Who Is Fethullah Gulen? by Claire Berlinski, City Journal Autumn 2012
A somewhat 'secret-society' or 'semi-cult'. Delves into this Turkish movement in Turkey and here in the U.S.

I really liked the story so figured to share it. Its very long and detailed and peels back a layer of society to a large degree to peek underneath. I am sure most societies have these and it is interesting to look at it and feel out how it functions underneath.

My feeling is I underestimated the internal reconfiguration after the military purges and there are quiet a few factors inside Turkey besides the AKP ones or the military. The thousands of arrests due to Energenekon besides the few hundred high profile ones will no doubt re-balance some power through the factions. If you read the story or at lest most of it, my first question comes to mind is what happens after the dude dies? whom directs it and in what way shapes the reality of this movement? it seems too well organized to splinter and the ideals and goals of the new leader will undoubtedly shape it after the old one goes away.


Gülen has used his time in America to become the largest operator—or perhaps merely inspirer—of charter schools in the United States. Sharon Higgens, who founded the organization Parents Across America, believes that there are now 135 Gülen-inspired charter schools in the country, enrolling some 45,000 students. That would make the Gülen network larger than KIPP—the runner-up, with 109 schools.
There is no evidence that Islamic proselytizing takes place at the American Gülen schools and much evidence that students and parents like them. Most seem to be decent educational establishments, by American standards; graduates perform reasonably well, and some perform outstandingly.

So what are the schools for? Among other things, they seem to be moneymakers for the cemaat. They’re loaded with private, state, and federal funding, and they have proved amazingly effective at soliciting private donations. The schools are also H-1B visa factories and perhaps the main avenue for building the Gülen community in the United States.

But does the cemaat want something more than money? Its supporters call it a “faith-based civil-society movement.” Mehmet Kalyoncu, an advisor to the ambassador of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to the United Nations, has observed correctly that the cemaat’s Turkish enemies call it a creature of the CIA or the Mossad, a secret servant of the pope, or a Trojan horse trying to Christianize Muslims or weaken them. To some Western critics, such as Michael Rubin, the cemaat is “a shadowy Islamist cult,” anti-Semitic, anti-Western, and trying to Islamize Americans. Gülen is a second Khomeini, Rubin has warned, who is trying to establish a new caliphate.

But none of that is quite right. According to researcher Aydin Ozipek, who attended a Gülen school, “the primary objective of the Gülen Movement is to increase its share of power.” That, it seems to me, is the most accurate description of all. The cemaat poses problems not because its members are pious Muslims (that’s probably the most admirable thing about them) but because it’s a power-hungry business that often behaves repulsively—like a mafia, in other words. Gülen does not run “madrassas” in America, as some have suggested; he runs charter schools. He does not “practice taqiya”; he just dissimulates, like any ordinary politician.

I doubt that Gülen is a significant threat to American interests in the Middle East. For pragmatic reasons, the movement is friendly to any country where it can establish a business presence; if we stay friendly to business, it will stay friendly to us, however we define our interests. The cemaat need not be a problem within America, either, so long as we deal with it with our eyes open and make sure that its members are obeying the law. But eyes open is the key. Here’s another excerpt from that infamous sermon that surfaced in 1999: “The philosophy of our service is that we open a house somewhere and, with the patience of a spider, we lay our web to wait for people to get caught in the web; and we teach those who do. We don’t lay the web to eat or consume them but to show them the way to their resurrection, to blow life into their dead bodies and souls, to give them a life.” Those are words that suggest that Gülen’s activities in the United States deserve careful scrutiny—scrutiny because his business is organized and he thinks ahead.

Overall, America’s assimilative power has a track record far more impressive than Gülen’s. Our posture toward the Gülen movement in America has been, if inadvertently and late in coming, the right one: indict those who need indicting for specific, established crimes—visa fraud and, I suspect, racketeering—and wait for the next generation to become Americans. Treat people inspired by Gülen to the rule of law—to the same laws that everyone else in America follows. If they don’t already see it, they will recognize in time that those laws are excellent and connected to the economic opportunities that they enjoy. In fact, they may even do America some good, insofar as they’re locked into battle with the teachers’ unions: if Gülen’s followers can break them, more power to them. Maybe one day, we’ll even get a great American cemaat novel out of their experience.

Our posture toward the movement as a foreign policy actor, however, to the extent that I can understand it, has been foolish. It is wrong to imagine that Gülen can be some kind of asset to us internationally or to accept or promote him as one. He has not been elected in Turkey—our NATO ally—or anywhere else. We have an interest in seeing Turkey become a full-fledged liberal democracy. That means supporting Gülen’s stated ideals—not him.