The rise and fall of the Islamic movement in Turkey: “Everything turned out to be a huge lie!”

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Translated by Melissa Clissold

The transfer of Istanbul City University to Marmara University has opened the door to a new era in the long-standing trauma and interrogations taking place in the Islamic movement; the traumas experienced during the Gülen-Erdoğan war  has been taken to another dimension.

Hello, good day. I want to explain the rise and fall of the Islamic movement; I want to talk about this topic, and of course I’m going to be talking about Turkey. I’ve done a lot of broadcasts on this theme before. Some things will be repeated; but the whole issue of the transfer of Şehir (City) University to Marmara University yesterday is a brand-new incident, it shows us the beginning of a whole new period. I want to tell you how this relates to the title of this broadcast in a bit.

Istanbul City University was one of the most symbolic institutions in education and culture of the Islamic movement, which began its rise in the 80s and 90s; and what has happened to this institution – the fact that the state seized this institution yesterday – shows us that the state, another body, or Tayyip Erdoğan can easily seize a place that is the apple of the eye of Islamism. It is not hard to see that this will lead to brand new traumas. But I want to talk about something beyond all this; a lot has happened until now and the Islamic movement which was always assumed to be among the administration has long come to an end.

What do I base this on? There are a few aspects, but I would like to say this: After the 1980s – mid 80s, especially the beginning of the 90’s- during the time where Islamism was clearly on the rise, I became a journalist in 85 – and I worked a lot on the Islamic movement and was able to observe this rise of Islamism personally; I was able to observe all the actors, institutions and debates taking place. I had tried to elaborate on the reasons of this rise in my first book ‘Âyet ve Slogan’ that was published in 1990.

I think that there were two important points made there: First; the individual quest of people who were searching for security in the modern world, it was an ontological quest; in this respect, it had a dimension of faith. During those years, the left especially, as well as other ideologies – especially in Turkey – lost a lot; and due to the ideological gap, Islam and the Islamic movement played a very important position in filling this gap. Secondly, people’s search for solidarity is a societal search. 

In this sense, the Islamic movement claimed to offer people an answer. There were opportunities to socialize at the mosques, but beyond that there were the religious communities … The rise of Sunni organisations in Turkey took place in the 80s, therefore they were able to provide a foundation for people’s quest for security and societal solidarity in the 80s and 90s. We witnessed the rise of the Islamic movement.

The political leg of this movement was mainly assumed by the National Vision parties, firstly the Welfare Party (RP) – we’re talking about after the 80s–, then the Virtue Party (FP), and after their split, the Justice and Development Party (AKP). A large number of religious organisations came about during this time. For a period, for example, in the mid-80s, the İskenderpaşa branch of the Nakşibendism was at the forefront, the Sülaimani Jamia have always managed to keep their effect. The different branches of the Nur movement, of Nakşibendism – such as the Erenköy Congregation, İsmailağa Congregation and Qadiriyya – were able to maintain their existence.

But from a certain moment onwards, Gülenism, the movement that Fethullah Gülen formed around himself from the Nur movement became a sort of centre point for societal Islam, social Islam.

Of course, the fact that it was the centre point did not mean that the others disappeared; but especially due to certain relationships established with representatives of the state and this eventually turning into a strategic partnership with the AKP government, to a large extent Gülenists greatly controlled social Islam in Turkey and marginalised the others.

Then what happened? A lot happened: the sudden rise of the AKP, the slow fall of the AKP after a certain time onwards, meanwhile the war between the Gülenists and the AKP etc. led to things changing in Turkey in a very serious manner and for a certain time, Turkey has been witnessing the fall of the Islamic movement both socially and politically.

This incident is generally taken into account in terms of society or politics, but there is a very serious individual dimension to this as well. We have debated this here from time to time – it’s also been debated in other places too, but I think we fundamentally provided a platform for that debate to take place -, observations show that interest towards deism and atheism, especially of children from religious families, has brought about something new. The issue is not only societal or political; disengagement is taking place on a very individual level as well.

Now, yesterday I saw a few revelations, confessions or monologues on social media. They are mostly about things that the Gülenists have done. I want to quote a few of these, especially referring back to the title of this broadcast: Everything was a huge lie! The person that said this apparently lives abroad. They said:

“I’ve been separated from my family and children for four years, I’ve even forgotten their smells. For what? They said ‘The Cause’, no one even looks at me anymore. Everything was a huge lie. I keep saying ‘I hope not.’ I don’t get upset over anything, I am sad about my 30-year-long past. Where are all those guys selling vanity with their egos? Is this a cause? Everything is so dark for me, if I’m going to die, let me die during these days before I lose my faith. I have no hope left or no belief in anyone. Everything was unfortunately a huge lie. What a shame.”

It can be debated who said this with what motive etc.; but I’m certain that it’s a very sincere outpour of emotions. Us leftists experienced a different version of this after 1980. After the September 12 Coup, a lot of people, following the split of the leftist groups, experienced severe drifting, there were very serious interrogations and disengagement.

Of course, how similar is distancing oneself from the left and religion? There are of course similarities, but when it comes to religion, things change. Because with at least leftism, everything aside, there are no fundamental issues such as ‘the other side.’ But with religion – and especially with Islam – according to the claims, this world exists in order to prepare for the other world, and that’s how this world should be lived. This quote is from someone who is having second thoughts about his faith, but from what I know, there are a lot of people like this.

We usually debated the concepts of deism and atheism through discussions of children from religious families; but there are a significant amount of people who have taken up roles in different institutions, religious organisations, parties etc. within the Islamic movement. We know this is the case especially amongst Gülenists who have had to move abroad; but this does not consist solely of this, it is being questioned in a lot of places. Why is it being questioned? For example, someone says:

“These people who call themselves ‘Muslim’ but carry out filthy acts, has put me off religion. Wherever there are people saying ‘Allah’, they’ve either stolen questions or money. They are lying people don’t care about anything and don’t feel accountable to anything either.”

From what I understand, this is an issue regarding Gülenism; but this thought has started to spread significantly. Especially when it comes to claims of corruption, wastage and favouritism – and these claims are strong, they come up time to time and are in fact taking place in front of the very eyes of everyone – etc., all of these, make us think seriously that the Islam in people’s minds, the image of Islamism and the Islamic movement appear to be a facade. For example, someone on Twitter has said:

“You are not safe wherever you hear ‘Allahu Ekber’.”

Is this true? Yes it is. This is actually a very harsh statement. This statement from someone who is religious, shows us how critical, how shocking the situation actually is. To distance oneself from faith, to question faith or to limit faith to a certain degree. There were certain people I spoke to inside before the broadcast, for example; they are saying that there is a very serious inclination towards people carrying out their prayers at home in their own space, experiencing Islam individually, and hiding their religious personality from their social lives.

There are also some that say that there is a very strong inclination towards a completely individual approach to religion, where people are making do with the parts of the Quran, hadiths and other religiously themed areas that deal with faith, and not regarding the fetwas regarding social life, and therefore creating their own lines and limitations. But the more striking issue is the issue of deism, in fact atheism. There are different ranks; in the past, there were people who were ready to show their ID’s (showing that their religion was Islam) in both a societal and individual manner, but now there are more and more people avoiding this all together – this is a very striking aspect, this must be stressed especially.

There is an ending of a dream here, the dispersing of a mosaic. Incidents taking place within the AKP, in some respect from the inside – meaning those who support them -, and the outside – meaning those who oppose them – were seen as a way of Islam and the Islamic movement being tested in Turkey. No matter how much Erdoğan staying in power for the last 17 years could be considered a success, the fact that the administration has carried out certain acts to remain in power, constantly changing strategies, changing allies and distancing themselves from the essential values of what is considered “Islamic” or “religious”, legitimizing certain acts, or trying to obstruct these through authoritarian methods…these have brought about huge fractures. For example, someone says:

“Some have been isolated from their spouses, some their children, other their parents. We forgive it of course but many of our brothers have been isolated from God too in the process – deism is on the rise, respect for the Holy Book is decreasing.”

These are aspects that are being spoken about openly in public spaces; this shows that people are seriously fed up. Of course, a huge element of this incident is the class issue. There’s no meaning behind the debates that do not take class into account. When I look at everything going on; complaints, outpours etc., there’s always someone being blamed; and those are their ‘elder brothers’, party managers etc…

On one side there are suffering Gülenists, poor-fellows in prison; but on the other hand, there are those living in mansions, in ranches and those constantly trying to wind people up– this is a class issue. We are experiencing another different version of this in Turkey with regards to the AKP. In fact, this aspect is always present; together with the economic crisis, from the moment that the AKP administration, the Erdoğan administration has stopped providing satisfactory services to lower classes – and this has begun, and another dimension has been added to this with the loss of the bigger cities – these sorts of interrogations are going to begin. Complaints such as “we can’t even find a job, but they’re wandering around in the Mercedes cars” will start to spread.

Let’s say Gülenists deserve everything that they’re getting – because they carried out a coup etc., they did this and that, – ok, the AKP can explain this up to a certain point; but up until yesterday Ahmet Davutoğlu, who was referred to as the “Master” was discharged, ok. First, nothing happened, but when he tried to start a movement of his own, what kind of reply did he receive? Firstly, the state left the university that Davutoğlu has contributed towards seriously in a very difficult situation, and now it has seized it all together.

According to one claim, it is possible that the state might also interfere in the Science and Art Foundation that forms the City University. This may be the case, because it has happened before; we are talking about an administration that has appointed several trustees to many institutions, foundations, associations and municipalities etc. But the fact that has happened to the foundation or university that Ahmet Davutoğlu and his friends have worked on for years, brings about something completely different. Why is this being done? They did this to the Gülenists because they were coup plotters, they were this or that. But why is this being done to Davutoğlu and his friends?

Yesterday this was done to Alparslan Kuytul; not a lot could be said, because Alparslan Kuytul was not someone who was known that well, his base was Adana etc… But now Davutoğlu, who was the chairman and prime minister of the party, the number one person determining Turkey’s foreign policy, the foreign policy of the AKP. What happened? They drifted apart. Ok, this might be the case; but the treatment that Davutoğlu and his friends are being given, actually leads to people having very serious thoughts that this treatment is as far away from religion, faith etc., from “justice” which is at the heart of the Islam religion.

Let me put it this way; after seeing what someone religious can to do another religious person – they remained silent for the most part at what religious people did to non-religious parties, to Kurdish parties, certain mayors in the Southeast etc; they ignored these using the concept of “survival of the state” etc., they stuck their head in the ground-, but now we see that – as quoted before – all of this was a huge lie, because people from the same neighbourhood, place, faith, religion, disposition are also acting relentlessly against one another – and we realise that this is nothing to do with religion, faith etc. but this is in fact a struggle for power;

Whether it be Fethullah Gülent or Tayyip Erdoğan or someone else conducting congregational activities or political activities for “God’s sake”, it actually goes beyond that and shows that they are acting with different motives, which has led to a major fracture.

We are observing this fracture one by one, and this fracture, is going to take on a very harsh form – especially amongst parties that’ll form from those who have split from the AKP – one has already been formed – and the strange side of all this is that the big majority of those defending the AKP, defending Erdoğan, have a very debatable relationship with religion; they are debatable people, which is a very weird thing. When seen from the outside, they state that “There is an authoritarian and Islamic administration in Turkey”, but you look at those people who describe and define themselves with Islam, they are slowly taking their place in the line of victims of this administration. 

Of course, a lot of people here – just like before – will say “they deserve it”. No one deserves anything. It is everyone’s right for Turkey to be a free, democratic country where the state of law is present. No matter what position he/she holds, no matter where someone is from, what religion they are, what disposition, sect, belief, ethnic background, everyone has a right to live freely in this country. We are living in an environment where this right is being seized in a very serious manner and to a large extent, Islam, the religion of Islam and other arguments – nationalism of course in recent periods – has been used as the tool to legitimise all of this.

Those who were immune or untouchable somewhat consented to this in some respects, they remained silent. But these sorts of regimes in crisis constantly create new enemies, new victims, and there are plenty of people amongst those victims who define themselves as Muslim, as religious, and their numbers are increasing. This of course leads to a questioning of religion. Or it adds to an already questioning attitude further legitimizing what is present. Yes, “Everything was a huge lie!” It really was. That’s all I have to say, good day.

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