Paradigm Shift: Who are Fethulah Gulen and Andrew Brunson?

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 for economic collaboration. In recent weeks, however, the United States and Turkey have escalated tensions between them with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan citing the Turkish police’s arrest of an American Pastor Andrew Brunson on charges of aiding a terrorist organization and the US’s sanctions. President Trump issued these sanctions because of Turkey’s refusal to free Brunson, knowing that he is innocent of the charges. President Erdogan has called on the United States government to exchange the Pennsylvania-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 US has refused, 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 there is 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 it charged. In Turkey’s view, the pastor they charged with terrorism who is in their hands is being tried, but the cleric in the US’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.
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.

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

Posted in Opinion