A Sneaky Smear Network in U.S.: Anti-Hizmet Bloggers Tied to Fear Inc.

A sneaky smear network against the Hizmet Movement, is run by people associated with the Fear Inc, a secretive and controversial extremist xenophobic sect. With several bloggers cooperating with a group of commentators, this sneaky smear network is substantially pervasive than most news networks. A lack of awareness about this situation persists despite it being addressed by a national think-tank study, a national paper column, also refutations by Fethullah Gulen and Hizmet Movement.

A recent blog posted at The Answer Sheet, a column run by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, is another product of such smearcasting. The blog posted on March 27, 2012 –actually drafted by Sharon Higgins–, has all the bad examples of misinterpretation, misconception and moreover deception. Obviously the author’s understanding of social movement theory is very limited. There are at least several inconsistencies with her arguments regarding affiliation with Hizmet movement, its mission, vision and transparency.

First, the author does not recognize the movement as a genuine grassroots activity. Author’s analysis does not take account of rational individual preferences nor does it elaborate on the motivational factor in social entrepreneurship. Secondly, author’s interpretation of the movement overlooks much of the existing scholarly research on the subject in the context of democratization theories (see Carroll 2007, Ebaugh 2010, Hunt and Aslandogan 2006). Rather, author’s argument relies too heavily on questionable sources such as blogs and openly opinionated media outlets. The problem with this approach is that it fails to provide an objective assessment of the movement and thorough portrayal of its activities.

The sources and references for the claims are cherry-picked to provide a very negative perception of the Hizmet movement. The reader is bombarded with so many of those in one paragraph that one has to deduce a false dichotomy: Voluntary activities of Americans with Turkic heritage cannot just be voluntary or altruistic, but had to be some part of a hidden agenda. Any community event somewhat related to the movement, whether educational or cultural, no matter how clear the mission and vision of the non-profit organizing is, it must be a way to mean infiltration or proselytism.

One such implication is about trips to Turkey organized by several Turkic-American intercultural organizations. Anyone a little familiar with Turkic culture would know that it is a tradition to host guests at family homes. The more visits to a home and the happier the visitors are, the more proud and honored is a hosting family. It may not make sense for a person from a different background, but still what can be wrong with hosting guests at home and sharing values of one’s own culture? What is wrong with promoting a peaceful coexistence of people from different faiths, cultures, and ethnicities? How can one claim that such trips have been organized in order to propagate the social and political views of Hizmet Movement? Naturally at these trips the participants find more opportunities to visit and observe institutions affiliated with Hizmet Movement. However, trip participants also meet with state officials, members of Parliament from all major political parties, journalists or columnists both from left and right, and visit historic, touristic or scenery sites where most of the people they meet have nothing to do with Fethullah Gulen or Hizmet Movement

Even if any of the mentioned visits or activities were related to Hizmet movement, there is nothing secret about the movement or its mission and vision. All the activities are voluntary based and usually organized around specific non-profit projects. The people and institutions affiliated with the movement are publicly known, and their events are publicly advertised. In this regard, the author obviously and intentionally misinterprets Fethullah Gulen’s writings. For instance, the article on secrecy mentioned in the commentary explains the importance of keeping secrets in life. Reading the article, one would understand the significance of keeping family secrets and not sharing them with others. One can also interpret it as keeping corporate data confidential is important part of work ethics. However, the author draws a very different meaning and claims that the movement has a hidden agenda and Gulen is commending this to be kept secret. If the author has such a claim, she should prove it with serious evidence, not just misinterpretation or falsification.

Another example of such misinterpretation is made on creationism. It is a well known fact that the majority of Turkey’s population is Muslim, hence believes in creation. Even if we exclude the secularists from this majority, significant portion of the population still believes in creation. Therefore creationism is not a controversial issue in Turkey. By claiming so, the author only shows her ignorance on Turkey.

With regard to the Ergenekon trial, as like any other major trial it is prosecuted by the official Republic Prosecutors who are appointed by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (aka HSYK). Yes, Hizmet Movement is a strong supporter of the democratization in Turkey; however, seeing Ergenekon case merely as the work of Hizmet Movement would undermine the independent Republic Prosecuters, if not the entire judiciary system in Turkey.

Infiltration is another allegation where the author is way off wrong. Hizmet Movement had originated in Turkey in late sixties and since then it had many sympathizers from all walks of life. Whatever their background is they are ordinary Turkish citizens. As like any other citizen, they have every right to work in police, military, judiciary, etc. Infiltration can only refer to foreigners sneaking into these institutions. As such, a Turkish citizen cannot infiltrate Turkish Army, as only Turkish citizens could enlist in that army.

Concerning the arrest of journalists, Fethullah Gulen has been the victim of another smear campaign, even though he has been a lifetime supporter of freedom of expression. Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener are not the first journalists who blame Gulen to disguise their own wrongdoing as Gulen has nothing to do with their arrest; there were sound evidence against them supporting a coup d’état. If Gulen were to be an opponent of freedom of press, one would have not seen any of the groundless articles or books published just for slinging mud at him.

It is difficult to disagree with the author that Fethullah Gulen or the Hizmet Movement deserves more attention. As she accurately puts it “There has been wide speculation on what the Hizmet Movement really wants”, of course kudos to the commentators like her for the wide speculation. Indeed, it would be interesting to see a comprehensive study investigating activities and perceptions of the Hizmet Movement worldwide. Yet, it is responsibility of experts on the subject to produce an objective analysis rather than opinionated rhetoric or indiscriminate praise. Until then speculations about the outreach of Hizmet Movement along with some “fundamentalist religious ideas” should be treated with caution.

The major theme of the commentary is on claims about the so called Gulen Charter Schools. As it is based on the very wrong assumption of labeling a charter school as “Gulen Charter School”, the allegations following are at the minimum groundless. Responding to such loaded comments and questions is not fun. As like the question “Have you stopped beating your wife?” presupposes that you have beaten your wife prior to its asking, as well as that you have a wife; the allegations about the so called Gulen Charter Schools presuppose that Gulen is affiliated with one or more charter schools, and moreover he has an alleged hidden agenda on whatever hot conspiracy is circulating in the blogosphere.

Just to give an idea, the author claims a National Blue Ribbon School to be one of the first “Gulen Charter Schools”. Of course she does not mention anything about the school’s academic success or how it earned such a distinguishing designation, but just focuses on the founders or supporters that are claimed to be somehow affiliated with Fethullah Gulen.  You cannot question the how such relation or influence is claimed, as it does not matter whether one is also inspired by Bill Gates or Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King or even by Mr Holland’s Opus or Dead Poet’s Society for that matter.  Once a person is marked as “Gulenist” by a bunch of anonymous bloggers then that person is considered as a dangerous mind, not only individually but also as part of a big conspiracy. It is important to note here that “strategic ambiguity and being secretive seem to be operational styles” of these bloggers.

The very authentic source of one such claim is “a company specializing in geopolitical analysis”, which “reports in 2010 that the GM was running …more than 90 charter public schools in at least 20 states.” Isn’t this the company reported to be utilizing underhanded bizarre tactics to make up the so called strategic forecasts?? The author also claims “U.S. officials have known about the movement’s involvement in charter schools” as a firm fact and an official statement from the U.S. officials. In order to support her “fact” she provides a link, which includes no official statement about the movement being involved in charter schools, but rather a distorted interpretation and a personal opinion of a writer. Such distortion and misinterpretation could be either a deliberate deception or mere unprofessionalism.

The obsession of these bloggers with Fethullah Gulen is so severe that they don’t recognize how their self-assurance belittles all the public institutions involved in the approval, funding, oversight and audit of the mentioned charter schools.  Their work could have been appreciated if it provided any analysis other than self-fulfilling black lists of charter schools.  Apparently they do not find the statements made by the school administrators, parents or community leaders convincing enough that there is no such affiliation between the listed schools and Gulen. Worse, some conspiracies go so far that President Obama’s support for charter school reforms was a back-door strategy for using taxpayer money to fund schools.

These bloggers’ situation seems to be pretty similar to what is beautifully portrayed by Russell Crowe in the movie “A Beautiful Mind”: May be they think they are hired to look for patterns in newspapers, magazines and websites in order to thwart a “Gulenist” plot. May be they really are as reported in Fear Inc. Even so we are still optimistic, as Steve Klueger eloquently put it: “Never, ever stop believing in magic, no matter how old you get. Because if you keep looking long enough and don’t give up, sooner or later you’re going to find Mary Poppins.” Who knows may be some day something true about Gulen and Hizmet movement will pop out on these blogs?

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