Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Fethullah Gülen


Prospect Magazine has announced that Fethullah Gülen, the leader of an influential Turkey-based global Sufi-oriented Islamic movement, has won the international poll to choose the World’s Most Influential Intellectual. While Gülen and his ideas are widely admired, he also is feared and hated by some in Turkey who see his enormous reach and publishing empire and his well-educated and well-organized followers as threats to Turkey’s secular state and society. The position of women outside the center of power in the Gülen community stands in contrast to Gülen’s teachings about the equality of women.

Here are the Top 10 Influential Intellectuals

1 Fethullah Gülen
2 Muhammad Yunus
3 Yusuf Al-Qaradawi
4 Orhan Pamuk
5 Aitzaz Ahsan
6 Amr Khaled
7 Abdolkarim Soroush
8 Tariq Ramadan
9 Mahmood Mamdani
10 Shirin Ebadi

The Prospect calls Gülen a “modern Ottoman” and his approach “Islam-Lite”:

[He] promotes an open brand of Islamic thought and… is preoccupied with modern science… Unusually for a pious intellectual, he and his movement are at home with technology, markets and multinational business, and especially with modern communications and public relations—which, like a modern televangelist, he uses to attract converts. Like a western celebrity, he carefully manages his public exposure—mostly by restricting interviews to those he can trust.

Many of his converts come from Turkey’s aspirational middle class. As religious freedom comes, falteringly, to Turkey, Gülen reassures his followers that they can combine the statist-nationalist beliefs of Atatürk’s republic with a traditional but flexible Islamic faith. He also reconnects the provincial middle class with the Ottoman traditions that had been caricatured as theocratic by Atatürk and his “Kemalist” heirs. Oliver Leaman, a leading scholar of Islamic philosophy, says that Gülen’s ideas are a product of Turkish history, especially the end of the Ottoman empire and the birth of the republic. He calls Gülen’s approach “Islam-lite.”

Prospect admits that the election of Gülen was the result of active organization of votes by his supporters and the sympathetic Zaman Newspaper:

On 1st May, Zaman—the highest-selling newspaper in Turkey, with a circulation of over 700,000 and a string of international editions—ran a story on its front page alerting its readership to the appearance of Gülen on the Prospect/FP list, and to the fact that we were inviting people to vote. Zaman is known to be close to the Gülen movement, and over the coming weeks the paper made regular reference to the cleric’s appearance on our list. The poll was also noted in other Turkish newspapers, as well as on every single Gülen website, official and unofficial, we were able to find.

The efficiency and discipline of the Fethullahci is legendary—so in retrospect, for them, a poll like ours was simple to hijack. The temptation for Gülen’s followers to elevate their man to the top of a poll organised by two influential western magazines will have been a strong one. In one respect, then, Gülen’s crushing win tells us little about what the world thinks about its intellectuals; it merely exhibits the organisational ability of one movement’s followers. On the other hand, perhaps we can see through Gülen’s victory the emergence of a new kind of intellectual—one whose influence is expressed through a personal network, aided by the internet, rather than publications or institutions.

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