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So who are these Islamicists Anyways?

August 31, 2010

Well, I hope everyone has had a wonder Zafer Bayrami as I go attempt to clear out my links and catch up on the news I’ve passed by.

One thing I’ve written about before, and will continue to write about a whole lot in the future, is the Fethullahcilar/Gulenist/whatever wing of Turkish society. They’re an international movement, to be sure. But there’s plenty of interesting stuff they have going on.

There’s a great line that one of my professors said once when talking about Terrorism Study. It’s something like “This is a study that is never undertaken with bland ambitions. Every work is a work to prove an agenda.” And I think the same holds true with Gulenology. People want to either demonize it or prove that the movement are the new Jesuits. And, as you may imagine, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

And just wouldn’t you know it, there’s a “Mapping the Gulen Movement” Conference in Amsterdam on October 7. Sponsored by a Dutch Dialoog Academie, I am unable to speak enough Dutch to figure out what the Academie is about. But there are some interesting biographies in the event. And a comedy show! So if anybody wants to sponsor me the flight and the registration, I would greatly appreciate it.

So anyways, I do not have the time right now to really expound on this. And besides, as Palin has taught us, don’t trust the academicians anyways.

I wrote about the Gulen schools in Central Asia a while back, and it’s probably what they’re best known for outside of LOUD NOISES op-eds. The entire movement stems out of my personal favorite brand of charismatic Islam, that of Said Nursi. His wikipedia article, and the School of Nursi Studies, is well worth a look.

And if you’re wondering how this sort of theocratic education takes hold in Central Asia, read any of Ahmed Rashid’s work on why super-scary Muslims are going to take over resources. Thumb your nose at them. Then realize that, in a region where (just to take one of many, many, underlying indicators of societal freak-out) a whole lot of adults aren’t exactly doing a 9-5 and driving the kids to soccer practice on the weekends, boarding schools where kids are taught three languages and in general get taught good is a good thing. Small sample size alert: I’ve met a few kids from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Albania who went to Gulen schools. They’ve all seemed pretty decent. Definitely not in the Christian-killin’ frame, I don’t think. And if you don’t believe me, well, check out the lovely website someone left in the comments section of a previous post.

And finally and awfully digressively, everyone should see what Schwartz, the mad journalist (and I don’t mean Mencken-style mad) and creator of NewEurasia is up to over at RFE/RL. He can get philosophical on human rights in 503 words, and do it better than I ever could:

What’s the conversation we should be having, then? For one, we need to be wary of proving the ideologues correct — that behind the talk of reconciliation is a drive toward Westernization via hermeneutical means. For another, we need be aware that Shari’a and human rights are actually traditions, and what we mean by them today is not what was meant yesterday or what will be meant tomorrow.

The debate, then, shouldn’t be about whether Shari’a meets contemporary notions of human rights that could one day be judged as transitory, but whether both traditions measure up to perennial principles of right, wrong, and what it means to be human. Once that’s established, then real reconciliation — as cross-fertilization and synthesis — can begin.

The idea of Islam as “against” the red-white-and-blue’s human rights tradition makes about as much sense as saying that tomatoes don’t go with cucumber. They could in some areas (coban salata) and fail in others (pickle and aspic, anyone?). So the idea of broad brushes doesn’t help. What helps is to look at particulars and see what works, and what doesn’t. And remember, there’s a lot more to a religious movement than chadors and fear.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Bulent Murtezaoglu permalink
    September 1, 2010 12:26 am

    I have noticed that somebody is beginning to take notice of them in the US. I suspect they are getting some attention from anti-charter school people and possibly teacher’s unions. People who don’t appear outright nutty seem to have gathered some data on them. I’ve checked out the bickering under this article, then googled and found this site (among others). The info there (as far as I can see) checks out and parallels what we hear here in Turkey. There doesn’t seem to be anything blatantly objectionable and scary there.

  2. Bulent Murtezaoglu permalink
    September 1, 2010 12:28 am

    Hmm. Either the comments are moderated and I somehow don’t see and indication or my previous comment got marked as spam. If the latter, perhaps it could be salvaged? If the former, pls. ignore this.

    • istanbul6alti permalink*
      September 1, 2010 1:04 pm

      The automatic spam filter marks any comments with links as spam. Which is kind of ridiculous, so we changed that filter. Sorry about that.

      Thank you for the comments, though. There’s a lot of talks about the “Ground Zero Mosque” becoming one of the best day-care centers in Manhattan once it gets up and running, as well. And lots of Khalil Gibran centers (even though he’s not Muslim, of course). So I think that the more good education comes out of these sort of places, the more they’ll be respected. And say what you will about the Gulen schools, but they’re awfully transparent in the way that you or I can walk around one and see the syllabus.

      • Bulent Murtezaoglu permalink
        September 1, 2010 2:35 pm

        I actually dislike the effort these schools sink into test scores and various shows, but the other schools would to that too if they had access to that kind of cheap, dedicated and obedient work force. It isn’t that these people created the environment in which they operate, they are just playing on a field others built and with the rules others designed.

        I would like to understand both the nature of the unease (mine included) with this organization and see how much of it has any basis in reality. The effort sunk into terrist this, Islam that anti-propaganda alongside the off-putting kind emanating from the cemaat is making it hard to do so. I do think part of the unease is coming from the suspicion that soft totalitarianism (w/o terror) through religious discipline actually works and turns crowds into instruments which can accomplish a lot of measurable good w/o any blatantly evident ill-effects. This goes counter to various enlightenment notions that people would like to hold on to.

        The additional worry that I notice is that the ‘secular’ side here in Turkey suspects that the US is perfectly willing to support Gulen’s people as long as they can help defuse militant Islam and are pro-US and that Gulen’s people are perfectly willing to do/be so as long as they are unimpeded in dominating the society here. Many people — esp. women I know — are not willing to cede that kind of power to Gulen, and are horrified when a speaker of the Turkish parliament says something like “if there will be a directors’ room for civilization, these kids of ours will staff it” (“Gelecekte medeniyetin bir reji odası olacaksa, o odada bizim bu çocuklarımız olacaktır.” From here.)

        We’ll see. Now that they are drawing attention to themselves through their operations in the US, perhaps we’ll find out more since the investigative reporting on this there is likely to be better than it has been here.

        Oh, BTW, the rate as of 2007 for presenting at Gulen conferences seems to have been $600/paper probably in cash + free travel&food&board. Rusen Cakir’s article on this seems to have disappeared from his paper’s site, but here’s a copy. The rates may have gone up since then but the competition is likely to be stronger.

  3. March 13, 2011 2:07 am

    The Seventh Word

    If you want to understand what valuable, difficulty-resolving talismans are the two parts of the phrase I believe in God and the Last Day , which open both the locked talisman of creation and the door of happiness for the human spirit, and what beneficial and curative two medicines are reliance on your Creator and taking refuge in Him through patience and entreaty, and supplicating your Provider through thanks, and what important, precious, shining tickets for the journey to eternity – and provisions for the Hereafter and lights for the grave – are listening to the Qur’an, obeying its commands, performing the prescribed prayers, and giving up serious sins, then listen and pay attention to this comparison:

    One time a soldier fell into a most grievous situation in the field of battle and examination, and the round of profit and loss. It was as follows:

    The soldier was wounded with two deep and terrible wounds on his right and left sides and behind him stood a huge lion as though waiting to attack him. And before him stood a gallows which was putting to death and annihilating all those he loved. It was awaiting him too. And besides this, he had a long journey in front of him: he was being exiled. As the unfortunate soldier pondered over his fearsome plight in despair, a kindly person shining with light like Khidr appeared. He said to him: “Do not despair. I shall give you two talismans and teach you them. If you use them properly, the lion will become a docile horse for you, and the gallows will turn into a swing for your pleasure and enjoyment. Also I shall give two medicines. If you follow the instructions, those two suppurating wounds will be transformed into two sweet-scented flowers called the Rose of Muhammed (PBUH). Also, I shall give you a ticket; with it, you will be able to make a year’s journey in a day as though flying. If you do not believe me, experiment a bit, so that you can see it is true.” The soldier did experiment a bit, and affirmed that it was true. Yes, I, that is, this unfortunate Said, affirm it too. For I experimented and saw it was absolutely true.

    Some time later he suddenly saw a sly and debauched-looking man, cunning as the Devil, coming from the left bringing with him much ornamented finery, decorated pictures and fantasies, and many intoxicants. He stopped before the soldier, and said:

    “Hey, come on, my friend! Let’s go and drink and make merry. We can look at these pictures of beautiful girls, listen to the music, and eat this tasty food.” Then he asked him: “What is it you are reciting under your breath?”

    “A talisman”, came the reply.

    “Stop that incomprehensible nonsense! Let’s not spoil our present fun!” And he asked a second question: “What is that you have in your hand?”

    “Some medicine”, the soldier replied.

    “Throw it away! You are healthy, there is nothing wrong with you. It is the time of cheer.” And he asked: “What is that piece of paper with five marks on it?”

    “It is a ticket and a rations card.”

    “Oh, tear them up!”, the man said. “What need do we have of a journey this beautiful spring?” He tried to persuade him with every sort of wile, and the poor soldier was even a bit persuaded. Yes, man can be deceived. I was deceived by just such cunning deceptions.

    Suddenly from the right came a voice like thunder. “Beware!”, it said. “Do not be deceived! Say to that trickster: ‘If you have the means to kill the lion behind me, remove the gallows from before me, repulse the things wounding my right and my left, and prevent the journey in front of me, then come on and do so! Show that you can and let us see it! Then say, come on, let’s go and enjoy ourselves. Otherwise be silent!’ Speak in the same way as that Khidr-like God-inspired man.”

    And so, O my soul, which laughed in its youth and now weeps at its laughter! Know that the unfortunate soldier is you, and man. And the lion is the appointed hour. And as for the gallows, it is death, decline, and separation, through which, in the alternation of night and day, all friends bid farewell and are lost. And of the two wounds, one is man’s infinite and troublesome impotence, while the other is his grievous and boundless poverty. And the exile and journey is the long journey of examination which passes from the world of spirits through the womb and childhood to old age; through the world and the grave and the intermediate realm, to the resurrection and the Bridge of Sirat. And as for the two talismans, they are belief in Almighty God and the Hereafter.

    Indeed, through the second sacred talisman, death takes on the form of a mastered horse and steed to take believing man from the prison of this world to the gardens of Paradise and the presence of the Most Merciful One. It is because of this that the wise, who have seen death’s reality, have loved it. They have wanted it before it came. And through the talisman of belief in God, the passage of time, which is decline and separation, death and decease and the gallows, takes on the form of the means to observe and contemplate with perfect pleasure the miracles of the All-Glorious Maker’s various, multicoloured, ever-renewed embroideries, the wonders of His power, and the manifestations of His mercy. For sure, on mirrors that reflect the colours of the sun’s light being changed and renewed, and the images of the cinema being changed, better, more beautiful scenes are formed.

    And as for the two medicines, one is trusting in God and patience, and the other is relying on your Creator’s power and having confidence in His wisdom. Is that the case? Indeed it is. What fear can a man have, who, through the certificate of his impotence, relies on a Monarch of the World with the power to command: Be! and it is.1 For in the face of the most awful calamity, he says: Verily, to God do we belong, and verily to Him is our return,2 and places his trust in his Most Compassionate Sustainer. Indeed, a person with knowledge of God takes pleasure from impotence, from fear of God. Yes, there is pleasure in fear. If a twelve-month baby was sufficiently intelligent and it was asked him: “What is most pleasurable and sweetest for you?”, he might well say: “To realize my powerlessness and helplessness, and fearing my mother’s gentle smack to at the same time take refuge in her tender breast.” But the compassion of all mothers is but a flash of the manifestation of Divine Mercy. It is for this reason that the wise have found such pleasure in impotence and fear of God that they have vehemently declared themselves free of their own strength and power, and have taken refuge in God through their powerlessness. They have made powerlessness and fear an intercessor for themselves.

    The second medicine is thanks and contentment, and entreaty and supplication, and relying on the mercy of the All-Compassionate Provider. Is that so? Yes, for how can poverty, want and need be painful and burdensome for a guest of an All-Generous and Munificent One Who makes the whole face of the earth a table of bounties and the spring a bunch of flowers, and Who places the flowers on the table and scatters them over it? Poverty and need take on the form of a pleasant appetite. The guest tries to increase his poverty in the same way he does his appetite. It is because of this that the wise have taken pride in want and poverty. But beware, do not misunderstand this! It means to be aware of one’s poverty before God and to beseech Him, not to parade poverty before the people and assume the air of a beggar.

    And as for the ticket and voucher, it is to perform the religious duties, and foremost the prescribed prayers, and to give up serious sins. Is that so? Yes, it is, for according to the consensus of those who observe and have knowledge of the unseen and those who uncover the mysteries of creation, the provisions, light, and steed for the long and dark road to post-eternity may only be obtained through complying with the commands of the Qur’an and avoiding what it prohibits. Science, philosophy, and art are worth nothing on that road. Their light reaches only as far as the door of the grave.

    And so, O my lazy soul! How little and light and easy it is to perform the five daily prayers and give up the seven grievous sins! If you have the faculty of reason and it is not corrupted, understand how important and extensive are their results, fruits, and benefits! Say to the Devil and that man who were encouraging you to vice and dissipation: “If you have the means to kill death, and cause decline and transience to disappear from the world, and remove poverty and impotence from man, and close the door of the grave, then tell us and let us hear it! Otherwise, be silent! The Qur’an reads the universe in the vast mosque of creation. Let us listen to it. Let us be illuminated with that light. Let us act according to its guidance. And let us recite it constantly. Yes, the Qur’an is the word. That is what they say of it. It is the Qur’an which is the truth and comes from the Truth and says the truth and shows the truth and spreads luminous wisdom…”

    Oh God! Illuminate our hearts with the light of belief and the Qur’an.

    Oh God! Enrich us with the need of You and do not impoverish us with the lack of need of You. Make us free of our own strength and power, and cause us to take refuge in Your strength and power. And appoint us among those who place their trust in You, and do not entrust us to ourselves. And protect us with Your protection. And have mercy on us and have mercy on all believing men and women. And grant blessings and peace to our Master Muhammed, Your Servant and Prophet, Your Friend and Beloved, the Beauty of Your Dominion and the Sovereign of Your Art, the Essence of Your Favour and the Sun of Your Guidance, the Tongue of Your Proof and the Exemplar of Your Mercy, the Light of Your Creation and the Glory of Your Creatures, the Lamp of Your Unity in the Multiplicity of Your Creatures and the Discloser of the Talisman of Your Beings, the Herald of the Sovereignty of Your Dominicality and the Announcer of those things pleasing to You, the Proclaimer of the Treasuries of Your Names and the Instructor of Your Servants, the Interpreter of Your Signs and the Mirror of the Beauty of Your Dominicality, the Means of witnessing You and bearing witness to You, Your Beloved and Your Prophet whom You sent as a Mercy to All the Worlds, and to all his Family and Companions, and to his brothers among the prophets and messengers, and to Your angels and to the righteous among Your servants. AMEN.

    * * *

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