“You must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the power centers. . . . You must wait for the time when you are complete and conditions are ripe, until we can shoulder the entire world and carry it. . . . You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power . . . in Turkey. . . . Until that time, any step taken would be too early—like breaking an egg without waiting the full forty days for it to hatch.”
—Imam Fetullah Gülen, CIA-asset in a sermon to followers in Turkey
“Because of the large amount of money that Gülen’s movement uses to finance his projects, there are claims that he has secret agreements with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkic governments. There are suspicions that the CIA is a co-payer in financing these projects.”
—US State Department in a hearing opposing Gülen’s application for US residency
Fethullah Gülen’s Spider Net
As they were deploying Osama bin Laden’s Arab Mujahideen “holy warriors” into Chechnya and the Caucasus during the 1990s—in order to secure oil pipeline routes for the Anglo-American oil companies independent of Russian control—the CIA, working with a network of self-styled “neoconservatives” in Washington, began to build their most ambitious political Islam project ever.
It was called the Fethullah Gülen Movement, also known in Turkish as Cemaat,
or “The Society.” Their focus was Hizmet,
or what they defined as the “duty of Service” to the Islamic community. Curiously enough, the Turkish movement was based out of Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, in the scenic foothills of the Pocono Mountains. There, its key figure, the reclusive Fethullah Gülen, was busy building a global network of Islam schools, businesses, and foundations, all with untraceable funds.[i]
His Gülen Movement, or Cemaat
, had no main address, no mailbox, no official organizational registration, no central bank account, nothing. His followers never demonstrated for Sharia or Jihad—their operations were all hidden from view.
In 2008, US Government court filings estimated the global value of Gülen’s empire at anywhere between $25 and $50 billion. No one could prove how large it was as there were no independent audits. In a US Court testimony during the hearing on Gülen’s petition for a special US Green Card permanent residence status, one loyal Cemaat journalist described the nominal extent of Gülen’s empire:
The projects sponsored by Gülen-inspired followers today number in the thousands, span international borders and are costly in terms of human and financial capital. These initiatives include over 2000 schools and seven universities in more than ninety countries in five continents, two modern hospitals, the Zaman
newspaper (now in both a Turkish and English edition), a television channel (Samanyolu
), a radio channel (Burc FM), CHA (a major Turkish news agency), Aksiyon
(a leading weekly news magazine), national and international Gülen conferences, Ramadan interfaith dinners, interfaith dialog trips to Turkey from countries around the globe and the many programs sponsored by the Journalists and Writers Foundation. In addition, the Isik insurance company and Bank Asya, an Islamic bank, are affiliated with the Gülen community.[ii]
Bank Asya was listed among the Top 500 Banks in the world by London’s Banker
magazine. It had joint-venture banking across Muslim Africa, from Senegal to Mali in a strategic cooperation agreement with the Islamic Development Bank’s Senegal-based Tamweel Africa Holding SA.[iii]Zaman
, which also owned the English-language Today’s Zaman,
was the largest daily paper in Turkey. The journalist’s description of the Gülen holdings named in the US Court document was very carefully formulated, especially with the statement “projects sponsored by Gülen-inspired followers,” which left actual ownership conveniently vague and completely untraceable.
By the late 1990s, Gülen’s movement had attracted the alarm and attention of an anti-NATO wing of the Turkish military and of the Ankara government.
After leading a series of brilliant military campaigns in the 1920s to win the Independence War that he initiated against an invasion by foreign and allied forces of British, Greek, Italian, French, and other victors of World War I, Ataturk had established the modern Turkish state. He then launched a series of political, economic, and cultural reforms aimed at transforming the religiously-based Ottoman Caliphate into a modern, secular, and democratic nation-state. He built thousands of new schools, made primary education free and compulsory, and gave women equal civil and political rights, and reduced the burden of taxation on peasants.
Gülen and his movement aimed at nothing less than to roll-back the remains of that modern, secular Kemalism in Turkey, and return to the Caliphate of yore. In one of his writings to members, he declared, “With the patience of a spider we lay our net until people get caught in it.”[iv]
In 1998, Gülen defected to the US shortly before a treasonous speech he had made to his followers at a private gathering was made public. He had been recorded calling on his supporters to “work patiently and to creep silently into the institutions in order to seize power in the state,” treason by the Ataturk constitution of Turkey.
“Confronting the World” from Pennsylvania
In 1999, Turkish television aired footage of Gülen delivering a sermon to a crowd of followers in which he revealed his aspirations for an Islamist Turkey ruled by Sharia (Islamic law), as well as the specific methods that should be used to attain that goal. In the secret sermon, Gülen said,
- You must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the power centers . . . until the conditions are ripe, they [the followers] must continue like this. . . You must wait for the time when you are complete and conditions are ripe, until we can shoulder the entire world and carry it. . . You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey. . . Until that time, any step taken would be too early—like breaking an egg without waiting the full forty days for it to hatch. It would be like killing the chick inside. The work to be done is in confronting the world. Now, I have expressed my feelings and thoughts to you all—in confidence. . . trusting your loyalty and secrecy.[v]
Shortly after Gülen fled to Pennsylvania, Turkish prosecutors demanded a ten-year sentence against him for having “founded an organization that sought to destroy the secular apparatus of state and establish a theocratic state.”
Gülen never left the United States after that time, curiously enough, even though the Islamist Erdoğan courts later cleared him in 2006 of all charges.[vi]
His refusal to return, even after being cleared by a then friendly Erdoğan Islamist AKP government, heightened the conviction among opponents in Turkey about his close CIA ties.
Gülen was charged in 2000 by the then secular Turkish courts of having committed treason. Claiming diabetes as a medical reason, Fethullah Gülen had managed to escape to a permanent exile in the United States, with the help of some very powerful CIA and State Department friends, before his indictment was handed down.[vii]
Some suspected he was forewarned.
Outwardly, Gülen cultivated an appealing profile on his official website as a purveyor of a “modern,” peaceful Sufi form of Islam, one adapted to today’s world. It wasn’t the 16th
century harsh Islam of the Wahhabite Bedouins of the Saudi Arabian desert. Under a benign-looking portrait of a pensive, almost philosophical Gülen stood the slogan, “Understanding and Respect.” Self-promoting articles with titles such as “Islamic scholar Gülen’s poems turned into songs for international album,” were typical, all praising the sublime wisdom of Gülen, giving an aura of Sufi tranquility, peace, and love.[viii]
In a 2008 profile, The New York Times
described Gülen’s organization, by then firmly entrenched across the United States with more than one hundred state-financed Charter Schools: “The Gulen movement. . . does not seek to subvert modern secular states, but encourages practicing Muslims to use to the full the opportunities they offer. It is best understood as the Islamic equivalent of Christian movements appealing to business and the professions.”[ix]
A better press promotion was hard to imagine. Similar articles or coverage of Gülen with uncritical praise emerged from the mainstream Western media ranging from the London Economist
Gülen’s ultra-professional website claimed that the Gülen Movement, “funds all of its activities by donations from members of the community from the general public and does not accept any help support from governments in any form. This approach has helped the Movement stay away from corruption and politics.”[x]
Because of the movement’s large and extensive business holdings, Gülen’s Hizmet
had been described as having “characteristics of a cult or of an Islamic Opus Dei.” The comparison was perhaps more than to the point, in many respects.[xi]
CIA Gives Wolf Sheep’s Clothing
Unlike the CIA’s Mujahideen Jihadists, like Hekmatyar in Afghanistan or Naser Orić in Bosnia, the CIA decided to give Fethullah Gülen a radically different image. No blood-curdling, head-severing, human-heart-eating Jihadist, Fethullah Gülen was presented to the world as a man of “peace, love and brotherhood,” even managing to grab a photo op with Pope John Paul II, which Gülen featured prominently on his website.