Dani was interviewed recently by the German publication Deutsch Türkische Nachrichten, which published the interview in German. Here is the original in English:
World famous pianist Fazil Say, one of Turkey’s most outstanding artists, faces a trial in Turkey, because he re-tweeted a message which contained some very subtle irony about some religious topic. Says action was not near to blasphemy. What does the story tell us about modern Turkey?
It says that actually little has changed in terms of freedom of speech and the arbitrariness of the legal system. If anything, we are probably moving in an even more dangerous direction today since the two traditional anchors of Turkish politics – the EU and the secularists – have been weakened and no longer play that role. The secularists in particular did not always exert a positive role, but at least they prevented Turkey swaying far in an Islamic direction. And the EU prevented Turkey from moving too far into authoritarianism. In the absence of these two restraints, Turkish politics if left at sea, and totally dependent on the intentions of Erdogan and his allies.
Do you think there is a hidden Islamic agenda behind the AKP politics?
Not really. Erdogan is typically pretty clear about what he wants and I don’t think Islamic fundamentalism is on the cards. A more conservative, religious society, yes. But probably nothing more than that. As a comparison, we should be thinking of Malaysia, not Saudi Arabia or Iran.
How do you think Erdogan and the AKP want to transform Turkey? Is it possible to reconcile democracy with Islam?
I don’t think Erdogan and his allies are democratic at heart, or that they really want a democracy with all the checks and balances we are familiar with from the West. They want to be able to rule pretty unchecked, and do it for a very long time. It is simple authoritarianism that is the real threat, not Islam.
What about human rights? The Say-case clearly oppresses the freedom of speech. Can Islam go together with human rights in a Western sense?
Yes in principle. In practice, I wish we had more real world examples of it.
Muslims have been treated fairly badly under the Kemalist regime in Ankara. Isn’t it possible that the Muslims just have to catch up a little bit, in terms of fighting for their human right which is the freedom of relgion?
Yes, Kemalism had gone too far, with an ultrasecularist vision that is neither particularly democratic, nor really consistent with the values of the Turkish heartland. So some swing back of the pendulum was inevitable and desirable. For a while, I was among those that thought Erdogan and the AKP wanted to redress the balance within democratic rules of the game and within the rule of law. We now know that this was not to be.
What role plays the Gülen movement? You have been extremely critical of the movement…
With good reason. It is well documented that Gulenist sympathizers have been involved in a wide range of shady dealings, improprieties, and dirty tricks. While professing democracy and human rights, Gulenists have been the strongest supporters of judicial practices that are nothing short of egregious – ranging from widespread use of fabricated evidence to jailing journalists for their writings. My wife and I recently wrote a piece called “Why Do We Accuse the Gulen Movement?” to explain our reasoning and document our evidence, which can be found here: https://balyozdavasivegercekler.com/2012/05/21/why-do-we-accuse-the-gulen-movement/.
The Gulen movement has played a pernicious role in recent Turkish political developments. As key allies of the AKP government early on, they helped Erdogan solidify his power. They have been the key force behind the absurd political-military trials under way, where the evidence ranges from the circumstantial to the patently forged.
Now that the ultrasecularist old guard stands defeated, the new axis of Turkish politics revolves around the power struggle between Erdogan the Gulenists. Unfortunately, regardless of who eventually triumphs, it will not be good news for democracy.
We conducted one of the rare interviews with Gülen a few months ago. To us, he answers seemed to be well balanced, entirely peaceful and pretty state-of-the art thinking concerning the relationship between state and religion. We didn’t have the impression, that Gülen is a great actor. He seemed to believe what he said. Is this man dangerous?
Unfortunately, what Gulen and his followers say, and what they condone or support are often completely different. I didn’t start out as a Gulen critic. But looking closer at what was going on behind the scenes in the Gulenist-suported court cases, it became pretty obvious that the movement is up to its neck in dirty tricks. And it is hard to say that this is the work of just a few over-zealous devotees. The Gulen movement’s media flagship Zaman and its editorialists are engaged in a steady stream of distortion and disinformation in support of these shady activities.
Do you think Fetullah Gülen has a hidden Islamic agenda, too? And if so, how does it show in his speeches?
Frankly, I do not know what his ultimate goal is. I judge him by what his sympathizers are doing on the ground. There are lots of useful educational and philanthropic activities. And then there is some pretty scary stuff.
One of the problems in the Turkish society is that many groups are fighting against each other. A lot of smearing is going on and many accusations are based on rumors, gossip and lies. The Gülen people get a lot of criticism but no one really can point to specific wrongdoing of the group. Can you give us some examples?
You are right about the smearing on both sides. That is why I have been very careful to document everything I write.
It is now widely known that Gülenists have a history of fabricating evidence and framing individuals they target. Probably the best documented instance transpired in an air force base in Kayseri. Following instructions from his Gülenist mentors, a non-commissioned officer (NCO) had planted forged documents on military computers to implicate the base commander. He was caught and confessed to military prosecutor Zeki Üçok. Üçok subsequently found himself the target of an intense harassment campaign and ended up in jail on manifestly fabricated charges. The NCO and his accomplices were cleared on the basis of a ridiculous medical report (obtained more than a year later) suggesting the confession may have been obtained under hypnosis! I provide further details of this fascinating episode here: https://balyozdavasivegercekler.com/2011/12/24/how-gulenists-were-caught-planting-forged-documents-and-then-framed-the-prosecutor-who-unmasked-them/
The journalist Ahmet Şık famously said “those who touch get burn” about the Gulen movement, as he was carted off to jail on some absurd charges concocted by Gulenist police. Other Gulen critics who were framed in a similar manner include the journalist Nedim Şener, the prosecutor İlhan Cihaner, and police commissioner Hanefi Avcı. These individuals all landed in jail after taking on the movement. What is crucial about the Kayseri case, however, is that unlike the others, where evidence is circumstantial, it directly implicates Gülenists.
We know that the movement has a long history of peddling forged documents. We have direct testimony from Eric Edelman, U.S. ambassador in Turkey during 2003-2005, on this. He was approached at the time by a Gulenist and provided with documents that purported to show the military were planning a coup. As Edelman reports, a quick Embassy analysis revealed they were forgeries.
The Gülen people have chosen education as their main field of operations? Talking to parents of Gülen schools, we never heard anything about hidden indoctrination. It more seems like they try to give the kids an excellent education. What’s wrong with the Gülen schools?
I have nothing against the educational work and the philanthropy per se. Much of this is obviously a good thing. But given the lack of transparency and secretiveness that dominate the movement, there are legitimate and nagging worries about what is going on. In the U.S., for example, the Gulen affiliated charter schools have now come under close scrutiny and there is evidence of systematic pattern of financial improprieties: kickbacks from teacher salaries to the movement, predominant resort to Gulen-affiliated contractors and businesses, and so on.
What about the Gülen media? Zaman also acts like a conservative, but liberal newspaper, where many people can express their views as columnists. Is Zaman a Trojan horse, which at one point might turn into an Islamic voice?
I liken Zaman to Pravda under Soviet Communist Party rule. There is no disinformation they will not peddle to further the causes they support. Zaman’s deliberate distortions about the political-military trials are probably the most important reason I began to suspect the Gulen movement of complicity in the fabrication of evidence.
What about the Gülen people worldwide? We have quite a few groups here in Germany, and so far they haven’t caused any reason for suspicion. They engage themselves in groups which try to open a dialogue with Christians and Jews. Are they all sleepers just waiting until someone calls them for the “jihad”?
I think there is too much of an obsession in the Western media about whether the Gulen movement has a hidden Islamic agenda. What should concern us is not the Islamic dimension, but simply the shady dealings and improprieties in which many of their devotees are engaged. This has gone the furthest within Turkey, where they have inordinate power. Certainly what I have observed of their activities in Turkey make me worried about their influence elsewhere.
I love their discourse on inter-faith tolerance, dialog etc. But I cannot take it seriously until the movement comes to terms and explicitly renounces the shameful practices it has engaged in and supported.
If you meet Gülen people and start discussing their movement – what would you tell them they should do and what they better don’t do?
I would say, stop being paranoid and come clean. The earlier you shed your links to (and support for) illegal practices the more likely you will survive. Otherwise, you will go down in history as just another disgraced religious cult that led its followers astray.