He is an enigma. Some view him as ethical. Others scorn him as a poly-talent within transnational corridors of corruption. He is an intellectual tactician. He has attributes of a Kangal. And his name is M. Fethullah Gulen.
His writing style is not dry, like that of jurist Yusuf al-Qaradawi (Al-Halal Wal Haram Fil Islam). Nor is the tone strident like selections of Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips (The Fundamentals of Taweed). Neither is his writing as stately as that of Muhammad Asad (The Principles of State and Government in Islam) Nor are his thoughts salted with the scholarly wit of Ahmad H. Sakr, Ph.D. (Reflections from a Flying Falcon). Fethullah Gulen is not quite on the level with Qutb with regard to Sufi mysticism. But like Qutb, his name is practically a trademark. You say “Qutb”, I say “Milestones”.
Gulen. When the name is spoken, all know of whom we speak.
Gulen was born in Korucuk, Erzurum Province in 1938. Perhaps it was a combination of education and military service which set the course of his life. But by the time he moved to Izmir his teaching moved along parallel tracks of spiritual intellectualism combined with relentless activism. His message appealed to young adults who wished to bring the Republic into an epoch of Islamic revivalism. Deploying Hanafi jurisprudence, which is perhaps the softest of the jurisprudential schools, Gulen patiently mentored his growing ranks of followers. A day would come when the “sun would rise in the West” and that dawn, would break across the political landscape of Turkey first. What got Fethullah Gulen into more than a little bit of trouble was the issue which plagues all who imagine themselves as prophetic leaders. The trouble comes in a small package and the package is wrapped up in a three-letter word: Ego. And Gulen has plenty of it to go around.
There is an interesting paradigm within Christian history – the prophets who would be kings, and the kings who would be prophets. Islam struggles with the same. Those with perceived spiritual power lust for worldly administration of the same. Those who hold the instruments of government also wish to be recognized as spiritual giants. Since Islam is a governance gestalt which incorporates theocracy as the bedrock for law, it is easier within Muslim-majority nations for those with a keen interest to deploy into both roles. But because the earth groans under our wildest dreams and schemes, more than a few of us are stuck with intellectual midgets and spiritual dwarves.
M. Fethullah Gulen? He has attributes of a Kangal: both uniquely motivated and extremely well-connected. It matters not that the “cleric-tician” fled Turkey at the end of the 20th century. There is no need to discuss whether his influence has diminished since his apparent self-imposed exile in the United States. He influenced a generation. So in the truest sense he fulfilled a concept within Islamic law: that of leadership over a de facto state. The Gulen movement is alive within community pockets across the globe. This movement has also made modest strides within the U.S. educational system. But overall, the community pockets exert enough tension within existing political structures to form shadow governments on micro-scale with ideological parallel parliamentary structures.
When looking at men such as Gulen, a man who has built an economic powerhouse with a net worth estimated at 25 billion U.S. dollars, the initial question for the journalist is thus: Who benefits? Who benefits from keeping this man in play, lengthening his shadow, and protecting his political role as both chameleon and chimera? I haven’t a clue. Journalists are like the used car salesman setting up shop next to the Mercedes dealership. We serve up a dented product. We polish our product best we can and sell it to the common man. So again, I haven’t a clue.
Gulen has loyalists who are cult-like in their following. He has an estimated political power grid of ten million scattered across the globe. In a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Turkish government in 2013, included in the human dimension for his assets were 120 charter schools in the U.S. The corporate asset enumeration included dozens of businesses. But those accountings alone do not provide a sufficient forensic to explain Gulen’s financial portfolio. It would be the envy of Chad, which had a GDP of $13.51 billion (2013). How does one man move from obscurity and humble beginnings to an empire with twenty-five billion dollars in holdings?
Perhaps he is not busily hoarding gold bars in bank vaults, like Omar al-Bashir’s second wife (*an unsubstantiated conveyance during journalism information-gathering). But is the man engaged in money-laundering on a grand scale? Is he a C.I.A. cohort? Rumors are like the scent of smoke. The scent is noticeable and then it is gone. So if there is a fire and Gulen is the average fire-starter, it has gone underground.
It appears there have been token and superficial investigations in the U.S. regarding Gulen’s acquisition of wealth. Most of us in the West are not anti-wealth, from a capitalist perspective. We remain pro-wealth because wealth generates jobs and invests in the common good. But conversely, we should remain concerned about wealth which scurries along the edges of occult financial practice.
Another uncomfortable question remains. Is Gulen a political proxy of the United States? Does he represent a geopolitical counterbalance on the foreign affairs chessboard? In the last column I gave a nod to the Anatolian Shepherd, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The shepherd is usually paired with a Kangal to manage the flock. Perhaps Gulen is our political Kangal. And in his own way, he remains beneficial as opposed to a nuisance whilst residing inside his comfortable compound.
Lest there be a collective spitting contest against my nation, it must be noted that all nations play the same games. Some of us just play it better than our counterparts. As to who owns the Kangal nobody really knows for sure. But with a net worth of 25 billion, the prophet is a king.