Gülen-linked media and institutions – Reaching out to larger global audience

Gülen-linked media and institutions – Reaching out to larger global audience

Graham E. Fuller

The Gülen movement shows great skills in the spread of its commercial and financial institutions and in the use of modern media to reach to an ever-broader audience. Its members are generally well-versed in technology, economics or business, rather than philosophy or theology. The movement publishes an excellent commercial daily, Zaman, whose sales are twice the circulation of any other paper in Turkey; it features a variety of well-known columnists representing views from right to left-although few traditional Kemalists. Its columnists are not necessarily part of the movement. Zaman sets high standards for journalism, avoids the sensationalism that characterizes many other major Turkish newspapers and is as objective, or more so, than any other daily in Turkey. It does, however, openly feature articles about Hizmet, Gülen, and rebuts attacks against them. The owners of Zaman also publish the best English language newspaper in Turkey, Today’s Zaman, which similarly features a distinguished selection of columnists. The organization also supports several large circulation magazines in Turkish, as well as one in English, and operates two major TV stations in Turkey and one in the US in English.

Of perhaps greater importance to the future development of thinking in the Muslim world, Hizmet has opened doors to the Arab world in more recent years. Reflecting a history of poor relations between Turkey and many Arab states over past decades, Arab Muslims had often viewed Turkish secularism with suspicion and a belief that Turkey simply represented the opening wedge of NATO and western interests in the Middle East. The flagship for Hizmet among Arabs is the movment’s first magazine published in Arabic, Hira – deeply resonant name that refers to the cave in the Hijaz mountains in Saudi Arabia where the Prophet received his earliest divine revelations. The magazine reaches out to Arab intellectuals to promote debate and discussion on religious and social issues and promote Hizmet’s thinking; interestingly the magazine’s highest circulation is in Saudi Arabia where, in principle, its ideas should be less welcome in that officially Salafi stronghold. Hira has organized meetings and conferences in a number of countries including Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Kuwait, Mauritania, and the United Arab Emirates, and has invited more than 2,500 intellectuals to Turkey for workshops. Gülen schools have been opened in Egypt, Yemen and several in Morocco and exchanges with Arab scholars are growing. These developments contribute new input into Islamic thinking in the Arab world and help bridge the gap between Turkey and the Arab world, especially as questions of religion still dominate Arab political discourse. Although Hizmet operates entirely independently, there are parallels to Diyanet’s official activities overseas.

Shi’ite Iran is probably the one major political region where Hizmet has not established a significant presence. Gülen in the past has seemed less comfortable with elements of Iranian culture and politics; he considered the Islamic Republic of Iran to represent undesirable radical ideas in Islam; in turn Iran has likely been suspicious of the Gülen schools. Establishment of ties between Hizmet and Iran must be a two-way street. But Gülen firmly rejects sectarianism in Islam; inside Turkey Hizmet is promoting openings with the large non-Sunni Alevi community. As Iranian relations with the West improve, both Gülen and Iran may find it easier to explore contacts.

The Gülen organization early on founded first flagship institution, the Turkish Journalists and Writers Foundation, which organizes colloquiums on major domestic and global issues. For over a decade and a half it has sponsored the Abant platform, a remarkable annual roundtable of various leading writers and thinkers, professionals, artists, and statesmen in Turkey representing a broad range of views–Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist, conservative, progressive, leftist, secularist–to discuss major social and cultural questions of contemporary Turkey and the world. These forums have produced extremely thoughtful and probing summary reports on the discussions and consensus reached among the rotating members of such diverse group. A key goal of the forum was to encourage the state and society to publicly consider and debate issues vital to the future of a more liberal Turkey and the movement’s own future. These topics had generally been considered too “sensitive” to address widely in public debate but they represented issues that Gülen wanted to see aired more broadly, such as Islam and the meaning of secularism; the nature of relationships among religion, state and society; the character and implications of multiculturalism; the role of ethnicity in society; the democratic state under rule of law, the importance of pluralism in social compromise; war and democracy; the political, economic and cultural dimensions of globalization; and the Kurdish issue. This is probably the most far-reaching and thoughtful annual intellectual gathering in Turkey today; these discussions created a more congenial atmosphere for familiarity and understanding of these issues that were generally stifled under Kemalist orthodoxy, enabling the Abant Platform forums to make innovative intellectual contribution.


Graham E. Fuller. 2014. “Turkey and the Arab Spring – Leadership in the Middle East.” Bozorg Press. Pages: 163-165.

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