The strange thing about the Los Angeles Times “Witch Hunt” article (August 18, p. 1) was its own witch hunt tone. When conspiracy claims are made, journalists ― and we as readers! ― need to search for the facts. The fate of Turkey is of global importance. So what’s really happening there? And why does it matter to Americans?
Within two weeks of the July 15 coup, Erdogan had detained 35,000 people and arrested 17,000. By July 29, Western media was reporting that at least 81,000 have been fired or suspended. Now we read that some 38,000 convicted criminals are being released so that the prisons can be filled with journalists, teachers, lawyers, and judges.
But none of these numbers appears in the Times front-page article by a freelance journalist, Umar Farooq, whose Twitter account (@UmarFarooq_) regularly publishes attacks on the Gülen movement. Instead, we hear the voices of a few carefully selected individuals who are supporters of the Turkish president. Their thoughts, presented without critical commentary, are taken as evidence that the Hizmet (“Service”) movement is conspiring to topple democracy in Turkey. And Erdogan is its protector?
American foreign policy needs to be guided by facts, not by innuendos and conspiracy theories.
But something far deeper is at stake here. The world desperately needs a moderate Islam ― an “Islam without Extremes,” as the recent book by Turkish columnist Mustafa Akyol describes it. We need “a Muslim Case for Liberty” (the subtitle of Akyol’s book) ― a Muslim case for nonviolence, for religious tolerance, for harmony between religion and science.
Perhaps no Muslim author in the world has so clearly taught and supported these values over the last 25 years as Mr. Fethullah Gülen, the inspiration for the Muslim “Service” (Hizmet) movement. As a teacher, Mr. Gülen has never administered anything,. A Sufi, he is a recluse and a religious mystic. For decades he has taught that violence is never justified in the name of religion. What has moved me most deeply is his repeated teaching that Jews, Christians, and Muslims are brothers and sisters under God. If God is the Creator of everything, then all who worship the Divine are in the same family.
As a scholar of religious extremism, I have read the wide range of Mr. Gülen’s writings that are available in English, and as I speak around the world I frequently hold up his teachings as models of moderate religion in a world plagued by religious extremists. Isn’t it ironic that a violent dictator would choose a pacifist as his scapegoat in order to win absolute political and military power?
Of course, vilifying those who call for peaceful solutions is nothing new. It’s been a basic tool for dictators throughout history. So why does the vendetta of the president of Turkey matter to us?
Radical religion is a threat across the planet, and extremist Islam has been the most dangerous of all. If you limit the options to radical Islam versus pure secularism, you fan the flames of dissent, radicalizing both sides. The result will be a bonfire that threats to kill hundreds of thousands of people and to destabilize one of the most crucial regions of the planet. Instead, we need to support moderate Muslim voices, those who emphasize the peaceful teachings of Prophet Mohammed and the call to nonviolence among his followers.
That’s why we need to avoid witch hunts and resist the tug of conspiracy theories. Remember Arthur Miller’s famous play The Crucible, which chronicles the Salem witch trials that put to death non-conformist women who were a threat to power structures. Turkey’s president is now instigating his own witch trials, painting nonviolent teachers and journalists in his own violent image. We speak out against the destruction of the Service Movement not just for the sake of Turkey and its stability. We need to speak because Erdogan is destroying the thing that the planet most desperately needs: a moderate Islam, a peaceful prophet, and the brotherhood and sisterhood of Christians, Jews, and Muslims.