“When the world pushes you to your knees,
you are in the perfect position to pray.”
As an advocate and champion of “hoşgörü” (the Turkish word for “seeing the best in others”), not merely tolerance, Fethullah Gulen is committed to freedom of thought, discussion, and personal choice. He sees “hoşgörü” as a virtue precisely because people are free and will choose different beliefs, religions, and pursuits. While talking about democracy, Gulen this point many times and sees no incompatibility between democracy and Islam. In Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance, Gulen links “hoşgörü” and democracy through the concept of freedom. He says:
“Democracy is a system that gives everyone under its wing the opportunity to live and express their own feelings and thoughts. “Hoşgörü” comprises an essential dimension of this. In fact, it can be said that democracy is out of the question in a place where “hoşgörü”, seeing the best in others, does not exist (1).
In his 2015 New York Times opinion piece, Gulen again wrote about the core tenets of a functioning democracy, namely the rule of law and respect for individual freedoms, which he says are also the most basic Islamic values bestowed upon us by God. He makes it clear that no political or religious leader has the authority to take them away. Gulen takes a strong stand saying:
“Speaking against oppression is a democratic right, a civic duty, and for believers, a religious obligation. The Quran makes clear that people should not remain silent in the face of injustice: “O you who believe! Be upholders and standard-bearers of justice, bearing witness to the truth for God’s sake, even though it be against your own selves, or parents or kindred” (2).
Gulen condemned the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey while it was still in progress, reiterating his consistent stance in support of democracy and against military interventions. In a New York Times opinion piece, he wrote:
“My philosophy, -inclusive and pluralist Islam, dedicated to service to human beings from every faith-, is antithetical to armed rebellion.”
Gulen emphasized that for more than 40 years, the participants of the Hizmet (the Turkish word for “service”) movement, have advocated for, and demonstrated their commitment to, a form of government that derives its legitimacy from the will of the people and that respects the rights of all citizens regardless of their religious views, political affiliations or ethnic origins (3).
Despite the unconditional and unequivocal condemnations by Gulen and leading Gulen-inspired organizations, a mass purge was started after the coup attempt. Tens of thousands of civilians have been targeted, who continue to suffer and endure inhumane detention conditions, torture, verbal and physical abuse, harassment, and humiliation, denial of the right to residence, lawful occupation, legal representation, travel, and expression. To justify these purges, the Turkish government pursued a misinformation campaign. By blaming the coup attempt on Gulen sympathizers and suppressing information, the government successfully made the Hizmet movement a scapegoat to consolidate power and silence its critics resulting in tens of thousands of families with no linkage to the coup whatsoever suffering under the government`s systematic persecution.
Last week, I spoke on these human rights violations in Turkey at the #IRFForum2022, where the Center for Faith, Identity, and Globalization was a partner of a broad coalition of advocates for a strategy-building event hosted by the IRF Global Campaign for Women. Similar to Gulen`s call upon the citizens, regardless of their religious, cultural, socio-political, and ethnic background, we need to unite around universal human rights and freedoms, and democratically oppose those who violate them.