Friday, April 29, 2016
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Fethullah Gulen Factor in Our Political Scene

Fethullah Gulen has been living in virtual exile in the U.S. for years as he's been the target of a witch hunt by the so-called secularist conservative establishment that sees even moderate religious figures in Turkey as Muslim fundamentalists.

The 1997 post-modern coup led by the military didn't only target the government of pro-Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, but it also hit Turkey's moderate Islamists who were really the most important barriers to fundamentalism.

One such victim was Fethullah Gulen who, as a moderate leader of an Islamic community in Turkey, has promoted peace, understanding and goodwill among people and dialogue between religions. This has been recognized by the Vatican, and Mr. Gulen has been received by the Pope in Rome.

The military administration at the time wanted to prosecute Mr. Gulen, claiming that he'd been involved in anti-secularist and Muslim extremist activities. They made the media run stories against Mr. Gulen in a smear campaign. So the veteran religious leader was forced to flee to the U.S. for "health reasons." In fact, Mr. Gulen does have a serious heart condition and diabetes, and although he's received treatment for this in the U.S., it also could have been done in Turkey.

The witch hunt against Mr. Gulen continued for years. It was during the same period when even people like our current prime minister were victims of persecution. The media and business groups who supported Mr. Gulen also had a hard time. Despite everything, the schools operated by Mr. Gulen throughout the world continued to produce very successful students both in Turkey and abroad promoting Turkey's values and culture. His business establishments thrived. His media group was successful.

But the witch hunt never ended. Court cases were launched against him. He was the target of repeated smear campaigns. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people in Turkey continued to respect him and hold him in very high regard.

Even the current government, which is said to be comprised of devout Muslims, did nothing to help facilitate Mr. Gulen's return to Turkey. But then the penal code was changed and in a surprise move the courts looking into the case against Mr. Gulen and decided that according to the new rules, the veteran religious leader had not committed any crimes and dropped the charges.

So now there are no more obstacles to the return of Fethullah Hocaefendi. However, we understand that the prospect of the veteran leader's return is hardly a source of happiness for the government. We're told the government is afraid Mr. Gulen may well become a silent but effective opposition force to the administration and steer Muslim moderates away from the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party.

With Mr. Gulen coming back home, we may well see a shift in the power balance in Turkey as the country heads towards election year, both for Parliament and the new president ...