The Gülen Movement: Life beyond Fethullah Gülen?
How will Turkey’s Gülen Movement function without its charismatic founder? This is a question I sought to cast light upon in an article published yesterday by EurasiaNet.org.
Turkish spiritual leader Fethullah Gülen, 72, has long been rumored to be in a precarious state of health. But well-informed followers offer assurances that the international network of schools, businesses, media-outlets, and civil-society organizations that his movement has built is prepared for a stable transition.
Gülen, who is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential Turkish theologians of his generation, has lived a quiet existence on a rural estate in the US state of Pennsylvania for the past 14 years. He is known to have diabetes, problems with the nerves in his knees and a weak immune system. “Any small sickness could have a big influence on him,” said Mustafa Yeşil, the head of the Istanbul-based Journalists and Writers Foundation, one of the movement’s most prominent organizations.
It was interesting to discuss this question, and others, with Mustafa Yeşil, a high-ranking member of the movement who meets with Mr Gülen regularly. Only a few years ago, it was very difficult to get any information about the movement. Now, as Yeşil noted, the movement is significantly more open and its members are willing to discuss even sensitive subjects like Gülen’s health.
The Gülen Movement: A quick reflection
The movement is not making so many headlines these days. But I always find it newsworthy, given their presence in more than a hundred countries around the world and high degree of influence in Turkey.
Even in the United States, members of the movement recently established the Rethink institute in Washington DC. Fevzi Bilgin, the head of the organization, told me that Rethink does not coordinate with the movement in Turkey. Bilgin described it as a research institute focused on contemporary issues that relate to the Turkish-American community, but
M. Hakan Yavuz, an expert on the movement, did not fully agree:
“When the leader dies, the movement dies with it, but it influences the next movement, it shapes the next Muslim movement,” Yavuz contended.
While he still maintains some connections, Yavuz is known to be critical of the movement. They are rumored to have hit back at him. But that is a different story.
I am looking forward to writing more about the movement in the next few weeks.