Paradigm Shift: Who are Fethulah Gulen and Andrew Brunson, the Imam and the Pastor prompting sanctions and threats against Turkey?

The United States and Turkey have a long history of alliances, partnerships, and cooperation.
Today, the relationship between the two countries needs to develop and grow. Through mutual values and shared interests, they need to attend to security and stability in the region, beyond fighting terrorism and extremism, as well to economic collaboration. In recent weeks, however, the United States and Turkey have escalated tensions between the two countries with President Erdogan citing the Turkish police’s arrest of an American Pastor Andrew Brunson on charges of aiding a terrorist organization and the U.S.’s imposing sanctions. President Trump issued these sanction because of Turkey’s refusal to free Brunson, knowing that he is innocent of the charges. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on the United States government to exchange the Pennsylvanian based Turkish Imam, Fethullah Gulen, with Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been in jail in Turkey since 2016. According to Erdogan, Turkey has given Washington all the documents necessary for the extradition of Gulen, but the U.S. refuses instead demanding the return of the pastor who is now on house arrest after almost two years of incarceration. On September 28, Erdogan responded, “You have another pastor in your hands. Give us that pastor and we will do what we can in our judiciary system to give you this one.” The United States argues that we have a judiciary protocol not to extradite citizens or permanent residents (with Gulen being the latter) without sufficient proof of the charges, and Turkey retorts that it also has a judiciary process that sentences those charged. In Turkey’s view, the pastor they charged with terrorism who is in their hands is being tried, but the cleric in the U.S’s hands is not being tried. In Erdogan’s line of reasoning, it is easier for America to give Gulen to Ankara since he is not undergoing judicial review or sentencing and, thus, is not entangled in legal proceedings. So who is Turkey’s public enemy number one and what do we know about his organization?

The Fetullah Gulen Organization (FETO) is the name of one of the biggest and most dangerous, as well as probably the most sophisticated and large scaled, cults among religious groups around the world. The Turkish government considers this group to be a terror group. The organization has Turkish origins but has followers and sympathizers from many other nations as well, including from the Philippines. This is their façade, a carefully crafted image of themselves as civic education institutions and innocent charity organizations, such as the Integrative Center for Alternative Development (ICAD). This foundation is a private, non-profit, non-stock organization that currently has three schools in the Philippines and other NGOs. The Philippine Turkish Tolerance School offers elementary and secondary education in Zamboanga and ICAD distributes beef during the Eid Al Adha. The foundation perfected exemplifies FETO’s tactic, propagate Gulen’s ideology through an institution that purports to “to promote peace and understanding through education among people of diverse cultures.”

The Gulen organization talks about interfaith dialogue and civic participation, but they conceal their real identity. Most of their followers do not even realize that the group is a cult or considered a dangerous or terrorist group. The Fethullah group has two separate structures; they are like two sides of a coin. One structure is quiet like the World Wide Web of NGOs that is spread around the world. Most of the followers are religious believers in Islam, but even that is not a necessary criterion since a supporter may just be influenced by an NGO because of the cause it represents, not because of the religion. Most of these NGOs are in education, business, think tanks, trade associations, interfaith dialogue groups, or similar institutions. Through their network around the world, they make every effort to raise money, both via businesses they have and via direct donations from their followers. Sometimes they pressure their followers to give more money. By using these legal structures, they get grants from governments as well. Through their businesses in education, they pick successful students and make them loyal followers of Fethullah Gulen, the founder and leader of the organization. Slowly they brainwash the members, so that these successful students have two careers: participation in their community (hizmet) and infiltration in the government organizations.

Those who are imbedded in a government help these students find a job in the government as well as be fast tracked in their promotions to positions in the organization. Their moving up the group’s ladder also allows them to be effective in the government as well. Reciprocally, as they progress in their position in the government, they simultaneously move up in their position in the group. The government institution can be in any field from education, health, social welfare, finance, and police, to sports, military, and the judiciary because their goal and aim is to take over that entity, so that whatever governmental position is available, one of their members can move in to take it. The other students who have contact with the group via their training centers, private high schools, tutoring centers, language prep courses, and cultural presentations are brainwashed to be followers of the group. In the past the group took influential people on free trips to Turkey, but those largely successful bribes stopped because Erdogan and Gulen became arch enemies in 2013, when Erdogan accused Gulen of instigating the corruption investigations against him. Some of those who visited Turkey became sympathizers, viewing the organization and Fetullah Gulen in quite a positive way, which proved advantageous as group members received contracts and positions from the visitors later.

The other business that is important to the organization is media and publishing companies. Until a few years ago, the newspapers with the highest circulation in Turkey were in Gulen’s control. But the followers manipulated the subscription rate of the 12 main newspapers altering the number of circulation, so that it was estimated that his main newspaper was one of the most read in Turkey. In addition to the newspapers, they had TV and radio channels, news websites, and all other media related outlets. The result was that they could influence public opinion, probably much more than any other group in Turkey. They also had print media and television stations in Europe, the USA, and other countries. These businesses, educational institutions, and media outlets operated legally and created a legal image.

The other side of the coin, however, is quite different. Most of the group is aware of the legal side of this organization but do not know much about the illegal side, such as its manipulation, cheating on exams, stealing, slandering, eavesdropping, and especially that the group is recognized as a terror group by the Turkish government and by many individuals who have researched or tracked the organization. These duped members never have been informed about the activities of the other side of the organization. Also unknown to them, the organization does money laundering and forgery of documents. Deceiving local authorities, they bribe influential public figures giving them gifts, inviting them to their house, overwhelming them with free trips to Turkey or events, or other ways to convince the society that their aim is compatible with democratic, moderate values. But a closer investigation reveals exactly the opposite. Sadly, there is not a great deal of awareness in the Philippines among the public or the media about what the Gulen movement is. It is unfortunate that this revelation has not gotten media coverage or the official law enforcement attention that it needs.

Concerning the dark side of the group, neither many outsiders nor insiders know about it. Followers who have responsibilities in the government are quiet like sleeper cells. Day to day, they just do what they need to do, but when it comes to something related to the interests of the group, they do everything to make it happen; it can be accomplished via legal or illegal means. For example, one of the followers of the group is a policeman. He can fabricate evidence for the prosecution, even if there is no basis for an attorney to prosecute. The prosecutor, who is a follower of the group, can just fabricate a charge on demand. They can create a cult group, which does not even exist. Then they add the people whom they see as obstacles with their intent to get control of the whole government, so that upon inspection, it appears that this target is affiliated with this cult. An individual does not need to do anything to find that he has been determined to be a member of this newly contrived cult group, one now considered by the Turkish group as a terror group, but one the individual never heard of. The policeman can just fabricate the evidence.

Similarly, they can make up cohorts of spies in the military, via these prosecutions. Whether or not they are found guilty, their promotions in the military would halt for years since these military suits can take years to lead to a judicial decision. Even journalists who are quiet skeptics about the group’s process of writing books can find themselves in jail and will be slandered with everything being fabricated to destroy them.

A cult, such as Gulen’s, can be more dangerous than terrorism. It does not use weapons to attack innocent people, but it uses its insinuations, allowing the government to destroy someone’s life. According to Gulen, the best way to defeat enemy is the use enemy’s weapon against enemy. When the group attacks an individual, the person may not even be aware of it. This person is not aware that it is a terror attack in the first place.

From time to time I have criticized some of President Erdogan’s policies toward Syria and toward the Kurdish people, but also I salute President Erdogan for standing up to Gulen’s cult and in so doing looking out for Turkey’s interests even if also his own in the process. I have never received an email from the Turkish Embassy nor has the Mindanao Times editor-in-chief had one that objects to my criticism of Turkey or President Erdogan. Instead, the denigration comes from one of Gulen’s group who uses a different name and sends my columns to the Turkish embassy trying to characterize me as an enemy of Turkey and charging that I write negatively about Turkey and President Erdogan.

From this perspective, the group is quite like an intelligence gathering agency. A conventional terror group uses techniques similar to the military and intelligence ones. FETO masterfully uses espionage techniques. Information is a weapon as is psychological propaganda, false facts, flag operations, and sting NGOs used for undercover purposes, to name a few tactics. The members of this group infiltrated the military of Turkey as well, just like it did other institutions; this infiltration had been going on since the 1970s. Through the years the imbedded members have been promoted to positions as high as three-star generals. They had full control of the personnel department of the military and authority over the whole Turkish air force. They used slander, forgery, and fabricated documents to get rid of the military personnel that they saw as obstacles to them in order to get the positions they wanted. The group even tried to get control of the Turkish national intelligence services. Through the tried-and-proved technique of fabrication, they arrested the head of intelligence agency.

At that time Erdogan saw their real face and their actual intentions. The President, who at that time was the Prime Minister of Turkey, acted quickly to prevent the head of the intelligence agency from being arrested without his permission. Subsequently, Erdogan tried to reduce the influence of the group. For this purpose, he decreed and enforced the closure of Gulen’s institution, which would effectively close down the training centers from which the group was generating large amounts of money and had secured a strong influence on young students.

Of course, the group used their extremely honed techniques; they devised attacks against the government officials, the ministers, their sons, and Erodgan and his son. Although some aspects of the cases were certainly not fabricated, others were conjured up as usual. Via their media, they managed to influence public opinion for a large segment of Turkish society and the international community as well. President Erdogan maneuvered to eliminate the attacks. This was time that Erdogan begin to call the group as “a parallel government” because they infiltrated all the governmental institutions to become a government inside the government.

Since they kept being defeated by President Erdogan in every scheme, the organization determined that the problem now had become Erdogan himself; consequently, they had to find a way to get rid of Erdogan, so they masterminded their last, but suicidal, act on the 15th of July 2016. The cult group attempted a coup to depose Erdogan and his family, but the coup failed. The plans leaked that afternoon, so the group had to start the coup earlier than they had initially planned. During the coup, they hid themselves as if they were a Kemalist faction in the military, in other words, a secular eminent of followers of the founder of the Turkish nation Ataturk.

But the Turkish people did not buy it. In the face of the resistance of the whole nation, the coup plotters sought to escape, but most of them were caught and arrested. In the attempt, however, they killed more than 250 Turkish men and women, they bombed the Turkish Parliament with an F-16, and targeted a police building that caused the death of 46 police officers. They attacked the intelligence agency with a military helicopter and killed innocent people with tanks and attack helicopters. That is why the Turkish government declared them as a terror group. Because none of the other terror groups had access to F-16s, airplanes, helicopters, or tanks. For that reason the Turkish government considers the FETO as one of the most sophisticated terror groups in the world and wants the leader of the group to be extradited back to Turkey to face justice.

My government and Brunson have a moral responsibility to respect the Turkish justice system. Brunson should tell both governments to stop exploiting his legal case for domestic, economic, and political gain. If Pastor Brunson innocent sooner or later he will be free. Yes, in the New York Times editorial, President Erdogan rightly charges that the United States has repeatedly failed to understand and respect the Turkish government’s concerns and that Washington must respect Turkish sovereignty and understand the danger that the Turkish nations faces.

(Dr. Aland Mizell is President of the MCI and a regular contributor to Mindanao Times. You may email the author )

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