Mechanisms of Escape: The Occult and Nazism

“The more the drive toward life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive toward destruction; the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life.”[1] Society has created the conditions that frustrate the capacity for real individuality. The alienation that one feels unless they adhere to society leaves a person feeling obliged to conform and yet as their own freedom is suppressed become impregnated with agitation that grows into a type of pathology or destructiveness toward both their own humanity by being automaton or to others. Our will is always driven by the question or problem of human existence, to try and find the solution that will enable us to feel happiness. When we do not have the answers, we become insecure at the disassociation or that separateness we feel with ourselves, our past and our future because there is no concrete relatedness or meaning available. We recognise the futility and while feeling profoundly small and insignificant also realise the responsibility we have to create meaning for ourselves. It is at that point that we come to a decision. Do we completely annihilate the self through conformity or create false significance by enlarging our sense of worth by destroying the happiness of others? Or do we embrace our freedom by taking responsibility for our own happiness and thus instead destroy our place in society?

A number of years ago now, I experienced personal afflictions that left me feeling very vulnerable and without any answers as to how I could improve my situation. I found myself desperately wanting to change my environment but did not have the answers for how that could be achieved. In order to alleviate those distressing feelings, I tried to attach myself to something concrete to help save me from realising the abyss of an unlived life. It was as though my life was a painting that initially had symmetry until splatters of paint made it messy, all the mixture of colours blurred and blackened the outcome of what was the purpose of my existence. I had a choice; cover the messy canvas with an artificial layer by forming an attachment to something that will save me from having to take responsibility for creating meaning myself, or destroy the old canvas of my life and start all over again.

But what is this artificial ‘layer’ that covers the canvas? “The frightened individual seeks for somebody or something to tie his self to; he cannot bear to be his own individual self any longer, and he tries frantically to get rid of it and to feel security again by the elimination of this burden: the self.”[2] It is absorbing oneself into another, allowing something other than your own consciousness and rationality to think on your behalf whether it is people, dogma or at the pathological end occultism or new ageism. According to a paper by B. Rosenthal, the occult is a symptom of social and cultural stress. “The occult revival of late 19th and early 20th century Russia was a response to the fading credibility of the Russian Orthodox Church, the spiritual/psychological inadequacy of intelligentsia ideologies, the destabilizing effects of rapid industrialization, and continued political upheaval.”[3] There were many clandestine groups that existed in ancient Europe that were revived in the late 19th century as an answer to social stress as they contained symbols of unity and of special importance that membership enabled meaning. The esoteric or spiritual language established purpose and why the ‘secrets’ can only be revealed to special members to supplement authority and authenticity.

Madame Blavatsky started the Theosophical Society in the United States blending esoteric and the occult with Hindu mysticism and she strongly influenced the revival of occultism all across Europe, including Thule Gesselschaft that was instrumental in the development of the Nazi regime. Aryanism developed as an ideology off the backbone of Theosophy, where Blavatsky claimed that we ultimately evolved from “The Root Races” or ethereal beings from the island of Atlantis, referred to as the Chaya Race. Plato wrote of the lost city of Atlantis in Timaeus and Critias that was later taken by Ignatius Donnelly as an actual historical reality when he reignited the idea that there are descendants of a more advanced or sophisticated culture, all this furthered by Blavatsky in her book of pure nonsense The Secret Doctrine.[4] Despite the actuality of her garbage being eclipsed by the apologists that follow her teachings, the ‘universal brotherhood’ implies that we are single race of beings ‘rooted’ or attached to one another back in time.

But, not all.

The six root-races are the Astral, Hyperborean, Lemurian, Atlantean, Aryan, and the Coming Race, that complete the evolutionary tree. According to Blavatsky, there are sub-human “Semitic” people who are degenerate and ultimately responsible for miscegenation.  She claimed that these were off-shoots that were degenerating the roots of these so-called perfect beings. Despite the current denial that root-races refer to actual race as defined in contemporary intellectual circles, Blavatsky wrote: “The Aryan races, for instance, now varying from dark brown, almost black, red-brown-yellow, down to the whitest creamy colour, are yet all of one and the same stock – the Fifth Root-Race – and spring from one single progenitor.” This gave rise to the idea of purifying or evolving back to the Aryan race with blonde hair and blue eyes progenitors. This relationship between Nazism and Blavatsky is obvious with the Swastika – an ancient Hindu symbol that implies wellbeing or peacefulness – that was used counter-clockwise by the Nazi Germans who imagined a correlation or shared history with the Indian culture as per Blavatsky’ theory. “The Aryan race was born and developed in the far north, though after the sinking of the continent of Atlantis its tribes emigrated further south into Asia.”[5] The Fylfot or Thor’s Hammer is a similar example of Odinic symbolism in Norse and Germanic mythology adopted by the Thule Society, where the Nazi ideology emerged and they had close contacts with the Theosophical society that appropriated the ideas of Blavatsky.

Somotaform disorders is an example of how a person experiencing anxiety is capable of causing actual physical changes. These states communicate psychological distress as though a person understands there to be a problem but does not have the language or words to express this inner life, resulting in physical symptoms that symbolise this distress. The depths of our capacity to believe in unreal or imagined ideas are so powerful that it verifies insanity to be a preferable option over reason or rationality. Just like Somotaform disorders, Aryanism became a real concept that this collective pathology became the tool to justify the murder of so many innocent people as a way to reverse the miscegenation and racial impurity. If occultism is born following the destabilisation effects from the social and political upheaval of the time, it is clear that the social distress following World War One where Germany was pressured with exorbitant repatriation payments vis-a-vis the treaty of Versailles, combined with generations of European anti-Semitism with falsely attributed suspicions of world domination from the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion and particularly with Martin Luther’s legacy of anti-Jewish literature, and a mixture of Theosophical, Rosicrucian and Roman history combined became the ingredients that enabled the Nazis to create such an ideology. By imagining the Other in the Jew, they generated the mobilisation required to envision pan-Germanic nationalism, enabling validity and ultimately meaning by enlarging the ego that – through the destruction of others – helped overcome the smallness and insignificance they felt. As said by Schopenhauer: “But every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud adopts, as a last resource, pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and glad to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”[6]

Occultism or even fundamentalism – where people revert back to old religious traditions and practices since the past is viewed to be a time of ‘happiness’ – is fuelled during periods of social destabilisation, used to explain the problem of human existence by engaging in possibilities for a stable future. Twenty-first century capitalism has fashioned contemporary society to feel more and more alienated from one another that germinates the anxiety and thus the need to form superficial bonds where people become object-related. People attach themselves to the culture and operate en masse but this can only be achieved when everyone believes that they are independent in their decision making, that they are unique and different despite doing exactly what everyone else is doing. The pathology has changed and but still rooted in the same false or imagined idea of reality, leading people to the same destructive channels.  

It is as though destruction seems inevitable until we find the inner peace that comes with independent thinking. Everything else is simply a mechanism to escape from that ability, the fear we have to create meaning for ourselves. Some, such as the Occult, are dangerous for its highly imagined narratives that channel the insanity of this fear. For me, the castle made on sand collapsed – the mind that never thought for herself – and through morality and creativity as variables that confer meaning, I started anew.

 

[1] Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, Open Road Media (2013)
[2] Ibid
[3] Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, The Occult in Modern Russian and Soviet Culture (1993)
[4] Helena P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Penguin (2006)
[5] Ibid
[6] Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms (1970)

A Historical Comparative: Syria and Turkey

The transformation and development in Europe and the Middle East after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire is nothing short from one of the greatest historical modifications in human society. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, many heterodox and syncretistic religions of the Near East and Anatolia who had long experienced persecution that isolated them into an impoverished environment, found themselves tasting relative freedom and independence for the first time. For centuries, the Ottomans had poor relations with the Shi’i sects and both met with antagonism and ultimately violence, most notable with the conflict between the empire and the Safavids. Heterodox groups were never granted the status of millet that consequently left them unprotected and were often required to pay high taxes.

The region of Latakia is mostly inhabited by Alawis, yet because of the difficulty penetrating the mountains, the Ottomans could only mobilise authority in the region in the 1850’s where they introduced Sunni landlords and a mutasallim (district governor).[i] Like the Alevis, the Alawis have deep-seeded antagonism towards the Sunni elite and view them as the main oppressor. “The Ottomans and their Syrian walis repeated tried to impose their authority in and collect revenue from the Alawi and Druze areas.”[ii] Adding to this authority, numerous and violent fatwas were made against these heterodox communities in the region. “The Sunni ulema provided the religious legitimization for the persecutions. This in a fetva from 1548 the famous Seyhulislam Ebussuud Effendi declared the Qizilbaş [Alevi] heretics, the murder of whom being permissible by Islamic law.”[iii]

As Daniel Pipes clearly shows, Islamic intellectuals and theologians such as Hamza ibn Ali, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ahmad ibn Taymiya and Shaykh Ibrahim al-Maghribi freely spoke about the divine necessity to kill or confiscate property from the Alawi people.[iv] It is for this reason the Alawi community fled into the isolated mountainous regions for the next several centuries. Abject poverty and the fear of violence changed the structure of their communal psyche that enveloped an attitude of leaning toward exclusivity, establishing intense internal division and tribal allegiances. As it is crucial to under the history in order to understand the present situation in Syria and Turkey, I will compare the Alawites of Syria with the Alevis of Turkey following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, explaining the differences between the struggle for power and how the Alawi experienced a sudden change of social and political fortune that sharply contrasts with the Alevis of Turkey.

 


 

Syria

The Latakia province has been the geographical position of the Alawi community since the beginning of the 10th or 11th century.[v] Their escape into the mountainous region did not end persecution nor change their lesser social class/position amongst the Sunni majority, but for a time merely lay dormant. “A fatwa was issued in the fourteenth century by a distinguished Sunni Muslim scholar, Ibn Taymiyya, stating that they [Alawi] were greater infidels than Jews, Christians and many idolaters and that waging war against them should please Allah.”[vi] Because the mountains in the Latakia region were isolated and difficult to travel through together with a lack of water resources and difficulty tending the land, the Alawi people have always been poor. As a result, they became servants to the Sunni elite and were treated with ignominy and contempt.

There are no social links between the Alevi and the Alawi, the latter viewing all Turks whether Alevi or Sunni as offspring of the Ottoman regime. This is only justified with the Turkish-Israeli alliance and the occupation of the Golan Heights by Israel, as well as the Alexandretta/Hatay controversy.[vii] Like the Alevi, the door fr modernisation was opened after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Syria ambitiously developed transport, communication and roads that made urbanisation and information accessible. Syria is predominately rural; the success rate for implementing or expanding and finally assimilating the rural into urban life has been far more successful in Turkey. This could be because funding in Turkey was spread unanimously throughout the region, while in Syria priority was given mainly to the Latakia region.[viii]The 1950’s and 1960’s found the expansion of education dramatically increase. “The number of state schools grew from 658 in 1948 to 3,804 in 1964… foreign and private schools went down from 40 per cent of all schools in 1945 to 19 per cent in 1951, and almost nil in 1967.”[ix] Education allowed the Alawi to mobilise and prompted an increased desire to participate in political life, for reasons twofold: the fear of Islamist accession to power and the introduction by France for minorities to play a role in political decision-making.

Itamar Rabinovich discusses six important phases between the years 1918-1945 that defined the status of minorities in Syria.[x] Between 1918-1920, the presence of the Hashemite Emir Faysal, who sought power in the Syrian region, declared himself to be the King of Syria until the French presence and ultimate occupation that quickly put an end to his authority. In August 1920, the French established Greater Lebanon and by doing so enabled the Alawi and Druze to create their own semi-autonomous states. By 1925, Greater Lebanon was abandoned and Syria was once again re-established, although the Alawi and Druze states remained (until 1936). By 1936, a treaty was developed – though not ratified – that granted Syrian independence and incorporated the Alawi and Druze states into the whole territory (only fully implemented in 1944 – 1945). In 1941, the presence of the Vicky French came to an end when British authority took control with the support of the Free French troops; by 1943, the first elections were held.

Syria_Ethno-religious_composition.

France maintained that methods and strategies needed to be implemented in order to prevent the growing threat of theocracy. Edmond Rabbath wrote Unite Syrienne et Devenir Arabe and claimed that the Alawi and other heterodox communities are no different to Muslims, but merely ‘lag behind.’[xi] As a sharp contrast to Turkey, minorities in Syria were included in political life from the beginning of independence and the presence of the French opened the door to a new social consciousness for the Alawi community. Rabinovich claims that the unique relationship between the Alawites and the French are particularly important because Latakia contained a sizeable population of Christian and Bedouin communities.[xii] France also required assistance in an increasingly frustrated Syria and therefore provided Alawis with autonomy in order to receive unanimous support.

[T]he state of Latakia was set up on 1 July 1922. They also gained legal autonomy; a 1922 decision to end Sunni control of court cases involving Alawis transferred these cases to Alawi jurists. The Alawi state enjoyed low taxation and a sizeable French subsidy… In return, Alawis helped maintain French rule.[xiii]

When France provided the Alawites their own independent state, it established a political and social consciousness for the Alawites and consequently increased their participation in the social and political arena. “The ferment and the quest for social advancement at least for their offspring prompted numerous Alawi families to invest in education or to have a son enlisted in the French troupes speciales.”[xiv] Nevertheless, the change from French to British authority in 1941 created several issues that originally appeared detrimental for the Alawites. Afraid of deteriorating their political relationship with Emir Faysal, the British became suspicious of Alawis and instead supported Sunni nationalism and the sunnification of the heterodox communities. With the growing presence of Sunni domination, the Alawis revolted under the leadership of Sulayman al-Murshid, an elected Alawi leader who became a national figure. The rebellion was crushed and Murshid executed in 1946 with the support of British High Commissioner Edward Spears. It was at this stage that power in Syria was inherited by Sunnis, only increasing Alawi resistance for fear of repression and violence by the Sunni elite. It was only when the Druze revolt of 1954 was crushed that the Alawi became disillusioned by the political situation, but it nevertheless reflects the rise of Alawi consciousness and participation in national and political rebellion.[xv] Consequently, the ihkwan al-Muslimin or the Muslim Brotherhood were gradually developing a strong social and political ideology, leading the Alawites to strongly question the direction of their fate.

The most important change in Syria developed after the intentional collapse of leading Sunni landlords and the distribution of land ownership. However, “[t]he Alawis could not change this [poverty] situation by outing a few people as in Hama: a basic social and political revolution was required in their society.”[xvi] The Alawi needed more than merely eliminating the Sunni elite, particularly if regional politics played a predominate role in Surian political culture that could have left the Latakia region open to danger. Thus, Michel ‘Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Baytar founded the Ba’th party during WW2 and by 1947 began to heavily recruit youths in high school. Although Turkey was much more successful with their coercive population politics and family planning that attempted to distribute communities and push for social fragmentation, there was no direct impact against the traditional social units in Syria and regional loyalty remained strong. “This gave the Ba’th party a regional, minoritarian, rural imprint that impeded its growth as an effective nationwide organisation.”[xvii] Syrian political culture contains a unique blend of traditional, regional, social and economic mechanisms. The development of the nation as a whole has not yet saturated supranational methods of political decision making or sub national administrative divisions and many citizens continue to call themselves ‘Arabs’ rather than ‘Syrians’. According to Michael H. Van Dusen, many continue to identify with local and parochial loyalties. “In Syria, the legacy of the past, the decentralized cell structure of political parties, the role of local politicians in ideological recruitment, political commitments based on high school allegiances – all have tended to perpetuate a sub-national network of political loyalties in the independence era.”[xviii]

The politicisation process began to enlarge following the early years of independence when an explosion of ideological stances with various alternatives became available. The process of modernisation did not directly affect self-sufficient and agricultural lifestyles, which maintained its uniformity and gradually developed into larger agro-cities. An agro-city is a large economic unit where the city centre is the central position for the wider agricultural towns or villages surrounding it and provides both security and health services for the population while growing in economic prominence.[xix] At the same time, specific ethnic populations reside in specific agro-cities, and it is for this reason that political culture and attitudes often revolve around regional interests rather than national. It is also the primary reason for intra-regional tension. Although national rhetoric is continuously reiterated, particularly in relation to Israel, Palestine and pan-Arabism, local loyalties are dominantly applied and national parties are still unable to penetrate intra-regional interests. It is the nature of agro-city politics that reduce the possibility for expanded support.[xx] Yet, the power of the Ba’th party came predominate became of their political stance towards the peasantry and the alleviation of poverty, something many in Syria can sympathise with.

According to Pipes, several factors played a role with Alawi ascension into power, particularly with their growing presence in the army.[xxi] The first is that the military continued to uphold the attitude of employing minorities since the Sunni majority viewed a career at Homs (Military Academy) as degrading. Secondly, while Sunni rule became dominant, they were both afraid and at the same time ignored the power of the military and avoided the provision of large funding. Finally, because of their economic situation, the Alawis could not pay the fee to avoid sending their children to the army, while at the same time found that a career at Homs an excellent opportunity for a steady income. “Alawi power resulted from an unplanned by sectarian transformation of public life in Syria.”[xxii] Minorities were originally placed in the lower ranks of the military, however this actually benefited their ascension since, “[s]enior officers engaged in innumerable military coup d’état between 1949 and 1963, each change of government was accompanied by ruinous power struggles among the Sunnis, leading to resignations and the depletion of Sunni ranks.”[xxiii] To add to this, because of the growing instability and distrust, kinship bonds became the favoured approach and thus advantageous for the Alawis whose power became increasingly visible. Thus, with the growing instability, the Ba’th party moved into an aggressive coup d’état in 1963 that finally swept them into power.

 

Senior_officials_in_the_Baath_Party_in_a_rare_un-official_photograph_with_Salah_Jadid_from_1969

Syrian Officials in the Baath Party with Salah Jadid

Salah Jadid controlled all military appointments in 1963 and he removed hundreds f officers and replaced them with Alawites.[xxiv] Although the Alawi community only make 12% of the population, they nevertheless gradually absorbed enough power to control the nation. In 1966, a neo-Ba’th movement organised a coup by a predominately Alawite administration until this was finally followed by the final coup in 1970 by Hafiz al-Asad against Salah Jadid. According to Pipes, Jadid lost his reign of power because – unlike Asad – Jadid supported the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) against the Jordanian government and was ultimately defeated. As noted by Tord Olsson, members of the al-Asad family play a chief role in political and military life in Syria.[xxv] This process began at independence and with the decline of the Sunni elite and land re-distribution after 1958, the structure of power dramatically changed. As social modernisation processes began to develop, education and career options became the primary objective for the Alawi community. Hafiz al-Asad became the president and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, his brother Rifat became commander of the defense unit surrounding Damascus, yet another brother Jamil became the leading member of the defence and who was later transferred to Geneva, while his cousin ‘Adnan was Commander of the Struggle unit. This has yet to change, as his son Bashar al-Asad is the current president of Syria who assumed office in 2000.

In order to maintain political power, the Alawi have sought to repress Sunni dominance – particularly in the military – by providing leading roles to Alawi and mediocre roles spread out throughout the country to Sunni. These changes in political dominance did not proceed without aggression. “They [Alawi] were given high representation (21.4%) in the military structure of the Regional Commands of the Ba’th, but the outlying traditional Sunni towns of Aleppo and Hama had no representation at all. These were the two main areas where major Sunni opposition to Alawi hegemony was strong and violent.”[xxvi] This has only made Islamist movements stronger that have shaken political stability. However, it cannot be denied that unlike Jadid, al-Asad attempted to reduce this tension by increasing his presence amongst the Sunni and positioning Sunni Commanders into leading positions.

 


 

Turkey

Turkey experienced a complex transformation from a historical and religious sovereignty by the Ottoman caliphate with multi-ethnic diversity and extensive territorial power into the nation-state that it is today. The Young Turks sough to eliminate the Ottoman and Islamic caliphate system, which they believed to be outdated and a thorn to modern progress. The Ottoman decline became highly visible during the reign of Sultan Adbulhamid II, where totalitarian enforcement and pan-Islamic propaganda dramatically increased until he was finally deposed by the Allies during World War One. In 1920, the Treaty of Sevres was signed and the Ottoman Empire partitioned, which provided the Young Turks a perfect opportunity to implement their dream for an independent national identity.

3900786_orig

Ziya Gökalp is a leading figure who influenced the modernist ambitions of the Young Turks (Committee of Union and Progress) and their nationalist plight to eliminate religion in political life. Gökalp wrote about the challenge and transformation of millet (nation), ümmet (religion) and muasirlaşma (modernisation) when developing a modern civilisation.[xxvii] By attempting to elucidate the difference between culture and civilisation, Gökalp became a prominent figure of Turkish nationalism and a supporter of political secularization, which sought to reduce the power of religious ideology and clericalism in political and social decision-making. Only when religion is separated from the State can modernity truly develop, but this does not imply the complete eradication of religion nor was Gökalp a supporter of individualism.

Gökalp believed that the egoistic and utilitarian individualist ideals found in some western societies should never be the basis for building altruistic, tolerant, and public-oriented social norms in Turkey. Accordingly, individualism was a bankrupt social and political philosophy and a “threat to equilibrium and harmony of society but also to the individual himself.”[xxviii]

Similarly, Louis Dumont claimed that ‘equality’ and ‘individualism’ is an idea of an ideal but in no way natural like the hierarchy or caste system, particularly in India. “This individualistic tendency, which became established, generalized and popularized from the eighteenth century to the age of romanticism and beyond, was in fact accompanied by… organic solidarity.”[xxix] This “purblind provincialism” or the ideology of individualism has instead made the understanding of natural nomalism even more difficult.

Nevertheless, Gökalp’s triptych involved explicating the relationship modernism has with being a Turk and a Muslim. Is there an inherent challenge between Islam and modernity, or do the gates of ijtihad need to be re-opened in order for Islamic reform to take place, allowing modernity to flourish? Gökalp reject the şeriat or Islamic jurisprudence because he believed it to be inadequate and rigid to the ever-changing processes of modern society and claimed that şeyh-ül-Islam (Islamic officials and religious courts) and the medrese (religious schools) need to be transferred to the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Education respectively. The Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) remained the only single party to rule until Turkey transitioned to the multi-party system in 1946. The fall of Nazi Germany and their fascist regime had the greatest impact for this political modification and it was generally acknowledged that in order to accomplish a modern society, Turkey required less totalitarian restrictions. Consequently, Islamic political groups found an opportunity to voice their concerns and sough for religious influence to help shape social and political life. Thus synergy between maintaining political secularism and democracy vis-à-vis Islam has become an important issue when discussing Turkish laicist politics.

As a bridge between the East and the West, Turkey has attempted to set the example by removing religious influence in political life, but this has only been possible through the constitutional court, several military coup d’état and even capital punishment. By 1950, the Democratic Party (Demokrat Partisi) swept into power under the leadership of Adnan Menderes marking the first political change since 1923. The main reason for this transformation was rural frustration at the economic conditions and political antagonism toward Islam. The Demokrat Partisi relaxed on harsh demands against religion and introduced major economic and social changes. Although serious economic policies in rural Turkey were initiated by the Demokrat Partisi, paradoxically it was because the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi consciously kept village life intact that the modernisation process was propelled. For instance, migrants who had left the village to seek employment in an urban environment could easily return to their village or their family could send food and other resources to help them manage, had they experienced poverty or failed to integrate.[xxx] If the collectivist approach had been implemented earlier and villages pushed to assimilate into the modernization process from the beginning, it could be argued that the development Turkey experienced would not have been accomplished successfully.

That the Kemalists left the villages’ social structure intact did not stem from an incapability to disturb their lives (they were undisputed masters of the land and of the armed forces) but was a deliberate, self-conscious action… the Republican People’s Party and their predecessors had a very clearly worked out rural policy, which was based on development through rural communities’ existing social life, and was not intent on destroying it.”[xxxi]

This, however, appears to contradict the situation in Dersim and other rural areas where direct policies were created during the sing-party administration who attempted to absorb communities into the Turkish nationalist ideal. The Village Law (Law no. 442) began as early as 1924 that sought to disperse villages to help the process of modernisation.[xxxii] Mandatory regulations and measures for small villages with a population of up to 2000 were coerced in order to push changes, particularly with education and hygiene. The Village Law had an ideological character that gave little consideration to the actual social and economic situation, and although the process of development included building roads and investing in schools, many communities were forced to leave their village upon instigation by the Turkish government in order to drive the assimilation process. When the Democratic Party took power and the Village Inventory (Köy Envanter Etudleri) became fully established, “[b]etween 1962 and 1968, showed that four decades after the Village Law took effect, there were mosques in 79 percent of villages, but only 55 percent had a school, 43 percent had grocery store, 32 percent had a meeting room for the community council and 30 percent had a water pipe (these were all mandatory requirements).”[xxxiii]

The standard model for a rural (Sunni) village is a mosque in the centre of a village with houses built around it, and with the increase of mosques in Alevi villages following the implementation of the Village Law, concerns about the decline of secular ambitions and an increase of Sunni domination were raised. Alevi intellectuals often claim that their tradition naturally supports modernism and Kemalism.[xxxiv] The Young Turks idealized the Alevis as ‘true Turks’, preserving national Turkish culture and religion against foreign (Arabic) influences,” though they ignored that many Alevi themselves were not in fact ethnically Turkish.[xxxv] Mustapha Kemal became the long-awaited Mahdi for the Alevis who completed the task the Qizilbaş had expected the Safavids to complete during the early sixteenth century. Cemalettin Efendi (from Çelebi) who was revered by the greater majority of the Alevis in Anatolia as the direct descendant of Haci Bektaş claimed to support Atatürk after meeting with him; he later became the second deputy of Atatürk, while other Alevi tribal leaders particularly from the Dersim region rose to leading positions.[xxxvi] Those areas influenced by Cemalettin (for instance Sivas and Tokat) still continue narratives that are noticeably Kemalist.[xxxvii] However, some Alevi groups who did not view Cemalettin Efendi as a figure of authority refused to support the Kemalist revolution, such as the Koçkiri tribe (perhaps because of their Kurdish ethnicity). Thus, these postulations about the self-evident unity of Alevilik with Turkish nationalism has been challenged by Hamit Bozarslan who states that continuous reproduction of myths – such as a natural alliance with secularism – are often left unquestioned by researchers.[xxxviii] It is paradoxical to assert that the dynamic structure of Alevism contains eternal qualities, consequently leading to inefficient research and perhaps even false conclusions. The apparent link between Alevism and democracy or equality is thus a false conclusion that must be analysed with a different sociological and historical attitude, since the internal social mechanics of Alevi society contain various levels of hierarchical authority and domination as well as differences in religious attitudes (such as Bektaşi) and ethnic heritage (such as Kurdish).

The Koçkiri and Dersim rebellions are primary examples that contradict the weak notion of an eternal position between Alevism and Kemalism. Dersim is a region located within the Tunceli province (Eastern Turkey) and contains a political history of defiance, particularly against the Ottoman Empire. “Aside from his assimilation policy, what brought Abdulhamid into evil repute among his heterodox subjects were the activities of the Hamidiye Cavalry in the Eastern provinces. Actually established by the Sultan to provide a bulwark against the Russians, the cavalry attacked the Alevi tribes in the region and confiscated their land.”[xxxix] Prior to the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the Kurdistan Teali Cemiyeti formed with the hope of creating an independent Kurdish State and with incitation by Britain, organised the first Koçkiri uprising in 1920. This was followed by the Sheikh Said Piran rebellion in 1925 arranged by a different Kurdish national group, the Azadi. “Said, leader of the 1925 ‘Sheikh Said rebellion’ was a Nakşibeni Sheikh,”[xl] thus Said Piran and his brother Sheik Abdurrahman (who attacked Palu and Malatya in 1927) where Sunni Kurds. Nevertheless, the Ararat Rebellion led by Ihsan Nuri Pasha, who in 1927 claimed independence from turkey until a series of campaigns by the Turkish forces crushed the rebellion and revolt.

Turkish-War-of-Independence

While the Grand National Assembly was introduced to stimulate parliamentary and legislative authority during the Turkish War of Independence, discussions about the possibility for an independent administration for the Kurds had been made to reduce the pressure the Turkish National Movement was facing at the time. The Treaty of Lausanne failed to recognise ethno-linguistic groups – such as Alevis, Kurds, Laz and Circessians – although  it identified Jews and Christians as legitimate minorities and while it ended the war and finally established the Turkish Republic, it left Kurdistan as nothing but an imagined concept. This, therefore, led the Turkish government to purport Alevis as belonging to the majority and therefore disqualified from any rights. This consequently furthered violence where in 1937 the Qizilbaş Zaza people led by Seyid Riza rebelled against the Ataturk administration. Seyit Riza is often viewed as a symbol representing the Kurdish plight in Dersim. The distrust between tribes – for instance the Kurmanci – and the growing pressure of violence that later killed his two sons, Riza concluded that the new Turkish authorities were corrupt and consequently rebelled, leading to his eventual execution. In 1937, the government approved of a military operation in Dersim that “resulted in the annihilation of at least 10% of the population[xli] and the Tunceli Law (Tunceli Kanunlari) found thousands of people intentionally dispersed into other villages through the country to reduce the prospect of rebellion.

According to Borzalan, it was not only the Tunceli Law (a law that authorised the deportation of the Dersim population) but also the mass deportation and eventual genocide of Armenians that led to the Dersim rebellion. “They refused to go to war against the Russians during the world war and saved tens of thousands of Armenians from death.”[xlii] Over a decade of peace was suddenly converted to violence after a speech by Mustafa Kemal who pushed for an ‘Internal War of Independence’ against Dersim. It is fair to say that coercive policies in Dersim actually preceded the 1936-1938 rebellion. “A document dating back to January 1930 ordered the assessment of villagers with ‘foreign’ names and ‘foreign’ inhabitants, as well as the dispersion of these ‘foreigners’ over Turkish villages in order to make them Turks… In 1932 a law was passed in Turkish parliament that ordered the deportation and dispersion of Kurds to force their assimilation with ‘Turks’.”[xliii] In 1934, the Settlement Act was created to force an acculturation process particularly in the rural areas of Turkey, but it provided a wide margin of opportunity for authorities to apply coercive means against people by using such ambiguous language like ‘anarchist’ or ‘nomadic gypsy’.

The Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi or the National Action Party (MHP) is a far-right, conservative political group accused of human rights violations against Alevis. Including the Milli Selamet Partisi or the National Salvation Party (MSP) and the MHP youth organisation or ülkücü (idealists), a series of propaganda campaigns and offensive attacks in Sivas in 1978 and Çorum in 1980 led to mass violence and murder.[xliv] Three days in 1978 found 111 dead in the city of Kahramanmaraş after devious political machinations by ultranationalists pushed for the massacre. Such violence against Alevis involved two justifications; their left-wing or Marxist political association and the Kurdish national movement. “If nationalism is formulated in such a system of differences (A: non-A), it tends to destroy heterogeneity. The Other is then seen as the knife on the throat of the Nation.”[xlv] Türk Ameler Birliği (Turkish Workers’Union) became the first active organisation for the Alevis during the 1960’s, until replaced with Turtseverler Birliği (Patriots Union) that is affiliated with the Birlik Partisi (Union Party) in Turkey. Türkiye Komünist Partisi/Markist-Leninist or the Communist Party of Turkey/Markist-Leninist had a strong influence amongst Alevis, particularly in the Dersim region. With an increase of internal division against dedes for exploiting the community and hopelessness amongst the Alevi youth, Markist ideology became a better alternative to both Kemalism and Alevism in order to provide social unity and challenge the domination and nationalism sweeping through Turkey. “The mechanisms of domination that once were sufficient to manage the inter-community based conflicts declined, thus giving birth to massive violence, radical modes of expression and transformation of symbolic values and resources into key elements of mobilisation.”[xlvi] As Islamism began to be visually and socially perceptive, so did the growth of Alevi identity due to particularly to the restrictions that only non-Turkish (such as Kurds or Arabs) or non-Sunni (such as Alevi) were forced to experience. As the power of the left declined, it opportuned a new and modern communalism with the Alevi community.

The Jandarma, or the Turkish National Police, is a paramilitary force working under the Interior Ministry who primarily function in urban areas, particularly south-eastern Turkey. Riddled with corruption, the Jandarma are blamed for violence and torture among other abuses. “’Disappearances’ and extra-judicial executions took hundreds of lives in the 1990’s.”[xlvii] In 1995, the leader of the TKP/ML Party, Hasan Ocak, disappeared and was later found brutally murdered after being tortured. There is evidence that proved he was detained by police before his body was found.[xlviii] International and domestic human rights organisations claim that freedom of expression and human rights have been continuously undermined because of hidden but coercive violence against civilians, particularly Alevis and Kurds, which is clearly domination by the State who promote social cohesion through violence and fear or nationalism through human rights abuses. Organisations such as the TIHV (Türkiye Insan Haklari Vakfi) or the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and the IHD (Insan Haklari Derneği) have documented both the scale of torture and the violent methods used by the military and police. The obvious use of excessive force resulted from the shift in political and social ideology particularly with the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis (Türk-Islam Sentezi) that developed following the military coup in 1980 that found several politicians, including Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, executed for high treason.

In order to deal with the social and political upheaval and several years of military rule, the Enlightenment Hearths (Aydinlar Ocaklari) were a group of political, business and academic elites who developed the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis as an apparent way to tackle the mounting left-wing activism and by promoting a national religious culture. “After the 1980 coup, where the military took control of power for three years, found military leaders adopted new policies directly inspired by the Türk-Islam Sentezi, which aimed at switching Alevi identity to Sunni identity.”[xlix] It was introduced in the referendum of the new constitution as a form of social cohesion or Unitarian nationalism to tackle the economic and social problems, thus the government decided to manage the social upheaval by inducing further national solidity; to create a national and secular Turkey with Sunni Islam as the predominate religion. Ethnic and religious diversity was reversed to exclusion or assimilation. Legislators immediately began imposing Sunni Islamic religious ideals (sunnification) within predominately Alevi communities, such as building mosques in Alevi villages. This appears contrary to Kemalism that believed the Ottoman Islamic structure to be feudal and backward, where secularisation and modernisation was supposed to gradually diminish Ottoman influence, hence the radical changes in dress code and other legal frameworks. It is for this reason that Alevis have re-created the alliance with Kemalism, claiming that these structural changes are anti-Kemalist and the return to Sunni domination. Kemalism was reconstructed to tackle both the accelerating economic and social change vis-à-vis the rapidly expanding industrialisation process, together with the advancing ultranationalist groups who were attempting to gain public support after the coup d’etat.[l]

It cannot be denied that nationalism has provided the justification for “othering” Alevi and Kurdish groups, yet far-right radicalism in Turkey also became religiously compelled. Ultranationalists like the MHP appealed to Sunni Islamic Orthodoxy as a predominant method of symbolic legitimisation. Turkish nationalists and conservatives began to associate a dialectical synthesis with Islam, and while history can be used  to under the positive and negative aspects of the process of historical development, when linked with nationalism, can also be used as a hegemonic tool. For instance, a mob of Islamists (and authorities) were incited to violence in Sivas following Friday prayers and set fire to the Madimak Hotel where the Alevi Pir Sultan Abdal Kültür association arranged a cultural festival. Police and security forces deliberately did nothing to protect the 37 people who died in the fire. The same could easily be said for the violent reaction by police to contain a protest in Gazi (Gaziosmanpaşa) after the drive-by shootings at Doğu Coffeehouse in a predominately Alevi neighbourhood in Istanbul, where police randomly shot into the crowd and killed 15 people. “This conflict was highlighted in January 2005, when Alevis in Ankara applied for permit to build a cemevi. The Diyanet responded that the cem house was unnecessary, because they could worship at a mosque instead. In May 2006, the Diyanet President rejected offering financial support for cemevis on the grounds that the DIB lacked funds for “supporting mystical worship.”[li] The Department of Religious Affairs in Turkey now has one of the highest budgets (approx. $US1Billion).


 

Conclusion

Turkey has undergone a massive transformation and in the process has developed a national ideology with a strong emphasis on modernisation. Ziya Gölkalp became the leading figure who influence the ambitions of the Young Turks (Committee of Union and Profess) and their nationalist plight to eliminate religion in political and social life, in particular Mustapha Kemal Atatürk (Father of the Turks). After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey was declared a Republic on October 29, 1923 under the leadership of Atatürk who sought to reform the country and create a modern nation-state. Consequently, many dervish orders were closed and assimilation policies were implemented throughout Turkey. Alevis and other minority groups experienced discrimination and violence that has consequently opened dialogue on the politics of recognition. The complex internal dynamics of Turkey society has led the Alevis to declare that they do not want a minority status, but seek only to be recognised as having a legitmate religion. Thus, they are faced with the requirement to scriptualise their oral tradition and consequently effectuate a theological doctrine. By codifying their oral tradition, they will not only transform Alevism into a systematic set of beliefs – something they in principle are not – but will condense their traditional methods of religious association, which developed over hundreds of years.

The Fertile Crescent has been the centre for many powerful and exclusive civilisations, while also home to the Alevi (Turkey), Alawi (Syrian), Druze (Lebanon), Ahl-q Haqq (Iran) and Yazidi (Iraq) that worship a unique form of Islam with a blend of Pagan, Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Christian influences. With increased migration into Europe and Turkey’s potential accession into the European Union, questions about the status of minorities have been raised. In 1992, Alevi intellectuals wrote a manifesto asking for political legitimacy by the Diyanet Işleri Başkanligi (Directorate of Religious Affairs), yet they remain officially unrecognised the by government.[lii] Accordingly, suspicion is only increasing and these doubts are justified by the 2007 election results. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) received the majority vote while the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – the centre-left Kemalist party – came second on the national polls. Nevetherless, a close third was the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the ultra-nationalist party accused of neo-fascism with just over five million votes, nearly three million more than in 2002. That is five million votes too much.

Although the Alevis have remained under the control of the Sunni majority in Turkey, the Alawi of Syria have transformed from a persecuted and impoverished minority to a leading political and military power. Former power-relations began to dissolve particularly in the urban context that transformed Syria into a new political force. Unlike Turkey, who sought to repress minorities in Syria were encouraged to participate politically in order to reduce the strength of the growing Islamist position. “The French had encouraged minority recruitment as a means to counter the nationalist tendencies of the Arab-Sunni majority and to secure the alliance of the minority communities.”[i] Union with Egypt interrupted state politics that eventually paved the way for the Ba’th party to sweep into power, and though only a minority group statistically at 12% of the Syrian population, the Alawi held most of the majority posts and were represented only second to the majority Sunni population in the government.

 

 

[i] Itamar Rabonvich, “The Compact Minorities and the Syrian State, 1918-1945” Journal of Contemporary History 14:4 (Oct 1979) 703
[ii] Ibid., 694
[iii] Paul J White and Joost Jongerden, Turkey’s Alevi Enigma: A Comprehensive Overview, (Boston: Brill, 2003) 55
[iv] Daniel Pipes, “The Alawi Capture of Power in Syria” Middle Eastern Studies 25:4 (Oct 1989) pp 434-435
[v] Elisabeth Ozdalga, Tord Olsson and Catharina Raudvere, Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives (Stockholm: Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, 1998) 167. The Alawites were persecuted from the beginning of the Mamluks which consequently forced them into the mountainous regions of Latakia.
[vi] Ibid., 152
[vii] Ibid., 165. Alexandretta/Hatay were incorporated into Turkey in 1939 after the French made a compromise with the Turkish government. The region has a sizeable portion of Alawites.
[viii] Mahmud A. Faksh, “The Alawi Community of Syria: A New Dminant Political Force” Middle Eastern Studies 20:2 (April 1984) 133-153. Although Latakia received most of the funding and improved more than any other region, it is claimed that Latakia was given priority because of its impoverished and rural situation rather than it being predominately Alawi. Whether this is true or not remains unknown.
[ix] Ibid., 140
[x] Rabanovich, op. cit., pp 695-696
[xi] Ibid., 699
[xii] Ibid., 703
[xiii] Daniel Pipes. “The Alawi Capture of Power in Syria” Middle Eastern Studies 25:4 (Oct 1989) 429-450
[xiv] Rabinovich, op. cit., pp 695-696
[xv] Faksh, op.cit., 139. This was also followed by the Druze rebellion in 1954; the Druze or Ahl- al-Tawid are populated mostly in Syria and follow Ismaili Shi’i Islam, but are not like the Alawi as they are officially recognised as Muslims.
[xvi] Michael H. Van Dusen, “Political Integration and Regionalism in Syria,” Middle East Journal 26:2 (Spring 1972) 132
[xvii] Faksh, op. cit., 141
[xviii] Dusen, op. cit., 135
[xix] Ibid., 124
[xx] Ibid., 129
[xxi] Pipes, op. cit., 440
[xxii] Ibid., 430
[xxiii] Ibid., 441
[xxiv] Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, op. cit., 161
[xxv] Ibid., 167
[xxvi] Faksh, op. cit., 145
[xxvii] Andrew Davison, Secularism and Revivalism in Turkey: A Hermeneutic Reconsideration (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998) 92
[xxviii] Ibid., 97
[xxix] Alan Mcfarlane, “Louis Dumont and the Origins of Individualism” Cambridge Anthropology 16:1 (1993) 3
[xxx] David Shankland, The Turkish Republic at Seventy-Five Years. (Cambridgeshire: The Eothen Press, 1999) 60
[xxxi] Ibid., 58
[xxxii] Erhand Franz, Population Policy in Turkey: Family Planning and Migration between 1960 and 1992 (Hamburg: Deutsches Orient-Instit, 1994) 221
[xxxiii] Ibid., 222
[xxxiv] Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, op. cit., 107
[xxxv] White and Jongerden, op. cit., 57
[xxxvi] Ibid., 59. “The entire order was governed by Celebi, who resided in the mother-monastery (pir-evi) Haci Bektas, constructed over the saint’s tomb (between Kirsehir and Kayseri).”
[xxxvii] Ibid., 60
[xxxviii] Ibid., 3
[xxxix] Ibid., 56
[xl] Ibid., 26
[xli] Ibid., 66
[xlii] Ibid., 10
[xliii] Ibid., 77-78
[xliv] Ibid., 83
[xlv] Ibid., 84
[xlvi] Ibid., 14. Abdullah Ocalan is a prominent figure in the Kurdish domain who in 1974 established the PKK under Marxist ideology.
[xlvii] Ibid., 71
[xlviii] Ibid., 86
[xlix] Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, op. cit., 80
[l] Ibid., 7
[li] David Shankland, op. cit., 65
[lii] Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, Op. Cit., 127

Islamic Mysticism in the Near Eastern Region

The syncrestic religious groups in the Near East have adopted oral methods of transmission and maintain a particular level of secrecy due to the esoteric content of their faith and the consequent risk of persecution. Most members of the syncretistic religions are often left uninformed about their beliefs, yet they distinctly class themselves as religious adherents to Islam. Similarities between their traditions include their close relationship with Shi’ism, particularly Ismail’i, while also singing, dancing or chanting to hymns and poetry. Pre-Islamic traditions by the Turcoman tribes, Nestorian Christianity and even Buddhism together with the accompaniment of Persian and Zoroastrian beliefs all working within the social complexity of isolation, diaspora and migration for religious heresy adds to this intricacy. It is said that the steady conversion of many Christians in Anatolia to Islam introduced Gnostic elements that spawned the creation of a unique community of Muslims. Parallels between Near Eastern syncrestictic cosmogony and Christianity can perhaps be dated back to the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 that generated the gradual migration and invasion of Anatolia by the Turks, while the Oghuz people under the Seljuk’s expanded their population until the region became predominately Turkish. Although cosmogonic traditions vary between each heterodox group in and around the Fertile Crescent and Anatolia, religious views of angels and the universe together with accounts of the symbolic and mythological tales about God or the Divine Essence provide evidence of their unique similarities. Persecution by the Ottoman Empire for their religious heterodoxy isolated and ultimately developed a unique community and an orally transmitted tradition. It is important to elucidate the basic tenets of these heterodox communities within and around the Fertile Crescent in order to compare their unique relationship to one another.


Bektaşi – Turkey

The Bektaşi are a Sufi dervish order originating from the Balkan region who acknowledge the twelve Imam’s (Twelver Shi’i) and venerate both ‘Ali and the sixth Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq.[1] The tarikat or Bektaşi Brotherhood particularly view Haci Bektaş Veli as a saint. Haci Bektaş Veli was a Persian mystic from the 13th century and author of the Makalat, his own discourses and teachings that were religiously and spiritually progressive for his time, particularly since he was sympathetic to the poor living conditions and the rights of women.[2] It is often claimed that Haci Bektaş Veli fought against Arab influence over Islam and attempted to release the oppressed rural and impoverished from the exploitation by the elite, preaching “[a] version of Islam which synthesized Sunni and Shi’i beliefs with Muslim and Christian religious practices.”[3] There are claims that Mustapha Kemal was himself a Bektaşi that consequently established a strong political link between the Bektaşi and the Kemalists, but the legitimacy of the argument is weak.

Although similarities between Alevi and Bektaşi exist particularly because of the mystic Haci Bektaş and Pir Sultan Abdal whom they both revere,[4] there are clear differences. “Her ne kadar, Bektaşi ve Alevi, her iki topluluk da, kendilerini Haci Bektaş’a bagliyor ve ayni kokenden geliyor olsalar da, erkan oldukca farklidir.”[5] Unlike the Alevis who were persecuted and consequently isolated, the Bektaşi Order had considerable protection by the Ottomans and contact with the administration.[6 Bektaşi leadership can be offered upon completion of a degree and while being more theologically scriptualised or codified, any person who wishes to join the order are permitted to convert, a clear difference to Alevis who must be a talip or belong to a dede lineage. “Alevism and Bektaşism share neither the same geographical frameworks nor possess the same internal mechanisms and rules… Bektaşism is dominantly Balkan, while Alevism finds its origins in Anatolia. Bektaşism has been mainly urban, while the Alevism was, until recently, mainly rural.”[7]

While most social and religious duties are held by a dede who guides the various prayers and rituals at the cem house, the head of a tekke (dervish lodge) is led by a baba.[8] The tekke at Hacibektaş was once a place of ritual servitude but has now become a museum and a place of ceremonial gathering. It contains the monastery (maydin evi) which is where most of the services are held, but it also has an ekmek evi that includes the women’s quarters and a bake house (or an aş evi which is the kitchen) as well as an area for guests staying at the lodge (mihman evi).[9] Their religious beliefs incorporate a unique blend of Islamic and Christian elements, such as tying Muhammad, ‘Ali and Allah into a trinity or distributing wine, bread and cheese to new members (murshid or aşik), which is “probably a survival of the Holy Communion as practiced by the Artotyrites.”[10] The Bektaşi distinguish rank through the number of folds in their white cap. “The number four symbolises the “four gates”: shari’a [şeriyat], tarika, ma’rifa, hakika and the four corresponding classes of people: ‘abid, zahid, ‘arif, muhibb; the number twelve points to the number of imams. Particularly characteristic are also the twelve-fluted taslim taşi, which is worn around the neck, and the teber (double-axe).”[11]

As mentioned, the Bektaşi had considerable protection by the Ottoman Empire particularly because the Janissaries appreciated the similarity the order had with Christianity. Esra Ozyurek states that between the 16th and the 19th centuries, the Ottomans embraced the Bektaşi Order and made it the central religious organisation of the Janissaries, until 1826 when many Janissaries were killed and the Bektaşi Order made illegal. Like the Alevi, the Bektaşi allow women to participate in rituals and often sing and dance to hymns, bestowing great favour to ‘Ali and also Shah Isma’il among others. A translated version of a nefes poem is as follows:

I took the mirror to my face
Ali appeared to my eye…
He is Jesus and Christ
He is the refuge to the believers
He is the Shah of the two worlds
Ali appeared to my eye
Ali is the pure, Ali is the clean
Ali is the hidden, Ali is the manifest
Ali is the first, Ali is the last
Ali appeared to my eye
Ali is the life, Ali is the Beloved
Ali is the religion, Ali is the belief
Ali is the merciful, Ali is the compassionate
Ali appeared to my eye.[12]


Alawi – Syria

The endeavour to further understand the Alawi (traditional known as Nusayr’i) of Syria has increased over recent decades, particularly because most of the political and military elite are from an Alawi background. An ethnic minority numbering three million, the Alawis are mainly populated around the rural mountains of the Latakia region in Syria (75%) with a small proportion in urban cities of Syria; they can also be found in Lebanon and Israel (after the capture of the Golan Heights). Groups of Arab speaking Alevis who distinctly trace their lineage to the Alawi in Syria are located in southern Turkey (particularly Hatay and Adana) and though they share a similar name and other practices, the Alawi in Turkey do not correspond or affiliate with the Alevis of Anatolia.

Like many of the heterodox communities, little is known of their origin and mixed views are often reiterated, although it has been claimed that the Alawi are remnants of the ancient Canaanite people who were influence by Christianity and Isma’iliyyah Islam before adopting Arabic as their primary language.[13] It has been claimed that the sect developed during the mid-ninth century in Iraq under Muhammad B. Nusayr al-Namiri who revered the tenth Shi’i Imam[14], yet unlike the Anatolian Alevis who were Turcoman that converted to Islam, the Alawis were Arabs that similarly converted. “The Alawites in Syria… had already established their religious sect during the tenth century in Jabal Ansariyya near Latakia. Their secret faith is described as a blend of ancient Syrian or Phoenician paganism (mainly the worship of the triad: the sun, the moon and the stars or sky), possibly influence by various Christian Trinitarianism… and largely manifested in a Shi’i-Ismaili fashion with adherence to Imam Ali, Prophet Muhammad’s first cousin and son-in-law, and to Salman al-Farisi, one of Mohammad’s Persian followers.[15]

Because of their esoteric religious beliefs, the Alawi have experiences centuries of poverty, isolation and persecution by the Sunni elite in the region. The greater risk of violence forced the Alawi to practice taqiya much more rigorously than Alevis. The use of particular codes or jargon in their scriptures can only be understood by the initiated who are orally taught the socio-dialect and the meaning behind the content, while some manuscripts have little information about the divine charactic of ‘Ali, though it is widely known to be an integral part of Alawi belief. Most Alawi members are often excluded from the traditions and practices, especially women who are considered incapable of comprehending the vast scale of their beliefs. Sulaiman Efendi al-Adhani (b. 1834/1835) published the kitab al-bakurat as-Sulaimaniya fi kashf asrar ad-diyanat an-nusairya that discusses the origin of myth in Alawi tradition and contains narrative accounts of their cosmological structure and ideas.[16] According to Alawi beliefs, God revealed himself to the world seven times, each time as a different figure accompanied by two others.[17] With the divine triad and the transmigration of souls, it is believed that ‘Ali was thus an incarnation of God, accompanied by Muhammad and Salman al-Farsi.[18] Tord Olsson provides some valuable information about the religious doctrines and esoteric content of the Alawi community that is gradually slipping into the hands of researchers.

Q[uestion] 1: Who is our Lord, who has created us?
A[nswer]: He is our master, the commander of the faith, the prince of the bees, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, and he is god, of whom (it holds true that) there is no god except him, the merciful, the compassionate.[19]

The initiated can only be male and both his parents must also be Alawi. Both the Shi’i and Alawi regard Nahj al-Balagha (Peak of Eloquence), a collection of sermons and sayings written by or attributed to Ali, as critical to their religious beliefs. A dede is quite different to a hoca used in Alawi communities, particularly southern Turkey. A dede practices tarikat while a hoca would prefer the practice of şeriyat. Anyone can become a hoca and often learn or teach in Arabic, while a dede must be born into a family lineage. “They have additional specialized functions: a hoca reads the nikah before the consummation of a marriage and it is a hoca who leads the burial service cenaze and intones hymns, ilahi, over the body as it is laid to earth.”[20]

The community are split into four tribal divisions or associations, namely Khayyatun, Haddadun, Matawirah and Kalbiyyah.[21] While only men can be initiated into Alawi rites, there are no particular patrimonial or lineage requirements and any Alawi man can be initiated to become a tribal leader; most tribal leaders still retain a level of power amongst the rural and uneducated. The Alawi communities in the urban or coastal areas in Syria are fragmented, particularly because of their loose tribal associations and their previous dominance by the Sunni or Christian elite, sharply contrasting with the Alawi tribes in the mountainous regions who hold stronger tribal and religious ties. Nevertheless, the last several decades have shown a new and emerging Alawi community developing in both rural and urban environments, particularly due to education and career opportunities, something I shall further elucidate in another post.


Ahl-e Haqq – Iran

The Ahl-e Haqq (or Yarsan) is an Iranian based esoteric community primarily situated in western Iran, but also Iraq and Turkey, while being scattered amongst the mountains in Geran, Kermanshahan and western Azerbayjan. Most adherents are from a Kurdish or Lak (an ethnically unique Persian group closely related to Kurdish) ethnicity. It is difficult to determine the exact genesis of the religious order and white it is generally agreed that they began under the leadership of Sultan Sahak during the late 14th or early 15th century, there are hardly any sources that can directly prove this.[22] Similar to Alevis, the Ahl-e Haqq believe in the interconnectedness of ‘alam-i batin (inner world) and ‘alam-i zahir (outer world).[23] Like most of the syncretistic religions of the Near East, the Ahl-e Haqq believe in dunudunu or the transmigration of souls as well as mazhariyyat or the manifestation of the divine essence (God or zat-I haqq) in human beings. “The division of beings into two distinct categories is perhaps a later development of Zoroastrian ideas. The sacrifice of the cock has been several times connected with the corresponding Jewish rite, while the biblical names (Dawud, Musi) may have come through the intermediary of the Qu’ran.”[24] The etymology of the name Ahl-e Haqq translates to, ‘followers, or people of the truth, the divinity.’[25] Unlike the Alawi who worship ‘Ali and revere Sultan Sahak (who is also used as an avatar in Yezidi traditional commentary), conversely the Ahl-e Haqq worship Sultan Sahak and revere ‘Ali.

The Ahl-e Haqq texts such as the Tadhkira’i A’la, the Shah-nama-ye Haqiqat and the Ilam-e Haqiqat explain tales of the genesis of the universe together with the light of God. It also similarly speaks of the ‘pearl’ that the Yezidi use to describe the divine essence. Zat-I haqq or the divine essence was originally hidden in a pearl in the ocean of the universe, and this divine essence transformed into Khavandgar (creator) in the first cycle of divine manifestation (the decond is ‘Ali before the cyclic cosmogony establishes the shari’at (Islamic law), the tariqat (ritual teachings) and ma’rifat (knowledge of divine reality) until finally manifesting in Sultan Sahak who established Ahl-e Haqq.[26] A collection of kalam (sacred hymns) can be found in the book Kalam-i Saranjam (conclusion) sid to be written by the angel Pir Musi, a companion of Sultan Sahak who was charged with recording the actions and behaviour of people, though this elusive text written in Gurani is difficult to obtain.[27] Like the Alevis, the Ahl-e Haqq do not follow the pillars of Islam and have instead adopted their own methods of ritual and practice. “Instead they have their own sacred universe and their own rituals, which centre on the jam (lit., assembly) when they chant their sacred hymns (kalam), play their sacred lute (tanbur), make offerings of food, and share a sacrificial meal,” while adhering to religious secrecy or sir (mystery).”[28]

The Ahl-e Haqq have sayyids or direct descendants of Sultan Sahak and have eleven different holy lineages called khandan (house) each headed by a pir.[29] What differentiates them from other syncretistic religions, however, is that common members of the community can obtain high-ranking religious positions while not obtained the sacred texts, instead relying on a kalam-khan or one who can recite the kalam orally without the text.[30] Publication of Borhan al-Haqq (demonstration of truth) by Nur Ali Elahi, a Persian jurist and philosopher, describes the historical and theological of the Ahl-e Haqq and provides valuable information about their rituals, rites and beliefs.


Yazidi – Iraq

Most Yazidi reside in the province of Mosul, settling particularly in the mountainous areas of Jabal Sinjar and Shaikhan, and while most Yazidi communicate officially in Kurdish, small communities can be found in Armenia, Georgia, Syria and Turkey.[31] The Yazidi believe in unique cosmogony and myths about the genesis of the universe, angels and prophets, since their “[t]heology and mythology, particularly cosmogony, show traces of a non-Islamic tradition which may be of ancient Iranian origin.”[32] Like most heterodox communities, the Yazidi were separated and persecuted from the Muslim world that intensified during the Ottoman period through their centralisation and sunnification policies against heterodox communities. It is difficult to trace the historical emergence of Yazidism, but “[i]t seems that Yazidism, an indigenous Kurdish faith influence by Zoroastrism, was revived by ‘Adi b. Musafir (c. 1075 – 1162), an Arab Sufi shaikh whom the Yazidi regard as the saintly founder of their religion.”[33] Like many of the hetrodox communities, hymn (kawl) are often used to orally channel their affection for the prophets and saints and illustrate their religious beliefs.

The Yazidi believe in the one God and seven archangels, haft surr or the “Seven Mysteries”.[34] The most revered archangel is the Ta’use-e Malak (Peacock Angel). The peacock angel known also as Melek Tawus or Azra’il has been labelled seytan (devil) by the wider Islamic community, although the Yazidi deny this assertion. They believe that human beings were created through Adam, without Eve, claiming that while “Christians, Jews and Muslims were sprung from Adam and Eve, their own patriarchs were descendants of a certain Shahid, the son of Adam alone”.[35] The Yazidi text, Meshef Resh, tells the tale of how God created the White Pearl and the bird Enfer, before the haft surr are formed through this white pearl sitting on the back of Enfer. The Yazidi sharply contrast the love for ‘Ali unlike most of the other syncretistic religions, instead venerating Yazid b. Mu’awiya (particularly in Sinjar), the second Ummayad Caliph and son of Muawiya B. Abi Sufyan, known to be the cause of the martyrdom of Hasan and Huseyin.[36]

It was once prohibited to read and write amongst the Yazidi that consequently created a unique oral and syncretistic tradition encapsulated within a tribal and hereditary social order with strong ties to kinship; the Yazidi hierarchical divisions also include the requirement or custom to only marry within the tribe. Worldwide horror at the violent death of a young Yazidi girl, stoned by the community due to her apparent intentions to marry a non-Yazidi and filmed on camera by the youths present, expose the simplicity to breach moral law because of such a custom. There are bavs or bras (tribal sections) that function as the main political units for the Yazidi.


Druze – Lebanon

Similar to the Alawi, many members of the Druze community are unaware of the secret doctrines of the religion and only those who are initiated are allowed to learn the esoteric content of their unique faith. Persecution forced the Druze to isolate themselves in rural or mountainous areas of southern Lebanon where their religion flourished and spread to Israel (Galilee) and Syria (Aleppo). The Druze religion began in the 11th-century during the Fatamid empire under the leadership of Hamza ibn-Ali, where in Cairo the Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah became revered as an incarnation of God.[37] As the Druze believe in the transmigration of souls, they claim that successive reincarnations of al-Hakim will gradually allow him to return and re-establish the Druze movement. The Druze have combined their belief in the ta’wil (esoteric secrecy) and the tanzil (outer meaning) through their reverence of al-Hakim who, along with Hamza ibn ‘Ali after establishing missionaries within the Fatamid Empire, disappeared.[38] Leadership was later given to al-Muqtana Baha ad-Din whose collected writings and epistles together with those of Hamza ibn ‘Ali developed the foundation of Druze scriptures, even though persecution turned the order into a secret religion.[39] “Like Druze, Shi’a and Alawis they [Alevi] practiced dissimulation and secrecy about their religion (taqiya).”[40]

The dynamics of contemporary Druze communities are highly individualised, whereby “[e]veryone “knew” or interpreted the meaning or function of every social interaction… everyone was enmeshed in it.”[41] There are hierarchical divisions in traditional Druze communities, not only between the initiated or the ‘uqqal (sage) and the non-initiated or juhhal (ignorant), but also spiritual hierarchies amongst the ‘uqqal.[42] The juhhal have no spiritual obligation and merely adhere to the basic tenets of communal obligation, while the ‘uqqal work as mediators if there are any social conflicts. They are highly respected for being the guardians of the esoteric and secret content. “Through their attendance at meetings in the khilwe (prayer house) on Thursday and sometimes Sunday evenings, the ‘uqqal are responsible for maintaining the spiritual well-being of the community in which they live.”[43] Spiritual hierarchies amongst the ‘uqqal or okhtyar (old man) – who must wear distinct clothing with a laffi (red and white turban) – can be observed by the wearing of the headdress and whether one has a beard or moustache. Since the Druze believe in transmigration of the soul, women are viewed to play a crucial role in birth and the transcendental process of reincarnation, although they are not particularly allowed to participate in initiation or religious hierarchy.

[1] C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Op. Cit., 1162
[2] Ibid., 1162
[3] Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, op. cit., 152
[4] Irene Melikoff, Haci Bektas Efsaneden Gercege Ceviren: Turan Alptekin (Istanbul: Cumhuriet Kitaplari, 2004) 290. Pir Sultan Abdal is a famous poet – “Hatai etkileyici ve surukleyici (charismatique) bir kisilik olmakla birlikte, Betasi-Alevi sairler icinde en taninan vee n evilen suphesiz Pir Sultan Adbal’dir.”
[5] Ibid., 255
[6] Stewart, op. cit., 135
[7] Ibid., 177
[8] Mahmud Faksh. “The Alawi Community of Syria: A New Dominant Political Force.” Middle Eastern Studies 20 (1984): 133–153
[9] C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Op. Cit., 1162
[10]Ibid., 1162
[11]Ibid., 1162
[12]Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, op. cit., 152
[13] Faksh, op. cit., 135
[14] C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Op. Cit., 146
[15] Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, op. cit., 152
[16] Ibid., 177
[17] Faksh, op. cit., 135
[18] Ibid., 135. Salman al-Farsi was a companion of the prophet Mohammad.
[19] The sources are from the kitab ta’lim diyanat an-nusairiya.
[20] White and Jongerden, op. cit., 44
[21] Faksh, op. cit., 137
[22] Hosseini, Z. Mir, “Inner Truth and Outer History: The Two World of the Ahl-I Haqq of Kurdistan” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 26 (1994) 268
[23] Ibid., 267
[24] C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Op. Cit., 263
[25] Hosseini, op. cit., 267
[26] Ibid., 271
[27] Ibid., 268
[28] Ibid., 268
[29] Ibid., 270
[30] Ibid., 270
[31] Fuccaro, Nelida. “Communalism and the State in Iraq: Yazidi Kurds (c1869 – 1940) Middle Eastern Studies (35:2, 1999) 1.
[32] C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Op. Cit., 314
[33] Fuccaro, op. cit., 10
[34] Ibid., 314
[35] Driver, op. cit., 201
[36] Fuccaro, op. cit., 15
[37] J. Oppenheimer, “Culture and Politics in Druze Ethnicity”, 1:3 (1977) 623
[38] Ibid., 623
[39] Ibid., 623
[40] Zeidan, op. cit., 2
[41] Louise E. Sweet, “Visiting Patterns and Social Dynamics in Eastern Mediterranean Communities” Anthropological Quarterly, 47:1 (Jan., 1974) 113
[42] Oppenheimer, op. cit., 624
[43] Ibid., 624

Dante: Love That Moves The Sun And Other Stars

What is love when no one understands you, when no one can see you for who you are? Esse Est Percipi, ‘To be is to be perceived’ as said by G. Berkeley.

Is the sadness you feel real when no one is there to comfort you, when you are alone and lying in bed thinking about how those that have hurt you are completely oblivious to such an experience, perhaps on the contrary where they believe that no wrongdoing exists at all? What happens when you speak of the wrongdoing and they deny you, perhaps reverse this and claim that you are the one with the problem, competing with you to prove they were right and settle the anxiety they feel for their own falsehoods? Playing games to make themselves believe that they are somehow better than you. Is this why when faced with facts they are suddenly stirred with an emotive viciousness that increases as though the louder and more assertive they are, the more right they become and the more people they gather to agree with them, the more likely you will be silenced? And is it the reason why we appreciate the truth with greater clarity when it is uttered through lies, fictitious stories and parables that explain moral symbols that become the hermeneutic source for our subjective capacity to interpret facts without confronting the harsh and abrupt reality of our own failures?

I spent my childhood wishing for a friend that never arrived and my tenderness and love remained protected by the isolation I endured as I hid away from those contemptible enough to enjoy tricking and humiliating me, laughing at my vulnerability and frightening me. The pain even greater when I hoped for kindness that I never received, as though I were manoeuvring through a hellish purgatory, wandering and wondering if there is anyone out there that can genuinely love. For Dante, this is symbolic of what we experience when we become conscious of love and his Divine Comedy is a poetic allegory that divides such an existential reality into what becomes the three stages of our soul’s journey towards God. The Inferno is that moment of consciousness, where one awakens to a reality where our actions and failures or sins become transparent as well as our aloneness on this dark journey towards hell. As we uncover our own self-deception, we see the treachery in others and the lies and games of those within our environment who pretend to goodness when they only seek the indulgences of this false reality. It is only when one admits to this fraudulence and seeks repentance, to apologise for our own misconduct and become morally conscious that enables an escape from hell and ascend toward Purgatorio, the mountain on which we begin to climb toward heaven in order to see the difference between what is genuine or pure and what is false. The desire to reach the summit is the motivation that compels us to become honest with ourselves and though lengthy the process and arduous the climb, we purge the soul of sin by attempting to embody true love. Dante means to show that if one would ever find this heavenly peace, it is only possible through love. To put it succinctly, one begins this divine experience when they genuinely fall in love.

My will and my desire were both revolved,
As is a wheel in even motion driven
By Love,
Which moves the sun and other stars.

Dante’ lifelong love was Beatrice and highlighted in his publications including La Vita Nuova that attempts to exemplify the provincial methods of courtly love in medieval Italy. Her presence in the Divine Comedy indicate her position in the symbolic experience of Dante as he traverses through these realms, initially falling into limbo as she prayed for Dante to be saved by Virgil – who embodies a person that is wise with virtuous attributes – during his decent into the Inferno. It is almost like she desired genuine love that Dante was not yet capable of giving and prayed that he would one day come to her as one wise and authentic. His experience in Purgatorio is a necessary step that he needs to make as he reaches out to Paradiso where Beatrice is then able to guide him toward the attainment of virtuous attributes that could make a man wise and constant. Dante believes that this love is divine and one must love another through God where she becomes the symbol that enables him to reach Paradiso as she embodies the desire for him to become a better man. Thus his admiration is not aroused by the physical beauty that she possessed, where such considerations merely compel a man to turn away from God, but for who she is and that led to the awakening and the transparency of his own soul and improved the clarity of his purpose.

She – as the sun who first in love shone warm
Into my heart – had now, by proof and counter proof,
disclosed to me the lovely face of truth.

Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 during the late Middle Ages and wrote the epic masterpiece The Divine Comedy in 1321. Love that moves the sun and other stars is reference to a number of cantos (III – XXXIII) in Paradisio. Dante epitomises the work itself, his biography is found within the cantos as it provides us with the magnificence of his imaginative scope and allusions to his own thoughts and experiences. Highlighting the influence of Beatrice in particular, it also includes figures such as Jesus and St. John along with philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas that helped solidify his faith in God. His family was embroiled in the politics of the time; clashes between rival factions the Ghibellines who were defeated by the Guelphs for which he was a member, soon thereafter found those loyalties broken when Dante was exiled following a division between the Guelphs (Black and White) that led him to be banished for supposed corruption. The treachery he experienced became a part of the Inferno hell that left him disillusioned for the deception and violence he witnessed, his exile the many years that it took through Purgatorio to learn the wisdom to ascertain the difference between right and wrong, all the while Beatrice stood as a beacon or “holy lamp” that helped light his way to the good life. Her death in 1290 was met with pangs of anguish that it almost appears that her place in Paradiso is his lifelong yearning to be with her in what would become his own paradise. Beatrice Portinari is said to have been a woman of virtue and grace, though he briefly met her in advance of his marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati, his later encounter with her clearly indicated that he fell in love and she became the muse for his love ballads, none of which mention his wife.

Dante finds himself travelling through a number of spheres in heaven, represented by astronomical or planetary symbols that allude to a series of virtues. Cantos III, for instance, embarks on a lunar journey to the moon when he confesses of his failures and is born again through the love for Beatrice. She became his saviour, a child that she could help gain steady ground about how to live in God’s love or be attuned to what correctly wills or motivates man to reflect with accuracy. A man can find salvation through a virtuous woman; when being pulled by men set on greater harm then good, she struck him with the splendours of the decency that she attached to her heart. Canto X or the Sphere of the Sun alludes to the light of God, to witness the universe and the power therewith in creation and the universe itself can eclipse the worldly attributes for a moment as Dante gives thanks to the monumental reality of the world above.

And there, entranced, begin to view the skill
The Master demonstrates. Within Himself,
He loves it so, His looking never leaves.
Look! Where those orbits meet, there branches off
The slanting circles that the planets ride
To feed and fill the world that calls on them.

A number of figures enter into the celebration of this epiphany, including King Solomon, St. Thomas Aquinas and Boethius that allude to their place in assisting one to reach this venerable awakening. They are rejoicing for Dante finally becoming aware of the fallaciousness of the world below him and where his soul deep within him begin to burn from the joy of abandoning all the lies that tied him to that false reality. It is followed in Cantos XI with, “Those idiotic strivings of the human mind!” The toil of worldly affairs including politics and law, where Dante finally finds peace in his should within the arms of Beatrice and being up high in the heavenly spheres where his soul rests in the light of truth. Here, Dante speaks of St. Francis who takes a wife and loves her despite the objections of his father and others, that his dedication to love a loyal and courageous woman though many feared her that represents the potential poverty of a life lived in the love for God and that one may be at risk of losing family and friends in the commitment to what is good. But Beatrice remains the defining guide, whereby in Cantos XIV she shows Dante that there is yet more truth that he is required to find within him, the eternal nature of this experience and whether one will remain committed in their love for God. Beatrice grows and becomes more beautiful to Dante when she chooses to join the light, perhaps representative of the longevity and growth of the beauty of love in a virtuous woman that renders the clarity of the experience eternal.

And so my eyes, regaining their strength,
Lifted once more. I saw myself alone,
Borne with my lady to a higher good.
Seeing the flares of laughter in that star,
Which seemed now far more fiery than before,
I knew full well that I’d been lifted higher.

We begin to see through the light of God all that is wonderful and so what we ‘see’ or understand continuously increases as we rise higher through the celestial planes. In Cantos XVII, Dante is still troubled and Beatrice continues to help him shed light on his feelings by prompting a discussion with Cacciaguida about the future and the difficulties he may face as was forewarned by Virgil. Contingency is met with the potential uncertainty for the future and that while one may experience hardships, in faith one will also experience events that are wonderful. It is to be courageous to face the contingency. When they reach Cantos XXIII or the Sphere of the Fixed Stars (Eighth Heaven), Beatrice is compared to a mother bird waiting for the sun, the light of Christ and enraptures all who experience this power to expand their thoughts beyond the horizon. The garden, for which Beatrice instructs Dante to look upon, contains a rose that is the Word of God and he can see Mary in the rose, the “Queen of Heaven” (Regina Coeli). By Cantos XXVII, Dante – despite being further from the earth – can now see the details within it with greater clarity, his mind now free from the false burdens that blinded him from seeing such details, the sins for which Beatrice speaks of when a man misuses his free will. He returns to earth in Cantos XXX, the light of dawn slowly drowning the light of the stars until he turns to see the beauty of Beatrice once more and both reached the Paradiso in one another, transcending the material world through love and wisdom.

As she then was – a guide in word and deed,
Her work all done – she spoke again: ‘We’ve left
The greatest of material spheres, rising
To light, pure light of intellect, all love,
The love of good in truth, all happiness,
A happiness transcending every rapture.

The final Cantos XXXIII, Bernard of Clairvaux praises the love of Mary as the foundation for the rose or the Word of God who helped illuminate Dante with the truth and the happiness that followed. Indeed, as Beatrice returns to her place in the rose, which is symbolic of the Queen and Virgin Mother, epitomises that she has satisfied her love for Dante as he gazes into the light of the Empyrean. He now understands God and what is right and good on earth.

As one who has now ascended to Paradiso, the bliss and happiness of finding the Divine love and waiting to meet someone genuine on this journey of mine, I believe as Dante does that love can only be real when two people experience this transcendence from the material realm, from the hellish Inferno where one becomes aware of the reality where there exists corruption, lies, and all things vicious. By seeking the divine love of God, one can redeem themselves and when guided by love, mirror our moral position to become virtuous and wise. Only then can one return to ‘earth’ and see the world for what it genuinely is. The Divine Comedy remains a powerful poetic bildungsroman, an epic of gigantic proportions that remains the heart of medieval Italy and the Italian language itself.

Book Review: Ethical Writings of Maimonides

For centuries, from Aristotle to Confucius, Aquinas and Thoreau, moral philosophers have endorsed the idea that a balanced, moderate regularity of character is an important step towards genuine happiness, that excess or deficiency of any sort and the failure to attain a principled attitude toward guiding and cultivating the self toward this mean will lead to the reverse. Thus, one who leads a life attempting to walk down this dutiful path toward a balanced and constant frame of mind is demonstrative of a noble and even a superior person. As said by Socrates, “with his eyes fixed on the nature of his soul, naming the worse life that which will tend to make it more unjust and the better that which will make it more just… all other considerations he will dismiss, for we have seen that this is the best choice.”[i] This choice to lead a life of virtue and justice and abandoning all that is vulgar, vulgarity being interpreted as “the masses and the most vulgar seem – not unreasonably – to believe that the good or happiness is pleasure. Accordingly they ask for nothing better than the life of enjoyment,”[ii] will allow one to adopt a standard that will link them closer to what is beautiful, namely love and honesty.

So what constitutes perfect virtue? Is it defined by the strength of individual will? Is it how one determines right from wrong, the capacity to overcome the influence of a defective ego, the intelligence and the confidence to be autonomous by engaging independently with the world around them? Is it to identify and distinguish the kind of moral values that are functional, valuable and aesthetical, of what is prohibited, useful and authentic, to be capable of ascertaining intent and to act on and maximise moral principles? It is simply the strength of will, the capacity to overcome the proclivity of the ego and the wayward pleasures of our instinctual drives, to recognise the scope of the activity of leading a morally virtuous life by searching for the golden mean. It is to be courageous enough to deliberately abandon a false environment and find the veracity and sense of honour to pursue a life of virtue, to maintain and personify it. “True virtue can only be grafted onto principles, such that the more general they are, the more sublime and noble they become,”[iii] thus distinguishing between the subjective aesthetic toward a universal aesthetic, the former having the possible inclination to waywardness as it remains dependant on the moral disposition of the individual.

It is for this reason that the disposition of the individual and obtaining the correct character traits necessary to reach true virtue is indispensable. Moses Maimonides discussed in detail the importance of this mean in several of his works including Hilkhot De’ot or the Laws Concerning Character Traits and Eight Chapters aside from his more famed work in Guide of the Perplexed. All of which can be found in the Ethical Writings of Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon), edited by Raymond L. Weiss with Charles Butterworth. Maimonides (1138 – 1204) was born in Cordoba, during the short-lived Moorish Almoravid Dynasty that ruled over present-day Morocco and Spain. Known as Rambam, he trained as a physician that later enabled him to become court physician to the Sultan Saladin and was well versed in medicine both in reading and in writing. His writings stretched out to include Rabbinic Law and Jewish Philosophy and his influence as a scholar has maintained his place as authoritative figure in Jewish law and ethics. His metaphysical and epistemological writings are included in his prolific repertoire but his studies on ethics and virtue exemplify the type of obedience and dedication required to preserve the divine wisdom and the t’amei ha-mitzvot that explained the reasons for the commandments.

According to Maimonides, there exists two types of moral standards in an individual, namely those that are pious and those that attempt to find the golden mean, the former considered to be obligatory since such a characteristic is required to encourage the subjective poise required to engage in the middle way.[iv] In his Laws Concerning Character Traits (27-59), he traverses through eleven commandments that attempt to direct one toward the equilibrium required to reach a state of moral virtue that epitomises the ‘right way’ or as said by Solomon, “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.”[v] All people have different character traits, different personalities and dispositions, whereby one person may have the calm that another may not as they become intensely angered and impatient. One can be lazy and gluttonous while another ascetic by nature. Maimonides writes about eleven commandments that include 1. to imitate God, 2. to cleave to those who know of God, 3. to love your neighbours, 4. to love converts to God, 5. not to hate brothers, 6. to rebuke, 7. not to put (anyone) to shame, 8. not to afflict the distressed, 9. not to go about as a talebearer, 10. not to take revenge, 11. not to bear a grudge. “The right way is the mean in every single one of a man’s character traits” (29). The golden mean is to find the balance toward establishing a good character indicated by the way they conduct their affairs, by being humble and loving. It is to reach for ‘wisdom’ by finding the mean between the extremes of our character traits before sensibly and continuously practicing until it becomes firmly established.

For Maimonides, it is wisdom to walk in the way of God, to seek the path that leads to God and therefore replicate the virtues or commandments and test your obedience to God as exemplified in the Old Testament. To become “slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, just and righteous, perfect, powerful and strong… and a man is obliged to train himself to follow them and to imitate according to his strength.”[vi] It is to uproot the flaws that one may have and ‘cure’ the ailment of immorality by training oneself to understand opposites. If one is wealthy and has a conceited attitude, he should clothe himself in worn-out, shabby garments that will endure him with much degradation until the haughtiness has left him and he is humbled. Whatever the problem may be that causes one to lose the way of this required balance, the individual should move themselves toward the other end of the same extreme until reaching that unaffected balance. As said by David Hume, “[t]he richest genius, like the most fertile soil, when uncultivated, shoots up into the rankest weeds.”[vii]

Although he discusses aspects of one’s personal conduct, including the way that one may eat or drink, sleep and have sexual intercourse, there is one particular aspect that merits further discussion and that was his view on cleaving to those who lead the way of wisdom. “[A] man needs to associate with the just and be with the wise continually in order to learn [from] their actions,”[viii] and by associating with fools one will ultimately enable evil to prosper within. Accordingly, evil is living without adequate care or thought to this measure of behaviour. The human being, says Kant, is aware of the moral law but has failed to incorporate it into his or her maxim, and is thus fundamentally evil.[ix] Regarding the conduct of ones affairs and perfecting eating habits, the way he or she engages with body and desires, and the consistent consciousness to dedicate oneself to moral well being is not simply for the happiness that it enables but also as a way to keep his or her body healthy and strong. There misery therewith when surrounded by the wrong people will prevent one from conducting their affairs correctly. In On the Management of Health (105-113), any such undesirable people and overindulgence leads to excessive mental and physical health issues where strength is spent and “his life and eyes dimmed”[x] or conversely, improving his character traits by cleaving to those who are wise, modest and righteous, his soul ultimately becomes tranquil.[xi] In similar vein, Confucius states that one should, “make conscientiousness and sincerity your leading principles. Have no friends inferior to yourself. And when in the wrong, do not hesitate to amend.”[xii] But it is not merely the afflictions physically, but the afflictions of the soul and the impact of the misery, anxiety and despair that befall people. The remedy is to enable the soul to eliminate the passions and learn to compose oneself ethically and morally by becoming subservient to what is righteous and good. “Thus the passions will diminish, [obsessive] thoughts will disappear, apprehension will be removed, and the soul will be cheerful in whatever condition a man happens to be” [109].

While it is possible that the ego could choose the wrong people to have and thus misconstrue what it means to be surrounded by the right people, the general rule of propriety is that self-development and dedicating oneself to a life of wisdom would enable the faculty accurately observe right and wrong conduct in others and ourselves. The propriety of character and how people conduct themselves and their affairs is a matter of observation and since depravity of character is expressed through impropriety and the product of their behaviour seen by the fruits they produce, the clarity of choice becomes simplified. Those who embody moral virtue and right or wrong behaviour, who – as Mencius expounds – feels a sense of shame[xiii] and is reverently careful in his conduct and affairs is clearly one of right character and mind. This standard establishes a virtuous culture or environment where members equally possess the same will to moral virtue that enjoin to equally share in the development of principles, a formula known as the Kingdom of Ends.[xiv] For Maimonides, “Certain actions necessarily stem from one soul and other actions from another soul” that therefore exemplify the importance of relations with our fellow community.

In Eight Chapters (59-105), Maimonides critically explores piety and the discipline that encompasses morality. Good moral habits initiates the formation of ethics; by obtaining good moral habits, it becomes that very connection between moral virtue and the social and political. Written as an introduction to Pirqei Avot (Chapters of the Fathers), he attempts to isolate the permissible and erroneous and the relevance of been rational as n instrument to become empowered to control the appetitive desires. The soul has the power but disobedience through transgressions and the highly imaginative fails to enable the will to become subservient to moral virtues. “For example, moderation, liberality, justice, gentleness, humility, contentment, courage, and others.” (65) This disobedience becomes a disease to the soul that is seen externally in the body, taking pleasure in things that are not good for the body and the mind and never reaching physical excellence. His references to statements made by Solomon enables clarity on his combined efforts to involve Biblical connections to his ethical and medicinal approaches.

And the reason for living a life dedicated to finding the Golden Mean? Virtue – which is mental health – and the golden mean are necessary for a healthy life. In his Letter to Joseph (113-129), that he writes to his disciple Joseph Ibn Aknin, it is to lead by example and develop a pattern of excellent. The chapter provides some extraordinary insights into the man himself, about his vision and his enormous commitment to his moral objective. “In sum, if you are indeed my disciple, I want you to train yourself to follow my moral habits” (120). His affection and criticisms shed an amazing light on his dedication to justice and his love of knowledge, or as St. Thomas Aquinas states, “Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.”[xvii] Love is the unity formed through knowledge and establishes a state of happiness resides, making knowledge fundamental to this development. Through Rabbinical law and adherence to the commandments along with the dedication to attain a balance of mind will the adherent become suffused with love. It is not simply the mean itself that supplies the individual with the tranquillity required to be happy, but the righteous ability to discern the right time and way to think and behave, to rationally approach ones own emotions.

By improving your character and reaching a state of clarity in mind and reason, one will enable the qualities necessary to reach the balanced standard that Mainmonides expects. In the Guide of the Perplexed (129-155), which is one of his most famous works, is to guide those possessing positive character traits by learning to understand God. The work is addressed to Joseph ben Judah and elucidates ways of overcoming the disillusionment and existential angst of philosophy and law by understanding the differences between the practical and the subjective or speculative. Having strong theoretical foundations and thus continuously ameliorating knowledge, one can uncover the mental capacity necessary to acquire to attain a solid understanding of themselves and the world around them. That laws are not natural but necessary to manage the natural. “The Law as a whole aims at two things: the well-being of the soul and the well-being of the body. As for the well-being of the soul, it consists in the multitude’s acquiring correct opinions corresponding to their respective capacity” (139). The final chapters, Treatise on the Art of Logic (155-165) and The Days of the Messiah (165-177) continue along with the same themes. By distinguishing biblical themes such as the world to come, formulations that deal with immorality and the benefits of the laws particularly the coming messianic era will provide one with an understanding of repentance. “It has become known that the life of the world-to-come is the reward for performing the commandments and is the good that we merit if we have kept the way of the old referred to in the Torah” (169). Discussing the instrument of logic as a necessary condition of the mind in order to appreciate the correct approach of practical reasoning and to think and behave correctly remains an important aspect to the power of rational thought.

I was compelled to his work for my love of history whether it is ancient or medieval, in this case the latter. I have a strong appreciation for literature such as the Ethical Writings of Maimonides that promotes the value of ethics and the moral concerns relating to our conduct and behaviour. His criticism is harsh, views absolute and his beliefs that the actions of our soul, our intent, the choices that we want to make and whether we are thinking correctly formulate the groundwork necessary to compel the right choices that we act out in reality. The book provides additional insight into rabbinical literature and the significance of moral laws that authoritatively posit the necessity of moral conduct. By finding the golden mean and teaching oneself to discover a proper balance of thought and behaviour, compelled by our desire to lead a virtuous life, Maimonides believes that we can reach both physically and mentally excellence in health and in moral virtue.

[i] Plato, Republic [618e]
[ii] Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics from I.M.N. Al-Jubouri’ History of Islamic Philosophy, (2004) 74
[iii] Immanuel Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, 2:217
[iv] Raymond L. Weiss, Ethical Writings of Maimonides, Dover Publications New York (1975), 7
[v] Proverbs 4:26
[vi] Weiss and Butterworth, op. cit., 30
[vii] David Hume, Moral and Political Philosophy, Simon and Schuster (2010)
[viii] Weiss and Butterworth, op. cit., 46
[ix] Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason, 6:32
[x] Weiss and Butterworth, op. cit., 40
[xi] Ibid., 43
[xii] Confucius, The Analects, Chapter XXIV
[xiii] Menicius, Bk. vii., pti., c.vii., v i.
[xiv] Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, 4:439

The Gülen Movement in Turkey: The Politics of Islam and Modernity

The Gülen Movement’s growing power and influence, followed by its public criticism of the AKP government in 2010 and 2013, and finally the coup attempt in July 2016, has led to an unprecedented crackdown on the Gülen Movement in Turkey. The purge has ousted thousands of employees from major state and civil society institutions, including the military, judiciary, and education institutions, as well as the mass media. The rise and fall of the Gülen Movement has been one of the defining issues in Turkish politics in the twenty-first century.

Book Review

Caroline Tee

The Gülen Movement in Turkey: The Politics of Islam and Modernity

(London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2016) 227pp

ISBN: 978-1-78453-588-9

Introduction

The turmoil following the gradual dissolution of the Ottoman Empire during the late nineteenth century led to the sharp rise of Turkish nationalism. During this period, the Young Turks (Jöntürkler) attempted to define the ‘nation’ and what it meant to be ‘Turkish’. Following international and domestic chaos during the Great War and the Balkan War, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk established the Turkish Republic and transformed the remnants of the Ottoman Empire into a modern, secular nation-state. The state abolished the caliphate, controlled the appointments of imams, rescinded religious courts and schools, and created new laws that further limited the power of religion in Turkish public life. These political and cultural reforms were intended to transform civic culture by strengthening loyalty to the new Turkish Republic. Nevertheless, winning popular acceptance for this new secular nationalism was an uneven and complex process that was not fully embraced by all sectors of Turkish society.

Accordingly, leading religious intellectuals such as Bediuzzaman Said Nursî sought to challenge the new nationalist ideology or Kemalism, which was influenced by the work of Ziya Gölkalp who strongly suggested suppressing any connections to the former Ottoman regime. Nursî believed that reinforcing Islam would establish a balance with secularism in all areas of Turkish society, particularly in education and intercultural dialogue. When the Turkish political system moved from a one-party authoritarian regime to a multi-party system in the middle of the twentieth century, discussions of Islam that had long laid dormant began to emerge and the scale of this divide between Kemalist secularists and religious Turks became clear. Beginning in the 1960s, these cultural and religious tensions during a period of economic turmoil gradually prompted civil violence and led the military to government interventions. This phenomenon continued in the 1970s, leading to a series of demonstrations, violence between the secular and Islamist factions and political assassinations. It was only with the 1980 coup d’état and the sweeping reforms that were initiated following the deaths of thousands that the Turkish-Islam Synthesis (Türk-İslam Sentezi) was introduced, in an attempt to establish a political balance between Kemalism and Sunni Islam (Hanafi). Political parties – like the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) and the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi) – were shut down both in 1998 and 2001 respectively, leading to a cycle of socio-political tension.It was in this atmosphere that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) emerged.

Its initial success was due to support from influential religious and social institutions, like the peculiar and autonomous Gülen Movement. Strengthened by this significant and influential alliance during the first decade of the twentieth-century – particularly with leading figures in the judiciary loyal to the Islamic movement’s leader, Fethullah Gülen – tensions surfaced between the ruling AKP and Gülen, after Gülen criticized the government for its anti-Israel rhetoric following the May 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla crisis in Gaza and additionally for its use of excessive force during Gezi Park Protests in May 2013. The political alliance was ruptured when notable AKP figures were arrested or questioned for corruption, money laundering and bribery charges in what became one of the largest and most controversial legal cases in Turkey, leading Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to brand the Gülen Movement a ‘parallel structure’ [Paralel Devlet Yapılanması] or a state-like organisation without democratic legitimacy. While it is important to distinguish between the enigmatic figure of Fethullah Gülen who leads an ascetic lifestyle in the remote Pennsylvania countryside of the U.S., and the contemplative Sufi cleric who vis-à-vis the movement holds identifiable wealth and influence in Turkey and across the globe, it is undeniable that political polarization and the AK Party’s use of pro-government discourses has served as a platform to promote an authoritarian legitimacy, thus deepening the confusion.

Gülen’ Hizmet Movement

Caroline Tee’s The Gülen Movement in Turkey: The Politics of Islam and Modernity is an essential introduction to the topic, which addresses the Gülen Movement’s intentions, networks, and its broad influence in Turkish society. The book begins with Fethullah Gülen himself and the influence of Islamic theologian Bediuzzaman Said Nursî – particularly the effect his seminal work Risale-i Nur –on Gülen’s own spiritual framework. Raised in Erzurum, which is socially and religiously conservative, Gülen gained his traditional religious education at a Sufi tekke (lodge), which were the religious institutions of both the Naqshbandi and Qadiri Sufi Orders. He continued his formal education in Islamic jurisprudence and by the age of eighteen became a state-qualified Imam. Several years later, Gülen was posted to the center of Izmir as the director of the Qur’anic school in Kestanepazan Mosque, and though he desired to move to a more conservative environment, and away from the liberal atmosphere of the western provinces of Turkey, he remained in Izmir and developed his vision of spiritual reform with the intent of reinvigorating Islam and bringing it to a wider audience. He gained a small following both at the mosque and through regular meetings at coffee houses, creating the Hizmet or ‘Service’ movement during the rigid secular posture of the state in the 1960s.

The movement began to grow when his vision for an altın nesil, or ‘golden generation’ was implemented through organized summer camps that aimed to educate the next generation of Turks in both Islam and the modern sciences. This illustrates the influence of Said Nursî who also envisioned the revitalization of Turkish religious culture, which had been vastly transformed by modern secularism by calling for positive action (müspet hareket) from pious individuals to engage in all areas of the public sphere. Said Nursî also emphasized the importance of education in both Islam and the sciences, with Gülen’ pedagogy following Nursî’s attempt to change the impression that religion is inimical to science. Eventually, the summer camps became after-school centers (dershane) that gradually began to expand into other cities across Turkey, despite the growing social and political tensions between leftists and right-wing factions during the 1970s.

A complete overhaul of the constitution following the 1980 military coup d’état, ushered in a period of economic liberalization led by Turgut Özal. And the new Turkish-Islam synthesis (Türk-İslam Sentezi) that emerged removed some of the restrictions on religious life in Turkey. Tee explains how the Gülenists began investing in business and media interests and taking advantage of new international opportunities particularly in the Central Asia, which provided the movement with fertile ground for geographic expansion.

The Gülen Network

The second part of the book contains the core of Caroline Tee’s research into Gülen Movement’s membership and its approach to scientific education. Tee uses anthropological fieldwork to explain how Gülen’s Islamic creationist movement teaches science within an Islamic framework. Tee describes her experiences with the Gülenist educational system, which is characterized by strong academic achievement. Gülenist schools are preferred by conservative religious families for their moral and religious commitment and secular curriculum. Nevertheless, Gülenist schools are not explicitly linked to Gülen and are not promoted as such, instead the connection to Gülen is a matter of local knowledge illustrating the decentralized and low key nature of the Gülen Movement. “Both he and his followers prefer to speak of a loose connection of initiatives that are all ‘inspired’ by his teachings, but do not constitute a single coordinated entity” (p.57). Any organized efforts to coordinate initiatives are usually through local affiliations between several schools in a given region or city, while well known and prestigious schools established by Gülen followers such as Yamanlar Koleji in Izmir and Fatih Okulu in Istanbul have franchised a number of schools directly.

One intriguing element of the Gülen network that Tee brings to light is the concept of “service” (hizmet) in Gülen-run institutions, such as assigning a chemistry teacher Irem, “against her personal wishes” to a particular school far away from her home in northwest Turkey (p.54). Referred to as fedakarlik or self-sacrifice, they consider themselves as educators rather than mere teachers, thus functioning as a representative or role model to guide or inspire the ethical and personal education of the students. Such dedication lacks financial rewards but is motivated by a spiritual eschatology and the belief in sevap (good deeds) that will be rewarded on Judgement Day. This clearly suggests a formal membership structure within the movement that transcends mere professional networking. Tee conducted her fieldwork in two Gülen schools in order to ascertain how science is taught within a secular curriculum yet framed by Islamic theology and the philosophy of Said-Nursî. Tee also exposes the considerable influence of religious ontology in science classes at the Gülen schools. For example, an educator in a middle-school science class, who was teaching students about a skin disease, claimed that the disease was given to a person as part of a divine test (sinav) and that the students should give thanks for not having such a skin disease. While remaining within the required boundaries of scientific education, the staff attached an Islamic ethic to the content, educating students through religious inferences in an attempt to establish coherence between science and religion.

Tee discusses Islamic creationism as an essential belief within the Gülenist framework (Chapter Four), the Gülen Movement’s argument being that science has become secularized, particularly through the theory of biological evolution that has created an unnecessary rift between science and an Islamic education. Gülen has written about evolution in his book Yaratılış Gerçeği ve Evrim among other sources and not only rejects the theory of evolution but views it as an attempt to justify atheistic materialism. Tee shows that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk advocated evolutionary biology and the secular policies of his time enforced the addition of evolution in the school curriculum at the founding of the Turkish Republic. Said Nursî opposed this change, which radically changed the fabric of Turkish society through what Nursî saw as the coercive disassociation with Islamic values. Accordingly, Gülen opposes the inclusion of evolutionary theory in the curriculum, and an anti-evolutionary agenda has allowed the movement to reconcile modern science with Islam and harmonize what were once two mutually exclusive categories.

Overall, the Gülenist target is to combat atheism through education. Gülenists belief that failing to adapt to the social requirements of modernity by refusing a scientific education merely favors Darwinian adherents; thus Gülenists battle atheism by teaching science through an Islamic lens. Tee explains that from the outset the movement has prioritized spreading Islamic values through local recruiting and international networking, particularly engaging students in Gülenist schools in foreign countries. The schools provide scholarships, educational and employment opportunities and other opportunities for self-improvement. This emphasis on competitive achievement is one reason why Gülenist schools emphasize participating in the Science Olympiads, a prestigious international competition that provides students with the opportunity to compete for financial rewards, as well as improve their chances of getting admitted to prestigious universities. These competitions also play a vital role in changing the status quo, by allowing “Islamic actors to engage successfully with a critical aspect of modernity” (p.77). Higher education institutions, such as Irfan University – which is economically supported by a group of investors sympathetic to the movement, some of whom are extremely wealthy Turkish businessmen – is described by Tee as unfinished, but nevertheless lavish and impressive, hosting a number of high-achieving students and staffed by academics with strong credentials and research excellence. Higher education offers the movement a way to increase its global influence.

The exact number of Gülen-run educational institutions remains unknown as they do not “publically affiliate with one another” (p.55) and they do not identify with Gülen or even share a common name or logo as institutions often do. Tee tackles – albeit briefly – some important questions that lie at the heart of the movement’s ambiguous status. For example, is there an Islamist agenda at the core of its endeavors? Skeptics label the movement a cemaat (religious community), implying its interests do not lie solely in the principle of positive action in civil society, which is what the movement emphasizes. These concerns have been exacerbated by Gülen’s public sermons reminding his followers to be responsive to the dangers of materialism. However, the movement’s economic interests allow it to continue to project its influence and demonstrate the strength of Islam by building international institutions of higher education. In a similar vein, staff working at Gülen-run institutions straddle an ambiguous personal and professional position, where spiritual goals are integrated into their curricula. While this educational homogeneity strengthens the quality of teaching and increases overall academic achievement, its lack of clarity has led to several legal cases against Gülenist schools in the United States, for mismanagement of funds and failing to clearly outline its affiliation with the Gülen Movement. Other contradictions include Gülen’s statements that he supports secularism and seeks only to change the nature of Turkish secularism, which actively opposes Islam. Yet in other statements, either directly or indirectly, Gülen encourages the complete collapse of Turkish secularism and replacing it with an Islamic state.

 

Gülenists and Politics

Caroline Tee focuses much of her work on the structure of the organization and its ambiguous position in Turkish political, judicial and civil society. She argues that while there is no official criteria for joining the movement, it consists of a multi-tiered level of commitment that includes not only the core followers such as teachers at Gülen-led schools, but also those on the periphery of the movement including sympathizers (onaylayanlar) and consumers. Consumers are those who use the movement’s products and services, whether consciously or unconsciously, and play a vital role in strengthening the success of the movement. Tee’s analysis slightly differs from Joshua Hendrick, author of Gulen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World who argues that the movement consists of four – rather than three – groups of affiliates that engage with the movement. Hendrick divides the core group of Gülenists into two: the ‘aristocracy’ who are surrounded by ‘friends.’ In the third part of the book, The Wider Context (chapters six, seven, and eight) provides an overview of the Gülen Movement’s place in Turkish politics, vis-à-vis their impaired relationship with the AK Party, as well as its global status, particularly with respect to the United States.

The Gülen Movement’s intercultural dialogue initiative through The Journalists and Writers Foundation (Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Vakfi), where Gülen himself serves as honorary chairman, promotes dialogue between Muslims and other religions and cultures. The Gülen Movement’s emphasis on intercultural dialogue stems from Said Nursî, who also promoted interfaith communication. The movement attempts to find common ground between the major religions of the “People of the Book” (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) as a strategy for peaceful engagement and effective networking, promoting Islam as well as Turkey and the movement as a whole. Since 1999, Gülen has lived in Pennsylvania and is often referred to by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Pennsylvania’daki adam (the man from Pennsylvania). Gülen’s move to the U.S. has been subject to allegations that he has relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Indeed, it is interesting to note that a former CIA agent and senior staff at the National Intelligence Council supported Gülen’s application for a green card. Nevertheless, the move to the United States established the global presence of the movement and the rapid expansion that followed. The movement now has a presence in over 120 countries globally, though membership overwhelmingly rests with Muslim and Turkish adherents despite its transnational scope. It is not clear, however, what led to Gülen’s decision to immigrate to the United States, but his residency there has certainly allowed the movement to thrive on an international scale.

For most of the past decade, the movement has avoided politically or religiously sensitive discourse, instead engaging in debates that build and cultivate relationships, which allowed the Gülen Movement and Erdoğan’s AKP to coexist. According to Tee, the movement has not embraced political activism, despite the fact that loyal Gülenists were the leading figures in the corruption investigations against senior AKP officials. The 2013 corruption probes led Erdoğan to declare war on the movement, arresting or dismissing loyal Gülenist sympathizers, and claiming the movement was a serious threat to national security by attempting to destabilize the government. Tee attempts to clarify whether the Gülen Movement is indeed an exclusively civil-society institution or something more. “By going public with a raft of toxic allegations, it is clear that the Gülenist’ intention was to unseat now-President Erdoğan and precipitate a change in the Turkish administration” (pp. 163-164). By the end of 2015, the AKP had taken numerous steps to extradite Gülen from the United States to stand trial prior to formally declaring the Gülen Movement as a terrorist organization [Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü or FETÖ]– which occurred just after Tee’s book was published.

While Tee states that her research intends to explain the movement as an Islamic group using “the burgeoning field of the sociology of science and Islam” (p. 5) as part of her research, yet she nevertheless attempts to analyze the political dynamics between the 2013 Erdoğan-Gülen split utilizing a historical approach in the context of political Islam. They were initially united by their common Islamic roots in the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam and the shared goal of reducing the power of the military elite. The collapse of the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) in 1998 led by Necmettin Erbakan and the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi) in 2001 led to the establishment of the AKP [2001], which held the belief that Islamic conservatism would remain unsuccessful as long as a strong secular, military presence continued to play a central role in Turkish politics. The AKP has maneuvered to reduce the constitutional powers given to the military through the infamous Ergenekon, Balyoz and Poyrazköy trials, which portrayed the military elite as operating a ‘deep state’ that was intent on overthrowing the government. These trials were only possible with support from senior judicial and executive staff loyal to Gülen. Many prominent figures were arrested and eventually given life sentences, all of whom have now been released since the Erdoğan-Gülen rift began in late 2013, although Gülen has denied any involvement in the cases. Nevertheless, Tee makes it clear that Gülen is guilty of numerous contradictions and inconsistencies, and even his previous teachings of an anti-Christian and Jewish nature raise doubts as to his genuine acceptance of secularism and of intercultural dialogue.

As a detailed study of the Gülen Movement, which unlike other Islamic groups places a strong emphasis on science education, Caroline Tee provides an excellent – albeit brief – overview of the subject and certainly whets your appetite for more. Without probing deeply into the political or social terrain of the subject, which can be found in other sources, she explains the history and root causes of the Erdoğan-Gülen feud, providing details about the sweeping attacks made against Gülen schools and dershane, the various businesses including Bank Asya, and the public vitriol directly against the movement. She also provided a clearer picture about the movement’s schools by engaging with students and teachers at various levels within these institutions in several cities around Turkey. Tee’s fieldwork is a vital contribution to the scholarship on the Gülen Movement, because it shed lights on some of the opaque aspects of the movement and its global success. She also exposes some of the movement’s contradictions, such as the requirement to preserve public order and stability as part of one’s membership, yet there are no formal initiation rites or any clearly defined criterion for membership itself. However, since positive action with the goal of integrating Islam into modern society is a key part of the Gülenist agenda, the difficulty to ascertain – particularly in light of its ambiguous position – whether followers adhere to this agenda would have been a valuable contribution in Tee’s research. This is what Joshua Hendrick has argued is the movement’s deliberate ‘strategic ambiguity’ which is due to the repressive political and social climate in Turkey.[1] Indeed, as Tee herself states, “the Gülen Movement functions today as an ostensibly apolitical community, but one which has managed to accrue significant power and influence”(p. 3) The use of social anthropology as a theoretical framework to understand the internal hierarchy and structure of the movement using interviews to supplement fieldwork is a valuable approach that contributes to our understanding of the movement’ social influence, which has become the basis for its success and power.

[1] Joshua D. Hendrick, Gülen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World, NYU Press (2014) pp 206-232