Fethullah Gülen on the Clash of Civilizations – then and now

We gave snippets previously of Fethullah Gülen’s appalling views on Jews, women, and the U.S from the mid-1990s. We also mentioned that Gülen has never come to grips or apologized for these views, even though he presents himself as a moderate religious leader interested in promoting inter-faith dialog.

The Gülen movement responded to our post by promptly removing the offensive entries from Gülen’s web site, without any explanation (see update at the bottom of the post). This demonstrates yet again the movement’s modus operandi: when caught in the act, alter the facts. We have observed this pattern of behavior repeatedly.

In this post, we want to examine briefly Gülen’s views on the relationships between faiths, and in particular his views on the “Clash of Civilizations.” Here too Gülen has undergone a dramatic change following his move to the U.S., a transformation which neither he nor his followers have acknowledged or attempted to explain.

Today Gülen is known for his strident opposition to the clash-of-civilizations thesis, and for his emphasis on harmony and dialog among the faiths. As Richard Penaskovic, a professor at Auburn University, has written in a paper titled “M. Fethullah Gülen’s Response to the ‘Clash of Civilization Thesis,” Gülen stresses “the commonalities between the world religions, rather than past polemics and historical differences.” Unlike Huntington, who talked about future conflict, Gülen propounds the view that education “can avert any clash of civilizations.” In the words of Penaskovic:

“Where Huntington sees conflict, Gülen sees peace. Where Huntington has a decidedly pessimistic view of the relationship between Islam and the West, Gülen speaks of hope and optimism.”

(Penaskovic’s paper was delivered at a Gülen-sponsored conference in 2009.)

Gülen’s publications during the 1990s and earlier offer a starkly different perspective on the relationship between Islam and other religions. In those writings, the West and Christianity are presented as the arch-enemy of Islam, and their decay and ultimate downfall are described in no uncertain terms. The future is portrayed not as one of peace and harmony among the major faiths, but as one in which Islam absorbs other faiths and takes over.

In his worldview circa mid-1990s (as expressed in early volumes of Fasıldan Fasıla and Asrın Getirdiği Tereddütler), non-believers were the eternal enemy of Islam. Even though they may be divided amongst themselves, Christians and Jews were always united in their hatred of Islam and have always made common cause against it. “The infidels are all heathens of a different cause. And their totems are different too. But all bear a ruthless grudge against Islam.”[1]

A frequent theme throughout his writings was that the Christian Crusades against Islam are a permanent feature of history: “Just as Europe has sustained its thought of Crusades with invasion, occupation, and colonialism until the First World War,” he wrote, “these days it sustains the same struggle with even more nefarious means.”[2] Or this:

“The anti-Islam enmity, in which certain freemasons and Crusaders have made common cause and continues to our day, has its source all the way back in those days of Medina when the first seeds of the Islamic state were sown. Islam’s struggle with all kinds of erroneous and perverted doctrines and its fight to regain for man his lost honor caused a stir among certain religious officials and those claiming attachments to the church and synagogue, alongside idolaters. From that day to the present, the blood of these kinds of trouble-makers – even if under different names and designations – has been flooding over Islam’s chest.”[3]

Even the European Union did not escape Gülen’s wrath: he called it “a continuation of the Crusaders’ mentality.”[4]

Gülen had little doubt at the time that Western civilization and Christianity would eventually disappear and be folded into Islam. He acknowledged, however, that this was a slow process and would take some time, requiring Muslim societies to become more powerful and self-confident. Islam had long been the victim of exploitation by the West. Why would Christians and Jews accept a far-superior religion, he asked rhetorically, when Muslim societies were still in the role of beggar and servant in relation to them?

In the long run, though, there would be a clear victor: Islam, the progress of which no-one would be able to stop. “In the world of our future, the only dominant element will be Islam,” he wrote.

Here is how Gülen concluded an essay titled “The End of the West,” published in 1996:

“In sum, the Western world is finished, bankrupt, and each day it moves closer to its downfall. As it withers away, as an alternative to it, our world must take the stage with all its institutions.”[5]

Harmony and tolerance among the faiths, this is not.

What we find objectionable here is not that Gülen once held views that are inimical to those he expounds today. As disturbing as these former views are, the real issue is the deception that is at work.

Nowhere in Gülenists’ present-day literature can one find the slightest acknowledgement that the man they present as a beacon of tolerance and dialog once held such prejudicial views about the faiths and peoples to whom he is now trying to reach out. There is no repentance, no apologies. And there is no explanation for why and how Gülen’s worldview changed in such dramatic fashion once he moved to the U.S.

Instead, what the Gülen movement does is to try to erase the record, by removing offensive content from their web sites.

(A note about our sources. Most of these distasteful essays and writings have been removed from Gülen’s official site, or are presented in redacted form. We have relied on his collected works, which are still available for download from some independent sites. Turkish originals of some of the key texts pertaining to his views on the West and on other faiths as well as the sources of all the quotes in this entry can be downloaded here. We invite all those interested to check and make sure that we have not distorted Gülen’s views by quoting them out of context.)

[1] “Kâfirlerin hepsi ayrı bir şeyin kâfiridir. Totemleri de birbirinden çok farklıdır. Ama hepsinin de İslâm’a karşı amansız bir hıncı vardır.” (Fasıldan Fasıla -2.)

[2] “Avrupalı, Haçlı Seferleri’yle işgal, isti’la ve müstemlekecilik düşüncesini, Birinci Dünya Savaşı’na kadar sürdürdüğü gibi, şimdilerde daha bir şenaatli şekilde aynı kavgayı devam ettirmektedir.” (Fasıldan Fasıla -2.)

[3] “Günümüze kadar devam edegelen, İslâm’a karşı, bir kısım farmason ve Haçlı ortak düşmanlığının nüveleri, ta site İslâm devleti temelinin atıldığı o ilk Medine günlerine dayanır. İslâm’ın, her türlü yanlış ve sapık düşüncelerle mücadelesi ve insana, kaybettiği haysiyetini kazandırma yolundaki kavgası, putperestlerin yanında bir kısım diyanet mensuplarını ve kiliseye, havraya bağlı olduğunu söyleyen bazı kimseleri de harekete geçirmişti. O günden bugüne de -değişik ad ve unvanlarla da olsa- bu tür müfsitlerin kan seylâpları İslâm’ın bağrında akıp durmaktadır.” (Asrın Getirdiği Tereddütler – 2.)

[4] In “Teknikte Avrupa’ya Yetişebilir miyiz?” Fasıldan Fasıla -1.

[5] “Hâsılı, batı dünyası bitti, iflas etti ve her gün biraz daha inkıraza doğru gidiyor. O giderken, yerine alternatif olarak mutlaka, bütün müesseseleriyle bizim dünyamız ortaya çıkmalıdır.” (Fasıldan Fasıla -3, under title “Batının Bitişi.”)



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