The use of the hateful term “FETÖ” has now turned into a buzzword in Turkey as the oppressor, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has entrenched this despicable phrase in the psyche and minds of the Turkish people.
Not only did he coin the term but also engineered a society under the spell of fake news that resulted in a culture that is indifferent, silent, deaf and blind to hundreds of thousands of victims from the Gülen movement. Now, rapists, murderers and even couples who go through terrible divorces invoke “FETÖ” to earn a favorable reading from judges, while government officials who jockey for position tell “FETÖ” lies to get rid of competitors for promotions and reassignments.
Turkey’s top hate-mongering leader, who is bent on dividing and polarizing 80 million people in Turkey and some 5 million abroad, appears to have discovered that the best way to oppress people is to construct a false identity with fabricated stories and fake narratives. Having decimated critical and independent media in Turkey by shutting down 200 media outlets, jailing 266 journalists and intimidating almost all media owners, Erdoğan has managed to get a freer hand in running his own propaganda machine to circulate these self-serving narratives, “FETÖ” being the top catchphrase.
Stripped of everything including their basic rights to live a decent life that is free from fear and imprisonment, oppressed Gülen members were denied a voice when almost all avenues were shut down to give their own message based on facts and truth. They are unable to challenge the lies and smears circulated by the Erdoğan regime in Turkey not only in public debate but also in the courtroom, where no lawyer is willing to represent their interests. Frustrated with having little or no impact on changing the prevailing narrative domestically, Turkey’s millions of oppressed people feel further stigmatized and abused in their homeland. In the end, we have many innocent people in Turkey and abroad who are traumatized with feelings of powerlessness and helplessness.
There is no single piece of evidence in its 60-year past indicating or even hinting that the Gülen movement is associated with any sort of violence. Rather, Mr. Fethullah Gülen has always opposed violence, and he has a track record of consistency on that from the late 1970s when nationalists and communists were murdering each other in the streets to the 1990s, when the government-backed Hizbullah and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were executing members of the other side. Gülen was quite vocal in condemning al-Qaeda when it struck the US on 9/11 and came out strongly against murderous jihadists including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) by running ads in major media outlets from the US to France.
Opposed to Erdoğan’s meddlesome policies starting in 2011 when the Arab revolutions started and quite critical of the arming and supporting of jihadist groups by the Turkish government, Gülen drew the ire of Turkey’s Islamist rulers, who set out to criminalize the cleric’s network with plots. Erdoğan told his associates that he could very well brand him as a terrorist by enlisting a loyalist prosecutor, judge and two police officers who would help Erdoğan build a false case against Gülen. He delivered on that conspiracy starting from January 2014 and asked the US to extradite him. Yet nobody bought into that story, given Gülen’s public record and lack of evidence of any sort hinting at violence or terror. Erdoğan made his best move on July 15, 2106 when he orchestrated a bloody botched coup with his intel and military chiefs.
Erdoğan immediately pinned the attempt on Gülen and declared the coup to be a blessing from God. Some 120,000 people were detained and close to 50,000 were formally arrested including teachers, doctors, academics, union workers, journalists, judges, prosecutors, housewives and military and police officers from a list that was apparently drawn up long before the failed coup. Turkey’s NATO allies did not buy into Erdoğan’s story of “FETÖ” (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization) as Erdoğan has, once again, failed to present any direct, solid evidence implicating Gülen himself or his network as a whole.
But the opposition in Turkey has been scared of Erdoğan’s intentions and is very much concerned about how far the president is willing to go to get what he wants. Some agreed to use oppressor Erdoğan’s narrative willingly out of their bias towards Gülen, while others who were cowed into Erdoğan’s scaremongering tactics started parroting his narrative to stay safe.
For example, opposition parties such as the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) quickly jumped on the bandwagon of Erdoğan by not objecting to this hateful “FETÖ” phrase’s unqualified use. The Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) racist leader, Devlet Bahçeli, who hates Gülen’s global appeal to people from all races and ethnicities happily followed Erdoğan’s lead.
For one reason or another, they adopted the government line, hoping that they would be spared, left alone or even receive some incentives financial or otherwise from the president’s office. By doing so, they did not realize that they were actually helping the oppressor Erdoğan shift the blame to the victim instead of focusing on the perpetrator, who is no other than the president of the Turkish Republic.
They also lend legitimacy to the claims of the man who is famous for fabricating news and creating alternative facts when his back is pushed to the wall. He made up an assassination story for his daughter involving Gülen and the main opposition party. When that was exposed by the investigating prosecutor, the case was quickly hushed up and the prosecutor dismissed from the case. Fake stories fed to the media from Erdoğan’s office make up a long list, from the Gezi Park events to illegal arms shipments to jihadists.
But Erdoğan has always managed to find a scapegoat on whom to shift the blame, and Gülen had been made into the usual suspect for anything that goes wrong in Turkey, from raising interest rates to even earthquakes. Unfortunately, opposition parties have fueled Erdoğan’s hateful campaign. That contributed to growing repression, deepening polarization, xenophobia and intolerance in Turkish society. It put them in the bad company of Erdoğan and his ilk, contributed to losing their credibility and hurt their appeal, honesty and integrity. If those who oppose Erdoğan cannot liberate themselves from their oppressor’s narrative, that means they have already lost the battle. Perhaps better to shut down these political parties and replace them with fan clubs for, say, a bird watching society.
It is really sad to see that many in Turkey easily adopt the oppressor Erdoğan’s language in a way to avoid the government’s wrath, deflect a barrage of criticism and mislead others into believing that the victimized group bears the fault and deserves punishment, albeit extreme. They allow Erdoğan to impose the oppressor’s narrative in the discussion and frame the debate on the oppressor’s terms. The ultimate goal is to force the view on victims that they must tolerate being vilified, dehumanized and marginalized.
We must protest the assumptions put forward by perpetrators like Erdoğan, react strongly every time they are invoked and avoid reinforcing the use of this hateful “FETÖ” term. We must reclaim the power of language and not give in to Erdoğan, who exposes millions to racist, intolerant and hateful speeches effectively every day when he delivers public speeches televised live by the dozens of networks he controls in Turkey. That coverage gets carried to overseas expat communities who watch the poisonous news bites on satellite.
Insults, humiliation and name calling hurled at the participants of the Gülen movement by Erdoğan and his Islamist associates help demonize and dehumanize this critical and vulnerable group. That must be condemned systematically in every platform, public or private, and perpetrators must be exposed, named and shamed for doing so. Cast-out Gülen members who yearn for justice should be recognized and helped as they deserve a decent life and basic human dignity.
The Turkish government is in blatant breach of fundamental rights of the Gülen people to live a decent life, free from abuse, torture and ill treatment. Instead of fostering tolerance and equality as a responsible government, Erdoğan and his associates rule Turkey as if they had been granted carte blanche to stigmatize any group they dislike. Although members of the Gülen movement bear the brunt of this persecution unprecedented in Turkish history, they are certainly not alone. Kurds and Alevis have also been facing a crackdown, although it appears to be to a lesser degree in contrast.
The Turkish government ought to be reminded that all human beings are born free and entitled to unalienable rights and that they should be enjoying liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Participants of the global Gülen movement who dream of a peaceful, conflict-free world have been striving to establish bridges of dialogue by focusing on interfaith dialogue, something Erdoğan despises and unequivocally rules out as un-Islamic. They have dreams and beliefs that they have every right to try to fulfill and spread the message. They must feel safe and secure from those who believe they have a right to pass judgment or interfere with such dreams. Erdoğan wants to crush these dreams and thwart interfaith and intercultural activities with his hateful narrative and hostile attitude.
All in all, “FETÖ” has now become a catch phrase for anything bad in Turkey as the government casts a wider net to pull anybody in who is critical of the government under the term, regardless of whether they actually belong to, sympathize with or hate Fethullah Gülen. Ahmet Şık, who wrote a book critical of Gülen, was dragged to jail on ‘FETÖ” charges. Opposition CHP lawmaker Enis Berberoğlu was imprisoned on similar charges. The list goes on and on.
The only way to get out of this vicious cycle is to deny the “FETÖ” hoax, stop using the oppressor’s language and undermine Erdoğan’s narrative at its core. That means holding the line on the true perspective that the Gülen movement is not a terrorist or violent group but rather a civic group that has been actively involved in science education, community contribution and interfaith dialogue. Hoax, fake news or alternative facts can only be defeated by advocating the facts and truths, not by playing Erdoğan’s game and trying to put distance from the movement.
Let’s remember that Erdoğan is out to destroy the goodness in people’s hearts and minds, and we should not enable and empower him by adopting his vile and oppressive language. Time to drop the pretense, refuse to succumb to Erdoğan’s narrative and reject his overtures. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe should be commended and acknowledged for its efforts in resisting attempts to use “FETÖ” terms by Erdoğan’s henchmen in its April session. Despite two amendments offered by Erdoğan’s people on the Turkey report, PACE overwhelmingly refused to use the term and instead referred to the group as “the Gülen movement.” Let’s hope others take hints from this powerful message.