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The Thousand Faces of the Gülenist Shadow State


By Melih Altınok

31 July 2014

One of the top items on Turkey's political agenda relates to the ongoing operation against the Gülen Movement, which formed an autonomous shadow state in various government institutions. The group, which is primarily organized within law enforcement and the judiciary, remains active in media, education and finance as well. It aims to accumulate power through anti-democratic channels.

The parallel structure is often associated with the Gülen Movement, a community under the leadership of former Imam Fethullah Gülen who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Gülenist journalists, writers, opinion leaders and parliamentarians do not reject this connection either.

In recent weeks, an investigation was launched regarding the parallel structure's activities within the police corps. Several police officers have been charged with unlawful wiretapping, making arrests based on false documents and obtaining state secrets. The prosecutors believe that the Gülenist shadow state assigned fake names to senior government officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Hakan Fidan, who holds peace talks with the PKK in his capacity as National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief. In this sense, Turkey faces a serious national security threat.

The Gülen Movement, which rose to prominence through its operatives within law enforcement and the judiciary during the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer (Balyoz) trials, showed its real face during a series of operations against MİT officers and executives. When the Erdoğan administration launched a peace process to end the PKK's violent campaign, which claimed over 50,000 lives in three decades, certain parts of the military and civilian bureaucracy became concerned about their profits. In 2012, the parallel structure, with help from affiliated prosecutors, launched an inconclusive probe against Hakan Fidan based on forge evidence. Again in December 2013, the same clique used fabricated evidence to make a case against the administration to no avail. Regardless of their politics, the entire nation feels uneasy about the Gülen Movement's anti-democratic shadow state within the bureaucracy. Meanwhile, Gülenist lobbyists at home and abroad disseminate false information in an effort to recover some of their lost prestige. Having lost credibility in Turkey, they now seek to manipulate international audiences. For instance, Today's Zaman, the Gülen Movement's English- language newspaper, charges the Turkish government with anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, Zaman, its Turkish-language sister paper, cites Turkey's improved trade relations with Israel and an award from the Jewish American Congress to portray the Erdoğan administration as pro-Israel. In truth, the prime minister has repeatedly warned against anti-Semitism and called for a clear distinction between the Jewish people and the state of Israel.

Again, Gülenist lobbyists in the U.S. and Europe describe the Turkish government as pro-Iran and accuse the administration of turning to the East. Ironically enough, Gülen-affiliated institutions in Turkey accuse Erdoğan of "selling out to the U.S. and the EU."

Nowadays, they fabricate news stories to discredit a perfectly legitimate legal battle against an autonomous shadow state. Unable to undermine concrete evidence, Today's Zaman instead alleged that the detainees were being held under inhumane conditions to distract attention from illegal surveillance charges. Around the same time, Turkish media outlets featured pictures that surprisingly happy policemen, still in detention, took with their cell phones at an elaborate dinner table. The privileged treatment of detained policemen resulted in a backlash from the public, who accused law enforcement of double standards.

When looking for more information on Turkey, U.S. and European readers must approach the Gülenist media and affiliated lobbyists with care. At the very least, it would be advisable to double-check data obtained from these sources. After all, understanding which particular mask the Gülen Movement wears at each particular time might prove extremely challenging for non-Turkish audiences.