Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tatli Harbesi

Chocolate War was one of the most fascinating books I've ever read. And the trailer for the film had one of the creepier songs I've ever heard on it. And someone decided to even make a fanvid that was as creepy as the song. If I was a bit skinnier, I would probably just be a different era's David Bowie every year for Halloween.

The Tatli Darbesi is, of course, about life in a Jesuit school. And what better transition can be made for the Jesuits of the East, the Fethullahcilar. The movement is named after their leader, Fethullah Gulen. In Central Asia, the movement is often confused with Nurculuk, after Said Nursi, which is less of an offical practice and more a school of Islam. However, since Gulen was a Nurcu early on, there is a strong relationship between the two.

The Fethullahcilar education movement has become the target of think-tank consternation and governmental distrust (re: Islam Karimov) mostly for being difficult to pin down. Nurculuk is a far cry from Salafi Islam, as it is Islamicist and futurist at the same time. It has its roots in Sufism, which otherwise sober-faced experts are deeming Happy Fun Time Islam, but also works hard to call its brotherhood cemaat instead of tarikat (just don't tell Soner Cagaptay, Amurrica's Favorite Turk).

Of course, there is the Islamist issue. And as long as the Fethullahcilar teachers are Turkish urban males who live Islamic values, the schools are going to be seen as simply Medresses in slacks by a lot of people. And I of course don't mean this article as a Fethullahcilar apologetic, I realize that there are lots of issues of proselytizing going on, and that not all teachers are as Fethullahci as Fethullah may like...and that these are serious issues. But they are also ones of corporate oversight, good policing, and other issues that can be reached through other mediums. The AKP's new vision for Turkey, and its relationship with Fethullah Gulen, could be construed as troubling, and it certainly is fascinating, but it's also something to be dealt with later.

At the same time, the Sufi brotherhood ideals that Ibn Battuta relied upon can have tremendous power in the days of the internet. Fethullahcilar schools are not just top-notch schools providing relatively good educations, they also have become networking hubs, sending students to different schools across the world, and teaching Istanbul Turkish as a lingua franca. Social networking allows for people to keep their ears to the ground and for news to travel quick, obviously, but it can also slip by most any governmental censorship. Well-educated, well-connected Kazakhs, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Pakistanis, et. al. are good for most everyone, no?

So what can Fethullahcilar education do for Central Asia? It could, over time, help create the middle class that can transform these resource-rich countries into real, live, solid, states. A large part of the reason why there are fake democracies are because the leaders of the countries don't trust the public with real democracy. But a power shift (which could conceivably become a power struggle) to a younger generation would allow a new guard, educated and connected through an entirely different paradigm, to take over leadership positions. Don't forget, these schools have only been around since the mid-1990's. When I was studying Turkish in Turkey, the vast majority of my class consisted of Central Asians studying on scholarship; loads of kids from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, mostly (and one who was very adamant that he was from Cechnya, not Russia, or even the Kavkaz, but that's another story). They all retained a very strong sense of "homeland" (I'm not sure how else to translate vatanlik) and were more interested in working in their home countries than Turkey once they graduated. The Fethullahcilar education system is, in short, building a new generation of Central Asian leaders who have a sense of pride in their homeland while being connected abroad, through Islamist and Turkic principles.

No, the folks who go to Fethullahcilar schools will not turn out like good Groton or Exeter men. And yes, the whole movement is something that sounds like it came out of Enver Pasha's fever dreams, what with the Pax Turania and Islamic brotherhood. All the same, the rise of the movement intimates a rise of Turkic geopolitics as compared to all of the other interests in Central Asia. Michael noted the big partnership Kazakhstan did with Turkey pretty recently, for example, even if it is buried among the French and the Chinese and everyone else trying to get some oil. It's an interesting long-term development that'll have an impact on most everything in the region. And this is all without even mentioning their news branch, Zaman, throwing its weight around online and in print in Central Asia (and the Balkans, and Europe...)

This basically represents another competing identity for Central Asians, just proving the point that much more that there is more to the region then a "Western-oriented" or "Islamofascist" dichotomy (which, if you're reading this blog, you probably already know). But it would be interesting to see if it actually works. Education is the basis of a cultural identity, "The school will finish what the bayonet began" and all of that. And education based around creating a well-traveled and well-spoken middle class seems to be a possible quiet revolution in Central Asia...the first grads ought to be getting jobs now, I'll be on the lookout for any social sea change in Turkmenistan relative to Uzbekistan, personally. The more forms of identity that don't involve blind chauvanism and dogmatic polemics, the better off the region is. Let's see if this one takes root at all.

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