Tag Archives: Gulen

Book review of Joshua Hendrick, Gülen: the ambiguous politics of market Islam in Turkey and the world, 2013.

This review was solicited by the Journal of American Studies of Turkey in 2014. It was accepted that year and slated for publication in January 2016. I received notice the week before publication that, due to what editors deemed the “contentious” nature of the topic, this particular review would not be published. I reproduce it below in its originally accepted form.

Gülen: the Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World.  Joshua D. Hendrick.  New York: New York UP., 2013.  H/bk 276 pp.  ISBN 978-0-8147-7098-6.  Price $49.00.

hendrick-gulen-coverHendrick offers a political ethnography of the Gülen Movement (GM), a controversial community inspired by the Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen that includes interests in education, business, finance, and media both in Turkey and throughout the world.  Though the descriptor “faith-based” is often used to describe the GM, and many critics refer to the group in alarmist terms that reference Islamic revival, Hendrick’s account emphasizes the market-oriented decision-making that works at all levels of the group, suggesting that members are “best presented as products of, rather than as a fundamentalist reaction to, the processes of neoliberal globalization” (9).  His fieldwork, conducted primarily between 2005-2008, with supplementary work continuing through 2012, included attendance at numerous conferences, over 100 conversations with members, sympathizers, and critics of the movement, 55 formal interviews, and 1000 hours of participant observation at the GM’s Akademi in İstanbul, a publishing house, think-tank, and place for prayer and education that serves as the nerve center of the GM.

Hendrick approaches the intersection of Islam and politics in market terms, and his account is filled with the language of markets.  In his own words, “this book explains how neo-liberal economic restructuring in the 1980s provided new actors with greater access to wealth accumulation, and subsequently, with increased ability to affect the development of public opinion in a privatized marketplace, which facilitated a shift in Turkish Muslim politics from the politics of revolution to the politics of participation” (16).  The GM in particular has participated in such a politics in two ways: first by becoming the “leading private producer of ‘Turkish Islam’ for the twenty-first century religious marketplace” (24), and second by producing and distributing a wide range of goods and services in global capital markets.

Hendrick provides a brief account of the political economy of Muslim politics in Turkey, with the history of tension between secularists and Islamists as a background.  He notes that the religious marketplace became far more active in the wake of the 1980 coup and suggests that the ascendance of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) regime since 2002 has brought about a shift in which “contemporary political divides in Turkey are less defined by ‘secularism’ versus ‘Islamism’ than by ‘defensive nationalism’ versus ‘conservative globalism’” (53).  One of the key concepts Hendrick relies on to explain the GM’s success is strategic ambiguity, a reference to the lack of clarity about the goals and structure of the movement.  Such ambiguity is pervasive at all levels, characterizing issues ranging from Gülen’s US residency application to the ties that exist between various would-be Gülen affiliates.

In discussing these affiliates, Hendrick offers a hierarchical model for understanding the various levels of association: the cemaat, a core community of close associates; the arkadaşlar, a loosely-knit group of devoted friends; the yandaşlar, who come from a variety of backgrounds and sympathize with some of the group’s goals; and the consumers who purchase goods and services from the GM with or without knowledge of the group simply because they meet needs.  Though the spiritually devoted congregate towards the core community, Hendrick stresses that participants at all levels employ instrumental rationality in their choices to participate in the group, as a number of benefits are offered to those who choose to engage.  Among the most tangible of these benefits is educational support, as education is one of the biggest sectors in which the GM is involved both in Turkey and globally.  In Turkey, the GM started by offering housing, tutoring, and other forms of support to university students in the 1970s.  After the 1980 coup, major shifts in the educational system prioritized standardized testing and a new sector of privatized test-prep courses, dershane(ler), arose in response.  GM affiliated courses have been among the most successful and lucrative in this sector, and they also serve as recruitment centers for those who might wish to join the community.

Addressing the GM’s finances, Hendrick touches on two key practices among the community.  The first is himmet, the regular donation of funds to the movement by members, many of whom have in turn benefitted from such funds.  The second is the tendency for community members to start business ventures in any area where goods and services are needed by the group and then to practice preferential trading within networks of GM affiliation.  GM affiliated firms are present in sectors including publishing, educational supplies, architectural design, energy, banking, and media.  In reference to the latter, Hendrick provides a chapter-length discussion of the various Gülen-affiliated media bodies, foremost among which are the Feza Group, which owns Turkey’s highest circulating daily paper, a popular English-language daily, and two television channels among others, and the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), which publishes books and journals related to Gülen and distributes tolerance awards.

Though Gülen interests are present worldwide, Hendrick focuses on those based in Turkey for most of the book before moving to a case study of the GM’s educational endeavors in the US.  Gülen-affiliated organizations took advantage of new laws that encouraged charter schools in the 2000s, founding schools that quickly gained a reputation for excellent educational standards.  Hendrick counts at least 136 such schools across 26 states by November of 2012.  Starting in 2009, controversies about the schools began to emerge due to allegations of sexism in hiring and promotion, the preferential hiring of Turkish teachers from abroad over US candidates, and questions related to the schools’ ties to Islamic teachings.  Though there was little evidence of the latter, school administrators were far from transparent when answering the questions of concerned parents and community members, leading to even greater mistrust in a pattern that Hendrick identifies as a backfire of strategic ambiguity.  Moving to a conclusion, Hendrick suggests that the market Islam exemplified by the GM aims not to overtake the state but, rather, to privatize religious revival and to sell goods and services to the broadest possible market.

This is a well-grounded account of certain aspects of the Gülen enterprise that is rich in ethnographic detail, providing useful insights in the market logics that clearly have much to do with how the group operates.  Theoretical engagement is not foremost among Hendrick’s tasks, but his occasional reference to Gramsci clarifies some of the social dynamics affecting the community.  The book came out just as the relationship between the Gülen community and the AKP began to deteriorate, and some of the commentary appears extremely dated as a result.  Hendrick was aware, for example, of the strong allegations that GM affiliates had systematically taken positions of power among the Turkish police and judiciary, and his choice not to address such allegations, which would have called the market-oriented thesis he offers into question, is problematic in retrospect.  This market-oriented understanding of the GM also elides some of the coercive patterns that are prevalent in familial and gender relations across much of Turkey, meaning that Hendrick’s emphasis on the rational choice of actors may be overstated.  Finally, his decision not to engage with one of the key questions regarding the GM — its approach to gender relations — is understandable for a male ethnographer with limited access, but readers should be warned that the book says almost nothing on this issue.  That said, this account has much to offer both in terms of descriptive depth and analytical insight, and Hendrick’s attempt at objectivity on an issue that is usually left to admirers or harsh critics of the movement is highly laudable.

Josh Carney

University of South Florida


5 Yorumsuz – 5 Without Comment – 2015-04-06

1 – 31 March and aftermath – Two members of the far-left group DHKP/C (Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front) took prosecutor Mehmet Kıraz hostage, issuing a series of demands related to the Berkin Elvan case that Kıraz was investigating. (Elvan was the 14-year-old boy who was shot in the face with a gas canister by an as yet unidentified police officer during the Gezi Park protests and who died in a coma 9 months later.) After 6 hours of negotiations, a confrontation took place and both DHKP/C members and Kıraz were killed. During and after the crisis the Turkish government issued a media blackout regarding reporting on it. Though both pro-government and non-government-aligned outlets (the later coming from a variety of ideological perspectives but distinguished by the fact that they sometimes criticize the government) had carried images of the hostage crisis, the following day many of the non-aligned media were banned from attending Kıraz’s funeral and subsequently had charges filed against them for “propagandizing on behalf of a terrorist organization.” Some of these media organizations, including the Doğan Group, the country’s largest, have objected to the ban and charges, though Doğan also took the unusual step of engaging in self-criticism, an action that has been critiqued by some. This ban on images of the crisis even extended to some degree to foreigners, as an Egyptian-British blogger had a tweet regarding the incident blocked based on the ruling of a Turkish court. In the days to follow it came out that the hostage takers did have family ties to the DHKP/C and that Kıraz had been actively investigating the Elvan case, perhaps even moving towards finding the police officer(s) involved.

On the same day, the entire country suffered a massive blackout that has yet to be fully explained, though some hypotheses have been put forth. Twitter user Fuat Avni has received attention for tweets suggesting that the blackout was a trial run for a series of similar blackouts that will take place during the 7 June election, as well as tweets from January, noting that Turkey’s intelligence agency (MIT) had infiltrated DHKP/C and planned to reactive the group.

On 1 April, two assailants attacked a police station in Istanbul and one was killed while, elsewhere in the city, an armed man broke into the AK-Party headquarters and hung a modified Turkish flag. Both President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu have attempted to turn the series of incidents to political advantage, Erdoğan noting that Turkey needs to build 3 rather than 2 nuclear power plants and saying that the police, who have recently been granted unprecedented powers, should take over for private security firms, and Davutoğlu promising that no unauthorized street protests would be permitted and also suggesting that the DHKP/C attack could be linked to foreign powers.

And, on April 6th, Turkey blocked access country-wide to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to prevent the hostage photos, as reported by Hürriyet Daily News:

Turkish authorities have blocked access to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook over the publication of photos published on the three social media platforms showing a prosecutor who was taken hostage by militants in Istanbul last week. Tayfun Acarer, the head of the Information and Communications Technologies Authority (BTK), told daily Hürriyet that the ban on Facebook had been lifted after it rapidly complied with the court ruling.

Penguen kapak - 2015-04-022 – Erdoğan insults roundup – Turkey has charted new territory in the crackdown on social media by giving a journalist a suspended prison sentence for “liking” an anti-Erdoğan post on Facebook.

Radikal reports that a trial has been opened against ÖDP Tokat Regional Authority Önder Konuk, who was taken into custody because he called Erdoğan “lan” (something close to “dude”) in an angry tweet after the death of Özgecan Aslan. His tweet, which was only visible to friends, translates to, “Why don’t you declare a time of mourning dude!” He explained the tweet by saying he was angry to see Turkey declare a day of mourning for the death of the Saudi King, but not for Aslan. He may face up to 7 years in prison. Konuk is just one among many who have been charged for angry Tweets regarding Erdoğan’s actions in the wake of Aslan’s death.

The latest cover of the satirical cartoon magazine Penguen references the recent prison sentence against two of its cartoonists for insulting Erdoğan, and notes “we will continue to draw.”

Finally, as Today’s Zaman reports:

A 17-year-old high school student in the province of Konya is set to appear before a court in June and will face between one and four years of prison after he was charged with insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ; the boy is reportedly a friend of a 16- year-old who was recently arrested on the same charge.

3 – Hürriyet Daily News and Today’s Zaman both issued reports on a “Twitter battle” that took place between AK-Party supporters and Gülen supporters in recent days. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

Thousands of social media users who either supported or opposed the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) engaged in a “spamming” war, which started April 3 and continued for at least two days, leading Twitter to suspend the accounts of many users who had hundreds of thousands of followers.

4 – The Kabataş Gezi Park story may get less press in the future, as Hürriyet Daily News notes:

A Turkish court banned accesss to stories ran by eight websites on Zehra Develioğlu , a headscarved woman who claimed in June 2013 that she and her baby were the victims of an assault by a group of people in the Kabataş district of Istanbul during the Gezi Park protests, upon a request by the woman.

In related news, the journalist who “broke” the original story, Elif Çakır, had her Twitter account hacked, with the hacker admitting to wrongdoing on her behalf.

5 – On a lighter note, as Hürriyet Daily News reports,

Hollywood star Julianne Moore may have won the 2015 Best Actress Oscar, but Turkish officials have rejected a bid to make her Turkey’s tourism face by citing her “poor acting.” The Culture and Tourism Ministry disapproved of the acclaimed actress’ performance in a film promoting tourism in Turkey and demanded a reshoot. However, Moore declined the ministry’s offer, ultimately leading to the cancellation of the project, daily Hürriyet has learned.

The story also received satirical commentary in The Onion.

5 Yorumsuz – 5 (or 6) without comment – 2015-02-23

1 – Guardian

Turkey has staged its first open military operation in Syria, dispatching hundreds of ground troops, tanks, aircraft and drones to extract 38 soldiers guarding a historical Ottoman tomb besieged by Islamic State (Isis) militants. In the first such incursion into Syria since the start of the civil war nearly four years ago, Ankara launched the operation – dubbed “Shah Euphrates” – to move the remains of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman empire. The operation was conducted through Kobani, the Kurdish-controlled enclave south of the Turkish-Syrian border that was the scene of a recent victory over Isis by the US-led military coalition.

2 – Hürriyet Daily News

A high school student in Turkey was sentenced to 12 months in prison on Feb. 15 for insulting then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The incident took place as the student, identified only by the initials U.H.C., attended a demonstration in Attalos Square in the southern province of Antalya, in protest at a case involving two other high school students who had been charged after protesting against Erdoğan.

3 – Radikal – Notes that the new film Kod Adi KOZ, which deals with Gezi Park and the 17 December corruption investigations, did poorly in its first few days. Producers were hoping it would break Recep Ivedik 4‘s box office record, but it sold only 127,743 seats during its first three days, meaning it would take a small miracle to reach that goal at this point.

4 – Hürriyet Daily News

A ruling party lawmaker has blamed popular Turkish soap operas for the increase in the number of rape cases in the country, arguing that such series were ruining the nature of the Turkish family structure. “You shoot series and you know no bounds in the relationship between the brother’s wife and uncle. You set no limits, and then you complain about the increase in rape. What were you expecting?  Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind,” İsmet Uçma, a deputy from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a member of parliament’s commission investigating the reasons for violence against women, said Feb. 18 during a panel meeting.

5 – Today’s Zaman

The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) has levied a nearly TL 1 million penalty on the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group in what Samanyolu executives consider yet another attempt to silence media outlets close to Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. “As if there were no other channels, RTÜK is exclusively following our channels and attempting to silence them with astronomic penalties,” said Samanyolu Haber TV Editor-in- Chief Metin Yıkar, commenting on the fine. “RTÜK should be the institution that monitors and regulates this country’s television networks, but it has completely abandoned this role and assumed the position of a political actor,” added Yıkar.

6 – Hürriyet Daily News – Turkish Parliament refuses to probe issues it claims to be very concerned about. The AKP majority voted against suggestions from HDP lawmakers that probes be conducted into (1) the so-called parallel state run by Fethullah Gülen, and (2) ISIL activities in Turkey.