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October 21, 2009
Do Islamist groups pose a threat to democracy in Turkey?

Dr. Ömer Taşpınar is a professor at the U.S. National War College and the Director of the Turkey Project at the Brookings Institution.

For more on secularism in Turkey:

Dr. Ömer Taşpınar and Worldfocus producer Gizem Yarbil discuss the role of several important conservative religious groups in Turkey, including the Gulen movement, which is the largest, and the Mustazaflar-Der, which is influential in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast.

Gizem Yarbil:  How influential are Islamic groups like the Gulen movement and Mustazaflar-Der in Turkey politically and socially?

Ömer Taşpınar: Particularly, the Gulen movement is very influential in the social, economic and cultural (particularly education)  field. The members of this brotherhood are probably in the millions. I think of this movement as a pious Muslim version of freemasons.

It’s essentially a solidarity network and a civil society organization with religious proclivities. Some analyst are bothered by the movement’s cultish attachment to its leader but this is not uncommon in Turkish/Anatolian political culture.

The movement is also getting stronger politically, mainly because of a self-defense instinct. The staunchly secularist Kemalist military considers the Gulen movement as a very dangerous network infiltrating the civilian bureaucracy in order to slowly Islamize the country.

Gizem Yarbil:  The Gulen movement is the most mainstream of all the Islamist groups in Turkey and the one with the most influential network of supporters. Do you think they pose a threat to the secular foundations of Turkish politics and society as some Turks fear?

Ömer Taşpınar: I personally think that the Gulen movement is not willing to confront the secular tradition of the Turkish Republic. The last thing the movement wants is to clash with the state tradition of Turkey. In that sense, the movement is very nationalist and not willing to become anti-secular or anti-Kemalist.

It is still a mainly education, culture, social life oriented movement.  But it has a potential to turn political and support anti-military coup investigations such as the currently unfolding “Ergenekon case.” The movement feels very much threatened by the radical secularism displayed in some segments of the Turkish military.

Gizem Yarbil: Do you think Islamist groups will become a bigger force in Turkish politics and society?

Ömer Taşpınar: I think the movement is fueled by urbanization, the weakness of social and economic services provided by the state, and a new Muslim bourgeoisie. It will continue to grow as long as Turkey maintains a democratic, free-market oriented system.

Gizem Yarbil: In general, do you see Turkey in the future looking  more to the East or to the West? And what will the implications be on the strategic relationship between Turkey, the U.S. and the E.U.?

Ömer Taşpınar: I think rather than going towards the East or West, Turkey is becoming more like itself.  It is rediscovering its Ottoman past and coming to terms with its history and multiple identities. As long as Turkey remains democratic it will be Janus-faced, looking both to the Islamic world and Europe, just like the Ottoman Empire did for centuries.

For more Worldfocus coverage of Turkey, visit our extended coverage page: Turkey between East and West.

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I came across the Gulen by accident. My daughter had attended one of the charter schools. She was harrassed by teachers and staff. I think these schools are sucking the wealth out of the federal govenment. They are using the children as a cash cow to front the cause.
read this from the Salt Lake Tribune.


I just met a guy on the subway in downtown Toronto from Turkey. I looked at him and guessed right away that he was from Turkey.

He approached me when he saw me reading “While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying The West From Within” By: Bruce Bawer

I gave him a copy of my book review. I wonder if Turkey will be overthrown by an Islamic regime. I suspect it is being done from beyond the borders…inside the middle east. They have done it in Sundan and Somalia. They are trying to take over Europe…they will try and take over Turkey too.


Islam itself is fully political and does not need a seperate political entity. The political ideal for Islam is the state of the Caliphate. Islam will dangerously and continuously attempt to return to a world wide Caliphate movement. Turkey will be fortunate to avoid the Islamic Revolution of Iran.


Turkey is a secular country and will keep it going like that. On the other hand the majority of people are muslim in the country. We, the Turkish people, believe in God, very determined to our religion,nationalism, tradition and secularity. We, Turkish people, are respectful to others’ belief and feelings and expect others to be the same. This is the Democracy I think….


Turkeys have no true democracy. If it was [one Turkey – one vote], then there would be no Turkey Genocide at Thanksgiving. After all, Turkey is a Genocide denier anyway.


Great interview. I totally agree with Mr. Taspinar’s final comment. Turkey is finding its center. Turkey is becoming a more democratic nation and a stronger state.

Turkey is a good example for other muslim populated countries around the globe.

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