'Gülen Schools Communicate the Message of Peace'
Talking about the prospects for global peace, Alaton underlined the contributions of the Gülen movement, a faith-based social movement named after Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. "Gülen has devoted himself to improving modern education. Another aspect of him is the importance he attaches to interfaith and intercultural dialogue. I have never believed he has an agenda other than this. Rather, I believe the schools opened worldwide by those inspired by his teachings are contributing to global peace today. Students there are receiving a liberal, high-quality education. These schools are our ambassadors of culture, communicating the message of peace," he said, lauding such initiatives.
Gülen, widely considered one of the most important Muslim thinkers alive today, has inspired hundreds of thousands of people both in Turkey and abroad to work as representatives of peaceful coexistence, intercultural dialogue and respect for differences and cultural diversity. He is the author of 44 books, several of which have also been translated into foreign languages, including but not limited to English, French and Arabic. The Gülen movement has opened educational institutions in over 100 countries so far.
Elaborating on his opinions about the Gülen movement, Alaton said he has clear ideas about this issue and that he has expressed them a number of times in the past and will continue to do so. Noting that he knows Gülen to be a person who attaches importance to education and who has dedicated himself to the promotion of modern education, Alaton said Gülen values interfaith dialogue and has made a significant contribution to interfaith dialogue because of his sincere belief in its importance. Recalling the period before Gülen went to the US, Alaton said: "Conferences were held at the İstanbul Sports and Exhibition Center. The hall would be completely full. Some 3,000 or 4,000 people would come. He would enter the hall accompanied by the chief rabbi of the Jewish community to his left and Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew or Patriarch Mesrob II [Mutafyan] to his right. They would come as the practitioners of three different religions. This would be followed by an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience. The people would applaud interfaith friendship, fraternity and rapprochement. This picture was largely the work of Fethullah Gülen, and the society lent its full support to it. This is what I experienced. I, too, attended these meetings and concluded that they were vitally important," he said. Noting that Gülen had made positive contributions, Alaton said he knew that various charges have been made against Gülen but did not consider them a serious issue. "I never thought that he had a secret agenda, and I expressed this a number of times. People from foreign countries came to me to inquire about him: I told them that he did not have such an agenda, and this is nonsense," he said.
As for Turkish schools opened by followers of Gülen in a number of countries, Alaton said he has also lent support to them. "For instance, we provided the land for the school in Moscow. Twenty years ago, there was a plan to establish a school in Moscow, and we had a partnership with the municipality ― we still do ― and thanks to that partnership, we secured land for the construction of that school. After the construction was completed and the school was opened, I personally paid a visit to the school," he said.
Noting that the school offers a liberal education, he said he saw students learning Russian, English and Turkish. "There were children from all sorts of ethnic origins: Russians, Turks, Japanese, other foreigners, Africans. The children of African ambassadors attended that school," he noted.
Asked about the role he expects such schools to play in the future, he said he heartily believed that these schools would make great contributions to world peace. "I saw it in Africa. I visited the school in Cape Town, South Africa. I saw with my own eyes that children would come from remote villages in Africa and sing Turkish songs and poems," he added.
Discussing how he felt seeing children of various ethnic origins speaking Turkish, Alaton said: "At all times, I would feel a great enthusiasm. I believe that there is a very important side effect of carrying this culture abroad because I think that we create an image of Turkey as a country that loves and seeks peace. I think this is important for Turkey. These schools are cultural envoys that voice messages of peace."
Asked whether his ideas about these schools have changed and if he will continue to lend support to them, he said: "I haven't seen anything that could change my mind. Yet every day, I hear people make charges against this movement, but I do not pay heed to them because they are biased and unfounded. I say that one should believe in what one knows for sure. For me, what I see with my own eyes is important. What is told to me is not important. For this reason, to those who come to me with negative messages, I say: 'I have different opinions. I have seen and experienced the positive aspects of this movement. Based on my own observations, I think that it is not as bad as you suggest.' And our conservation ends there," he noted.
'Gülen movement is a civil society movement'
Reminded that Gülen was acquitted of charges that were made against him in court in a decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals, Alaton said he did not consider the legal aspects of this matter important, but instead was interested in its human aspects. "This is my reasoning: If it is a movement that works for Turkey's benefit and image and that carries its peaceful characteristics to the world, then I rejoice and stand by their side. I believe that the Gülen movement is a civil society movement and thus is beneficial," he explained.
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