Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Fethullahci (Gulen) Movement and Moral Panic

Back-to-back articles on the impending scariness of the Gulen Movement. It'd almost be enough to make you think it's a trend if the stories were keyed by a common event. The only real shared storyline, however, is white women discovering with trepiduous fear that such a thing exists. Sharon Higgins remarks on Gulen schools in the United States, Margaret Speigelbaum on the same in Istanbul, Turkey. Neither have anything new to say, and neither have anything to share besides dog-whistle Islamophobia.

I'll be the first to admit I'm an utterly disinterested party. I don't have much to say about any education debate, in the US or in Turkey. It's not that I don't care, it's that I don't have any background knowledge and can't say much more than my gut opinion. So I won't.

I do know about about the Fethullahcilar. I never heard the Americanized name until a contact at the US State Department came up to me and gushed, "Ooooh! Tell me about the Gulenists!" I said the same thing to that person as I'd say right now; they're basically Jesuits in Muslim form. They've been very good at getting very good education to historically underserved areas. There's lots of them, and in any group numbering in the thousands, there will be some dummies involved. This all deserves a shrug and a blog post.

But why are they so much fun to pick on? Because they're connected with the two things the whitefolk who write for the Beast and the Post are afraid of most: Class and Islam.

Starting with class, quick history: Turkey's been ruled by the White Turks since 1923, there's never been any debate about that. The military elite, the people at the Right Schools in Istanbul and Ankara, those are the ones that do the necessary deeds. The millions of others should be left to their goat-killing and I dunno, whatever else they do.

In 1980, Turgut Ozal changed all of that. I've written about this before:
One of [Erdogan's] better political masterstrokes was taking on the suit of American-based neoliberalism. Taking Ozal’s Kucuk Amerika one step further, he promoted business and worked closely with chambers of commerce, particularly in the “Anatolian Tiger” cities east of Izmir and Istanbul. These cities, not so coincidentally, were full of more religiously conservative folks in their business communities and were not controlled by the traditionally secular monopolies. AKP created a new Nouveau Riche class distinct from the White Turks and used them to move their agenda forward, culminating in their political takeover in 2002.
Erdogan turned the class system of Turkey on its head. I compared him to Michael Jordan in that, but perhaps a similar argument could be made for a Toussaint L'Ouverture comparison. His partnership with Gulen came from this; AKP needed technical bureaucrats and Gulen was happy to fund their educations.

The conspiracy theories, the journalist-mugging, and much of the theatrics of the past couple of years have been a bit rich. But what Erdogan imagined and Gulen bankrolled was nothing short of class warfare.

It's been successful, and from a certain perspective, dangit, those hilljacks Gulen educated haven't gotten around to thinking like White Turks. This is where the Islam comes to play and the Moral Panic sets in.

If Speigelman writes her piece from a Jesuit school, it's laughed away at everything but the fringest of fringey internets. If I heard "Nonetheless, my oldest classes (fourth grade) invariably were dominated by loud, aggressive boys, while girls rarely spoke up. I was discouraged by how often teachers had to shout to be heard, and by the way quieter students (mostly girls) were generally left out" from a Teach for America friend of mine, I would not compare it to Iran. I would compare it to my fourth grade. Gender roles and their general fucked-up-itiness are no stranger to any of our lives.

If you genuinely believe that Islam is the reason behind lackadaisical education, lack of rights for women, and every single social ill you can imagine then congrats! You're racist slim and you should probably x-out of this page and go google Pamela Geller. Hang out with her. You'll like it more over there.

If you think that development is tough, that countries don't turn on dimes and that things are certainly better for Turks and for Turkey then they were ten, twenty, thirty years ago, then you have to wonder why we're getting so upset over education. Are the Fethullahcilar perfect? Of course not. I don't think any individual in the movement would call themselves that.

The Movement, like any movement, wants more power. I haven't yet read Sik's or Sener's books and I'm not going to comment on them because of that. You will not find a more stringent believer in press freedom, in political checks-and-balances, then me. But placing the Movement at the center of conspiracy because of some ugly stuff isn't reportage, its Dan Brown conspiracy, and it doesn't belong.

The stubbly hordes of Islam are not knocking down the doors of America, acting in concert. They aren't even knocking down the doors of Turkey, they're merely standing up where they sat down ten years ago. It's heart-breaking to see people using the sort of Class Talk and God Talk that would be mocked in America to cast aspersions on something they're afraid of. Any discourse that sounds closer to Jim Crow senators then to factual reporting should be treated as such, even if we're just talking about a new demographic to feel strong emotions towards. Don't bark up to the Daily Beast or Washington Post. Don't express concern about baroque machinations of state. Think, "dang, did I really just get angry at these people for being uppity?"

And don't say "Gulenist." It's like a password for "US Foreign Service Officer or cross-eyed fear mongerer" and odds are you ain't the former.

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