Aristotle defines human beings as rational animals, emphasizing reason as a characteristic of human nature. Two thousand years later Descartes rejected the traditional notion of humans as “rational animals,” suggesting instead that they are nothing more than “thinking things”. Today both seem to be challenged further, especially when we consider decision-making and judging others. Using many interesting case studies, Dan Ariely demonstrates in his bestseller that when the issue at hand is somewhat complicated, where even the complexity is as little as an additional choice in a survey form, we humans make rather irrational decisions without thinking. The story does not end there, no matter how silly our initial decisions were, those become anchors for us, and we make a habit of repeating them in the long-term — hence the title of Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational.
As all people do, xenophobes exhibit irrational behavior now and then as well, but nowadays we see a much more predictable and common pattern, especially against Muslims. From the fear-mongering hate websites to the recent political debates, bashing people of Islamic faith has become a rising trend. Those volunteers inspired by Fethullah Gulen, promoting education and dialog through private schools and interfaith and intercultural centers, are no exception. As they experience success and grow into a global movement, they have been subjected to increasing levels of bigotry. When Dan Ariely coined the term “predictably irrational”, he probably did not have this specific example in mind, but it fits to a “T” in describing the backlash against Islam in general, and against Gulen and the Hizmet Movement in particular.
Misunderstanding the Hizmet Movement
Understanding the Hizmet Movement is not an easy task. Even sociologists are having difficulty in describing the movement inspired by Fethullah Gulen. A detailed discussion of the movement is beyond this note; thus we refer the reader to The Gulen Movement: A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam by Helen Rose Ebaugh or The Gulen Movement: Civic Service without Borders by Muhammed Cetin. But Gulen himself objects to these titles or actually to the term “Gulen Movement”, as self-annihilation is a fundamental principal in his belief system, as it is for any other Sufi Muslim. The holy book of Islam reads “Whatever befalls you of good is from God” (Quran, 4:79), so he does not claim anything in any of the good community service provided by the movement. He prefers the Turkish term “hizmet” referring to “altruistic service for the common good”, or “gonulluler” referring to the “volunteers” contributing to this service for the common good.
Nevertheless, some people still choose to see no good or altruism in any of these activities, and instead, they accuse the entire movement of having a “hidden agenda”. This position makes it difficult to have a meaningful discussion about the activities of the movement. Instead of learning about the movement, the individuals and groups have simply decided to fear or hate the Hizmet Movement. It could be due to the fast pace of our lives in modern times that we hardly find any time to read scholarly articles or do a thorough analysis of notions that are new to us. Maybe that’s why some of us make our opinions by simply subscribing to certain RSS feeds or blogs or only following our friends’ tweets. More often than not, pretty much like little goslings, we determine the first blogger scribbling around a complicated topic as our opinion leader, or the mother goose, to be followed without thinking.