Who Is Fethullah GĂźlen? Muslim Preacher, Feared Turkish Intriguer and âInspirerâ of the Largest Charter School Network
With the American economy in shambles, Europe imploding, and the Middle East in chaos, convincing Americans that they should pay attention to a Turkish preacher named Fethullah GĂźlen is an exceedingly hard sell. Many Americans have never heard of him, and if they have, he sounds like the least of their worries. According to his website, he is an âauthoritative mainstream Turkish Muslim scholar, thinker, author, poet, opinion leader and educational activist who supports interfaith and intercultural dialogue, science, democracy and spirituality and opposes violence and turning religion into a political ideology.â The website adds that âby some estimates, several hundred educational organizations such as K-12 schools, universities, and language schools have been established around the world inspired by Fethullah GĂźlen.â The site notes, too, that GĂźlen was âthe first Muslim scholar to publicly condemn the attacks of 9/11.â It also celebrates his modesty.
Yet there is a bit more to the story. GĂźlen is a powerful business figure in Turkey andâto put it mildlyâa controversial one. He is also an increasingly influential businessman globally. There are somewhere between 3 million and 6 million GĂźlen followersâor, to use the term they prefer, people who are âinspiredâ by him. Sources vary widely in their estimates of the worth of the institutions âinspiredâ by GĂźlen, which exist in every populated continent, but those based on American court records have ranged from $20 billion to $50 billion. Most interesting, from the American point of view, is that GĂźlen lives in Pennsylvania, in the Poconos. He is, among other things, a major player in the world of American charter schoolsâthough he claims to have no power over them; theyâre just greatly inspired, he says.
Even if it were only for these reasons, you might want to know more about GĂźlen, especially because the few commentators who do write about him generally mischaracterize him, whether they call him a âradical Islamistâ or a âliberal Muslim.â The truth is much more complicatedâto the extent that anyone understands it.