Syncretistic Religions of Turkey

Alevis are a community of heterodox Muslims culture-specific to Anatolia [Turkey]. Similar syncretistic religious groups exist in Syria (Alawi), Lebanon (Druze), Iran (Ahl-e Haqq), and in Iraq (Yazidi). The Alevis of Turkey are a unique religious association and have a close relationship with Bektaşi Order who originated from the Balkans. Although there are no exact estimations of the population of Alevis in Turkey, the general consensus is that they make up the largest minority and total 10-20 million in population. Alevis are historically connected to the Turcoman Qizilbaş nomads who converted to Shi’i Islam and theology[1] while Turkish dervish institutions “[h]ad received their characteristic features in western Turkestan from Ahmad Yasawi (d. 562/1166); they had acquired an ever-increasing expansion in Anatolia, but at the same time they had adopted heretical tendencies.”[2] The etymology of the name Alevi is tied to a religious appreciation of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib – cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad – and only after the 19th century replaced Qizilbaş due to the derogatory label that the latter had established.[3]

Like Shi’ism, Alevis also believe that ‘Ali was denied his rightful position as successor to religious and political authority after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, rejecting Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman as legitimate caliphs. Conspiracies about the authenticity of Sunni Islam has often been suggested, claiming early Islamic representatives have intentionally removed religious passages that could have proven ‘Ali as the rightful successor, only justified with the murder of both ‘Ali and his children Hasan and Huseyn. The gradual obliteration of the ehlibeyt (family of the prophet) provided the room for political power under the banner of Sunni Islam, such as Mu’awiyya who later founded the Umayyad dynasty. “Ozet olarak, camilerde Hz. Ali’ye kufur ettirilmesi, once Hz. Hasan’in daha sonar Hz. Huseyin ve ailesinin –ki Peygamberin soyu onlardan devam ediyordu- acimasizca oldurulmeleri, Emevi hanedanina karşi muhalif bir inanc, duşunce ve siyasal temeli olan bir harekete yol acmiş ve cok kan dokulen isyanlara sebep olmuştur.”[4]

Alevism is multi-ethnic and linguistic and similar syncretistic religious are spread over a vast geographical are within and around Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent, the region incorporating Mesopotamia, the upper parts of Egypt and the Near East. According to David Zeidan, “[o]ther names include Tahtaci, Abdal, Capni, and Zaza, which signify specific tribal and linguistic identities.”[5] Tracing the historical genesis and development of Alevism remains controversial, as the region has contained many influential civilisations such as the Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians, including monotheistic religions beginning with Zoroastrianism through to Islam and the Ottoman Empire. Numerous scholarly and traditional theories have been interchanged and differences between traditional interpretations by various ethnic groups have also been raised. “The PKK and other Kurdish nationalists argued that the Alevism has Zoroastrian origins, saying in fact that the Alevis are related to the Kurds,”[6] yet it is generally acknowledged that Alevis trace their beliefs to the beginning of Islam with pre-Islamic, Christian, Zoroastrian and Buddhist influences until Shi’a Islam spread its authority in the region during the Fatamid Empire. The Fatamid dynasty evolved into a Shi’a Empire beginning 900AD and spread throughout the Fertile Crescent and North Africa. Influenced by the Islamil’I (ithna-ashariyya) Shi’a faith, the Fatamid’s ultimately fell in 1171AD as internal chaos and invasions continuously disrupted the administration, splitting the region into various dynasties, in particular the Seljuq dynasty in 1037AD that was influenced by a heterogeneous combination of Mongol, Turkic and Persian cultures.

“[H]e (David Zeidan) defends the Alevis against charges that they are ‘not true Muslims’ (whereas in fact they are a split-away from Fatimid Shi’ism).” Zoroastrianism is first recorded by Herodotus in 440BC and gradually introduced monotheism (the belief in the one God – Ahura Mazda) in the region. The invasion of the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire by Alexander the Great and the steady growth of the Roman Empire strained Zoroastrianism into a temporary halt, until it revived once again through the Sassanid Empire in 226AD when it officially became the State religion. The Sassanid’s made contact with the East (India and China) and produced a fascinating cultural revolution, particularly with Buddhism, while at the same time became acquainted with Christian theology through a series of violent contact with the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) who spread Christian monophysitic traditions particularly in Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean. The Arab invasions in 651AD and the growth of Islam in the region rapidly changed the structure of society, setting the foundation for the Ottoman Empire beginning 1299AD that eventually became one of the largest and most powerful empires in history. The Ottoman Empire allowed numerous religious and ethnic beliefs systems too remain imperforate.

This is perhaps due to not only their significant expansion and lack of ethnically divisive borders all contained with a single administration, but also the jizyah tax or tribute paid by millets (community) for protection. The jizyah levy was economically profitable for the Ottomans, but the refusal to pay created internal division and stimulated violence in the region, particularly with the Mamluks (1250AD – 1517AD), Timurids (1370AD – 1526AD), Black Sheep Turcomans (1375AD – 1468AD), and the Safavids (1501AD – 1736AD). The Qizilbaş became another notorious militant group who refused to submit to the authority of the Ottomans. Flourishing during the late 13th century, the Qizilbaş had a tribal religious order similar (though not the same) to Sufism, while also being influenced by the heterodox religion of the Safviya mystical order dominant amongst the Safavids.[7] The Qizilbaş were known for their fierce military presence that earned them widespread veneration, particularly amongst the Ottoman Janissaries: “The basis of their fighting spirit, however, was their fierce tribal loyalty (ta’aşşup-I oymakiyyat; ta’aşşup-I kizilbashiyyat).” Similar to the Qizilbaş tribes in Anatolia, the Safavids originated through a Sufi order or tarikat in Iran and grew to become a strong military presence in the region, especially with the support of Qizilbaş warriors. “Finally, the armed help of the latter enabled the young Safavid Sheik Isma’il – who was venerated by his Qizilbaş warriors as the reincarnation of ‘Ali and as the Madhi (‘Redeemer’), bringing the reign of justice on earth – to capture the throne of Iran in 1501.” However, their independence and control of Mesopotamia was short-lived after their refusal to pay jizyah.  By violently rebelling against the Ottoman Empire, Shah Isma’ils reign ended with the victory by Sultan Selim in 1514.[9]

The violent revolt and gradual collapse of Safavid Persia consequently found many supporters of ‘Ali killed by the Ottomans, particularly during the reign of Sultan Selim II, and it is for this reason the Qizilbaş retreated to the mountains in Anatolia. Sources show that massacres dating from the sixth century and violent conversion of heterodox groups to Sunni Islam were implemented by the Ottoman Empire. Theological differences were nt the only source of the violence against the Alevis. “[T]he decisive factor seems to be the socio-economic tension between the rural population and the central power that intensified toward the end of the fifteenth century in the Ottoman Empire.”[10] The consequent persecutions thus isolated Alevis and created an independent religious and social community.

Alevi villages are patrilineal and patrilocal. Patrilineality is the succession of the male hereditary lineage that can include inheritance of both property and name, whilst patrilocal residence is a social system that involved married couples living with the husbands’ family if they are unable to afford their own property. There are clear hierarchies within Alevi communities that differ quiet considerably from Sunni villages as they are not only much smaller in population, but tend to take an individualist approach to land ownership and pasture; the village (mahalle) divisions only deliquesce during the summer. It is common amongst many Muslim leaders to claim that they are descendants from religious saints or other authority figures in order to obtain spiritual legitimacy, thus dedes often regard themselves to be descendants of a particular leading figure such as Ibn Arabi, while the effendi claim to be the direct descendants of Haci Bektaş Veli. “The ‘imaginations’ about a supposed common history in processes of ethnicization of suggest that the members of the community may be united by bonds of blood… The dedes claim descent from the Prophet through his cousin and later son-in-law, Ali (b. Abu Talib), his second grandson, Hussein, or others of the Twelve Imams or from Haci Bektaş Veli.” It should be noted that practices are very different between the Arab-Alevis of Turkey – for which my parents belong – and the Turkish-Alevis, and while both do not use a mosque, the latter uses the cemevi as a place of religious worship, something we never did.

Alevis believe in tensasuh (transmigration of the soul). They reject the five pillars of Islam – such as pilgrimage to the hajj or fasting during the month of Ramadan – and instead believe in the four paths to God.[11] The four paths or methods are used as a guide for their actions in order to attain a closer union with God. Tarikat, the inner law of the community closed to outsiders; şeriyat, rules arranged by outsiders such as the government or other religious body; Marifet, literally “knowledge” together with Hakikat or being one with God and beyond the physical world. There are theological works that they base their beliefs on which mostly contain collected sayings of Ibn Abu Ali Talib and others of the twelve imams according to Twelver Shi’i theology, although it inherently does not contain any codified religious law. Due to religious secrecy and in order to avoid persecution, the takiye was introduced and is practiced among Alevis in order to hide their faith from the community; Allah inancini saklamak zorunda kalan insanlar or those who have no other choice but to hide their religion and faith in God.

The takiye was introduced as a way to keep their religious and cultural practices secret, particularly since Alevi religious faith is seen to be an internal mechanism practiced in the heart. Alevis consider themselves to be Muslim and claim to contain the batini (Islamic revelation) although they reject shari’a and the five pillars of Islam (alms levy, daily prayers, fasting, hajj and the profession of faith) which is merely the zahiri (external faith). The main source of their faith lie in Ali whom they view as seceşme (main source) and hulul (incarnation of God in man). The Alevi also interweave the tarikat ideals into their position vis-à-vis Islam as a whole, so that their religion might be summed up as ‘mystical Shi’ism’. Briefly, they maintain the twelver Shi’ite tradition; that Huseyin and Hasan were murdered at the Kerbela, that the rightly-guided caliphs succeeded them until the twelfth, mehti, disappeared and will ultimately return.[30] Alevis are known for their visual depiction of ‘Ali and representation of him in song and ritual, which sharply contrasts with the Sunni requirement to hide the personage of any revered prophet or saint, particularly Muhammad. ‘Ali’s famous spine cleaver sword (zulifiqar) is worn on necklaces and is often used as a religious symbol, similar to the cross in Christianity.

As the Alevi community is multi-ethnic and linguistic, language plays a predominate role in the construction of identity; there is, therefore, a manifest schism between Turkish and Kurdish Alevis. “Kurt Alvilerin bir dernekleri vardi (federation); fakat, Alevilerinkilerden ayridir.”[12] It cannot be denied that Kurdish communities have maintained a respectable level of cohesion by adopting multiple forms of identities, including language (different dialects), political orientation and ethnicity, while certain communities consider themselves to be Alevi-Kurds and others as Qizilbaş or Zaza-Qizilbaş. Although religious and cultural practices are similarly practiced and appreciated, many Alevi do not consider themselves to be ethnically Turkish. “Both the Kemalist elite as well as the Kurdish national movement are trying to stress what each believes to be an ‘organic relationship’ between Aleviness and either Turkishness or Kurdishness.”

Alevis are prone to secrecy with no accessible scriptures and it is for this reason that conspiracies have been raised and spread with the intent to reduce their religious legitimacy. Tales like the 1922 Nur Baba by Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoglu – a short story describing Alevi debauchery in a ritual ceremony – is one of various fictitional themes that ultimately justified bigotry and eventual discrimination against the community. This can also be seen by academic G.R Driver (1922) who [in all likelihood reiterated what he was told] wrote about the Qizilbaş with the same derogatory stance. “There, after prayers noteworthy only for revolting cynicism and an invocation of the deity of fecundity, the lights are extinguished and the sexes intermingle without regard to age or the ties of kinship.”[13] Driver falsely clams that this “very degraded superstition” worships a large black dog and only call themselves Muslim to receive the same civil rights as other orthodox Muslims. Similar conspiracies about sexual deviance were circulated about the Arab-Alevi community. “Thus, the theologian al-Ash’ari (874-936) held that Alawism encourages male sodomy and incestuous marriages, and the founder of the Druze religious doctrine, Hamza ibn Ali (d. 1021), write that Alawis consider ‘the male member entering the female nature’ to be the emblem of their spiritual doctrine.”[14]

The secrecy of their religious doctrines led to these suspicions, and what better way to dehumanise and justify repression than by fabricating tales of sexual perversion. Consequently, Alevis have long been persecuted and this violence continues even in secular Turkey today, such as the Sivas massacre where on July 2, 1993, 37 Alevis were killed by radical Islamists who set fire to their hotel. Although the Turkish government is attempting to open the door for a better understanding of the Alevi community, such abrogating themes amongst the uninformed populace remain and have led Alevis to re-consider their social and political position in Turkey. This can be seen by the establishment of various organisations such as the Cem Foundation, which distributes information through journal articles, radio and other forms of media circulation. Thogh it can be said that the end of the Cold War and the economic and political crises of the early 1980’s led to an increased desire for recognition, the attacks on Alevis during the 199’s and the current fear that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are gradually and quietly implementing Sunni Islamic values has only amplified suspicions and led to an intensification in political, academic and social activism.

It would seem that rejecting Islam to adopt a more Christian outlook is a big problem for many people to understand and indeed when so absorbed into their own culture and beliefs, they become immovable in their worldview that difference or change is a threat rather than a difference. However, I am going through a transition at the moment to try and solidify my own understanding, independent of any denomination, of what is the most righteous way to view and understand the world at large and I believe it is essential to look at the past, to anaylse the present and read all the scriptures without prejudice or bias to gain enough knowledge to make your own decision. It comes at a price, but it is worth it as you are honest with yourself and living in the present.

Further reading:

[1] Qizilbaş literally means “red head” which is attributed to Ali who told followers at the Battle of Siffin (657CE) to tie a red cloth around their heads so that each can distinguish one from the other.
[2]C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1960), 1162
[3] The Qizilbaş were detested by the Ottomans and thus the name became known to refer to those who supported the Safavids.
[4] Nihat Cetinkaya, Kizilbaş Turkler, Tarihi, Oluşumu ve Gelişimi (Istanbul: Kum Saati Yayinlari, 2004) 72
[5] David Zeidan. “The Alevi of Anatolia” Middle East Review of International Affairs 3:4 (Dec 1999) 1
[6] Paul J. White and Joost Jongerden, Turkey’s Alevi Enigma: A Comprehensive Overview, (Boston: Brill, 2003) 82
[7] C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Op. Cit., 243
[8] Ibid., 20 The Battle of Chaldiran (1514) occurred between the Shah Ismail of the Safavid Empire in Iran and Sultan Selim I of the Ottoman Empire. According to Karin Vornhoff, the Safavid Battle of Caldiran brought the Bektasi and the Kizilbas closer.
[9] Tord Olsson, Elisabeth Ozdalga, Catharina Raudvere, Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives (Stockholm: Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, 1998) 154
[10] Paul Stirling, Culture and Economy: Changes in Turkish Villages (Cambridgeshire: The Eothen Press, 1993) 52
[11] Michael Stewart, “Modernity and the Alevis of Turkey: Identity, Challenges and Change” Journal of International Relations Vol. 9 (Spring 2007) 1-19
[12] Irene Melikoff, Haci Bektas Efsaneden Gercege Ceviren: Turan Alptekin (Istanbul: Cumhuriet Kitaplari, 2004) 328
[13] G.E Driver “The Religion of the Kurds” Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, (University of London, 1922) 5
[14] Michael H. Van Dusen, “Political Integration and Regionalism in Syria” Middle East Journal 26:2 (Spring 1972) 128

Exploitation of Syrian Women and Children: Refugee Law In Lebanon and Jordan

As of March 2017, key figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that more than 5 million refugees have fled Syria, with 6.3 million internally displaced and a total of over 13 million in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.[1] Turkey has accepted a large number of the refugees, hosting over 2.8 million refugees, comparably with Europe where less than 900,000 applicants since 2011 have applied for asylum, data retrieved from 37 European countries that provide UNHCR with monthly figures.[2] Additionally, countries such as Lebanon has taken in over 1 million and over 650,000 have fled to Jordan, two countries that have not signed the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees adopted in 1951 and further still, the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees that extended the former boundaries that were initially limited to Europe so as to enable universal coverage. Article 1 of the 1951 Convention nevertheless transformed the international status and human rights of refugees by providing a single definition:

“As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”[3]

Like many instruments that developed at the time, the convention strengthened principles particularly relating to the fundamental rights of refugees such as non-discrimination and particularly non-refoulement,[4] the latter where asylum seekers are forced to return back to a country where they there may be a strong likelihood of experiencing persecution in a number of various ways. It also reinforced the universality of international human rights law without exception to State provisions as well as prejudice toward race, religion or country of origin.

Nevertheless, there have been a number of concerns relating to the effectiveness of the Refugee Convention and its Protocol in managing the influx of refugees and demonstrated by the huge number of asylum seekers displaced from the Syrian War. Some of these failures have enabled discussions on reforming the instruments to deal with the crises of asylum seekers to suit the current economic and social conditions and to satisfactorily manage a system fraught with problems. One of these includes the convention’ failure to ameliorate new global changes to social, demographic and national environments that render it ineffective to adequately deal with the logistical, financial and humanitarian aspects of the influx of refugees. While taking a rights-based approach, both the refugee convention and the protocol fail to address the complexities of man-made catastrophes and the unique regional differences that causally play a role in these catastrophes. As such, it has been argued that a holistic approach is required to enable better considerations of regional and cultural attitudes that enhance a decisive clarity of the causes in order to measure, prevent and manage man-made disasters. It is clear, for instance, the dynamics of ISIS in the Middle East, the ramifications of the gulf-war, oil and water politics and the post-colonial economic hardships that have enabled destabilising political regimes demonstrate the necessity for a holistic approach specific to the Middle East.

In order to compare the possible effectiveness of a holistic approach to the concerns raised by the recent influx of Syrian refugees, development of a number of additional instruments that attempt to define the legal confusion on the status of a refugee in other regions have been adopted. In 1999, the Tampere Council – a special European Council meeting held in Tampere – attempted to improve changes to immigration as well as consolidate foreign and security policies through the opportunities that the Treaty of Amsterdam afforded. The Treaty of Amsterdam altered the former Treaty of Maastricht [where the development of supranational institutions such as the European Court of Justice was initiated] and includes a number of protocols and declarations that empowered the European Union to develop legislation that would effectively coordinate policies and procedures more effectively, along with strategies that would strengthen intergovernmental cooperation subject to protecting its own interests. Since then, there has been an ongoing development to improve legislative frameworks that recognise, for instance, the importance of the financial output during an influx of those seeking asylum and thus established the European Refugee Fund [ERF] that administers financial support to member countries to manage and resettle refugees and displaced persons.

Syrian children who have fled into Jordan and Lebanon are being illegally exploited and due to their status are forced into labour rather than schools; despite countries like Jordan being a signatory to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

lebanon_over_70x_of_syrian_refugee_children_forced_into_labor.jpg_1718483346

Representatives that drafted the 1951 Convention also desired signatories to exceed the demands set out in the convention, thus it was not long after that the European Union developed The Qualification Directive.[5] This followed the Temporary Protection Directive[6] that was developed due to the poor management vis-à-vis violence in the former Yugoslavia that resulted in large numbers of displaced persons in the region and thus, under exceptional circumstances such as war, became a process to provide temporary protection. It sought to exemplify minimum standards for refugees, stateless persons or third-country nationals that required international protection and develop a common policy on asylum by advancing the Common European Asylum System Agency (EASO), as well as facilitate better cooperation between member states by improving protection and “affirming the principle of non-refoulement and ensuring that nobody is sent back to persecution.”[7] The Common European Asylum System guaranteed standards of protection where asylum seekers are treated fairly and with dignity. The Qualification Directive established a criterion that would qualify the minimum standards that confirms the status of a refugee and thus regulating the process that determines the granting of international protection. An act of persecution must be sufficiently serious that would violate human rights including act of physical, sexual and psychological or any disproportionate legal prosecution that would result in discriminatory prosecution.

And yet, with what appears to be a small number of refugees from Syria seeking asylum in Europe comparably to other States, none of these instruments have been put to use, on the contrary, it appears that there may either be a hesitation as the limited timeframe for providing asylum for a maximum of up to two years to Syrian refugees is not realistic in relation to the ongoing length of the war, or there is a hidden exclusivity to these instruments limited to the possibility of use in the event of a European catastrophe. UN High Commissioner for Refugees determined that the needs of the refugees require hefty financial support and pledged nine billion at the conference in London.[8] While financial support would enable countries experiencing an influx of refugees to manage the economic strain, it is clear that the ERF may still struggle to manage, whereby OCHA estimates that a total of $3.4billion dollars is required to fund a humanitarian response plan for the life-saving assistance to 13 million Syrians in need of urgent humanitarian support, funding that has only reached 11.3% of this required target.[9]

Other failures also include no guarantee that unaccompanied children will have access to legal representation, along with the absence of provisions that deal with Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), knowing that within in Syria there are 6.3million IDP’s that require urgent assistance. That is, the Convention does not “apply to those refugees who have a status equivalent to nationals in their country of asylum.”[10] It has been argued that the Convention should be reformulated to address these issues however the potential problem to removing and establishing a new convention is that it would still fail to address continuous regional changes that may impact on the development of even more disputes. For instance, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that States “shall not return to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk of irreparable harm to the child,”[11] and while they clarified the responsibilities of States to ensure how the assessment of this risk should be conducted, this risk is nevertheless open to interpretation. For instance, Suresh v Canada[12] questioned procedural fairness whereby even if a refugee is at risk being tortured, they can be deported to their homeland if they conversely a serious risk to Canadian security. Procedural fairness without the inclusion of assessing unaccompanied minors or other vulnerable groups including women who are pregnant or survivors of serious trauma that have developed serious mental health issues may lead to prejudicial outcomes.

Other global and regional instruments enacted to ensure adequate support for asylum seekers are effectively taking place can act as a catalyst to developing changes to the Middle East. In Africa, for instance, where a number of political and social instabilities have resulted in an influx of refugees, established the Organisation of African Unity and the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa[13] that attempted to ameliorate a stronger understanding of the legal or political aspects to refugee protection but specific to Africa. Together with the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees[14] in Latin-American, the protection of refugees within the instruments were extended to include a more demographically and culturally appropriate – thus holistic – approach to regional affairs that the Convention and its Protocol were unable to adequately compliment, thus enabling better responses to mass displacement. For instance, while the convention and the protocol are rights-based instruments, OAU Convention seeks to address humanitarian responses to mass influx of refugees by enabling its member States to legislate domestically in order to address and protect all those seeking asylum. It additionally clarified the differences between groups of refugees as a result of a disaster with individual refugees seeking protection.

The United Nations estimates Lebanon is housing 1.14 million Syrian refugees and not being party to the Refugee Convention and Protocol, Lebanese domestic laws that purport any person without legal documentation within its boundaries are considered illegal have left Syrian refugees without legal status. In fact, while Lebanon is constitutionally bound by customary law and other human rights obligations being a signatory to a number of human rights conventions,[15] not becoming party to the 1951 Convention or its following Protocol has left only a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the UNHCR[16] as the only instrument to assist refugees coming from Syria. UNHCR has noted that even with the MOU protection remains notoriously difficult.[17] Domestic legislation in Lebanon governing refugees is extremely limited whereby Law of 1962 regulating the Entry and Stay of Foreigners in Lebanon and their Exit from the Country[18] fails to provide legal protection and other important human rights services for Syrian refugees. Unlike OAU Convention that treats individual and group assessments based on contingent situations such as fleeing war or other man made violence, the provisions of the 1962 law treat individual cases. “Any foreigners who is subject of pursuit or has been convicted for a political crime by a non-Lebanese authority or whose life or freedom is threatened because of political considerations may ask for political asylum.”[19] As such, Syrian refugees in Lebanon are without any legal protection and according to Article 32 of the 1962 Law, can be fined and even imprisoned as illegal entrants.[20] While the MOU signed between Lebanon and UNCHR enables the latter to ensure temporary residence permits are provided as a solution – albeit temporary – to the problem with Syrian refugees, the limited time (of a maximum of nine months) may not be estimative of the realistic timeframes necessary to support them pending the continued violence in Syria. Clarification of renewing residency permits remains ambiguous and any rights including seeking employment are extremely limited, if not non-existent and leaving refugees in an incredibly vulnerable position. This was further delayed when the Lebanese government requested that UNHCR suspend registrations of Syrian refugees in 2015.[21]

The image below exposes the horror of what happened to almost 75 Syrian women who fled the war and were tortured and forced into sexual slavery within ‘Chez Maurice’ in the Lebanese town of Jounieh. Notwithstanding the horrible men involved in this disgusting trafficking incident, it also shows the failure of the government to protect asylum seekers and why it is so important.

LEBANON-SYRIA-CONFLICT-PROSTITUTION-SOCIETY

While Lebanon has recently enacted changes to domestic legislation amid continued discussions relating to the status of refugees, in particular waiving fees for Syrian refugees fleeing the war [a charge of US$200 that was introduced in 2015], this unfortunately excludes a large number who were unable to register with UNHCR, almost half a million.[22] The impact of these failures in Lebanon can have devastating effects to the rights and protection of Syrian refugees since by having no legal status and being at risk of imprisonment, movements become restricted and in order to survive many refugees are becoming victims to exploitation. According to the final report on Syrian refugees in Lebanon by Freedom Fund, incidence of slavery and human trafficking is growing including child labour and marriage, sexual exploitation and forced labour[23] that clearly exemplifies why ratification of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol is necessary. In addition, children from families without residency permits in Lebanon are unable to obtain a formal education as well as access to healthcare for families including pregnant women whose children are at risk of statelessness. It is also clear that existing regulatory frameworks are modified along with domestic legislation protecting Syrian refugees from harm including exploitation and trafficking is afforded. Although Lebanon is constitutionally bound by the customary law principle of non-refoulement, recent talks between Lebanon and the Syrian opposition to return those seeking asylum – whereby Hezbollah stated that they have been mediating the possible return of refugees from the Arsal border to the Qalamoun region in Syria[24] – that begs the question of whether non- refoulement procedures are adequately adhered.

According to Amnesty International, while Jordan is hosting over 650,000 refugees, in mid-2016 it closed its borders that stranded over 75,000 Syrian refugees between the Syrian-Jordanian borders in the horrific al-Rukban and Hadalat refugee camps within desert conditions.[25] This is not a problem with Jordan alone, whereby Human Rights Watch has also reported shootings against Syrian refugees attempting to enter the country at Turkish borders. Whilst citing security concerns amid threats from ISIS, the strain that Jordan has experienced economically due to the lack of international aid has pressured the government to regulate occupation that only Jordanian citizens are allowed to work in, forcing asylum seekers toward illegal working conditions.[26] Jordan also signed an MOU with UNHCR that enabled recognition of refugee status for a duration of up to six to twelve months[27] but consideration of the massive influx of Syrian refugees was not adequately deliberated as domestic law similarly observe a case-by-case basis.[28] In addition to this, each of the individuals fleeing are required to have documentation, something that clearly may not always be possible considering the situation. Constitutionally, Jordan must adhere to international customary law on non-refoulment, where extradition of political refugees is prohibited.

With the surmounting difficulties along the borders of Lebanon and Jordan, the clarity and necessity of including internally displaced persons within the international framework becomes clear as millions of Syrian refugees are unable to flee. The United Nations– along with reaffirming – has called upon States such as Jordan and Lebanon to become party to the Convention.[29] Regarding the problem of stranded refugees along the Jordanian-Syrian border, comparatively the OAU Convention explicitly reaffirms that in the even where a member state may find it difficult to continue granting asylum it will appeal to other Member States of the OAU to assist in supporting them.[30] As such, the development of a similar regional instrument amongst Middle Eastern States that touch on relevant concerns specific to the demographics and culture would be an important step forward to strengthen a cohesive process for Syrian refugees to adequately manage man-made disasters as well as improve processes for countries such as Jordan and Lebanon to better protect asylum seekers. It will also ensure that compliance to the States’ ratification of the relevant instruments along with a complementarity between the regional and international refugee protection frameworks are adequately observed. Other improvements and regulations would be the consistent pressure to ensure Lebanon and Jordan ratify the 1951 Status of Refugees Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as honing down on better domestic legislation that will ensure legal protections are provided to refugees and asylum seekers. With stronger mutual cooperation in the Middle East, the distribution of services to victims of mad-made disasters specific to regional affairs may protect women and children from becoming victims of exploitation.

 

[1] http://www.unocha.org/syrian-arab-republic/syria-country-profile/about-crisis
[2] http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/asylum.php
[3] Article 1 (a)(2) The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951
[4] Ibid., Article 33(1)
[5] Qualification Directive 2004/83/EC
[6] Temporary Protection Directive 2001/55/EC
[7] Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, 13 December 2011
[8] Supporting Syria & the Region Conference in London on 4th February, 2016
[9] http://www.unocha.org/top-stories/all-stories/syria-us-34-billion-needed-provide-life-saving-assistance-13-million-people
[10] Op. Cit., 1951 Refugee Convention
[11] General Comment No 6 – Treatment of unaccompanied and separated children outside their country of origin, UN Doc CRC/GC/2006/6 (2005)
[12] Suresh v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [2002] 1 S.C.R. 3
[13] OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, September 10, 1969.
[14] Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, November 22, 1984.
[15] Section B of the preamble of the Lebanese Constitution, Lebanese Constitution (1926), as amended to 1995
[16] UNHCR Regional Office in Lebanon, Country Operations Plan 1 (2004)
[17] UNHCR, Submission by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Compilation Report – Universal Periodic Review: The Republic of Lebanon 2 (Apr. 2010)
[18] Order No. 319 Regulating the Status of Foreign Nationals In Lebanon, Date of Entry into Force: August 2, 1962 (19620802)
[19] Ibid., Article 26.
[20] 1962 Law, Pursuant to article 32 foreigners who enter Lebanon illegally can be imprisoned for one month to 3 years and/or fined.
[21] Human Rights Watch Country Report, Lebanon: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/lebanon#4694c7
[22] Human Rights Watch, Lebanon: New Refugee Policy a Step Forward: Open the Door to Legal Status for All Syrian Refugees, February 14, 2017: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/14/lebanon-new-refugee-policy-step-forward
[23] Freedom Fund, Struggling to Survive: Slavery and Exploitation of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, http://freedomfund.org/wp-content/uploads/Lebanon-Report-FINAL-8April16.pdf
[24] http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2017/Feb-11/393177-hezbollah-mediating-safe-return-of-syrian-refugees.ashx
[25] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/09/syria-jordan-border-75000-refugees-trapped-in-desert-no-mans-land-in-dire-conditions/?utm_content=bufferdbc2e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
[26] List of Professions Not Allowed to Foreign Workers, Ministry of Labor, http://www.mol.gov.jo/Portals/ 0/Decisions/closed.pdf
[27] UNHCR Global Appeal 2013 Update: Jordan, UNHCR, http://www.unhcr.org/4ec231020.pdf
[28] Law No. 24 of 1973, art. 12, Al-Jarida Al-Rasmiyya, 16 June 1973, at 1112, http://www.lob.gov.jo/ui/laws/ search_no.jsp?year=1973&no=24 (official website of the Jordanian Council of Ministers)
[29] Declaration of States parties to the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Ministerial Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, Switzerland, 12-13 December 2001, UN Doc. HCR/MMSP/2001/09, 16 January 2002. The Declaration was welcomed by the UN General Assembly in resolution A/RES/57/187, para. 4, adopted on 18 December 2001.
[30] UNHCR, Persons covered by the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa and by the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees (Submitted by the African Group and the Latin American Group)Persons covered by the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa and by the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees (Submitted by the African Group and the Latin American Group) EC/1992/SCP/CRP.6 (6 April 1992)

Book Review: The Gülen Movement in Turkey

The Gülen Movement’s growing power and influence, followed by its public criticism of the AKP government in 2010 and 2013, and finally the coup attempt in July 2016, has led to an unprecedented crackdown on the Gülen Movement in Turkey. The purge has ousted thousands of employees from major state and civil society institutions, including the military, judiciary, and education institutions, as well as the mass media. The rise and fall of the Gülen Movement has been one of the defining issues in Turkish politics in the twenty-first century.

Book Review

Caroline Tee

The Gülen Movement in Turkey: The Politics of Islam and Modernity

(London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2016) 227pp

ISBN: 978-1-78453-588-9

Introduction

The turmoil following the gradual dissolution of the Ottoman Empire during the late nineteenth century led to the sharp rise of Turkish nationalism. During this period, the Young Turks (Jöntürkler) attempted to define the ‘nation’ and what it meant to be ‘Turkish’. Following international and domestic chaos during the Great War and the Balkan War, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk established the Turkish Republic and transformed the remnants of the Ottoman Empire into a modern, secular nation-state. The state abolished the caliphate, controlled the appointments of imams, rescinded religious courts and schools, and created new laws that further limited the power of religion in Turkish public life. These political and cultural reforms were intended to transform civic culture by strengthening loyalty to the new Turkish Republic. Nevertheless, winning popular acceptance for this new secular nationalism was an uneven and complex process that was not fully embraced by all sectors of Turkish society.

Accordingly, leading religious intellectuals such as Bediuzzaman Said Nursî sought to challenge the new nationalist ideology or Kemalism, which was influenced by the work of Ziya Gölkalp who strongly suggested suppressing any connections to the former Ottoman regime. Nursî believed that reinforcing Islam would establish a balance with secularism in all areas of Turkish society, particularly in education and intercultural dialogue. When the Turkish political system moved from a one-party authoritarian regime to a multi-party system in the middle of the twentieth century, discussions of Islam that had long laid dormant began to emerge and the scale of this divide between Kemalist secularists and religious Turks became clear. Beginning in the 1960s, these cultural and religious tensions during a period of economic turmoil gradually prompted civil violence and led the military to government interventions. This phenomenon continued in the 1970s, leading to a series of demonstrations, violence between the secular and Islamist factions and political assassinations. It was only with the 1980 coup d’état and the sweeping reforms that were initiated following the deaths of thousands that the Turkish-Islam Synthesis (Türk-İslam Sentezi) was introduced, in an attempt to establish a political balance between Kemalism and Sunni Islam (Hanafi). Political parties – like the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) and the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi) – were shut down both in 1998 and 2001 respectively, leading to a cycle of socio-political tension.It was in this atmosphere that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) emerged.

Its initial success was due to support from influential religious and social institutions, like the peculiar and autonomous Gülen Movement. Strengthened by this significant and influential alliance during the first decade of the twentieth-century – particularly with leading figures in the judiciary loyal to the Islamic movement’s leader, Fethullah Gülen – tensions surfaced between the ruling AKP and Gülen, after Gülen criticized the government for its anti-Israel rhetoric following the May 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla crisis in Gaza and additionally for its use of excessive force during Gezi Park Protests in May 2013. The political alliance was ruptured when notable AKP figures were arrested or questioned for corruption, money laundering and bribery charges in what became one of the largest and most controversial legal cases in Turkey, leading Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to brand the Gülen Movement a ‘parallel structure’ [Paralel Devlet Yapılanması] or a state-like organisation without democratic legitimacy. While it is important to distinguish between the enigmatic figure of Fethullah Gülen who leads an ascetic lifestyle in the remote Pennsylvania countryside of the U.S., and the contemplative Sufi cleric who vis-à-vis the movement holds identifiable wealth and influence in Turkey and across the globe, it is undeniable that political polarization and the AK Party’s use of pro-government discourses has served as a platform to promote an authoritarian legitimacy, thus deepening the confusion.

Gülen’ Hizmet Movement

Caroline Tee’s The Gülen Movement in Turkey: The Politics of Islam and Modernity is an essential introduction to the topic, which addresses the Gülen Movement’s intentions, networks, and its broad influence in Turkish society. The book begins with Fethullah Gülen himself and the influence of Islamic theologian Bediuzzaman Said Nursî – particularly the effect his seminal work Risale-i Nur –on Gülen’s own spiritual framework. Raised in Erzurum, which is socially and religiously conservative, Gülen gained his traditional religious education at a Sufi tekke (lodge), which were the religious institutions of both the Naqshbandi and Qadiri Sufi Orders. He continued his formal education in Islamic jurisprudence and by the age of eighteen became a state-qualified Imam. Several years later, Gülen was posted to the center of Izmir as the director of the Qur’anic school in Kestanepazan Mosque, and though he desired to move to a more conservative environment, and away from the liberal atmosphere of the western provinces of Turkey, he remained in Izmir and developed his vision of spiritual reform with the intent of reinvigorating Islam and bringing it to a wider audience. He gained a small following both at the mosque and through regular meetings at coffee houses, creating the Hizmet or ‘Service’ movement during the rigid secular posture of the state in the 1960s.

The movement began to grow when his vision for an altın nesil, or ‘golden generation’ was implemented through organized summer camps that aimed to educate the next generation of Turks in both Islam and the modern sciences. This illustrates the influence of Said Nursî who also envisioned the revitalization of Turkish religious culture, which had been vastly transformed by modern secularism by calling for positive action (müspet hareket) from pious individuals to engage in all areas of the public sphere. Said Nursî also emphasized the importance of education in both Islam and the sciences, with Gülen’ pedagogy following Nursî’s attempt to change the impression that religion is inimical to science. Eventually, the summer camps became after-school centers (dershane) that gradually began to expand into other cities across Turkey, despite the growing social and political tensions between leftists and right-wing factions during the 1970s.

A complete overhaul of the constitution following the 1980 military coup d’état, ushered in a period of economic liberalization led by Turgut Özal. And the new Turkish-Islam synthesis (Türk-İslam Sentezi) that emerged removed some of the restrictions on religious life in Turkey. Tee explains how the Gülenists began investing in business and media interests and taking advantage of new international opportunities particularly in the Central Asia, which provided the movement with fertile ground for geographic expansion.

The Gülen Network

The second part of the book contains the core of Caroline Tee’s research into Gülen Movement’s membership and its approach to scientific education. Tee uses anthropological fieldwork to explain how Gülen’s Islamic creationist movement teaches science within an Islamic framework. Tee describes her experiences with the Gülenist educational system, which is characterized by strong academic achievement. Gülenist schools are preferred by conservative religious families for their moral and religious commitment and secular curriculum. Nevertheless, Gülenist schools are not explicitly linked to Gülen and are not promoted as such, instead the connection to Gülen is a matter of local knowledge illustrating the decentralized and low key nature of the Gülen Movement. “Both he and his followers prefer to speak of a loose connection of initiatives that are all ‘inspired’ by his teachings, but do not constitute a single coordinated entity” (p.57). Any organized efforts to coordinate initiatives are usually through local affiliations between several schools in a given region or city, while well known and prestigious schools established by Gülen followers such as Yamanlar Koleji in Izmir and Fatih Okulu in Istanbul have franchised a number of schools directly.

One intriguing element of the Gülen network that Tee brings to light is the concept of “service” (hizmet) in Gülen-run institutions, such as assigning a chemistry teacher Irem, “against her personal wishes” to a particular school far away from her home in northwest Turkey (p.54). Referred to as fedakarlik or self-sacrifice, they consider themselves as educators rather than mere teachers, thus functioning as a representative or role model to guide or inspire the ethical and personal education of the students. Such dedication lacks financial rewards but is motivated by a spiritual eschatology and the belief in sevap (good deeds) that will be rewarded on Judgement Day. This clearly suggests a formal membership structure within the movement that transcends mere professional networking. Tee conducted her fieldwork in two Gülen schools in order to ascertain how science is taught within a secular curriculum yet framed by Islamic theology and the philosophy of Said-Nursî. Tee also exposes the considerable influence of religious ontology in science classes at the Gülen schools. For example, an educator in a middle-school science class, who was teaching students about a skin disease, claimed that the disease was given to a person as part of a divine test (sinav) and that the students should give thanks for not having such a skin disease. While remaining within the required boundaries of scientific education, the staff attached an Islamic ethic to the content, educating students through religious inferences in an attempt to establish coherence between science and religion.

Tee discusses Islamic creationism as an essential belief within the Gülenist framework (Chapter Four), the Gülen Movement’s argument being that science has become secularized, particularly through the theory of biological evolution that has created an unnecessary rift between science and an Islamic education. Gülen has written about evolution in his book Yaratılış Gerçeği ve Evrim among other sources and not only rejects the theory of evolution but views it as an attempt to justify atheistic materialism. Tee shows that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk advocated evolutionary biology and the secular policies of his time enforced the addition of evolution in the school curriculum at the founding of the Turkish Republic. Said Nursî opposed this change, which radically changed the fabric of Turkish society through what Nursî saw as the coercive disassociation with Islamic values. Accordingly, Gülen opposes the inclusion of evolutionary theory in the curriculum, and an anti-evolutionary agenda has allowed the movement to reconcile modern science with Islam and harmonize what were once two mutually exclusive categories.

Overall, the Gülenist target is to combat atheism through education. Gülenists belief that failing to adapt to the social requirements of modernity by refusing a scientific education merely favors Darwinian adherents; thus Gülenists battle atheism by teaching science through an Islamic lens. Tee explains that from the outset the movement has prioritized spreading Islamic values through local recruiting and international networking, particularly engaging students in Gülenist schools in foreign countries. The schools provide scholarships, educational and employment opportunities and other opportunities for self-improvement. This emphasis on competitive achievement is one reason why Gülenist schools emphasize participating in the Science Olympiads, a prestigious international competition that provides students with the opportunity to compete for financial rewards, as well as improve their chances of getting admitted to prestigious universities. These competitions also play a vital role in changing the status quo, by allowing “Islamic actors to engage successfully with a critical aspect of modernity” (p.77). Higher education institutions, such as Irfan University – which is economically supported by a group of investors sympathetic to the movement, some of whom are extremely wealthy Turkish businessmen – is described by Tee as unfinished, but nevertheless lavish and impressive, hosting a number of high-achieving students and staffed by academics with strong credentials and research excellence. Higher education offers the movement a way to increase its global influence.

The exact number of Gülen-run educational institutions remains unknown as they do not “publically affiliate with one another” (p.55) and they do not identify with Gülen or even share a common name or logo as institutions often do. Tee tackles – albeit briefly – some important questions that lie at the heart of the movement’s ambiguous status. For example, is there an Islamist agenda at the core of its endeavors? Skeptics label the movement a cemaat (religious community), implying its interests do not lie solely in the principle of positive action in civil society, which is what the movement emphasizes. These concerns have been exacerbated by Gülen’s public sermons reminding his followers to be responsive to the dangers of materialism. However, the movement’s economic interests allow it to continue to project its influence and demonstrate the strength of Islam by building international institutions of higher education. In a similar vein, staff working at Gülen-run institutions straddle an ambiguous personal and professional position, where spiritual goals are integrated into their curricula. While this educational homogeneity strengthens the quality of teaching and increases overall academic achievement, its lack of clarity has led to several legal cases against Gülenist schools in the United States, for mismanagement of funds and failing to clearly outline its affiliation with the Gülen Movement. Other contradictions include Gülen’s statements that he supports secularism and seeks only to change the nature of Turkish secularism, which actively opposes Islam. Yet in other statements, either directly or indirectly, Gülen encourages the complete collapse of Turkish secularism and replacing it with an Islamic state.

 

Gülenists and Politics

Caroline Tee focuses much of her work on the structure of the organization and its ambiguous position in Turkish political, judicial and civil society. She argues that while there is no official criteria for joining the movement, it consists of a multi-tiered level of commitment that includes not only the core followers such as teachers at Gülen-led schools, but also those on the periphery of the movement including sympathizers (onaylayanlar) and consumers. Consumers are those who use the movement’s products and services, whether consciously or unconsciously, and play a vital role in strengthening the success of the movement. Tee’s analysis slightly differs from Joshua Hendrick, author of Gulen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World who argues that the movement consists of four – rather than three – groups of affiliates that engage with the movement. Hendrick divides the core group of Gülenists into two: the ‘aristocracy’ who are surrounded by ‘friends.’ In the third part of the book, The Wider Context (chapters six, seven, and eight) provides an overview of the Gülen Movement’s place in Turkish politics, vis-à-vis their impaired relationship with the AK Party, as well as its global status, particularly with respect to the United States.

The Gülen Movement’s intercultural dialogue initiative through The Journalists and Writers Foundation (Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Vakfi), where Gülen himself serves as honorary chairman, promotes dialogue between Muslims and other religions and cultures. The Gülen Movement’s emphasis on intercultural dialogue stems from Said Nursî, who also promoted interfaith communication. The movement attempts to find common ground between the major religions of the “People of the Book” (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) as a strategy for peaceful engagement and effective networking, promoting Islam as well as Turkey and the movement as a whole. Since 1999, Gülen has lived in Pennsylvania and is often referred to by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Pennsylvania’daki adam (the man from Pennsylvania). Gülen’s move to the U.S. has been subject to allegations that he has relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Indeed, it is interesting to note that a former CIA agent and senior staff at the National Intelligence Council supported Gülen’s application for a green card. Nevertheless, the move to the United States established the global presence of the movement and the rapid expansion that followed. The movement now has a presence in over 120 countries globally, though membership overwhelmingly rests with Muslim and Turkish adherents despite its transnational scope. It is not clear, however, what led to Gülen’s decision to immigrate to the United States, but his residency there has certainly allowed the movement to thrive on an international scale.

For most of the past decade, the movement has avoided politically or religiously sensitive discourse, instead engaging in debates that build and cultivate relationships, which allowed the Gülen Movement and Erdoğan’s AKP to coexist. According to Tee, the movement has not embraced political activism, despite the fact that loyal Gülenists were the leading figures in the corruption investigations against senior AKP officials. The 2013 corruption probes led Erdoğan to declare war on the movement, arresting or dismissing loyal Gülenist sympathizers, and claiming the movement was a serious threat to national security by attempting to destabilize the government. Tee attempts to clarify whether the Gülen Movement is indeed an exclusively civil-society institution or something more. “By going public with a raft of toxic allegations, it is clear that the Gülenist’ intention was to unseat now-President Erdoğan and precipitate a change in the Turkish administration” (pp. 163-164). By the end of 2015, the AKP had taken numerous steps to extradite Gülen from the United States to stand trial prior to formally declaring the Gülen Movement as a terrorist organization [Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü or FETÖ]– which occurred just after Tee’s book was published.

While Tee states that her research intends to explain the movement as an Islamic group using “the burgeoning field of the sociology of science and Islam” (p. 5) as part of her research, yet she nevertheless attempts to analyze the political dynamics between the 2013 Erdoğan-Gülen split utilizing a historical approach in the context of political Islam. They were initially united by their common Islamic roots in the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam and the shared goal of reducing the power of the military elite. The collapse of the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) in 1998 led by Necmettin Erbakan and the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi) in 2001 led to the establishment of the AKP [2001], which held the belief that Islamic conservatism would remain unsuccessful as long as a strong secular, military presence continued to play a central role in Turkish politics. The AKP has maneuvered to reduce the constitutional powers given to the military through the infamous Ergenekon, Balyoz and Poyrazköy trials, which portrayed the military elite as operating a ‘deep state’ that was intent on overthrowing the government. These trials were only possible with support from senior judicial and executive staff loyal to Gülen. Many prominent figures were arrested and eventually given life sentences, all of whom have now been released since the Erdoğan-Gülen rift began in late 2013, although Gülen has denied any involvement in the cases. Nevertheless, Tee makes it clear that Gülen is guilty of numerous contradictions and inconsistencies, and even his previous teachings of an anti-Christian and Jewish nature raise doubts as to his genuine acceptance of secularism and of intercultural dialogue.

As a detailed study of the Gülen Movement, which unlike other Islamic groups places a strong emphasis on science education, Caroline Tee provides an excellent – albeit brief – overview of the subject and certainly whets your appetite for more. Without probing deeply into the political or social terrain of the subject, which can be found in other sources, she explains the history and root causes of the Erdoğan-Gülen feud, providing details about the sweeping attacks made against Gülen schools and dershane, the various businesses including Bank Asya, and the public vitriol directly against the movement. She also provided a clearer picture about the movement’s schools by engaging with students and teachers at various levels within these institutions in several cities around Turkey. Tee’s fieldwork is a vital contribution to the scholarship on the Gülen Movement, because it shed lights on some of the opaque aspects of the movement and its global success. She also exposes some of the movement’s contradictions, such as the requirement to preserve public order and stability as part of one’s membership, yet there are no formal initiation rites or any clearly defined criterion for membership itself. However, since positive action with the goal of integrating Islam into modern society is a key part of the Gülenist agenda, the difficulty to ascertain – particularly in light of its ambiguous position – whether followers adhere to this agenda would have been a valuable contribution in Tee’s research. This is what Joshua Hendrick has argued is the movement’s deliberate ‘strategic ambiguity’ which is due to the repressive political and social climate in Turkey.[1] Indeed, as Tee herself states, “the Gülen Movement functions today as an ostensibly apolitical community, but one which has managed to accrue significant power and influence”(p. 3) The use of social anthropology as a theoretical framework to understand the internal hierarchy and structure of the movement using interviews to supplement fieldwork is a valuable approach that contributes to our understanding of the movement’ social influence, which has become the basis for its success and power.

[1] Joshua D. Hendrick, Gülen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World, NYU Press (2014) pp 206-232