Fethullah Gulen: Turkey’s Eroding Democracy

 Hizmet supporters in Istanbul protesting the government’s harassment of journalists.   Credit Sedat Suna/European Pressphoto Agency

Hizmet supporters in Istanbul protesting the government’s harassment of journalists.
Credit Sedat Suna/European Pressphoto Agency

By Fethullah Gulen

SAYLORSBURG, Pa. — It is deeply disappointing to see what has become of Turkey in the last few years. Not long ago, it was the envy of Muslim-majority countries: a viable candidate for the European Union on its path to becoming a functioning democracy that upholds universal human rights, gender equality, the rule of law and the rights of Kurdish and non-Muslim citizens. This historic opportunity now appears to have been squandered as Turkey’s ruling party, known as the A.K.P., reverses that progress and clamps down on civil society, media, the judiciary and free enterprise.

Turkey’s current leaders seem to claim an absolute mandate by virtue of winning elections. But victory doesn’t grant them permission to ignore the Constitution or suppress dissent, especially when election victories are built on crony capitalism and media subservience. The A.K.P.’s leaders now depict every democratic criticism of them as an attack on the state. By viewing every critical voice as an enemy — or worse, a traitor — they are leading the country toward totalitarianism.

The latest victims of the clampdown are the staff, executives and editors of independent media organizations who were detained and are now facing charges made possible by recent changes to the laws and the court system. The director of one of the most popular TV channels, arrested in December, is still behind bars. Public officials investigating corruption charges have also been purged and jailed for simply doing their jobs. An independent judiciary, a functioning civil society and media are checks and balances against government transgressions. Such harassment sends the message that whoever stands in the way of the ruling party’s agenda will be targeted by slander, sanctions and even trumped-up charges.

Turkey’s rulers have not only alienated the West, they are also now losing credibility in the Middle East. Turkey’s ability to assert positive influence in the region depends not only on its economy but also on the health of its own democracy.

The core tenets of a functioning democracy — the rule of law, respect for individual freedoms — are also the most basic of Islamic values bestowed upon us by God. No political or religious leader has the authority to take them away. It is disheartening to see religious scholars provide theological justification for the ruling party’s oppression and corruption or simply stay silent. Those who use the language and symbols of religious observance but violate the core principles of their religion do not deserve such loyalty from religious scholars.

Speaking against oppression is a democratic right, a civic duty and for believers, a religious obligation. The Quran makes clear that people should not remain silent in the face of injustice: “O you who believe! Be upholders and standard-bearers of justice, bearing witness to the truth for God’s sake, even though it be against your own selves, or parents or kindred.”

For the past 50 years, I have been fortunate to take part in a civil society movement, sometimes referred to as Hizmet, whose participants and supporters include millions of Turkish citizens. These citizens have committed themselves to interfaith dialogue, community service, relief efforts and making life-changing education accessible. They have established more than 1,000 modern secular schools, tutoring centers, colleges, hospitals and relief organizations in over 150 countries. They are teachers, journalists, businessmen and ordinary citizens.

Read more in The New York Times/The Opinion Pages

Categories: Foreign affairs, Free speech, Human rights, Opinion/Editorial, Political commentary, Politics, Turkey

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4 replies

  1. The change I’ve seen in the media, some not very good, some really bad (outright lying) seems to have brought some of the angst against them. Depending on the government, whatever actions are taken or not is going to become more of an issue. In the US more people are viewing media with more a jaundiced or jaded attitude when reading what they print.

    The media can cry ”Foul”, but is it truly a foul or a reaction taken because of their overall behavior?

    It’s as if the trust of people…. in anything…. in a society which is dependent on media to be more word craft worthy than they are, is being eroded. This happens more often with those that have less education, less discernment of accuracy or more trust in the particular media they want to believe is accurate in reporting.

    For whatever reason, the same thing has eroded trust in governments whether deserved or not. It has eroded confidence and trust in other areas as well. This has possibly fueled more conspiracy theorists than any one other aspect and those Teem on the Internet.

    When the responsibility and duty of accurate reporting, which IMO has more often than not, has morphed into a dysfunctional usage of the media for money, one must take care in defending them… against who or what they have directed their reporting.

    A Very good example was how the financial reporters were practically salivating about how great Wall Street was, how smart they were, how great the banks were…right before the Recession when all of them not only crashed the US economy but the World’s financial economy.

    Whenever I read about something I do tend to keep the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes in mind…..one of the first stories that left a lasting impression in my mind. …… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Now there comes the suspension of Brian Williams. Perhaps lying or shading the truth in media isn’t going get a free pass as much as they have in the past.

    Liked by 1 person

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