Turkey’s Religious Leader Gülen and his Opposition to the Flotilla

June 23, 2010

Gülen said that if Turkey wanted to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza, the Turkish government should have coordinated this with the Israeli authorities, because “one must not go against authority.”
What does this mean? Although both Gülen and the current Turkish Islamist government agree on many Islamic subjects, they disagree on very basic issues:
President Gül, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu, and to some extent Prime Minister Erdoğan, have views very similar to those of the Arab-Oriented Muslim Brotherhood; so it is therefore not surprising that many Arabs, as a result of the Flotilla crisis, are now looking toward Turkey as their leader. Strange as this may seem, they see Prime Minister Erdoğan’s Flotilla Incident as standing up for the Arabs as no other Arab leader has done. (For more Arab reactions to the Flotilla Crisis, See, http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/4383.htm).
Gülen, on the other hand, is Turkish and Turkic-Oriented. Gülen has huge amounts of funds at his disposal; he finances schools throughout the Turkic lands of Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as Europe and the U.S.. These schools teach a “Turkish/Turkic-oriented Islam,” which has little concern for the Arab world. It is therefore obvious why so many ultra-nationalist Turks — some of whom want a union of all Turks from Northwestern China to the Adriatic Sea — support Gülen. These Turks have little interest in the Arabs; they see the Flotilla crisis as actually hurting the interests of the Turks.

There are many forces in play in Turkey that could undermine the Arabist government as of late.

The Reaction of the Turkish Military

Early last week, there was an attack on a Turkish naval installation in the port of Iskenderun on Turkey’s southern coast. Erdoğan blamed this attack on the PKK (a Kurdish terrorist organization), and insinuated that Israel was behind this attack. The military launched an investigation of the attack, and issued a statement on Friday, June 20, that there had been no foreign involvement whatever in that incident.
What happened here, and what does this tell us about the flotilla crisis and internal Turkish politics?
Until this announcement, the Turkish military had been notably silent about the flotilla incident. The reason for the silence was that they knew the government was looking for a scapegoat to blame for the negative fallout from the flotilla crisis — and that the military would be the obvious group to blame.
The public, however, interpreted the military’s silence as disapproval of the government’s having created the crisis.
By issuing the statement that there had been no foreign involvement, the military showed it felt confident that the Turkish public was holding Erdoğan, Davutoğlu, and their cronies responsible for the flotilla blunder: The military was indirectly accusing the government of lying to the people about the facts.
The military reaction is just one more indication that the Turkish public feels that its governmental leaders are heading Turkey down a dangerous path. Further, given Turkish culture, it is also highly unlikely that the military would have issued such a statement if it thought that the government had the support of the people.