A Democratic Turkey is Worth Fighting for
Erdogan (left) and Gülen (right) when they were still allies.
The Obvious Villain
There is such a thing as evil in this world. We seemed to forget that. We like to think that even the wicked among us, are ultimately redeemable. Somehow they must have noble intentions, there has to be a soul worth saving. Only the movies have villains, in real life, people are far more complicated.
It’s true that people are complicated, that denouncing them as either good or bad will not do it justice. Perhaps in the cosmic battle of things, there is such a thing as redemption for even the greatest sinners. But so long as they are in this earthly plain, we can’t depend on divine epiphanies. We must recognize the wicked among us. We must see them clearly, those that pose a threat to our civil liberties, to democracy at large. We must admit the existence of evil. As Michael Caine quipped so eloquently in The Dark Knight: ”some people just want to watch the world burn.” There are people who start the fire and we must put it out.
Take the Authoritarian for instance: when a subject is presented with evidence of authoritarianism, such as jailing dissidents, controlling the media or rigging elections, one could only conclude that this person is a threat to democracy. He’s the type of character we were warned against in history, the symbol of governorship we are trying to avoid and have tried to eradicate. A governing body that is not only hostile to our way of life, but to the core of our values. The person or his political party that is trying to undermine our democratic freedoms by warping the people’s perception through propaganda, is the one we should all collectively fight against.
This was the classic story, this is how it should be.
One can only conclude then, with the popularity of the likes of Putin or Erdogan in the Western World, that we have forgotten to spot the authoritarian, our classic villain of democracy. We must try to understand the reasons. Some have concluded that it’s because the survivors of the great war, the one for the soul of Holland and Europe are dying off. Those who remember the importance of our democracy, how easy it can slip away, are gone. Others would point out our own governments gave us little reason to trust them and there is certainly truth to this claim.
In a recent book by Joshua Green called ‘The Devils Bargain’, which details the rise of alt-right icon Steve Bannon who is currently one of Donald Trump’s closest advisors, there is a poignant segment in which Bannon starts to realize the power of the Internet, how it could suck the host into an information vacuum, creating an alternative reality which could be manipulated by the populists. In this reality, the likes of Trump have become anti-establishment heroes. Even Putin, is beloved for his public criticism against the West, despite his regime being the epitome of establishment evil.
In order to be a populist, one needs to have a certain charisma, a certain skill-set of persuasion that Trump does indeed have- as Dilbert creator Scott Adams, despite his hilarious and sometimes frustrating mental gymnastics defending the likes of Trump, has made a convincing argument of. Politics is about persuading the public to your side and when it comes to the populist and the authoritarian, it boils down to alienating the public from the establishment, convincing them that they are part of an oppressed group, that their culture is in danger. The great fight for a better society is simplified. No more hard numbers. No more science mumbo-jumbo. No more hard facts but the ones that feel right emotionally. When you have enough people by your side, then you have to make sure that your enemies and their means of information, are silenced. If you have enough political power, you can weaken democratic institutions and once that’s in place, it will be very hard to stop you.
All of this is radically simple in theory and if you look at both Putin and Erdogan, you can see this theory at work. The interesting thing however is that both these politicians started out with promise. Erdogan began as a more progressive choice, Putin rose to popularity when the Russian public were deadly afraid of Chechen terrorism- many respectable historians have suggested that Russian security forces were behind the bombings that killed hundreds of Russian citizens. The implication being that Putin instigated false flag operations in order to amass support, a recognizable tactic by authoritarians.
When it became clear to these men that democracy was not going to keep them into office, they had to undermine it and they had so through fear-mongering, information warfare, jailing and even killing dissidents.
All of this information, especially in this day and age, can easily be fact-checked. You don’t have to look far, just open your computer screen. There had been days when you had dive into the library or ravage newspapers to understand our modern-day politicians but not anymore. We have everything we need.
But as we have seen, people still admire, despite all the seemingly obvious signs, these leaders. Regardless that that Putin’s actions in Ukraine has cost the lives of almost two hundred Dutchmen, we still have many Dutch people defending him, even stating that they believed it was a conspiracy orchestrated by the Ukrainian government.
The Dutch defense for Erdogan however, by a large part of the immigrant population, is far more apparent and troublesome. Before I began researching this article I did talk to some Erdogan defenders and to be honest, this became extremely frustrating. When debating them, I shared all of these articles of human-rights organizations or articles by Turkish journalists but they still refused to accept the information. To them, I was in the spell of Western propaganda. They spoke of the hubris of the West. The underlying hypocrisy of the Western-world to criticize the Turkish government while it has been robbing the rights of its own people.
Before the failed coup (or false-flag operation) Erdogan had long started cracking down on the freedoms of Turkey. Turkish-immigrants in Holland were already watching state sponsored channels from Turkey that demonized Erdogan’s opposition, in particular anyone who supported Fethullah Gülen’s Hizmet movement. The Diyanet organization which funds mosques from Turkey, had already rallied their imams to endorse supreme leader Erdogan. In Aydogan Vatandas collection of journalist articles ‘Hungry for Power’, one could read about the seeds of the authoritarianism growing. We responded too late, we didn’t listen, perhaps because we wanted Turkey to remain loyal to their promise of housing the discussed number of refugees.
When it finally became clear to Erdogan that the only way to remain in power is to undermine European democracy, it all became too clear what future Turkey was heading towards. I would not be part of the European project, it would be just another authoritarian state. There had been hopes that enough people would vote against him in the referendum but alas, Erdogan would be victorious here- unsurprisingly there have been massive voter irregularities.
In Holland, the support for Erdogan is there, perhaps not with the majority but, as the following interview would attest, of the people that were eligible and did vote for the Turkish referendum, 70 percent of them voted in favor of Erdogan. They live, like Trump supporters, like Putin supporters, in a vacuum where Erdogan is not the villain. To some he’s a savior or a protector of traditional values. To others he’s a straight-talker, to others a necessary evil. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist- or more appropriately in this case: the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that -despite his red tail and hooves- he is not what he looks like.
The most tragic part of this is that by supporting the authoritarian, you are hurting their victims. You are dismissing the pain and suffering of their victims and families. When you say that Putin isn’t so bad, you are dismissing his war crimes committed in Chechnya, the journalists that have perished trying to discover the truth about his regime, the families that were never able to say goodbye. When Dutch people support Putin, they are dismissing the tragic loss of the families of the victims of MH17. In response, the authoritarian, as Putin has done countless of times, throws the blame somewhere else. When confronted by this interviews, he would usually resort to the Soviet-classic ‘whataboutisms.’ The authoritarian always needs a scapegoat.
The scapegoats are sometimes even the victims. The propaganda-machine goes on non-stop trying to undermine their humanity. This is no more evident than Erdogan’s favorite scapegoat: the Islamic scholar Fetthullah Gülen and his Hizmet movement. As an outsider, I didn’t know much about Gülen either. It became very clear to me that Erdogan was someone to be distrusted but I didn’t know enough about Hizmet to make an informative opinion.
After the failed coup, Hizmet sympathizers in Holland were threatened, sometimes even attacked by pro-Erdogan supporters. Despite having little knowledge about Turkish politics at the time, I was still appalled by these actions. I could not understand how Turkish-immigrants felt the need to assault opponents of the Turkish state while living in Holland. But despite my ethical objections to such cases, I had to admit that I did not know what kind of organization Hizmet was. Was the organization a real militarized threat against the Turkish state or was this mere propaganda from Erdogan’s Media Army?
When researching Hizmet, there seemed little evidence of malevolence. The independent organization that looked into the various schools inspired by the movement, received nothing but adulation for its inclusiveness, the atmosphere and the curriculum. When it came to the founder himself, Fethullah Gülen, there was little evidence of villainy, in fact, scholars around the world praised him for his stance on universal human rights.
But in order to this subject justice and inform myself properly, I decided to contact someone from an organization inspired by his philosophy. I came across Platform INS, a non-profit organization that dedicates itself to spreading Gülen’s Universal values by organizing courses, symposiums and publications. Many of these courses aim to better integration and bring communities together. Their mission is to highlight the ethical values we all share in Holland. INS, is the Arabian word for humanity and its chosen name illustrates their aim to reach a broader public, not just immigrants.
When I requested the organization for an interview I was given the e-mail of Saniye Calkin. After some time, we did finally set a date for the phone interview but at the last moment, she had to delay this because she was protesting the Turkish consulate for the arrest of the Amnesty International Director in Turkey Idil Eser. While this arrest illustrates the worsening freedoms in Turkey, it did convey the moral convictions of my subject.
When we did finally talked, I only became more convinced that Hizmet, at least to how it has inspired Platform INS, has brought positive results to civil society and that Erdogan’s objections to its existence, had little to do with it being a threat to Turkey.
Even now, many Turkish supporters of Hizmet fear being too upfront about this. The sudden rise of the pro-immigrant political party Denk, which has refused to condemn Erdogan and defend Hizmet, has only worsened the situation. But through it all, people like Saniye Calkin, refused to be silenced and they have persisted in their convictions.
In this interview, I discovered the reach and power of Erdogan, even within Turkish communities in Holland. Bringing disenfranchisement, in some cases we have people being disbarred from celebrating their faith, to tearing people’s family apart because of their opposition against his regime. And in some extreme cases, violence was involved. Erdogan, like many populists, has put a spell on his supporters.
Tunahan Kuzu, Selçuk Öztürk en Farid Azarkan, members of DENK party.
We don’t know the future of Turkey but as long as Erdogan rules, it doesn’t look good. Here’s hoping that people like Saniye, and her message, will continue to inspire the best of us.
This will be my second interview with someone affected by Erdogan’s reign and I consider this a spiritual sequel to my former article ‘The Importance of Being Vigilant: Understanding Erdogan his Followers’ in which I interview exiled journalist Abdullah Bozkurt which you could read here: https://welcometothehumanrace.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/the-importance-of-being-vigilant-understanding-erdogan-and-his-following/
Before we start this interview, could you tell me why you are a good authority on Hizmet?
Saniye: My name is Saniye Calkin and I’ve known and been involved with Hizmet for over fifteen years; starting out as an eager volunteer. Once you really begin to grasp the tenets of Hizmet, your own way of life, the goals you initially had for yourself, begin to change. Originally I was an economist, an accountant but at a certain point I made a switch from the business-world to a more societal one, especially when this concerned the Muslim community. Before Hizmet I was much more individualistic- just make some money and spend it- but at a certain point, you do want more in life. You begin to feel a greater sense of societal-responsibility and want to contribute more to society. My first steps to this higher goal was working for the Center of Emancipation and Diversity for the local municipality. Perhaps Perhaps because I was a woman, curious about universal values. When I began pondering about the universal values of Hizmet, about its notions of freedom, equality, diversity, and when I started to delve deeper into the movement, I knew I found my place. For the last four-five years I’ve been involved with Hizmet consultations, both locally and nationally. The last few years I have been director of Platform INS, an organization which aims to better society. Ever since I’ve really gotten to know Hizmet, I’ve felt more involved with society but I’ve felt a greater urgency to contribute. This is about wraps up my qualifications on the topic. I’ve been born and raised in the East of Holland, in Enschede and I currently live in Amsterdam.
Would you consider the Hizmet organization more humanistic than religious?
Saniye: Well first I want to point out that you keep talking about the ‘Hizmet organization,’while there is no actual definitive organization of sorts. You can’t really say that this is a ‘Hizmet organization’. There are people who are inspired by its founder, Fethullah Gülen and consider themselves Hizmet sympathizers, who started foundations in honor of its tenets. This does not however, immediately make it a Hizmet organization.
The second question, whether or not Hizmet is more religious or humanistic, well if look at my organization Platform INS, I would say it’s more humanistic because we strive for a peaceful society where everybody can live in freedom and to achieve this, certain universal values are imperative. Next to this I would wonder if this has actually anything to do with religion. We ask questions regarding the betterment of society and how Hizmet can contribute to this- Hizmet also means ‘service.’ How can we be in better service for people and society, wherever you live, and it’s those questions and how to have this conversations in order to accomplish them, that is central to the tenets of Hizmet. Religion is something personal to me, something I receive my strength from, my daily input, this is something for the individual. If you come to my organization you’ll be welcomed with open arms. You will see that we have a very diverse group of colleagues.
Look the one can do it out of religious conviction, but to me, it doesn’t matter if someone is Muslim or Turkish. Religion is just something I receive my daily strength from. Hizmet is a social movement which inspires people to contribute more the world around them and the people that inhabit it.
Logo of Platform INS.
From my own research, Hizmet inspired schools have a good track record.
Saniye: Well I have say that last week a rapport came out where Hizmet is referred to, again and again, as an exemplary model for integration. My two oldest children, just happen to receive the graduation percentage of their school and if you did read that with VWO there’s a 93 percent graduation average and with HAVO 90, than its hard not to be impressed with its quality. If you also look at the target-group, all very diverse, you are very happy as a parent that you they get a hundred percent out of your kids. So all of this very familiar to me.
To tell you the truth, I’m an outsider and researching information about Hizmet wasn’t easy. You can find much praise, as well as the opposite. It’s hard to rummage through the muck.
Saniye: I think the most important thing is that, not just for the subject of Hizmet but for everything else as well, that we have to be critical and wonder about the negativity surrounding something. When necessary, I’m critical about Hizmet about a few points. But when I look at the education factor, I can only use my own children as prime examples. Truthfully, school isn’t always easy for my kids, but they still manage to get through VWO (preuniversity secondary education). Every year again, through motivation and a sense of responsibility. The results are there in their rapport card.
What are the greatest misunderstandings regarding Hizmet and the Gülen movement?
Saniye: What is very important, since I’m actively involved with Hizmet for the last four or five years, and I think we had this intention and have succeeded in this actually, is to combat the unfamiliarity regarding Hizmet. Now there have been an increasing interest for Hizmet in the last years, especially due to politics and media coverage. There has also been constant extensive research about the Hizmet movement, for example the one made by Martin van Bruinessen in 2010, by order of the House of Representativeness, a literary research paper by Thijl Sunier and Nico landman, last Wednesday there was a field field investigation orchestrated by RadarAdvies. We haven taken the advice of these investigations, even when we receive acclaim, like Bruinessen calling us the ‘best integrated migrant group of Holland.’ But at the same time, he also advised the movement to be more open and transparent, and then you have to answer: ”okay, so how are going to achieve this?” We knew there was a need for transparency and we worked on it. We made a website: http://www.hizmetbeweging.nl and if you look at the website, a lot of questions are already answered, such as: ”who are we?” ”What is our mission?” ”What is our philosophy?” ”Who are these people?” At the same time we know that transparency has its drawbacks, as you well have noticed the last few years, especially after the failed coup in Turkey.
We really have made steps through sites, organizing programmed, through publications, all with the intention to show that ”this is who we are, these are the people involved, this is what we believe.” We opened up Hizmet consultations, people have joined us at our table, all with the intention to be transparent about the movement and its founder. Still, we can’t help that large groups perceive as terrorist or as traitors to our country.
But there’s no denying the steps we made nor the results that came out of it. If people still have questions, we encourage people to ask and we have given them all the means to. We want people to ask more about us. I did recently also write an opinion-piece and I do hope this will reach media outlets.
What are the most common criticism regarding, or perhaps better phrased as propaganda, regarding Hizmet or the Gülen movements?
Saniye: Unsurprisingly, criticism usually comes from Turkey. Erdogan naturally needed a scapegoat to justify all the things he did there. He knows this very well well. Even before the failed coup, he labeled Hizmet as a terrorist movement. He even stated that there have been previous failed coup attempts. But knows very well that the movement has never incited violence or has anything to do with terrorism. We saw e from the previous year, or the last three years to be exact -right around when the corruption scandal came out-, the start of his purges, all the things that he has done to make sure that no one defies his fabricated narrative. You try to find justice through the court of law, but the court has died for some time now in Turkey. Even so, he has tried to convince the outside that Hizmet was behind the failed coup attempt and in my eyes, he hasn’t succeeded in this, because no matter how hard he cries this out, most people can see through his lies.
The thing is, he’s not just an enemy against Hizmet, he’s an enemy against anyone who is against him, it doesn’t matter who you are. If you are against Erdogan you are either a terrorist or a traitor to your nation. The thing that really got to me was the arrest of the director of Amnesty International. First he was arrested, then he was a accused to trying to set up a terrorist coup. It’s just absurd. You shouldn’t see this as something between Erdogan vs. Gülen, as an ideological battle for the soul of Turkey, it’s much broader than this. It doesn’t matter if your Kurdish, if you’re part of Hizmet, if you’re a secularist, it doesn’t matter to him. We can see this day in and day out and he sadly gets away with it.
I’m just happy we are in Holland, because despite a rough year, a year in which I have been intimidated, insulted and threatened, we have persisted. We won’t be silenced. We continue to proud in what we believe in. We only hope that the outside the world deepens their knowledge about Hizmet, so that they understand what we are trying to do. That’s why Hizmet is more of a social movement, not a political one. It’s not about about politics, it’s a social movement that aims to better society.
Is that’s why it’s such a threat to Erdogan, because it so popular, because it isn’t constraint by religion and reaches out to a broader spectrum of people?
Saniye: Of course, and at first, he had Gülen’s support. But when you look at the people now, what they go through, I’m very happy that Gülen finally said: ”well I’ve supported you for all these years, as did Holland, the EU and the secularists when we saw how you applied yourself…” But when he changed, when it was became obvious what kind of leader he would be, Gülen said ”no more,” and the EU agrees. I’m very happy that Gülen rescinded his support, that he didn’t defy his own values but this was naturally unacceptable for Erdogan. You have to understand, he doesn’t just want to arrest his enemies, he’s talking about exterminating them, wherever in the world they may be. So in his mind, Hizmet people shouldn’t exist anymore, shouldn’t walk the streets anymore, and this proves that he’s just not a danger to them, he’s a danger to the rest of the world. It could be Hizmet now but who is it going to be later or tomorrow?
I can assume then, since I have found no credible sources on this, that the Hizmet movement or Gülen himzelf has never encouraged violence against the Turkish state?
Saniye: Absolutely not, he even has said that there should be an independent national inquiry and, he has said this on the first day even, that if it turns out he had anything to do with it, he would come to face the court in Turkey himself.
If you look at the movement in several countries, around 150-160 countries, to the people, who they are, it’s all more evident that Erdogan’s vision conflicts with reality. Gülen himself time and again, focuses on our collective responsibility to the world and when it comes to radicalization, remember, he was the first Islamic scholar after 11 September, who made a statement that said that ”a Muslim can never be a terrorist and a terrorist can never be a Muslim.”
Do you think the failed coup was a false flag operation?
Saniye: If look collect all the information and evidence, if you look at how it was set up and watch the footage of some of the bombings then it indeed looks like something staged. But like you, I eagerly want to know who were behind it, and it doesn’t matter who they might be, those people needed to be tried in the court of law. But you can’t just arrest thousands of people just because they have a subscription with this newspaper, or they have a child at this school or have a account at this bank, or they sympathize with Hizmet, or you gave a donation here. This is why these people are arrested and most of the time they don’t even know why they were arrested apart from that there was a coup and they either possibly complicit or merely capable of doing one. Same with the Amnesty director. Like you I’m very curious who was behind it and hope that the truth will come out.
(Note: according to a thorough rapport by The Stockholm Center for Freedom, shared to me by Saniye Calkin after this interview, their conclusion has been that ”The body of evidence gathered by SCF that was summarized in this report points out at the elaborate scheme in the disguise of coup attempt in order to benefit Erdoğan and his associates. July 15 events certainly deserve further review, closer scrutiny and deeper investigation.” It’s certainly a worthwhile read: https://stockholmcf.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/15_July_Erdogans_Coup_13.07.2017.pdf )
My position is, is that even if it wasn’t a false coup, Erdogan certainly took advantage of the situation, using it as an excuse to get rid of his enemies. So whether or not it was false, in my eyes it doesn’t really matter, his actions afterwards speak volumes about his character and him as a leader.
My next question: are Turkish immigrants in Holland still afraid to publicly support Gülen or the Hizmet movement or has there been improvements?
Saniye: I know a lot of people who despite everything, are still very open about what they believe in, myself included. Who state, rightfully and proudly: ”this is a free country and we have the right to be who we want to be.” But the fear is certainly still there. There are still tensions inside communities. What is very dangerous now is that opposition against Hizmet was done publicly, we would receive calls or they would express their disdain via social media. Point is: it was all visible, you knew from where to expect them, where they would appear. Well two weeks ago, a rapport came out which talked about militarized thugs of Erdogan being active in Holland. I’m not sure if you heard about this?
Now I haven’t heard about this, please continue…
Saniye: This was two or three weeks ago, the AIVD (General intelligence and Security Service) came out with a rapport, and I can send this to you if you want, but these militarized thugs have been in active in Turkey for some time and now they have set up shop in Holland, doing the criminal bidding of Erdogan in Holland. The fact that the AIVD felt the need to came out with this publicly is very worrisome to me.
That’s horrible, and you know that far-right groups will use this example as an excuse to say ”see integration is not working!”
Saniye: Well you that with integration, because that’s always the main question: does this benefit or obstruct successful integration? I can say at least about Hizmet, looking at any of the inquiries, that it has the highest rate of success when it comes to successfully integrating individuals. We also must delve into the inquiry, be open to it, not fear the outcome. We must always wonder: what do the scientists say? What are the facts?
Do you think the Turkish state media has had a negative influence on how people, from either Turkey or Holland, view Hizmet or Gülen?
Saniye: Certainly, because even people in Holland are bombarded with the media blasting in their living-room or by social-media and this goes on day in, day out. The message of the media certainly has a great influence.
There’s a book I read from Aydogan Vatandas, ‘Hungry for Power’ which is a collection of journalist articles, and this was all written before the coup, but even then he wrote about his worries about Erdogan, particularly in how he started to acquire or take over various media outlets. These very channels are being watched in Holland by Turkish immigrants. All of these channels are very pro-Erdogan and give a completely warped view about what is going on there.
Saniye: Yes but in Turkey the media is in the grips of the supreme leader Erdogan. An flow of information is dictated by him. Yesterday I was appalled knowing that over one million people were protesting, demanding justice, maybe you’ve heard about this, all of these people using their constitutional right to criticize Erdogan and his regime, but what does the Turkish state media air? Old speeches of Erdogan himself.
I compare the situation with Dutch people watching Russia Today and who become in turn, pro-Putin. If you compare Erdogan and Putin together, despite their differences, at the very least you can say that they are anti-democratic. But still they have supporters from the Western world, despite that this person stands against all of the freedoms we enjoy here. This support doesn’t just come from people who don’t know any better, it even comes from the educated ones, the people that SHOULD know better. And this is all because of the particular media outlets they watch…
Saniye: It’s a shame, because for some time Turkey was doing really well, so well in fact that steps were made to let it possibly join the EU one day. Now that option is completely out the window and whether Turkey will become the next Russia or China, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is how dangerous Erdogan has become. How he has proven to the world what is he willing to do in order to protect himself and his regime.
It’s a shame because as you said, Erdogan started out very well. He was a poster-boy for the Islamic leadership of Turkey, of the whole world in fact…
Saniye: That’s why he received the support from so many diverse groups because he did do good things, there was promise to his regime, till a certain point. And when you state openly that you can’t support this man anymore, that’s when he comes after you, he just can’t take it.
It’s similar to many populist leaders: playing the victim card. Always acting as if the whole world is against them. Moving on to a different subject: do you think DENK (Think, the pro-immigrant party who in the last election won three seats) has been a positive or polemic influence in political discourse?
Saniye: Well let me think, well, concerning Think, in the election I have carefully paid attention to the Turkish media and watched the spots starring the gentlemen of Think and they’ve pulled out all stops, did whatever they could to get their seats. I’ve read messages from mosques from the mouths of Imams, imploring people to vote the party. But on that point, regarding the values they apparently hold so dear, I would say: apply this to everyone, every individual and group, in Holland! Don’t dismiss the rest of the country. When it comes to rights, when it comes to being disenfranchised, wanting to find your place, let their voices be heard! Because none of us want this. I’ll give you an example, I can send you a picture of the last day of Ramadan, which was… Let me think 25th of June?
Perhaps, I’m probably the wrong person to ask this…
Saniye: Yes, well on 24-25th of June, there was on the door of a Diyanet mosque, where there was a celebration of the end of Ramadan, in Holland, In Breda, that Hizmet sympathizers were not welcome inside the mosques, to join the service. Well if you talk about disenfranchisement, discrimination, if you talk about these things, if this happens in Holland, or well it doesn’t matter where this happens, but you have to let you voice heard. But sadly I haven’t heard a peep from them, and that’s when you lose credibility in my mind. Do what you say, say what you do but do it because if you don’t, you lose credibility from a lot of people.
A mosque in Breda stating that Hizmet sympathizers are not welcome to take part of the service.
I have similar views about the party. I once wrote an article about Think (https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/chris-van-dijk/failures-of-holland-s-pro-immigrant-party), in which I state that the party had promise, but that has failed in the end to contribute anything positive to political discourse.
One obvious sign of the party’s polemic nature is the way they communicate to their followers: using Twitter or social-media. Oftentimes denigrating or refusing to converse with traditional media outlets- an obvious example is Donald Trump who communicates with his voters mostly through Twitter. They try to turn the people against the establishment, in order to make themselves look like the Underdogs. Now, ignoring the use of internet trolls or their refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, the biggest red flag in my mind is how they have refused to criticize Erdogan. Going so far, that they have even voted against the release of imprisoned journalists in Turkey right?
Saniye: That’s true.
And it’s unfortunate. Their presence only gives more firepower to extreme right-wing groups, like (Geert) Wilders and his kin.
Just to clarify on something, the Diyanet is a Turkish organization that funds mosques?
Saniye: Yes Diyanet is an organization that funds mosques through Ankara. All of the imams, even the content of their sermons come from Turkey. I’ve have seen a program that showed that various mosques held the same sermons on the same day, same time. All of financed by Turkey.
I’ve also read that before Erdogan completely switched to authoritarianism, that a lot of mosques were more progressive or more inclusive. Later these imams were replaced with more, let’s say, Pro-Erdogan imams you could say.
Saniye: Well I know for sure that in Turkey, but also in Holland, they have listed which person supports who. They know this very well or else Erdogan’s purges wouldn’t have been so effective and we saw how fast this went. But this even happens in the consulate in Holland, where if you want to do some work for them, that people have been denied because behind their names are four letters, a word Erdogan likes to call them. This happens in Turkey all the time but in Holland as well.
I was also shocked after I heard, though I’m not sure if the numbers are entirely correct so please correct me if I’m wrong but that 60/70 percent of Turkish immigrants voted yes on the Turkish referendum in Holland?
Saniye: Well let’s say, how many people voted… Almost half I believe, 40-45 percent? Well it’s important to know that from the people who voted, seventy percent voted in favor for Erdogan. That’s a big difference, even though it’s a still a lot. Which is still, if you look at Holland and Germany, extremely high. And naturally you wonder how they could vote this way, especially after all the stories and everything that has happened here in Holland alone. These people consider me a traitor to my country or a terrorist, that’s how they see and they refuse to sit in the table with me because of it.
Examples like this does give people the chance, to look at both Hizmet sympathizers and to the characteristics of Erdogan sympathizers, the difference being obvious. You hope that at a certain point people will see who Erdogan really is: a danger to all of humanity, not just a specific group of people. When you know about the militarized thugs and his purges. First Erdogan calls people to the streets and they might grab the flags at first but it’s not going to stop here. These are very scary things. You just hope that people see this and make the right decision for themselves and their fellow men.
Do you think there’s enough awareness about these subjects, such as his militarized thugs?
Saniye: Well when was this, Friday around two or three weeks, AIVD brought out the rapport, and naturally you don’t hear much from them but they do state the seriousness of this topic. The media does talk about it but you can’t force people to listen. You hope that people know what kind of people were dealing with here. And you must understand these thugs have been reigning hell in for a longer time now. First in Turkey, then Germany and now they are starting in Holland.
Do you think he won the referendum honestly?
Saniye: He’s reached just 51 percent and if you look at how he reached that number, it’s hard to be suspicious. You wonder if he still dares to do it again, especially after all his tiresome effort to barely get more than fifty percent by his side. But you know how it goes with countries run by dictators where voting results suddenly turn to their favor by a whopping 99 percent. You see this happening in neighboring countries of Turkey. So I can’t be sure about whether it was an honest victory, but there’s enough cause for concern.
Protests in Turkey against the result of the referendum.
A completely different question, but something I would like some clarification on, especially since I found conflicting information about this: is the Hizmet movement positive regarding LGBT rights?
Saniye: What is central in Hizmet is our humanity and it doesn’t matter if you are gay or lesbian, everybody deserves respect. So no, it shouldn’t make a difference, certainly not with Hizmet.
My final two questions: are you positive about the future of Hizmet and its message?
Saniye: I think that with Hizmet and most of its proponents, that it’s a way of life: this is how you we live, this is how we are in society, this is how we can be in service to people. That we can do something for people without expecting anything back, that you contribute something to this world of ours. Look it doesn’t matter if Gülen is around or not, or that many of his inspired organizations will disappear, it doesn’t matter. The people who have been inspired by Hizmet will persist. This is a something very positive. I see it as a chance for people to show what they really believe in. And of course it’s a very painful if you see what happens to Hizmet sympathizers in Turkey. Even here in Holland, because the past few years even my children haven’t been spared, my own family has deserted me because I’m part of Hizmet, they refuse to even see me in Holland. There are many examples of these. But despite all of this, it does give you an opportunity to show the world what you really believe in, that you don’t give up despite of it. If you look at it from the viewpoint of integration, it’s something very positive. The people are finally crossing down Turkey in order to focus solely on Holland, accelerating successful integration.
Are you as positive about the future of Turkey?
(A big sigh before she answers)
Saniye: if Erdogan continues in the same manner, there will be chaos and imbalance in this world, including in Holland. He’s consistently railing at his opponents and everything is going so fast. As long as he’s there I don’t see it going the right direction. This worries me a lot.