With the recent events in Turkey – the arrests of over 30 journalists and media officials and the unapologetic threats to free press and due process – the following Niagara reading list suggestion is of particular relevance to the global community.
Wrestling with Free Speech, Religious Freedom, and Democracy in Turkey: The Political Trials and Times of Fethullah Gulen, by James C. Harrington
By: Maria Munoz, Academic Affairs Intern
James C. Harrington is a human rights activist and lawyer who has worked on major lawsuits concerning such diverse topics as police brutality, grand jury discrimination, and farm workers’ compensation. He also served on human rights delegations around the world, founding the Texas Civil Rights Project which promotes “social, racial, and economic justice and civil liberty, through litigation and public education for low income people.” It is with Harrington’s experience as a human rights lawyer that he is able to explore and eloquently explain the importance of the Gulen trials, as it helped not only to infuse human rights in Turkey, but also to accelerate the Hizmet movement on a global scale.
Harrington spends a great deal of time on the background of Turkey, both socially and politically, in order to highlight the context of the Gulen trials and familiarize the reader with the movement. In providing a well articulated framework of the trials, Harrington clearly defines the constructs which play a major role. He informs the reader of the “deep state” – a construct that describes the illegal side of the authoritarian state which operates by military leaders and economic elites that work together to manipulate the public and work for their own agendas. While the Gulen trials do take place in a legal courtroom, Harrington highlights the illegal side of the situation, an additional obstacle for Gulen and his followers.
During his trials, Fethullah Gulen is accused of undermining Turkey’s secularism during a period of time when “deep state” tensions are high and Turkey’s admittance to the European Union is underway. It is important to note that a main issue of contention in the Gulen trials is the misunderstanding of the goals of the the Gulen Movement. The Gulen Movement promotes personal spirituality, interfaith dialogue, nonviolence, and maintains the importance of education and sciences. It is in these values, Harrington adds, that are somehow a point of contention for the prosecutor, who sought to charge Gulen for promoting a terrorist agenda.
Harrington’s examination of the Gulen trials is succinct and highlights the important issues in the prosecution. During the prosecution, Gulen advocated for greater civil liberties within the practice of religion – an idea that some Turkey secularist elites opposed. In his view, the media and prosecutor painted Gulen and the Hizmet movement as political Islamic group with a terrorist agenda. However, the prosecutor ultimately failed in proving that advocating for civil liberties could be characterized as terrorism. Harrington concludes by stating the importance of the Gulen trials, as the courts acquittal of Fethullah Gulen promoted the progress of Turkey, civil liberties, and human rights.
Enhance your understanding of the political climate in Turkey…enjoy Harrington’s book yourself!