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 Inside the secretive religious movement that is being blamed for Turkey's attempted coup

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PostSubject: Inside the secretive religious movement that is being blamed for Turkey's attempted coup   Thu Aug 18, 2016 12:47 am

For much of the last month, in squares across Turkey, hundreds of thousands gathered for a “democracy watch” — part celebration of the failure of a bloody coup attempt that killed hundreds, and part an expression of determination to find and punish those responsible.



But not everyone poured into the streets. “It’s right to be proud of what is achieved against the failed coup and traitors,” said Orhan, a middle-aged teacher from Istanbul who that asked that his full name not be used for his safety. “But on the other hand, a witch hunt started, and looking at my friends now I feel like a Jew under Hitler's rule.”

Orhan belongs to Hizmet, a movement of millions of Turks inspired by the teachings of Fethullah Gulen, a 75-year-old cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania. Although Gulen’s public teachings center on a moderate form of Sufi Islam, his critics say he is the head of a cult that has masked a plan to infiltrate much of Turkey’s government and military infrastructure.

The Turkish government this month formally asked the U.S. to arrest and extradite Gulen, alleging he used followers in the military to engineer an uprising that threatened to plunge the country back into the cycle of military intervention that has beset the nation since 1960.

An English teacher and translator who joined Hizmet more than 30 years ago, Orhan has watched from his Istanbul home as a steady stream of government officials, television commentators and newspapers now call for Gulen and his followers to be executed for treason.

The grapevine brings troubling news: A friend of a friend, the head of a Hizmet school, found a job abroad and tried to leave Turkey, only to have his passport taken away at the airport.  This month, Orhan lost his job at a school, one of thousands affiliated with Hizmet that have been shut down.

Thousands of soldiers and tens of thousands of government workers have been suspended, many detained pending an investigation. Many Hizmet schools and affiliated organizations have been shut down. In some cases, Orhan said, those detained have been outed as members of Hizmet by their spouses and close relatives.

“Now they are truly demonized in Turkey,” said Ilhan Tanir, a longtime Washington-based columnist for Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey’s largest independent newspapers. “I don’t think anyone at this moment will admit to being with Hizmet.

“Their image in Turkey is worse than ISIS,” he said, referring to the militant group Islamic State. “People would rather say they sympathize with ISIS than with Gulen, in my opinion.”

The government accuses them of being part of the coup attempt, but some political observers say the failed uprising has also become a pretext to dismantle Hizmet, which allies of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have seen as a threat to the ruling party.

Gulen has denied any involvement in the coup attempt, and followers such as Orhan insist their movement has not sought to control the country. To them, Hizmet is simply a loose association of the pious who have attained good government jobs to improve their lives and contribute to their country.

“For about 30 years now I've been listening to [Gulen’s] speeches and reading his books and never have come across anything violent,” Orhan said. “So what they claim today, as if these people sneaked into government institutions, was not a plan but a natural outcome.”

Still, many Turks appear convinced Gulen and his followers were behind the coup attempt. "The West thinks Erdogan is saying this, that Gulen is behind this,” said Mustafa Akyol, a columnist with Al-Monitor, an independent news and analysis website, who frequently writes about Islamist movements in Turkey. “But it’s not Erdogan, it’s virtually everyone in Turkey."

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-turkey-coup-20160817-story.html
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