Turkey’s experience in the twenty-first century is characterized, at least in part, by the efforts of a “conservative democratic” coalition against an eroding state class elite. Although led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), this coalition is reliant upon the increased legitimacy of a new block of supportive media and a new international campaign to expand and redefine Turkish national identity for a global audience. The most influential collective actor in this effort is the Gülen movement, a Turkish Muslim religious community that organizes in accordance with the teachings of a retired religious functionary, author and poet named M. Fethullah Gülen. With roots extending back to the late 1960s, the Gülen movement is one of many religious communities in Turkey, and constitutes a social formation that offers its participants both an enhanced sense of spiritual identity, and a social network that can be drawn upon for social mobility and economic support. As a primary force in the AKP’s Turkey, the Gülen movement plays a leading role in a discursive battle between old and new elites in the Turkish national project.

Since the AKP came to power in 2002, national debates about the proper relationship between faith and government have shifted to favor Islamic actors who have found opportunities in Turkey’s global economic integration and the democratization of the Turkish state and society. Debates that pit old-guard “Kemalists” against new-guard “conservative democrats” now dominate the pages of Turkish newspapers; and for the first time in Turkish history, Islamic actors are organized to compete (and win) in the public contest of ideas. The community of Fethullah Gülen constitutes a communitarian synthesis of faith and nationalism, of social conservatism and economic power.

Despite its increasingly influential position in Turkish society, however, when learning about the Gülen movement Turkish citizens and foreign observers alike must choose between interpretations that are either unapologetically hagiographic or overzealously alarmist. On the one hand, some Turkish and American commentators claim that Gülen is an exiled “radical Islamist” who commands an expansive economic empire and is determined to overthrow Turkey’s secular republic. Other sources, however, insist that he is a noble, “Sufi-inspired” poet and orator, a hocaefendi (esteemed teacher) who has inspired two generations of inclusive social activism rooted in faith, science, education and intercultural dialogue. Sources that laud him are authored both by long-time followers and by non-Turkish journalists and scholars in the US (where Gülen lives in self-imposed exile), Western Europe and Australia. They present Gülen as a noteworthy scholar of inter-faith and intercultural dialogue, a beacon for peace and tolerance in Islam. As second only to the AKP in civilian power and influence in the new Turkey, the “Gülen factor” warrants more focused attention.

The “New Turkey” Coalition

Following the military-led coup in 1980, Turkey’s policies of economic protection gave way to policies of liberalization. In the same period, electoral policies that once outlawed communitarian religious identity came under popular stress, giving rise to a so-called Islamist political party in the mid-1990s, only to be followed by a crackdown on all things Islamic soon thereafter. The “post-modern coup” on February 28, 1997, which brought down the administration of the AKP’s predecessor the Welfare Party, appeared to indicate that, from the perspective of Turkey’s old guard, Muslim piety expressed as part of a political platform was simply unacceptable. Five years later, however, a reformed party emerged under the leadership of a younger generation of faith-inspired conservatives. In 2002, less than one year after its inception, the AKP managed to win approximately 34 percent of the vote, a feat that it surpassed in 2007 when its deputies won a 47 percent plurality at the polls. In June 2011, Turkish citizens reelected the AKP to a third consecutive term as a single-party government with approximately 50 percent of the electorate voting in its favor.

With increasing confidence, the AKP focused its agenda via a dual platform of “conservative democracy” at home and “strategic depth” abroad. Although not precisely defined, the former meant to communicate that AKP leaders had refined the worldviews of their “Islamist” predecessors and were comfortable employing tropes such as “democracy” and “human rights” to express their desire for judicial and military reform. Equally ambiguous were the AKP’s policies of “strategic depth,” which sought to maintain Turkey’s traditional bilateral relations with Europe and the US, while simultaneously expanding relations with regional neighbors in the Middle East and North Africa, former enemies Russia and Armenia, and historically distant countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. Both policy platforms directly favor the activities of the Gülen movement, a Turkey-based transnational network of merchants, educators, journalists and activists who rely upon Turkey’s integration with the world market for continued success.

Central to the overlaps that exist between the AKP and the Gülen movement is the financial support that Turkey’s “new capitalists” provide for both initiatives. Based primarily in Turkey’s “tiger cities,” once-small Anatolian farming towns that were transformed into industrial processing and export centers in the 1970s and 1980s, leaders of these enterprises tend to maintain very proud socially conservative identities. Over time, they formed their own business associations, and in Turkish fashion, established their own favorable relations with power centers in the AKP-led Turkish bureaucracy. These leaders emerged in sharp contrast to Turkey’s entrenched industrial elite. Based in Istanbul, the latter group was engineered by a strong central state and characterized by its members’ vertical integration into family-based “holding companies.” While there were only a handful of these firms before World War II, after the war a dozen new holdings joined the ranks of what was becoming an entrenched state oligarchy. By the early 1970s, over 150 of Turkey’s nearly 400 large private enterprises were represented by only 30 large holdings. [1] Economic crisis in this period led a number of Turkey’s biggest holdings to consolidate under the umbrella of what eventually became Turkey’s most dominant civil society organization, the Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSIAD), in 1971. Outflanking the efforts of what were then still very small firms in the “tiger cities,” TÜSIAD represented Turkey’s favored capitalist class. Yet after two decades of growth and maturation, by the 2000s, export-oriented firms based in central Anatolia had reshaped Turkey’s economic elite. The Gülen movement is a product of this transformation.

The Gülen Movement in Turkey

The Gülen movement began in the late 1960s when a core group of young Turkish men were inspired by Fethullah Gülen’s applied articulation of Turkey’s most widely read commentary on the Qur’an: Epistles of Light, the collected teachings of Said Nursi. [2] By the late 1970s, Gülen movement actors opened student dormitories in a number of Turkey’s largest cities. Under the military junta that ruled from 1980 to 1983, many of these dormitories became private educational institutions. In an effort to avoid state suppression, school administrators focused on science and mathematics. Specific lessons about Islam, Said Nursi and Fethullah Gülen were reserved for after-school and neighborhood reading groups. Measurable student achievement at what were colloquially known as “Gülen schools” legitimized the larger Gülen effort, and in the 1990s, the movement expanded its activities to the Balkans and the newly independent Central Asian republics. In the 2000s, the movement’s education network covered more than 100 countries.

In the absence of public mechanisms, religiously framed social networks in Anatolia facilitate the movement of people, ideas and finances throughout the country, and increasingly, throughout the world. Rationalized as religious donation (himmet), wealth redistribution through these networks is channeled into investment in private education, private health care, media, international lobbying, policy research and emergency services. By the mid-1990s, the Gülen movement had distinguished itself as Turkey’s most influential faith-based communitarian social movement. Although not a Sufi order in the traditional sense, followers of Fethullah Gülen are inspired by their leader’s applied use of traditional Sufi categories and what they posit as his “Rumi-inspired” ethic. His appreciation of Islam’s mystical tradition (he is the author of a three-volume compendium on Sufism) coupled with his community’s appropriation of the thirteenth-century Muslim poet, Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, as a constitutive element of their collective identity, has led many foreign observers to mistake Gülen and his followers as representatives for Anatolian Sufism. Neither Gülen nor his closest followers make such a claim. In fact, Gülen’s employment of Sufi categories actually offers Turkish Muslims a way to incorporate a very non-esoteric interpretation of Islam into their daily lives by encouraging his followers to seek profits, find joy and prosper as modern individuals. When doing so, however, he also warns of excess, empty materialism and ignorance in regard to the links that he observes between modern science and Qur’anic revelation. Gülen’s “this-worldy asceticism” has led many to compare his followers to nineteenth-century Protestants — devout, disciplined, profit-seeking communitarians whose spiritual ethic views rewards in this world as evidence of divine grace.

According to his most loyal followers, the Gülen constitutes a “community” (cemaat) of self-sacrificing individuals who harbor no political aspirations and seek only to foster tolerance and dialogue in an increasingly interconnected world. According to Gülen, “people of service” (hizmet insanları) “are so faithful to the cause to which they have devoted themselves that, deeply in love with it, they willingly sacrifice their lives and whatever they love for its sake.” [3] His most devoted followers, therefore, refer to themselves as hizmet insanları, and to the larger Gülen movement as Hizmet. When viewed as a social network, however, it is also the case that in addition to “serving humanity,” the movement provides a service to aspiring young people who long for social mobility in the competitive market economy. Its institutions in Turkey and around the world provide opportunities for aspiring young professionals to further their careers as engineers, computer scientists, publishers, editors and journalists and thus highlight the fact that, in the Gülen movement, service and sacrifice can pay off.

In order to better coordinate the growth of the enterprise, in the late 1980s, movement benefactors organized themselves into regional trade associations. In 1996, several of these associations consolidated their resources to open Bank Asya, Turkey’s fourteenth-largest bank and the country’s largest “interest-free” bank. In 2005, partners in Bank Asya sponsored the consolidation of many Anatolian trade organizations to form the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists in Turkey (TUSKON). Upon its inception TUSKON became the country’s largest private business-related organization and thus a direct counterweight to TÜSIAD’s dominance in the business sector. These and other successes all played a role in the Gülen movement’s emergence as a primary link between Turkey’s new bourgeois class and its dominant political party. The July 2011 resignation of Turkey’s top military command, followed by the reform of Turkey’s National Security Council, the AKP’s efforts to draft a new national charter to replace the military-drafted 1982 constitution and the continuation of the four-year Ergenekon trial all indicate the power of this alliance to shift the balance of Turkish politics.

Media Wars

In the 1990s, Turkey’s media landscape transformed from a relatively homogenous arena, where divergence from the secular nationalist line was nearly unthinkable, into a highly volatile arena where old and new elites engaged in a fierce public battle of position. Since the AKP’s 2007 reelection, the reframing of Turkey’s public debate has taken the form of an all-out media war that pits the AKP and its allies against the country’s most powerful media mogul, Aydın Doğan.

As Turkey’s dominant media conglomerate, the Doğan Group appeals to different political constituencies through a variety of dailies and magazines, including the center-left Radikal, the right-wing nationalist daily Vatan and the widely circulated Hürriyet and Milliyet, which cater to the moderate, non-pious center. In addition to controlling 40 percent of Turkey’s print journalism market, in 2000 the Doğan Group took over 51 percent of Turkey’s state-owned oil company, Petrol Ofisi, the country’s largest fuel distributor. In 2008, Aydın Doğan alleged that the AKP government attempted to block a number of his company’s expansion projects, namely construction of an oil refinery on the Mediterranean coast and an annex to the Hilton hotel in Istanbul. The former project, Doğan alleges, was refused to him because it was promised instead to one of Turkey’s newest media moguls, Ahmet Çalık.

In 2007, Ahmet Çalık became a powerful media tycoon by overseeing the purchase of Turkey’s second-largest media holding, Merkez Yayin. In late 2006, the government seized Merkez Yayin, which included the country’s second-largest media outlet, ATV-Sabah. In April of the following year, the firm was sold to the Çalık Group for $1.1 billion. The tender that led to Çalık’s acquisition of Merkez Yayin was highly contested. Allegations of nepotism reached a global audience, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family ties to the Çalık Group (his son-in-law is a senior executive) coupled with an unprecedented $750 million in state-administered loans were met with suspicion. Çalık’s connections to Gülen schools and Gülen-owned media in Turkmenistan, his close relationship to that country’s former dictator and his economic relationships with Bank Asya were also cited as cause for concern. Nonetheless, the deal went through, and Çalık quickly emerged as a prominent actor in mainstream Turkish news.

Tensions between these two forces were exacerbated in September 2008 when Zahid Akman, the AKP-appointed president of Turkey’s Supreme Board of Radio and Television, was implicated in a German embezzlement case that involved a German-Turkish Islamic charity foundation in Frankfurt called the Lighthouse Association. In the largest case of its kind in German history, authorities ruled against the foundation and found the organization’s director, his assistant and their accountant guilty of funneling charity revenue to various corporate, media and political recipients back in Turkey. Among the alleged recipients of the nearly $20.6 million was the Office of the Prime Minster. Erdoğan denied the allegations and quickly accused Doğan-owned media of using the scandal to discredit the AKP. In an unprecedented move, Erdoğan called upon Turkish citizens to boycott Doğan media.

For Doğan’s media outlets, the Lighthouse scandal was a major story, and Erdoğan’s call to boycott the company was cause for outcry. Tensions continued to rise in 2009 when the AKP government levied two successive tax fines against Doğan for a globally unprecedented sum of $3.8 billion, greater than the market value of the media group as a whole. In November 2009, the World Association of Newspapers responded to the tax fine with a report expressing concern about press freedoms in Turkey. Upon reading the report, three Turkish newspapers submitted a public statement criticizing what they viewed as the Association’s bias toward Doğan-owned media, and soon thereafter they withdrew their membership from the organization. The three papers in question were the Çalık Group’s Sabah, the center-right Star and the Gülen-affiliated Zaman Gazetesi. A Zaman spokesperson commented as follows:

Had it adopted an impartial look of Turkey, it [the World Association of Newspapers] could have seen that what really threatens freedom of the press in Turkey are the military, the judiciary and influential groups that cooperate with them. I am sure [the Association] would then realize that the Doğan group’s newspapers and TV channels would lend unconditional support to all anti-democratic military interventions and that it has always served as the main medium for bloody psychological warfare practices devised to ensure the continuation of the military’s guardianship of democracy. [4]

The AKP-Doğan saga illustrates that the debate in Turkey is no longer a simple contest between “Islam” and “secularism.” Indeed, it seems clear that both “sides” in Turkey’s media war claim that the threat posed by the other is a threat to the continuation of Turkish democracy. When understood as a battle between old and new Turkish elites, however, these events also show that Turkey’s public sphere has become more volatile and thus more difficult to navigate. Both “sides” now effectively use the same signifying codes (democracy, free speech, liberalism) and the same methods (specifically framed stories, over-reporting, under-reporting) to achieve the same goal: manufacturing public consent. The effect is a deeply divided Turkish political public and a deeply confused international audience.

Explaining Turkey’s “Deep State”

A second case that effectively highlights Turkey’s war of elites (and the Gülen movement’s role therein) is the Ergenekon trial. The most covered story in Turkish media, Ergenekon refers to a network of retired and active military leaders, media personalities and academicians who are alleged to have masterminded a decades-long effort to maintain the dominance of Turkey’s traditional state class elite. While few doubt Ergenekon’s existence, the ongoing trial of over 200 suspects is met with both praise and criticism in mainstream Turkish news. In one of few detailed studies of the Ergenekon case, a long-time observer of Turkish politics contended that, in addition to uncovering a startling pattern of social manipulation perpetrated by Turkey’s “deep state,” the Ergenekon investigation also sheds light on a broad effort by the AKP to purge its opposition. [5] Doğan news coverage of Ergenekon, for instance, subtly focuses on mishaps and inconsistencies in the investigation itself and the seemingly endless arrests of journalists who appear guilty of little more than criticizing the AKP, the Gülen movement or both. By contrast, pro-AKP media tend to frame the Ergenekon story as either the potential triumph of Turkish democracy (if suspects receive a guilty verdict) or as a potentially destabilizing catastrophe (if suspects are found not guilty). The undisputed leaders of the latter effort are the media brands associated with the Gülen movement’s Feza Media Group.

Feza Media began in 1986 when loyalists of Fethullah Gülen bought a small newspaper as a medium for disseminating their leader’s teachings to a broader audience. Today, Feza Media now operates two nationally broadcast television stations, Samanyolu and Mehtap; an English-language satellite channel, Ebru TV, based in New Jersey; a nationally broadcast radio station, Burç FM; eight foreign edition newspapers; Turkey’s most widely sold newsmagazine, Aksiyon; and a primary news collection agency, Cihan Haber Ajansı. These successes, however, all pale in comparison to the success of Feza Media’s flagship product, Zaman Gazetesi, Turkey’s leader in daily news circulation.

According to Mustafa Bey, a senior hoca (teacher) in the Gülen network and a founding journalist at Feza Media, the motivation to start a newspaper was to “correct fake news…. Journalists [in Turkey] were totally leftist, atheist people…so, there were aspirations to do something about this.” [6] Viewing Zaman as a counterweight to what he called Turkey’s “Kemalist media,” Mustafa said that once Zaman was up and running, “the other papers couldn’t write fake news, because now, our correspondents were everywhere and by then we had a newspaper and a television channel.” In the mid-1990s, at the request of Fethullah Gülen, a handful of young Gülen movement recruits attended American journalism schools to learn how to elevate Zaman journalism to “global standards.” A secondary objective in this regard was to launch an English-language newspaper that could compete in a small, but important market for Turkish news. Following their return from the US, a cohort of younger leaders at Feza Media launched Today’s Zaman in January 2007. In its first month Today’s Zaman outsold the then 45-year old (Doğan-owned) Turkish Daily News.

Today’s Zaman was envisaged from the outset to be a Turkish newspaper for a global public. To this end, the paper established organizational connections with the Times (London), the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. Central to Feza’s marketing campaign, therefore, was to downplay that its executives were all educated at Gülen high schools in the 1980s, that most of their career histories were defined by moving from one Gülen-affiliated enterprise to another and that their corporation maintained very close relationships with other primary Gülen-affiliated institutions. According to its founders, Feza’s primary mission was as simple as it was noble — to play an active role in deepening Turkey’s process of democratization by “correcting fake news.”

Yet the firing of Today’s Zaman columnist Andrew Finkel in 2007 publicized Gülen media complicity in government censorship of dissenting voices. In his final column, Finkel contended, “The fight against anti-democratic forces in Turkey has resorted to self-defeating anti-democratic methods. This in turn has led to a polarization in Turkey. If your side loses power then the natural fear is that they will use your methods against you.” [7] The “methods” to which Finkel referred were the censorship of free speech in the form of arresting journalists who write opinion columns and manuscripts that are critical of the AKP or the Gülen movement’s increasing influence in Turkish politics and society. The most recent examples Finkel cited were the cases of well-known Turkish journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Sener who were both arrested (along with a number of their colleagues) in March 2011 for allegedly “violating the confidentiality” of the ongoing Ergenekon investigation. Their arrest followed a police raid at the headquarters of Oda TV, an outlet that was critical both of the AKP government and the Turkish army’s role in the political landscape. Following Şık’s arrest, an international chorus of criticism framed this event as yet another attack on press freedoms in Turkey.

Immediately following his arrest news leaked that Şık had recently completed a manuscript titled “The Imam’s Army,” in which he alleged that Gülen loyalists had taken advantage of their placement in the Istanbul police force to take control of the Ergenekon investigation. The worries of many prominent journalists and journalist organizations in Turkey were deepened when, in the weeks following Şık’s arrest, a number of publishing houses believed to have copies of Şık’s manuscript were raided, and when it was reported that copies of the text were destroyed. Mounting the Gülen movement’s collective defense, the brands associated with Feza Media denounced the allegations and mocked the idea of a secret wing of the Istanbul police force loyal to the Gülen movement as the stuff of conspiratorial fantasy. Despite attempts to delete it, Şık’s manuscript very quickly found its way to the Internet and, soon after the arrest of its author, “The Imam’s Army” went viral. [8]

Despite the conspiracy theory that linked Şık’s unpublished manuscript to his arrest, the official charges filed against him alleged that by publishing two previous books, Understanding the Counter Guerrilla and Ergenekon and Who Is Who in Ergenekon, Şık violated laws of confidentiality pertaining to the Ergenekon investigation. It was of this charge that he and his colleague, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, were both acquitted in May 2011. Not satisfied, however, the president of Turkey’s Freedom for Journalists Platform, Ferai Tınç, demanded that the remaining 67 journalists in Turkish prisons be released and that the country’s laws regarding press freedoms become a top priority for legislative reform.

Promoting the “New Turkey” Abroad

However confusing Turkey’s transformation is at home, it is fantastically misunderstood beyond its borders. The Gülen movement’s role in the larger effort to redefine Turkish national identity under the AKP has also allowed its activists abroad to carve out a niche for themselves and for their leader as the world’s archetype of “moderate,” “passive” and “liberal” Islam. Parallel to the Gülen movement’s efforts in mainstream news media in Turkey, therefore, are its efforts at collective self-promotion. At home, this effort began in 1994 when leaders at Feza Media organized the first event sponsored by what was later named the Journalists and Writers Foundation. The Foundation organized itself into three platforms, which in the mid-1990s sought to bring rival sectors of Turkish society together into “dialogue forums.” According to Suleyman Bey, an organizer at the Foundation, and a long-time contributor to Feza Media, the first meeting was a “coming out” event for the Gülen movement in Turkey. Another original Foundation organizer commented: “The central idea of our foundation was to gather together people who came from different worldviews who direct and influence the society…. We gave various people awards in the name of tolerance and democracy and living together.” The Foundation has since made it a regular practice to issue awards to influential politicians, academics and journalists and to sponsor policy forums on topics ranging from “Islam and secularism in Turkey” to “Alevi identity” to “Turkish-French relations.”

In 1998, just before he was indicted on conspiracy charges in Turkey (he was acquitted in 2006), Fethullah Gülen fled — citing health reasons — to the United States, where he remains today. In 1999, Gülen activists in the US, Europe and Australia established Foundation satellite organizations whose objective was to introduce their leader and Turkey’s “conservative democratic” revolution to Western audiences. Strategies included sponsoring conferences and workshops about the Gülen movement and the new Turkey at US and European universities, lobbying elected officials in the interests of Gülen movement funders and sponsoring “dialogue trips” to Turkey for community leaders and opinion makers. By the early 2000s, Gülen activists had elicited the sympathy of several prolific scholars in Middle Eastern studies, scores of European and American community leaders and many high-ranking American and European politicians, political appointees and dignitaries. When Gülen applied for permanent US residency in 2005, letters of support were submitted by three widely published scholars on Islam and Muslim politics, Dale Eickelman, John Esposito and John Voll; former high-ranking CIA officials George Fidas and Graham Fuller; former Ambassador to Turkey Morton Abramowitz; and former Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim Akbulut. On July 16, 2008, a federal judge overturned an earlier Department of Homeland Security refusal and Gülen received his green card later that year.

In addition to furthering conversations about “tolerance” and “dialogue,” therefore, the institutional legitimacy established by Gülen activists abroad provides the movement with necessary political capital to spend when its leader faces deportation. It also provides the Gülen movement with a non-Turkish base of support when it must defend itself against allegations of infiltrating the Turkish police force, influencing the Ergenekon investigation and unequivocally supporting the AKP through Feza and Çalık-owned media organs. Lastly, such support proves useful when critics around the world accuse Gülen schools of hiding a “radical agenda,” as they did in Russia in 2006 and in Holland in 2008. [9] Similar allegations are beginning to emerge in the US, where the Gülen movement operates more than 100 publicly funded charter schools.

In addition to conferences, luncheons and inter-faith dinners, Gülen activists in the US and Europe also regularly organize “inter-faith trips” to Turkey that are designed for groups to visit Gülen schools, hospitals, Zaman headquarters and a number of other affiliated institutions. Upon their return, the travelers are asked to write about their experiences or share their stories with their communities or their students. Upon her return in 2007, a doctor in Boston was solicited to write a column about her experience for Today’s Zaman:

I must confess, when I was first offered an all-expense paid trip to Turkey, I was filled with trepidation. And the source of my misgivings was actually a stereotype I was harboring — I thought of the Turks as an unbeatable and ferocious military power…. I discovered that Turkey is really at the vanguard of modernity in the Muslim world, and that Turkish scholars have already conceived of a truer representation of Islam. In books I was introduced to one of the founders of modern religious thought, Fethullah Gülen…. Whether secular or religious, I could think of no better ethos for Muslims to follow. [10]

Many of these trips are organized and funded by Gülen-affiliated civic associations including Turkish-American Business Improvement and Development Councils and various Turkish Chambers of Commerce, as well as a collection of Gülen institutions that comprise the Assembly of Turkic American Federations, which now has branches in seven US cities.

When pressed about the intent behind these efforts, Gülen activists regularly employ ambiguous language to insist that their movement has no political objective. When asked about his visit to a Congressional office to lobby against the passing of HR 106, the resolution that sought to proclaim the events of 1915 to be a genocide committed by the Ottoman government, a senior actor at a Gülen dialogue institution in the US commented: “Actually, this was separate from the [the institution I direct]…. As a person, I talked with [the Congressperson]…because as [a Gülen dialogue institution], we do not get involved with politics.” This kind of ambiguity when discussing politics is a lingering effect of the secular fortress of twentieth-century Turkey, when piety was branded a threat to the nation. Fethullah Gülen follows the same logic when discussing his role as the simultaneous leader, inspirer and completely removed admirer of the transnational movement that bears his mark. Yet when given an opportunity to control the content of their public presentation, Gülen activists readily acknowledge political aims. For example, according to Kemal Oksuz, the president of a “dialogue institution” in Houston, “The lobbying firms that have been paid loads of money in Washington by Turkey actually worsen the image of Turkey at the Congress…. Instead, civil grassroots’ visits [i.e. Gülen visits] to the Congressional members, especially in their districts, made the biggest difference.” [11] Mobilized as alternative lobbying force in the US, Gülen activists can most certainly be described as a politically ambitious organization. To refer to the Gülen movement as a non-political social movement is naïve at best. At the same time, however, to refer to the Gülen movement as an Islamist organization that is determined to “make Turkey like Iran” misses its impact entirely.

Those who fear the Gülen movement in Turkey are many of the same actors who fear the increasingly powerful AKP. But nearly ten years in power has proven that the AKP appears far less interested in implementing Islamic law than it does in increasing “the Muslim share” in political, economic and cultural power. Operating from the bottom up, the Gülen movement supports this effort and has become one of its primary beneficiaries. Unlike the AKP, however, the Gülen movement does not operate directly in the field of partisan politics. Instead, its loyalists operate as private actors in a competitive global marketplace of goods and ideas.

Although “passive,” the Gülen movement is indeed revolutionary. But unlike Hamas in Palestine or Hizballah in Lebanon, the Gülen movement did not emerge as a national liberation organization. Unlike the Jamaat-e Islami in Pakistan, or even the Milli Göruş movement in Turkey, the Gülen movement did not morph into a political party. Instead, it has become a profit-driven and opportunistic composite of social networks that, over time, has channeled the charisma of a Turkish Muslim preacher into a force for conservative social change. Continuing to refer to the Gülen movement as either a benign social network of “selfless volunteers,” or as a clandestine “radical Islamist” organization, is simplistic and counterproductive. Indeed, considering Turkey’s emerging role as a political and economic power, a candidate for the European Union, a regional leader and an important ally of both Israel and the US, the Gülen movement’s transformative impact in Turkey is significant not only for the 79 million-plus Turks, but for the entire world.


[1] Ayşe Buğra, State and Business in Modern Turkey: A Comparative Study (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994), p. 56.
[2] For a detailed analysis of the Gülen Movement in Turkey, see Joshua D. Hendrick, “Globalization, Islamic Activism and Passive Revolution in Turkey: The Case of Fethullah Gülen,” Journal of Power 2 (2009).
[3] Fethullah Gülen, Pearls of Wisdom (Fairfax, VA: The Fountain, 2000), pp. 83-84.
[4] Bülent Keneş, “Where do WAN-IFRA and Doğan Group Stand Vis-à-Vis Freedom Of the Press,” Today’s Zaman, December 2, 2009.
[5] Gareth Jenkins, “Between Fact and Fantasy: Turkey’s Ergenekon Investigation” (Washington DC: Central Asia-Caucasus and Silk Road Studies Program, 2009).
[6] Unless otherwise noted, names are pseudonyms used to protect the identity of participants in research that was conducted in Turkey and the US between October 2006 and August 2008.
[7] Andrew Finkel, “A Dilemma,” Milliyet, April 6, 2011.
[8] A digital copy of Şık’s banned manuscript is available for download in Turkish here:
[9] NIS News Bulletin, November 7, 2008.
[10] Mary Lahaj, “An American Muslim in Istanbul,” Today’s Zaman, July 11, 2007.
[11] Ilhan Tanır, “Can Turkish and Armenian Diasporas Open the Channels of Dialogue?” Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review, March 8, 2010.

How to cite this article:

Joshua D. Hendrick "Media Wars and the Gulen Factor in the New Turkey," Middle East Report 260 (Fall 2011).

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