zaterdag 31 maart 2012

Hizmet in NL



This short essay is written as a reaction to Paul Weller and Ihsan Yilmaz (eds), European Muslims, Civility and Public life. Perspectives on and from the Gülen Movement, London/New York:2012. I was asked to give a Dutch reflection on the general theme of the book. In line with the general tendency of the Gülen Movement I pay first attention to the concrete activities of the sohbets and only in the last part to the philosophical and religious doctrines.






In 1980 (or 1981) the first Group of activists gathered around Necder Başaran, who worked as imam and religious leader of the new Akyzili Foundation in Rotterdam. This name was chosen after a follower of Fethullah Gülen in Izmir who donated his house to become a boarding house for high school students in Izmir. These were in many cases migrants from East Turkey to the booming industrial town on the west coast. Gülen himself was born also in East Turkey and his great influence started among this new urban population who sought a new social network and cultural and religious support. Akyazili also started a boarding house in Rotterdam. The activists also started after-school tuition for Turkish pupils of primary schools who needed extra help to survive in the Dutch educational system. In 1983 the municipality of Rotterdam provided Akyazili with a larger building, a former public library. In 1986 they moved again to a better building, Diergaardesingel in Rotterdam.



1. Help for pupils in primary and secondary education.
This first activity developed quickly to other major towns of the Netherlands. Under NPOINT (Dutch Platform for Innovation of Education and Talent Development) six foundations are cooperating: White Tulip in Haarlem and Amsterdam, Instituut het Centrum in Rotterdam, CEMIN in Utrecht, Kennisplein in Tilburg and other towns in the province of Brabant, De Ijssel in the eastern province, Meridiaan in Amersfoort. All these foundations want to stimulate school participation and development of talents, language courses in Dutch. They receive in many cases modest subsidies from local governments for a small permanent staff, for buildings and technical equipment, but most work is done by volunteers. 

2. Information: Zaman (mostly in Turkish for Dutch people, some editions in Dutch)
In 1986 the activists in Rotterdam started a branch of the Gülen related newspaper Zaman, especially for the Turkish community in the Netherlands. Between 2005 and 2010 (?) a monthly Dutch edition was published and distributed for free in the Netherlands with issues such as integration of Muslims in Dutch society, the rise of Islamophobia, activities of Hizmet people. Zaman also makes Television programs of encounters between Turkish migrants and local Dutch society. They sell these to local television networks. Incidentally Zaman received modest subsidies from the Rotterdam municipality.

3. A Turkish Rotary club: philantropy in a social setting
HOGIAF is a network of some 600 businessmen of Turkish descent, who come together in 8 local chapters (under different names: the series of foundations and organisaties is very long!). They discuss the promotion of their business, give mutual support. They are also important as donators for the volunteer activities and support the Gülen related activities through their philanthropy.
4. Cosmicus as a Students´ Movement  and 5. Islam and Dialogue
In 1995 the Stichting Cosmicus was established by students and young graduates of Turkish origin in the Netherlands as a foundation with the purpose to support (mostly Turkish and Moroccan) students from elementary schools until colleges and universities in their study and personal development, and to help them start a thriving career. The successful older students of Turkish descent should serve as role models of success in the new country. The same model was also started by other Turkish and some Moroccan people. They did so at home or in community centres. The first chairman of Cosmicus, Ümit Taş searched in a Latin-Dutch dictionary of 1910 and found the word Cosmicus in the meaning of the universe, worldly, but also as world citizen. Second chairman was Turan Yazir who was succeeded in 2002 by Gürkan Çelik. Universities, municipalities and private funds donated subsidies for activities, especially for the mentor project. From the early years also some ethnic Dutch people joined the leadership of the organization. After starting Cosmicus, Ùmit Taş also initiated a Foundation Islam and Dialogue. (More about it below, in relation to the Dialogue Academy).
Cosmicus branches were established in all major university towns of the Netherlands. Initially the centre was in Amsterdam, between 2000 and 2002 in Utrecht, while since then the headquarters are in Rotterdam. Stichting Cosmicus is known for its academic network, training for leadership, conferences for job career planning, also for sports and social events like lectures and meals at the occasion of iftar (breaking the fast in a festive manner at the end of a day in Ramadan) and even Christmas. One of its means of communication is the magazine De.Cascade with articles by Dutch and Turkish authors on a variety of academic and social subjects. Conferences at the universities of Rotterdam, Tilburg, and Nijmegen resulted in a small book on Promoters of Peace, discussing among others Desiderius Erasmus, John Paul II, Fethullah Gülen, Dalai Lama and Sister Teresa of Calcutta.  For these dialogues and contacts the Dialogue Academy where we are now was established in 2007 as a place and a small community for social and political debates.
A special activity of Cosmicus, aiming at very young children was the publication of a Dutch translation of six Turkish books for children in the age 6-12. Stichting Cosmicus is quite keen and well experienced in seeking Dutch funds for its activities. For the package of six children books it received funding from well-known cultural funds, the VSB Fonds (related to Fortis Bank) and Oranje Fonds (related to the Dutch royal family).
6. Cosmicus schools.
Some 100 of the about 1000 members of Cosmicus are teachers. They gather twice a year to discuss their position and contribution to society. About 2000 they proposed to start a series of Gülen schools. They were not successful in individual schools, but were sought by other organizations in combinations. In 2006 Cosmicus College started as a high school and in 2008 in Amsterdam the Cosmicus Montessori College has opened. Since then also two Cosmicus primary schools were opened (Rotterdam and Amsterdam).
            The Dutch Cosmicus schools follow a quite different procedure, compared to the more elitist schools in Turkey, Albania, Indonesia and many other countries. Perhaps they are even closer to the original inspiration of Hoja Effendi. They are emancipation schools. Like the quite similar Lucerna schools in Belgium, they are fully subsidised by the government. Cosmicus Rotterdam even received € 300.000 from the Minister of Education Maria van der Hoeven as a help in the start. Building are provided by the city of Rotterdam and Amsterdam. They have a majority of Turkish pupils, but the Turkish language if forbidden absolutely on the premises of the school and during classes. They are according to Dutch law not public, but private schools. Their identity is not religious and religious classes are even not included in the curriculum. World citizenship (wereldburgerschap) is the ideological background or ideal of the schools. They are member of the international network of UNESCO schools and the millennium goals of the UN are important ideals in the lessons about world citizenship. Cosmicus schools also have taken the initiative to introduce in 2009 INESPO in our country: International Environment & Scientific Project Olympiad. The Amsterdam high school cooperates closely with the Anne Frank House for projects of anti-racism and more outspoken even anti-semitism.          
After a decade dominated by Gülen sympathisers of the old generation (who were still reading the Risale-i Nur between 1980-1990) the young and better educated group has taken over the lead in the Gülen movement since the early 1990s. One of these is Alaatin Erdal who was the director of the first boarding house in 1993. He was later the director of Dutch Zaman, and since 2010 for the Christian Democratic Party one of the top officials in the Rotterdam administration of Charlois. This younger generation can speak Dutch fluently, they are well versed in the complicated administration of the bureaucracy, they know how to present their  ideas and plans and how to find subsidies from the Dutch central and local government. Most policies about the new minorities in our country are developed by the white officials, but here we find initiatives from the side of Turkish migrants or second generation Turkish-Dutch activists. In their schools and after-school tuition the Turkish origin is still visible, but they are open to all groups in society and try to involve many other people in their activities as well.
Mrs. Dorith Vlottes, Coordinator of Education in the primary school of Cosmicus Rotterdam with Mehmet Cerit, general director of Cosmicus.

7. Dialogue Academy.
With the generous help of HOGIAF-members and some public subsidies, in 2007 the Dialogue Academy was established in Rotterdam, Rochussenkade 122 (in a building where also Islam and Dialogue found plave for its offices). While Islam and Dialogue focuses on the inter-religious meeting, the Dialogue Academy wants to be a platform for the debate on the multicultural society. It organized meetings between politicans of national parties with younger people, many of foreign origin. During the election campaign this was a very fruitful. In this blog I have reported quite often about their meetings. Besides public meetings, Dialogue Academy also has small scale programs like the new initiative to urge parents of Moroccan and Turkish pupils in primary schools to become more active in the schools of their children by attending evenings of meetings with teachers, by voluntary activities in the schools.
The Dialogue Academy is planning to work more intensively with the Foundation Islam and Dialogue on the inter-religious forum in our country. Islam and Dialogue has a very intensive cooperation with some Protestant Churches in Rotterdam. They alternate between the building of the Rochussenstraat and a Protestant Church in Delfshaven for a continuing programme on the biblical persons in the Muslim representations of Qur'an and Hadith.
They also join forces with the Foundation Dialogue Haaglanden (The Hague: the Gülen people like to start many foundations that form a loose network. It is sometimes quite difficult to make lists of all these activities.

Until here we have summarized the most important of the social initiatives of Gülen inspired people in the Netherlands. They have influenced the lives of tens of thousands of young people by tuition, in students’ movements, in the multicultural schools, started not from the existing bureaucracy but from below. Like the first decades of the work of Gülen. Not the luxurious elite schools, but schools filled with problems that were seen as challenges and possibilities.

Religion is not a first issue in Gülen related activities: it is even often neglected and there is more concentration on social and economic issues. But the movement experiences problems through the religious background of Fethullah Gülen and the general sentiment of Islamophobia in our country. On 4 July 2008 the Dutch Public Television broadcasted a documentary on Gülen related activities, concentrating on the boarding houses. Two teenage boys were in the programme in a quite sensational way, their faces made unrecognizable and their voices also transformed so as not to be identified. They complained about discipline, physical punishment, compulsion in religious matters. The programme in general stated that Fethullah Gülen had a double agenda and sought influence under the mask of dialogue, but in fact wanted to introduce shari’a law in Turkey and is seen as a threat towards a pluralist and secular society. Here the debate of Kemalist versus religious parties of Turkey entered Dutch television (in this case in the programme NOVA, in mid-2008). Besides some unidentified boarding houses also the newly established Dialoog Academie, the Dutch office of the newspaper Zaman and the Cosmicus School, all three in Rotterdam were here connected with the Gülen movement and discredited. Soon afterwards members of parliament have put questions to the government that initially spoke quite soothing (because the intelligence officials saw no negative aspects of these initiatives), but finally the government has decided to a further inquiry. The inquiry, by Prof. Martin van Bruinessen of Utrecht University, resulted in a quite positive public report, where only two points remained critical: the severe discipline in some boarding houses (that were popular in the period 1990-2008, but now all are closed) and the well-known Turkish critical journalists who were put in jail for their negative statement about the Hizmet movement.
In the report of Van Bruinessen one case is mentioned about a teenager who discovered a homosexual inclination and therefore was excluded from further participation in the boarding house and the movement where he in fact had sought a ‘remedy’ to be ‘cured’ from his inclination. This is an indication of some problematic issues about the Gülen movement in the Netherlands. There are few religious specialists among the movement that is generally characterized as an orthodox or conservative group. In science, in social activities they are without any doubt progressive and optimistic, keen on emancipation and personal development of the members. But in religious ideology there is little debate. In the report by Van Bruinessen one Kurd man is quoted who received advice from an abi or religious authority in the Netherlands that he should not give his children Kurdish names. But this anti-Kurdish sentiment is not the general policy of the Hizmet movement. Just one quote from a website with information about Gülen and the Kurd struggle.




Starting from 2000 he has been commending wealthier families from the western part of Turkey to locate and befriend poor families in the east. He urged them, for example, to spend Eids together.  In response, thousands went to the eastern part of Turkey, stayed there and helped the poor families through the  Kimse Yok Mu relief charity. He urged schools in the west to provide scholarships for the poor children who otherwise could not afford a good education: hundreds of children got their secondary education on full scholarship in well-established schools in the big cities of Turkey such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.  He persuaded philanthropic businessmen to open ‘reading rooms’ in the eastern part of Turkey: hundreds were opened and thousands of children received free maths and science courses. Gülen also urged teachers to give voluntary lessons in those reading rooms: hundreds of volunteers responded and moved to the region without any expectation of material reward for doing so. Indeed, most of the recent social mobility from west to east in Turkey can be credited to Fethullah Gülen’s good counsels. Also, after the change in the law which permitted TV broadcasting in Kurdish, it was on Gülen’s advice that the first private channel broadcasting in Kurdish, namely Dunya TV, was established.
At the end of the day the Gülen movement is a social movement; it cannot and does not aspire to make laws. Recently, Prime Minister Erdogan declared that nobody should expect from him amendments to the law about the right to educate in one’s mother tongue. As an opinion leader Gülen stated that it is a fundamental right to educate in one’s mother tongue and getting education in one’s mother tongue is an option in the established democracies in the West.  Now, was there any obligation on him to do this, especially in view of the opposition of the current government on this issue? Simply, no.  Some people asked that if Gülen really believes that this is a natural right, why don’t Gülen schools offer education in Kurdish as an option? The answer is: it is still illegal to do so.

Another issue is the Alevi tradition within Turkish Muslim tradition. In Ali Ünal´s book on Gülen as Advocate of Dialogue, 67-70 there are liberal statements (Alevi should have freedom of religion, worship, should be allowed to erect cem-houses), but also critical issues like the position that they should stick to a  written tradition (preferably of people like Yunus Enre) and not to the vague oral traditionsas they practise nowadays. Dialogue is and tolerance not the same as indifference or neglect of opposed ideas and practice.

  Gurkan Celik has written a doctoral dissertation at Tilburg University on the ideal of social cohesion though dialogue and education. Like the writings by Fethullah Gülen himself, it concentrates on ethical values and virtues, rather than on prescripts of shari’a. This idea was continued in a project by the Dialogue Academy in cooperation with the law faculty of Leiden University on the cross-cultural doctrines of virtues. Here it was stressed that Gülen follows the line of Muslim philosophers like Ibn Miskawayh and Al-Ghazali who continued the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle about virtues as self-realisation of human beings. In his writings Gülen makes a clear distinction between shari’a strict rules for religious rituals (prayer, pilgrimage, fasting, so-called ‘ibadāt) in contrast to  civil practice or mu’amalāt where the individual is less bound by fixed rules. In his major writings (the 4 volumes on Sufism, Essentials of the Islamic Faith, Questions and answers about faith) Gülen nearly exclusively discusses mystical and philosophical issues and very seldom detail of shari’a  rules. That is very encouraging and important. However, the debate on Islam in Western Europe, also in the Netherlands, often is about the veil, ritual slaughtering, mixed marriage, apostacy. Gülen rejects any violence, but for the rest his voice and that if his followers or sohbets is not so much heard in the debate about Islam in Europe.
Internal cooperation in Islam is difficult in our country: there are so many divisions even among Muslims of Turkish origin: Diyanat, Milli Görüş, Süleimanli, Nurculuk, Hizmet, it all present in the town of Rotterdam. At close distance from this place there are two competing Islamic Universities, both with a Turkish rector. The rector of the Islamic University of Rotterdam, Ahmad Akgündüz, once told me that he had a dream at the time of his invitation to come and teach in Rotterdam. He also had an an invitation for Princeton University. But then in this dream Said Nursi appeared and called him to Rotterdam ‘because the European Christians are not able to counter secularisation.’ Akgündüz obeyed and became rector in Rotterdam. His institute cooperates with Christians and secular humanists in this country, like this Dialogue Academy. That is proposed and stimulated by Hoja Effendi, the man of peace and dialogue. It is, however, my personal conviction that we are not called to seek and promote religion against secularism, but within a secular society. Dialogue should not be among the established conservative leaders of the religions, but with the young and creative the critical and heretic perhaps more than with the old generation and the vested interest of traditional leaders. I am confident, that the quite flexible and action oriented young generation of Gülen friends is able to meet these challenges also in our country, for the best of secular, Christian and Muslim people.

Bruinessen, Martin van
2010    De Gülen-beweging in Nederland, Universiteit Utrecht.
Canatan, Kadir
2001    Turkse Islam. Perspectieven op organisatievorm en leiderschap in Nederland, Doctoral dissertation, University of Rotterdam.
Celik, Gurkan
2010    The Gülen Movement. Building social cohesion through dialogue and education, Delft, Eburon
2011    [with Karel Steenbrink] ‘De gulden middenweg van de islamitische ethiek’, Filosofie en Praktijk, vol. 32/3:74-89.
Fähmel, Anita
2009    Dossier Fethullah Gülen, Leefbaar Rotterdam.
Landman, Nico
1992    Van mat tot minaret. De institutionalisering van de Islam in Nederland, Amsterdam: VU Uitgeverij.

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