By Mustafa Akyol
SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina — The bloody coup attempt in Turkey last week, which cost more than 200 lives, brought the world’s attention to the group that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared responsible: the Islamic community led by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s.
Mr. Gulen strongly denies the charges. Some in the West seem to think that this is yet another of the many bizarre conspiracy theories peddled by Mr. Erdogan. But this is not merely propaganda. There are good reasons to believe the accusation is correct.
The Gulen community is built around one man: Fethullah Gulen. His followers see him not merely as a learned cleric, as they publicly claim, but the “awaited one,” as I have been told in private. He is the Mahdi, the Islamic version of the Messiah, who will save the Muslim world, and ultimately the world itself. Many of his followers also believe that Mr. Gulen sees the Prophet Muhammad in his dreams and receives orders from him.
Besides Mr. Gulen’s unquestionable authority, another key feature of the movement is its cultish hierarchy. The Gulen movement is structured like a pyramid: Top-level imams give orders to second-level imams, who give orders to third-level imams, and it goes on like that to the grass roots.
But, as one disillusioned Gulenist told me last year, “there is a darker side of the movement, and few of its members know it as it is.” For decades, the movement has been infiltrating Turkey’s state institutions, like the police, judiciary and military. Many believe that some Gulenists, taking orders from their imams, hide their identities and try to rise through these institutions in order to capture state power.
When Mr. Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., came to power in 2002, they felt threatened by the hard-core secularists who have dominated Turkey’s military since the days of Ataturk, the father of the Turkish republic. Mr. Erdogan viewed the Gulenist cadres in the state as an asset, and an alliance was born. The Erdogan government supported Gulenist police officers, prosecutors and judges as they went after secularists. Starting in 2007, hundreds of secularist officers and their civilian allies were jailed.
This witch hunt was driven by Mr. Erdogan’s political agenda, but the Gulenists were even more aggressive than the A.K.P. More worrying: Some of the evidence turned out to be overblown. Two secular journalists and a police chief who exposed the fake evidence, and blamed the “The Imam’s Army
,” were soon themselves imprisoned on bogus charges.
“How can they justify using fake evidence to blame innocent people?” I once asked my disillusioned Gulenist friend. “Since their end goal is so great,” he said, referring to the movement’s global, apocalyptic ambition, “they think all means are justified.”
It eventually became clear why the Gulenists had been so fervent in their persecution of the secularists: They wanted to replace them. Many of the officers who reportedly took part in last week’s coup attempt had been promoted thanks to a major purge of the military in 2009 that supposedly saved Mr. Erdogan from a coup.
By 2012, the old secularist guard had been quelled and the Gulenists and the A.K.P. were left more or less alone to run Turkey. It took less than two years before the two Islamist groups developed distrust and, ultimately, enmity. This tension came to a head in December 2013, when Gulenist police officers and prosecutors arrested dozens of government officials in a corruption investigation, most likely in the hope of toppling Mr. Erdogan, who condemned the inquiry as a “coup attempt.” At the time, this sounded like a self-serving exaggeration.
But the bloody plot of July 15 is far more destructive than anything Turkey has seen in recent years. Notably, the plot came as Mr. Erdogan was supposed to be planning a major purge of suspected Gulenists from the military. The military’s chief of staff, who opposed the coup, identified the rebellious officers as Gulenists. One plotter even reportedly confessed to acting under orders from the Gulen movement.
Given the Gulen community’s hierarchical structure, all of this makes Mr. Gulen a prime suspect. Of course, the truth can come out only in a fair trial. Unfortunately, Turkey is not good at those — especially given Mr. Erdogan’s control over the judiciary and the ferocious polarization in the country today. But the United States government can try to negotiate with its Turkish counterparts to extradite Mr. Gulen, as Turkey’s government is now requesting, on the condition of a fair trial.
That would ensure justice, improve Turkish-American relations and help calm the dangerous zeal in Turkey. It may even be necessary to help many of the innocent people in the Gulen community to know what they are really involved in — and to begin new lives as free individuals.
Source- New York Times