Achieving Peace Through Education and Dialogue: The Gülen Movement

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Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House, London School of Economics, London

Dr Ozcan Keles

Dr Ozcan Keles

Chairperson of the Dialogue Society

Ozcan is a non-practising Barrister and member of the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn. He is the Chairperson of the Dialogue Society since 2008; was the Executive Chairperson of the same organisation between 2008 and 2014; the Executive Editor of the peer-reviewed biannual academic Journal of Dialogue Studies since 2014 and a full-time PhD candidate in the sociology of human rights at the University of Sussex. Between 2006 and 2009 he was a research student with Prof Kevin Boyle at the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex, where he held the Scholarship Award of 2006. Ozcan was called to the Bar in 2005 after successfully completing the Bar course at the Inns of Court School of Law. He obtained his LLM in Human Rights Law from SOAS, University of London, in 2002.

Ozcan Keles, Dialogue Society Executive Director, delivered a lecture at the London School of Economics as part of a day-long conference organised by INFORM. The Conference was about new movements originating from the Islamic tradition. Ozcan’s lecture as entitled ‘Achieving peace through education and dialogue: the Gülen Movement’. The event was very well attended and took place at the Hong Kong Theatre in Clement House.

Abstract

This paper will examine the values and views of Fethullah Gülen and the dynamics and activities of the transnational movement he inspires, known as the ‘Gülen Movement’ in academia or the ‘community of volunteers’ in public. The paper will begin be addressing the question of what makes Gulen so influential. The second part of the paper will examine Gülen’s views and theology relevant to the issue of religion in the public space, such as politics, integration, dialogue, community cohesion and human rights. The paper will contend that Gülen’s discourse in general and his emphasis on dialogue in particular was instrumental in loosening religiously-fixed cultural dogmas and taboos that hitherto prevented practicing Muslims in Turkey from internalising democracy, pluralism, and liberal human rights discourse.

Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic scholar and peace activist, has motivated millions to engage and invest in raising educational attainment through nondenominational education and betterment of community relations through intercultural dialogue. The movement’s primary objective is to achieve peaceful relations and greater understanding through education and dialogue. The movement is a strictly non-adversarial: it does not function as or compete with any political party, it does not contend with any grouping, political or religious, for mass appeal, and it does not have a ‘manifesto’ of claims against the state. It is a loosely connected group of people who share in the broad ideals and principles of the movement. The message inspired by Fethullah Gülen is one of selfless service without ulterior motives. All the establishments run by the Movement operate within the legal and political system in place, adhere to the local educational curricula and respect the locally prevalent social norms. What is significant about this Movement and its teacher is that they claim that Islam necessitates such an outlook. Such a conciliatory approach motivated originally by faith, yet geared to serving all people regardless of faith, is uncommon and refreshing. Dialogue is an essential element and permanent anchor of the Movement’s conciliatory outlook and its educational activities. As a result, the movement now draws support from people of different backgrounds including those of no faith and non-Muslim background.