The Turkish government has taken the opportunity of a visit from a high-ranking Japanese official to warn the east Asian country to beware of any ties to Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of running an international terrorist network responsible for a failed coup against him in July.
Turkey’s state-run newswire service Anadolu Agency reported that the Gulen warning came from Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, who met with Japan’s Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Keiichi Ishii on Wednesday. Yıldırım reportedly urged Ishii to pressure his government to take “necessary measures” against what the Turkish government calls the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).” Anadolu did not specify what such measures would be on the part of the Japanese government, or how a minister responsible for transportation and tourism would have the necessary influence on such a homeland security issue.
Gulen, who resides in Pennsylvania, runs a network of international charter schools known as “Hizmet.” Ankara alleges the charter schools serve as cult indoctrination centers and its teachers are part of an international terrorist network. Yeni Safak, a Turkish newspaper close to the Erdogan government, has identified Japan as one of the many nations hosting Gulen’s Islamic schools, which also include Muslim-majority nations such as Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. Gulen’s charter schools are also present in the United States, where the FBI raided 19 schools after finding evidence of potential corruption.
The Turkish government has accused Gulen of staging numerous terrorist attacks within its borders, including the assassination of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov and the July 2015 failed coup against Erdogan. Following the coup, Erdogan fired, detained, or arrested more than 100,000 people allegedly tied to Gulen and shut down 131 media organizations the government claimed were broadcasting Gulenist propaganda.
Following demands for the United States to extradite Gulen, the Turkish government admitted it had not sent Washington any evidence tying Gulen to the failed coup attempt. This week, a European Union investigation found that a “range of opponents to Mr. Erdogan,” not just Gulenists, had participated in the coup out of fears that Erdogan was planning a purge of anyone not considered a loyalist to his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Where Japan fits into this picture remains unclear. Again, Gulenist schools have a small presence in Japan. Gulen also donated $15,000 to recovery efforts following the 2013 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the island nation, according to Gulen’s own website. Japan boasts a tiny Muslim population, however, and a much smaller Turkish one, which makes it an uncharitable recruitment location for something like the Hizmet movement. Japan has also become a magnet for another population the Turkish government views as a potential danger: Turkish Kurds, who rarely receive permanent residence in Japan. The Turkish government views the Kurds in the nation’s south, and the Marxist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as a problem distinct from the Gulenist movement, however.
According to Sabah, a pro-Erdogan Turkish daily, Japan had up to 120,000 Muslim residents and 200 mosques and masjids in 2015. While the latter number is significantly higher than the two mosques present in Japan in 1970, Japan’s total population remains around 127 million people, and the Japanese government treats Islam with suspicion. Last year, the Japanese Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing the continued surveillance of Muslim citizens based on their Muslim identity, noting that Japan had become a target of radical Islam following the execution of Japanese nationals in Islamic State-held areas of Iraq and Syria.
Japan’s immigration laws also make it extremely difficult for Muslim foreigners to remain in the country permanently. Only two percent of Japanese residents are foreign migrants, and Japan approved permanent residence for 27 refugees in 2015.