Kemalist state. So some would argue that they instilled both. Remember that Turkey, despite the fact that it’s a secular state, has a Religious Affairs Directorate. Some people argue, and this existence was founded under the Kemalist state. They argue that this was formed so that religion could be controlled. And for similar reasons, that the state curriculum has a religious subject so that it can be used as a means to control religion both in the classroom and in the wider community through mosques. Remember, to be an imam or a preacher, and this includes Gülen, you’re a state bureaucrat. You can’t be an independent imam in Turkey. You’d have to be licensed with the Religious Affairs Directorate. So this is an issue that’s existed in the AKP period, but it’s also existed pre-AKP.

ABM: But when you–

EC: So the fact is that the movement-affiliated schools are similar to state schools. They teach religion and culture because it’s sanctioned by the state.

ABM: OK. But when I visit these schools–

EC: What Erdogan has done, he’s increased these types of subjects, he’s brought in—


EC: Quranic classes, other classes, and is enforcing these with people of non-religious background, people of non-Turkish background, people of non-Muslim background. This is something that we should all argue against, that people shouldn’t be forced to learn or have religion if you will rammed down their throats. So this is problematic. And this is what Erdogan’s introduced.

ABM: I understand. Let me just focus one second on the question of teaching religion in classrooms. From what I see, what Erdogan has been doing today, in the last five, six, seven years, eight years, he’s been forcing, introducing in high school and in the universities more and more courses teaching Islam.

EC: Yes.

ABM: This is very pervasive now throughout Turkey. The Gülen movement has also been promoting building these schools. And there was some emphasis, greater emphasis on Islamic studies in these schools than other subjects. I’m not suggesting other subjects–

EC: I don’t know of anything like that. I’ve been to these schools, I even did an internship in my early years when I visited Turkey, I taught English in those schools. Whatever the state requirement was, that was. These schools are well known for two things: science and technology. The students of these schools have brought home gold, silver, and bronze medallions in the various science Olympiads. These include international Olympiads. Chemistry, physics, maths, and information technology.

AMB: I know.

EC: So they produce the best students, which is why this movement has successful students that have ended up in successful universities, be it in Turkey, here in the United States, or elsewhere. So the emphasis of the schools in many of those 160 countries is science and technology, not religion. The only place, and I need to emphasize this, the only place that religion is ever taught is if it’s state sanctioned. Turkey’s one example I know of. I think Egypt’s another. I know of Indonesia as well.

ABM: OK, well let’s just focus on these schools in Turkey.

EC: Yes.

ABM: In Egypt, in Indonesia, where the Gülen movement have built many of these schools. And based on what I see, there was an emphasis on religious studies. I’m not suggesting other subjects were excluded, certainly science and technology was very strong.

EC: Well, I need the counterargument. I’ve visited these schools, I’ve worked in these schools, ok.

ABM: And they were also—

EC: I’m a participant of this movement. I’ve been involved for 25 years. I know Gülen at one level, personally. He has never encouraged this. He encourages at the personal level, you can read his books.

ABM: But what was then, what was—

EC: You can listen to his sermons and his preaching. But there is no avenue for religious studies to be taught in these schools, other than what is sanctioned by the state. So that’s important. What is emphasized, and this is my counterargument to what you’re saying, that religious studies or Islamic Studies is emphasized, no. I would argue, and that’s what I’ve seen. And this is what the competitions that the schools have won internationally – they emphasize science, physics, chemistry, maths, and IT. So I would be interested in your sources that suggest this.

ABM: Well, I’ve seen myself for example, I went to these schools – first of all it’s predominantly boys, OK. I have not seen a single girl student in these schools. And I asked the principals, the teachers, why? Well, they gave me all kinds of explanations, we don’t put it—

EC: But there are single sex schools. I’ve been to Jewish and Catholic schools that are single sex in Australia, so.

ABM: No, no, but as far as the Gülen movement schools are concerned.

EC: And there are mixed schools as well, which is what I spoke about today.

ABM: Well I haven’t seen it, but the vast majority of these schools were for boys by and large. Not all of them, but there were a vast majority. That’s what I know. And I also know from the teachers themselves, they were telling me– I want to get to the point, my point here is that when they were telling me yes, religious studies, whether consistent with the requirement of the state, I grant you that, but go back to the requirement of the state. Remember, from the time the Turkish Republic was created in 1923, there were several prime ministers who attempted an Islamic coup, basically trying to introduce Islamic studies and make Turkey more and more leaning toward conservative Islam. I mean, this is not the first time. So what I’m saying is—

EC: Which coup are you talking about?

ABM: Well there were at least two or three, two coups we had. Was it Arbadan? What was his first name? And the one who–

EC: There was no, it’s that all the coups up–

ABM: Well, there were two coups at least where the military intervened precisely because they were shifting or emphasizing.

EC: They were shifting in the Baltics, yes.

ABM: They were shifting into Islamic studies.

EC: But there was a soft coup of ’98, against Erbakan.

ABM: Erbakan, yes.

EC: But all the others were at the hands of Kemalist soldiers divided between the left and the right.

ABM: Yeah, but the religious component was very strong in these two coups. One of the prime ministers [Adnan Menderes], I’m sure you know, was actually executed subsequently because of that, because if he was very strong in introducing Islam. My point here is that Islam as such, in Turkey yes, Kemal Ataturk wanted a separation of powers so to speak. He wanted to create a secular state, a more westernized state. That is the case. But throughout this, almost 90 years now, throughout this process there was always a consistent effort by various governments to promote Islam, and in a consistent way. And I did not see a single government, going back 30, 40, 50 years, that did not want to have anything to do with Islam. Basically, they wanted to present the so-called Islamic democracy. That’s what Erdogan’s flag was – we have an Islamic democracy – when in fact he was moving very steadily and very consistently to make the country ever more Islamist. We know this to be the fact. Now my point is this: the Gülen movement, the religion Islam is not strange to the Gülen movement. They were also emphasizing the importance of religion. OK I’ll take your point.

EC: He’s a preacher, so I think we need to look at it not necessarily within institutions but in his private capacity as a preacher. So the institutions we need to separate from Gülen’s role as a preacher. He’s a preacher. He preaches Islam.

ABM: But this is exactly my point.

EC: So this is significant, so he preaches Islam. That’s his role. You believe this is an important part.

ABM: But there was no, yeah.

EC: Learning civil Islam from the pulpit, which is what he encouraged through the 70s and 80s.

ABM: And, ok.

EC: And, to this day in his public discussions on social media and what have you.

ABM: This is exactly the point. He does that, he preaches that.

EC: Yes.

ABM: And for him.

EC: But we need to separate him–

ABM: Well, but the separation.

EC: From the institutions. That’s significant. That’s significant.

ABM: Well you call it significant.

EC: Because these institutions exist in many countries that are predominantly Muslim, to predominantly Buddhist, to predominantly Hindu, to predominantly Christian. So these schools exist in these countries and do not emphasize religious studies or even within that, Islamic studies. So you may have one example or you may have some examples in the Muslim world, but you can’t point to examples and say that this is generalization that the movement is involved in. You can’t.

ABM: But you cannot suggest also that Islamic studies were not part and parcel of the curriculum.

EC: Only because, and I’ve mentioned this before, only because it’s part of the state curriculum.

ABM: And there also–

EC: So, whether it was a Hizmet movement-affiliated school or anybody else, including Kemalists, had to learn religious studies as sanctioned by the state.

ABM: And the fact.

EC: So I think that’s significant.

ABM: No, I think, I understand it.

EC: That’s important, that people listening to this need to realize that the movement is not about spreading Islam or spreading some type of ideology around religion. It is about serving communities, encouraging science and technology, and allowing communities, particularly those in the third world and poorer countries, to be empowered through knowledge to be successful.

ABM: But you can.

EC: To come back, and to serve the community.

ABM: But you would say then if this was the case.

EC: Yes.

ABM: Why would Erdogan object to all of this? This is exactly the point, that is, if there was no strong Islamic component.

EC: And this is the difference between civil Islam and political Islam, is that civil Islam exists in the civic space and in the personal spaces.

ABM: This is true.

EC: And there’s a lovely article I would refer you to read by Dr. [unclear], that differentiates the understanding of Islam in the modern era, civil versus political.

ABM: Now I grant you that, whereas Erdogan is moving more and more to a political Islam, no question, and there is perhaps less so.

EC: And this explains why the movement has been successful in 160 countries, except we can exclude Turkey now. And that’s got nothing to do with the movement itself. It’s to do with the persecution of the autocratic tendencies of Erdogan.

ABM: But in which way then are the schools that belong to the Gülen movement different than ordinary schools elsewhere, anywhere in the world? What was different, why, if—

EC: Emphasis on science and technology, number one. Number two, mentoring programs that incorporated not only the students, but the families and the wider community, and as a spinoff of that, encouraging service. So these are three of the main values: science and technology education; mentoring programs that incorporated the wider community, so not just students and families but everyone; and then the importance of civic and social activism, getting students involved. I’ll give you one example. We visited a school, I went back home to visit my family in December 2016 a few months ago, and I visited the school, I have friends there. I was a teacher at one of the schools in Sydney, which is where I’m from. And they had a garden, a large garden, maybe four, five times the size of this room. And students from K to 12, Kindergarten, played a role. A) It was a mechanism to learn about gardening, about biology and ecology, about the environment, that we realize where food and fruits come from. And they would raise the fruits and the vegetables out of this garden. They would fund it themselves, the produce they would produce, they would sell at a farmers market because they farmed this organically. And the funds that they made would help continue to run the farm, and the profits they would send to an orphanage in Africa. So all the students, big or small, contributed to the running of this vegetable garden. They make money from it. The profits went to an orphanage in Africa. So there’s many lessons. There’s science lessons, there’s social responsibility lessons, and there’s civic and social service to others that need it, helping that. So this is just one example.

ABM: No, I understand that of this, and I understand that they are involved in a very direct, effective way in all of these subjects and some, there’s no question. That does not still explain the fact that the Gülen movement and Erdogan finally split. What was the basis for that split? This is simply personal? It’s not, it can’t be personal.

EC: No, I think it’s principles around the fact that A) Gülen, and B) Hizmet movement institutions—

ABM: In which way these–

EC: Took a principled stance. One of the first signs was the fact that Erdogan came down hard on university prep schools. There were 4,000 of them. These help kids in government or private schools through extracurricular tuition at evenings and on weekends to help them get into university. Of the 4,000, it is alleged about 1,000, a quarter of them, were affiliated with the movement. He got rid of all of them, and many commentators in Turkey said–

ABM: The question is, why? What happened there? Why would he want to get rid–?

EC: I think this was a long term plan because—

ABM: What is the purpose?

EC: –by virtue of the fact that the movement has a strong conservative base. That’s, Gülen—

ABM: But in which way? The point is–

EC: Gülen historically never liked people using religion for the benefit of politics, he quoted often a very important Kurdish scholar.

ABM: But this is exactly what he’s doing now.

EC: Said, [unclear] he said, and this is an important statement. If you don’t mind, let me quote him. He said when religion and politics mix they both lose, but religion loses even more so.

ABM: But you don’t buy into that argument. I mean, this is–

EC: Gülen was very concerned with people using politics as Erbakan previous to Erdogan, and as Erdogan started to increase such rhetoric, using religion for political means.

ABM: But this is exactly what he was preaching against before. This what he was initially saying, we need to separate between politics and Islam.

EC: Yes.

ABM: But now he is actually pushing political Islam. For Erdogan today, it’s the method, it’s the philosophy by which he is governing today.

EC: Yes.

ABM: So. I want to go back. What was then the reason for the departure, for the conflict, between the two sides. From a theoretical perspective, the Gülen movement was pushing, all the subjects that you’ve been talking about. You know, science, chemistry, and technology and all of that, and doing social work which is very important. These subjects—

EC: I get Erdogan feeds the fact that Gülen’s principle stands against historical, stands against political Islam, and where Erdogan was taking Turkey, using these methods of politicizing Islam and Islamicizing politics. Sooner or later he felt that the strong base that Gülen had around him would reject Erdogan. So he saw this as an opportunity—

ABM: But why would he—

EC: –to quiet them down, quiet down Gülen and the public voice of the movement, the media institutions–and remember, after the corruption probe I just mentioned a few moments ago, the one number one newspaper that was being critical of Erdogan, Zaman newspaper–

ABM: Zaman, yeah, I know that.

EC: Was brought down. So that– and of course, the corruption probe became a great excuse to come down after. He used this as he gave this the title of civilian coup against the government. He suggested that this was backed by Western powers and that local agents who he inferred was the movement, was behind the corruption probe, move ahead —

ABM: This is, we understand that. I want to go back to the school, because this is an important point. That is, you would assume that Erdogan would not object to any curriculum that deals with sciences, technology, computer science, and all of that. If that was the emphasis of the Gülen schools, there should be absolutely no resistance to that on the part of– Now, there was another component. What is the other component to which Erdogan objected to?

EC: But these schools didn’t encourage the Islamization of knowledge or of politics, and therefore many of the students coming out were sympathetic to this understanding of Islam. Civil Islam, as opposed to using Islam for politics, when this was encouraged in religious schools or other schools that were affiliated or close to Erdogan—

ABM: This is where–

EC: And the various religious movements that were close to Erdogan.

ABM: So let us establish then, because we want to clarify this for people who will listen to this conversation. Now we are dividing civil Islam versus political Islam. Whereas the Gülen movement pursues civil Islam and for the good, all the reasons you just have mentioned. Erdogan basically is using political Islam to further his own political ambitions. And this is more than transparent in the last seven, eight, nine years. The point is this: there’s nothing in the Gülen school system that is inconsistent still with what Erdogan himself– And you are saying that he is afraid, that this teaching civil Islam in these schools is going—

EC: Represented through the participants in the movement, as teachers that are role models, because remember.

ABM: But why would that be contrary to Erdogan’s interest? Why would he—civil Islam and political Islam are not mutually–

EC: Because he never gained Gülen’s endorsement. And Gülen has always been critical of actors that use religion for political gain.

ABM: OK, so now we are getting to a point, so we are reducing it also to a personal conflict, not only ideological. I don’t think because civil—

EC: No, I think these are the values by which we understand Islam in the modern era.

ABM: No, true. But civil Islam, let me just repeat, civil Islam and political Islam are not mutually exclusive. They are not one against the other. Well, I’m not suggesting political Islam is the right route to take, the right path to take, but civil Islam is a positive approach to religion, to a way of life. But how do you in fact take countries where they use Islam as the political foundation of the state? Today, Turkey is not alone. I mean, this is what Erdogan is trying to do. Look at various Arab countries. Political Islam is what governed Saudi Arabia, political Islam is what governed many other states, in the Gulf and others. But in the same token, they’re also introduced to the school curriculum, other subjects. So what they’ve been able to do is basically find a formula where political Islam and civil Islam are not necessarily separated because they see that one could actually complement the other. Well, that is not the case in Turkey itself. That is, Erdogan saw a threat. So, he realized it’s a threat. But the Gülen movement is threatening what he wants to do, what he wants to achieve. So really, what I’m trying to establish with you is, because for me it is more than just the school system. It is not just pursuing political versus civil Islam, it was also an element of personal conflict between the two. It is not because necessarily ideologically they have a disagreement with one another from a political perspective. So what was beyond that? Why was there this competition between the two sides? Why? Why, to a point where now Erdogan is persecuting anyone that belongs to the Hizmet movement?

EC: That of course goes beyond the corruption probe in regards to– I think the movement became the go-to scapegoat. You know, he created, fermented enough hate and fear of the movement of Gülen, and used the pretext of the failed coup of July 2016 to complete. And remember, within hours of the demise of that failed coup, lists were ready, and many commentators in the west–

ABM: Yeah. But, but.

EC: Suggest at least, these lists were ready in advance, and that he used it to–

ABM: This is true, but the conflict.

EC: Start a new wave of purges against the movement.

ABM: But the conflict was started way before the last coup, between the two sides. I mean, we’re going back–

EC: I mean we can go back, we can go to Mavi Marmara for example, where Gülen made statements in the Wall Street Journal in regards to the incident. He suggested that the participants in the blockade, so these public statements of course– And remember, the individuals involved were closely aligned to the then-prime minister. He said, we gave them permission to sail off, and words to that effect. So Gülen’s stance both in terms of, he made two important statements there, that a) the incident was ugly and b) that they should have sought permission with the authorities. So this was not taken lightly by Erdogan and those close to him. So I think that there is a historical context, but I still think it comes to the fact that historically Gülen’s non-Islamist stance was always a threat to those that wanted to curb Turkey in that direction. And that’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing the Islamization of politics, and I know we’ve gone over this, and the politicization of Islam, and this is something at the core of what Gülen believes. And the fact that the movement has been successful is the fact that relates to the tradition that Islam is not ingrained in the institutions, whereas Erdogan wants to ingrain these in these types of institutions.

ABM: No, I understand that. But let’s just go back. If this kind of understanding exists, it does not actually justify the major conflict between the two sides today. So when we talk about criticism, you criticize Erdogan about the Marmara event, you criticize Erdogan for various policies that he’s taken that have no relationship to religion; just it’s a political disagreement on specific issues. But I put all of this together, and I still don’t understand myself where this – other than you are suggesting that merely Erdogan was most concerned about how successful the Gülen movement was, and he did not want to allow it to continue to flourish because that is going to undermine his policy and his politics. But where is this going to? Where is this going to lead to? Now, yes. Now he’s in power, he’s persecuting those Turks who presumably belong to the Hizmet movement, to the Gülen movement. But what’s happening now?What is taking place now? Where is this going to go?

EC: Well you know, the movement of course is under a lot of stress in Turkey. The numbers of people as you know that have been purged, all the institutions have been closed down or expropriated. The movement’s become a [unclear] movement. It exists outside of Turkey. Those that are affiliated with the movement and have opportunities to leave have left. Many people are seeking asylum, and this includes others as well that are not affiliated. Turkey has gone down a dark path, and it appears to be getting even darker if Erdogan is granted super presidency. So that’s a difficult call. My biggest concern is beyond Erdogan; the levels of polarity that exist will take possibly decades. I’ve spoken to children of Holocaust survivors. They say that hate continues beyond the leader, because it’s been entrenched through government-backed institutions. And remember, there is no independent media, everything is in the hands of Erdogan. The media of Turkey has become a propaganda machine for Erdogan. So all the polarization against Kurds, against Alawites, and in particular against sympathizers or participants of the Hizmet movement, those that are close to Gülen, are seen as demons. And that has been pumped day in, day out. I quote Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister. He said, if you lie to the people often enough, they’ll believe you. And this is what’s been happening for the last three years.

ABM: Oh, more than that. I mean, it’s more than that, of course.

EC: Yes. And in particular, in regards to the persecution of the movement, and the purges that began slowly but were ramped up as a result of the attempted coup, which in fact of course is anti-democratic. Gülen spoke against the coup. He even said if there was anyone affiliated with me, they’ve gone against all the values that I stand for and the movement stands for. We still don’t know, is it eight months on, we still don’t know who’s perpetrating this.

ABM: Do you have a hunch yourself? Do you believe in any conspiracy kind of theory of sort?

EC: I think that’s something that’s plausible, you know, Kemalist soldiers planned this and it was allowed to enact. Erdogan co-opted some of those soldiers, allowed for a small group that knew it was a coup, allowed it to take place in a controlled environment. And soldiers that didn’t know it was a coup thought it was either a terrorist attack, or a war game. And many lower-ranking soldiers that took part were interviewed, saying we were told that was either a terrorist attack, some people reported it as that, or a war game. But we don’t have enough. So they’re not allowing evidence to come out. So no one can really make informed decisions, other than, based on some of the evidence. And remember, David again, you just had a conversation with from Columbia University, suggested the same, that it was a controlled coup that Erdogan took advantage of. And that’s significant.

ABM: It it’s entirely possible, it’s possible. But a military coup in Turkey is not a new phenomenon. It happened before, and nobody suggested then that the military coups were contrived, two, three times before.

EC: But this was done so badly.

ABM: Well this was done–

EC: So badly. Again, I’m quoting David here, and I’ve forgotten his surname, just so people know, who was the Columbia University professor?

ABM: Yeah, David Phillips.

EC: David Phillips.

ABM: Yeah.

EC: He said it was controlled and it was it was meant to fail.

ABM: Well, we don’t know.

EC: Of course, and we may never know. And I agree with that, we may never know. This is a plausible scenario.

ABM: Yeah. The fact that–

EC: It’s more plausible than what Erdogan tells us.

ABM: Maybe, but what will support that is the fact that he had this ready-made list of nearly a hundred thousand people that they were able to round up the following two or three days. That suggests that it was something planned, and he may very well have some part in it.

EC: Yeah, he took advantage of it.

ABM: As part of it.

EC: Even if he wasn’t involved at all, he took advantage of it. As he said, it’s a gift from God. Quote-unquote, it’s a gift from God.

ABM: Now I want to just take it from here. The Gülen movement today is on the defensive. The Gülen movement today is on the defensive.

EC: Yes.

ABM: I just was invited to a meeting in New York City, was it three, four days ago? A group of Gulenists, actually we met. And they wanted to hear what people like myself and others can suggest, how to sustain, how to strengthen the Hizmet movement, because they feel that they are under attack.

EC: Yes.

ABM: Outside Turkey. Now if they feel attacked outside Turkey, what is happening now? Do you expect, do you anticipate that the Gülen movement at any point in time can come back and restore some of its philosophy, civil, within Turkey itself?

EC: I think that’s a long project. I would like to think so. But not under the current circumstances.

ABM: Do you consider yourself belonging to the Gülen movement?

EC: Of course, I’ve been a participant for 25 years.

ABM: Well that’s great. Now I know why you’re defending it so.

EC: Because I’m a participant of the movement. I’ve given up my creative involvement in these types of activities, I feel very privileged to be. I would assume you knew that.

ABM: No, I knew that, I just wanted to know what’s your take, because anyone who speaks the way you talk about the Gülen movement, you surely belong to the movement or are part of the movement. But being that you are, what do you suggest? What kind of path would you like to chart for the future? Are you going to stay on the defensive? Now, I don’t know how much longer Erdogan will last. Where do you see the future for the movement?

EC: I think continue to be active in the civil space while taking up the responsibility of assisting those that are in trouble.

ABM: Where?

EC: In each of the respective countries that the movement’s active in. So for me it’s Washington D.C. For others it’s New York, others the U.K., Spain, Australia, elsewhere.

ABM: So why—

EC: Remember, Turkey’s the major issue here. But the movement’s active in 160 other countries. So you know, steady as she goes and continue to serve.

ABM: And are you suggesting that with or without support from Turkey itself, or without, if the movement died in Turkey itself, it has resonance to exist elsewhere?

EC: Yes, the movement isn’t about just serving the Turkish people. It’s about serving all people. There are problems everywhere.

ABM: So, what is the difference between this movement and many scores of other groups and organizations, political, that do the same thing?

EC: That Gülen’s able to frame this within an Islamic understanding, theologically, and say that this is how Muslims around the world and those that are friends of these values – so that includes people of other faiths, and people of no faith – to come together to serve. But the motivation for many Muslims that are observant Muslims, Gülen frames this within a theological understanding. But he also frames it around, for those that aren’t Muslim or those that are secular, he frames it around a social responsibility aspect as well. So there’s two dimensions, that those that are observant have responsibility to the creator and creation, and those that are not observant have responsibilities to their communities, irrespective. And that’s significant.

ABM: It is, fine. But I want to go back and we’re going to conclude with this, right, more or less. Go back to where we started. And that is, the Islamic component of the Gülen movement is very important, that you cannot–

EC: For those that are observant Muslims. There are people that consider themselves part of the movement that aren’t Muslim. Is there anything wrong with that? No.

ABM: Where do you find these people?

EC: We have advisers, for example here in Washington D.C. You go to our website, look at the different ways. We’ve people that are rabbis and pastors that support our activities, that donate their money, that donate their time.

ABM: Support. But do they belong to the movement?

EC: Well, supporting the movement, participating in activities.

ABM: I mean, I can support many organizations. But I don’t belong to the organization.

EC: Well I think there’s a there’s a fine line. I never belonged to the organization, but I was part of the movement as a volunteer while I worked as an engineer, previous to my position.

ABM: I’m not being critical of what the movement is doing.

EC: No, I’m not suggesting you are.

ABM: And to me, what I’m saying. Do you feel that the movement has a future? And to what extent this actually can take place if there is no future for the movement in Turkey itself?

EC: I, I—

ABM: What will happen say after Fethullah Gülen dies, what would happen after that?

EC: I think it’s giving a creative opportunity for the movement participants to look at new avenues to grow within countries where they weren’t as strong as a result. And remember, a lot of people have been pushed out of Turkey. So this gives them the catalyst to be more active with the new people, to look for new opportunities, and to–

ABM: And are you suggesting it will last if Gülen is no longer there, if he’s no longer alive?

EC: I mean, I think that’s one possibility.

ABM: But, how do you see the future without him? Do you feel that his presence, his importance as such, the leader of the moment spiritually, practically, politically, and otherwise?

EC: Well not practically, he doesn’t control the activities in 160 countries, but the values he espouses.

ABM: Do you feel, suppose he departed the scene tomorrow. Do you have some–

EC: Well, he will eventually have to.

ABM: Well, who’s going to assume the helm of the movement and continue with the [unclear]?

EC: We don’t have him at the helm of the movement per se anyway. The institutions run independent of him. He doesn’t know what’s happening in Fiji or New Zealand or Nepal.

ABM: This is true.

EC: Or Norway. Of course there’ll be maybe a morale loss for a certain period. But I think he’s inculcated in the participants our dynamism and opportu–

ABM: But do you really feel that this can continue?

EC: Motivation to look for opportunities, and to find people that need the services that are necessary.

ABM: Without leadership?

EC: There’s local leadership everywhere. I’m at the head of the Rumi Forum, I have a team, I work with them, I don’t consult Gülen. I’ve been here eight years.

ABM: I mean historically speaking.

EC: He doesn’t know what the Rumi Forum does.

ABM: Well he doesn’t have to know the details. But historically speaking.

EC: Yes.

ABM: Any movement, any government, you’re going to have some leader–a leader to be emulated, a leader to be followed. If you do not have Gülen today, alive, and you don’t have somebody who can actually take his place and become the leader, are you suggesting that it can exist by simply perpetuating and promoting what each chapter is doing in various countries?

EC: I think that’s a big question. I don’t know. The movement can continue. There may be a demise, I mean that that’s a possibility. We don’t know. It’s a matter of crossing that bridge when we get to it.

ABM: But why wait?

EC: The circumstances.

ABM: But why wait? If this is–

EC: But we don’t know the circumstances that the movement will be in.

ABM: I mean.

EC: We don’t know the circumstances the world will be in, we don’t know the circumstances of Turkey, which has been a strong hub for the movement.

ABM: But this is all more so because of that. I would think that he himself would think in those terms. Well I am 70, 80, I don’t know how old he is at this point. About 80 years old?

EC: Coming to 80 years.

ABM: 80 years old. He knows there’s a time where he’s not going to be around. Shouldn’t you think that he himself would think in terms of how should we perpetuate, how we should continue to promote this idea?

EC: I think he’s laid out the plan by virtue of the values, by encouraging people to be involved, to be selfless and sacrificial, etc. These are in his books, in his preachings, and he has 80 books to his name. So whether he continues–

ABM: Do you really believe that any movement can survive unless you have significant leadership at the helm?

EC: I mean, we’ll find out. I’m not necessarily suggesting that the movement will grow or–

ABM: But my question to you, why do you want to wait to find out? I mean, we know you’re going to need some kind of leadership. If I were Gülen myself, Fethullah Gülen myself, I would say I’m 80 years old. I’m 85 years old, and I have to think in terms, if I want this movement to continue to grow, to be stronger, I’m going to have to find somebody who’s going to lead it. But I don’t see that’s happening.

EC: But the concept here is that you’re suggesting that he actually leads the movement. No, he doesn’t.

ABM: Well who does?

EC: He doesn’t. The movement in 160 countries is independent of one another. It’s a loose network of organizations that generally adhere to the principles that he’s espoused for 40 years. He doesn’t come in and tell me what I do at the Rumi Forum, or what other people do.

ABM: Of course not, I know that. But he–

EC: And beyond his life, we’ll see. I think it’s a matter of seeing when we get to that juncture, because the conditions of the world that will be the conditions of the individuals, and the status of the individuals.

ABM: My feeling is that if you leave this, since you don’t know what you’re going to be, obviously then you don’t know what’s going to be the future of the movement. So you cannot say I don’t know what’s going to happen in Turkey, I don’t know.

EC: Just as the coup was unpredictable and its effect on the movement, I think it’s unpredictable. I would hope that it continues to grow in strength, to look for new opportunities, to serve people in various areas.

ABM: The reason I’m raising this question is because if the movement basically is being decimated in Turkey itself and the head of the movement, Fethullah Gülen himself, departs the scene, passes away, then the future of the movement in my view will be in serious jeopardy. You do not have any longer the base where the movement was created in the first place, and you don’t have the leadership. And that is eventually where people like Erdogan will win the day. That’s how I see it. I see the movement needs to reconsider its position today. Where do we want to be 10, 15, 20 years down the line? Yes, a lot of things can change around the world, in Turkey itself, elsewhere. But we should have a vision.

When I talked to this group just last week, I asked them this very question. The whole movement, the Hizmet, Fethullah Gülen is the heart, the center, the soul, and the spirit of the movement today still. That’s why they look up to him. And I’m suggesting to him, you are under tremendous stress. They’re looking for ways and means by which to help perpetuate the movement in New York. And I raise this question. How do you see the future? Where is it going? And there’s no answer. There’s no answer. They’re saying, it depends. Do you really think a movement can continue, because it depends on what else is developing, unless you have some kind of strategy that can consider all kinds of developments.

EC: I think the virtue of the fact that there’s maybe more important issues at hand today than to be thinking about what’s going to happen with the demise or the passing away of Gülen. We have a new class of refugees, the movement has moved into a position of assisting these people that are trying to get out. The world’s a different place to what it was 3, 4 years ago. And I’m not just talking about Turkey, or autocratic tendencies here or in Europe. So these are new issues that have been brought on the table.

ABM: But it’s no longer–

EC: Not only for the movement but for all people, for all communities, for all civil society actors.

ABM: But it is no longer exclusive to the movement. That’s the whole point.

EC: So yes.

ABM: It’s no longer exclusive to the movement. Which means, this movement will become just like any other movement that deals with this humanitarian issues.

EC: I mean, that’s a possibility, I tell you. I’m not arguing against the fact that you know.

ABM: I mean, that’s what I really wanted to.

EC: You know, I’m not arguing against the fact that I think it’s unpredictable. I can’t guarantee the movement will exist in 15, 20 years. I don’t know.

ABM: That’s my point. My point is those who believe in it, those who want to have it, to see it last, in my view are not taking the kind of steps necessary to promote it. Because if you now agree with me that the movement is what it’s doing in terms of humanitarian aid–be that refugees, teaching, schooling, work, all of that–it is no longer exclusive to the Gülen movement. And that’s when a movement disappears, when it is not longer, if you don’t have the spiritual leader for it, and you don’t have a specific philosophy that is different than the other philosophies in terms of human needs, human dimension. Then the Gülen movement as such will not be able to survive. That’s how I see it.

EC: Watch this space. Let’s live and learn.

ABM: Okay. Thank you so much, I really appreciate you taking the time.

EC: You’re most welcome. It was a pleasure.

ABM: The pleasure is mine. I hope you don’t mind, we sort of– I wanted to argue with you.

EC: Not at all, I was testing you and you did okay. I’m willing to do this again.

ABM: Anytime, anytime. I’ll be better prepared next time.

EC: I hope. I hope so. I see potential, I see potential.