Monday, February 17, 2014

A power struggle? I think not! A personal response to a Guardian article

Photograph: Jivan Guner/EPA
Thoughts shared with the editor of The Guardian about a recent article covering the current political climate in Turkey.

Dear Editor,

I am emailing about the following article: Turkish police caught in middle of war between Erdoğan and former ally Gülen by Constanze Letsch on Sunday 9 February 2014. (ülen-network)


I am sorry to say that I found the article lacking in a number of important respects. I am emailing to provide feedback which I hope will be taken in the light that it is offered: honest, non-reactionary and genuine. I am a PhD researcher on Fethullah Gülen’s philosophy and recently submitted my thesis on Gülen’s moral responsibility theory.

For ease of reference I am detailing my critique in list form:-

  1.      The entire article is based on the argument that the Gülen-inspired Hizmet movement has infiltrated the police. The author is welcome to take this position if he or she so wishes of course. But given that this is a central argument/proposition of the article, should not the author dedicate at least a paragraph or two as to why he believes this narrative over the alternative - that is that there are Gülen sympathisers in the police force, that this is a statistical inevitability given that the movement is widespread and focuses on education but that there is no parallel decision making-process and that such officers cannot be suspect simply because they are Gülen inspired. What is important is whether or not they comply with the law, constitution and their own professional code of conduct.

2.      The entire article claims that the Hizmet movement has infiltrated the police and judiciary and are running these corruption investigations. These are serious allegations against a civil society movement comprising many people. Therefore, should not the author include what Gülen and the movement have to say about this? The article does not. This is not only deeply unfair to Gülen, the movement and officers inspired by Gülen but also to its readers who will not be informed of the movement’s rebuttal.

3.      The entire article claims that the Hizmet movement has infiltrated the police force and judiciary but does not include a single reference to the fact that Gülen was tried of this charge between 2000 and 2006. The charge against him was to head an organisation to infiltrate state structures - including the police. After the 6 year trial, Gülen was acquitted (not dismissed or dropped) of all charges in 2006. The prosecutor appealed and Gülen’s acquittal was upheld by the highest court of appeal in the land in 2008. What is more, this trial was conducted by a staunchly secular judiciary – a judiciary that convicted the AK Party in 2008 of being the centre of religious reactionarysm.

Given the central argument of the piece and the obvious relevance of the trial, why did the author not mention it in his article? If Gülen had been found guilty in 2006 of ‘infiltrating the state’, surely the author would have included that given that he’s included a Wikileak quote to the same effect. Is this not grossly unfair? It gives the strong impression that the author only includes what fits his narrative.

4.      The article does not state that so far 7,000 police officers and 300 prosecutors have been reassigned. It does not inform its readers that those reassigned (purged) did not face a single charge or disciplinary procedure before or after being reassigned. Surely that is important. If these people are guilty, then why reassign them to another province? Surely the thing to do is to ensure that they are removed from their post according to due process.

5.      The article does not state that those purged does not only include police officers and prosecutors running live corruption investigations but also police officers in any part of Turkey that could run investigations into government corruption (i.e. those attached to the organised crime unit). Clearly this is not about Gülen or Gülen inspired officers but about preventing any investigation into government corruption.

6.      The article draws a comparison between the ‘corruption investigations’ and ‘government purge’ of ‘Gülenists’ by quoting Ahmet Sik who says ‘There is also a real witchhunt going on. We have massive corruption on the one hand, but the investigation against it also violates democratic and judicial principles. It's a choice between a rock and a hard place, pest and cholera.’ The point being made is that the ‘corruption investigations’ and the ‘counter purges’ are both illegitimate. But the article does not say how? The corruption investigations were run by state prosecutors according to the law and overseen by court orders. How can that be compared to the mass scale government purge that has not sought to follow any judicial process or procedure whatsoever.

7.      The article states the dramatic and far-reaching ‘purges have been taking place more quietly for years. According to both Yilmaz and Gün, internal investigations have been conducted against tens of thousands of police officers over the past four years alone.’ The article does not address the anomaly here: if tens of thousands of Gülen-inspired officers have been purged from the police force for over the past four years (and before the current wave of reassignments), how can the Hizmet movement continue to wield such great power within the police force today to the degree that they can mount such massive government corruption investigations?

8.      The article is selective in that it refers to only part of Erdogan’s ‘this is a Gülenist coup’ claim. The article states that Erdogan believes that ‘Gülenists’ are behind the corruption investigations. But why does it omit the fact that Erdogan from the very beginning has claimed that this ‘Gülenist parallel state’ acts on behalf of an international coalition of powers. His advisers and MPs have named these powers explicitly as the US, Israel, Germany, UK, France etc.

9.      Curiously, the article does not state that the opposition political parties such as the left-wing Republican Peoples Party of the right wing National Action Party does not buy into Erdogan’s argument that the Hizmet movement is orchestrating these probes through its people in the police force. Why not? The author does not include a single rebuttal in the entire article that counters the claim that ‘Gülenists’ have infiltrated the police and are behind all this. Is that not odd?

10.   The articles does not query how these officers were identified as ‘Gülenist’ in the absence of any formal process. If we are to accept that these officers were purged for being ‘Gülenist’ then we must concede that they were profiled prior to these investigations. The author does not follow or even hint at this line of enquiry. 

11.   The article states that ‘[t]hose who dared to criticise the Gülen movement before were swiftly punished’ but does not state that to date over 44 anti-Gülen books have been published - over 25 between 2006 and 2011. If this argument was fair these authors would also have faced a similar treatment to that of Ahmet Sik. Why does the author not refer to this point at all? (Reference: Koç, D. (2011) Strategic Defamation Of Fethullah Gülen: English Vs. Turkish. European Journal of Economic and Political Studies, 4, pp.189–244.)

Most importantly, the article does not address the elephant in the room: that is that to prevent the corruption investigations the government is causing a Constitutional crisis to undermine the separation of powers in Turkey. This is the big story here and is completely missed. The author is welcome to dismiss it – but should he not have at least alerted his readers to this narrative.

My problem with the article is not that it takes a particular view. After all, it is an opinion piece and will do so. My concern is that the article makes very serious and grave allegations about a popular movement but does not state what they have to say about these claims. It takes one narrative without explaining why it has dismissed the alternative. It omits vital information that is highly relevant. Overall, this not only undermines the article but is also unfair to the author’s readers.

Yours kindly
Ismail Mesut Sezgin

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