Wednesday, January 23, 2008

COMMENT: Sense and nonsense on Fethllah Gulen and the Australian Catholic University ...

Well the gloves really have been taken off in the battle between the radical fringe obsessed with finding civilisational conflict everywhere on the one hand, and the rest of the universe on the other.

It all started with an article appearing in Quadrant, authored by one Father Paul Stenhouse. Poor Mr Stenhouse was frothing at the pen at the decision by the Australian Catholic University to accept money from some allegedly secretive radical jihadist from Turkey.

And who is this nasty long-bearded beedy-eyed terror-loving mullah? It is none other then ... wait for it ... and try not to laugh too hard when his identity is revealed ... Muhammad Fethullah Gulen!

Yep, this chap who has been lambasted by Turkish Islamists for refusing to endorse Islamist parties, and who has even allegedly told his female followers to remove their hijabs to get a university education is being accused by Fr Stenhouse of being linked to his worst critics.

I'm in the process of completing the second part of a critique for the ABC's Unleashed opinion and commentary portal. The first part can be found here.

The issue has also ben picked up by The Australian here. Professor Greg Barton of Monash Unversity makes these sensible observations reported by The Oz as follows ...

But another scholar of Islam, Monash University professor Greg Barton, who has also made a special study of Gulen, has dismissed Father Stenhouse's objections.

Dismissing the article as poorly written and "not particularly well-argued", Professor Barton said the Gulen movement was marked by the commitment of its members to work hard, live modestly and to serve others, which often meant donating money to worthy causes, such as education and interfaith initiatives.

"Father Stenhouse conflates this quiescent Sufism with some of the rare examples of Sufi militantism," Professor Barton said. "For the most part, Sufis are accommodationists rather than confrontational."

"(The Gulen movement) is the antithesis of Islamist movements."

Later, in the letters section of the Higher Education section, one Ban Tzur manufactures the claim that the Muslim Brotherhood was

... an originally Egyptian Sufi movement responsible for the assassination of Anwar Sadat for making peace with Israel and the central inspiration for the Palestinian Hamas terrorists, for Algerian extremists, and for much else wrong with the Arab world.

It is true that the founder of the Ikhwan did attend sufi circles early in life, even writing a book of Sufi prayers (or wird). It is also true that the Ikhwan underwent a split, with some members going even further toward political extremism than even Syed Qutb.

What evidence does Tzur have that the Ikhwani Sufis were behind the assassination of former Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat? To be fair, Tzur would hardly have a chance to present his evidence in a letter to the editor. Perhaps he can present his evidence in this forum.

One researcher from Georgetown University (a private Catholic University in Washington DC) had this to say ...

I HAVE had several years of close association with members of the Fethullah Gulen movement, which is associated not only with the new chair at the Australian Catholic University but with many initiatives across the world promoting education and inter-religious understanding. This is no Trojan horse, as Paul Stenhouse has insisted on calling it. Indeed he might be interested to know that the movement has received a lot of criticism from Muslims who fear that it is a Christian Trojan horse. Wags in Turkey like to joke that the cardinal named in secret in 2003 by pope John Paul II was Fethullah Gulen.

A charge of naivety is the weapon of choice used against those in either religion who refuse to resign themselves to the nightmarish vision of an endless clash of civilisations but who are game enough to try something new. The ACU and the Australian Intercultural Society are to be praised rather than pilloried for this small but courageous opening.

There's no doubt that the intellectual and educational reform movement led by Fethullah Hoca has been criticised by many Muslims as being too accommodatory to Turkish secular nationalism. That regular writers for Quadrant have found cause to attack even such a harmless group is further evidence of just how nutty and tunnel-visioned the far-Right have becomde.

© Irfan Yusuf 2008

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