World View: Turkey’s ‘Shameful Day for Free Press’ as Government Seizes Zaman Media

OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images
OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

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  • Turkey’s ‘shameful day for free press’ as government seizes Zaman media
  • Felhullah Gülen: One of the most powerful Muslim clerics in the world

Turkey’s ‘shameful day for free press’ as government seizes Zaman media

Today's Zaman's last front page prior to government confiscation
Today’s Zaman’s last front page prior to government confiscation

An angry Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered a government takeover of Turkey’s most important opposition media, the Zaman media group, publishers of Turkey’s largest newspaper Zaman, its English language version, Today’s Zaman, plus the Cihan News Agency and Aksiyon magazine.

After obtaining a court ruling on Friday favorable to the government, Turkish police forcibly entered the Zaman building, firing tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who had gathered outside. Later, police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters.

The newspaper released its final edition ahead of the raid declaring the takeover a “shameful day for free press” in the country. The newspaper will now be controlled by a government appointed “trustee council,” which will presumably take orders from Erdogan. A statement by the Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC) board said: “The mentality that has been silencing the media through detentions, arrests, Internet bans and heavy fines, now burdens newspapers and TV channels and destroys them via trustee panels.”

Zaman is owned by a political enemy of Erdogan, exiled Muslim cleric Felhullah Gülen. They once were allies but, in 1999, Erdogan accused Gülen of trying to overthrow the government. Gülen fled to the United States in 1999, and has lived in Pennsylvania since then. Erdogan’s government has declared Gülen to be a terrorist and has asked the US government for extradition, but has been refused.

According to Human Rights Watch, the raid on Zaman was “nothing but a veiled move by the president to eradicate opposition media and scrutiny of government policies.” BBC and Hurriyet (Ankara) and Reuters

Felhullah Gülen: One of the most powerful Muslim clerics in the world

For all the obsessiveness that Americans have about Muslims and especially Muslim clerics, it is surprising that so few people have heard of Felhullah Gülen.

Gülen heads the powerful Hizmet movement, a worldwide network of millions of Muslims in over countries.

The Gülen empire has schools in over 140 countries, the huge Zaman media organization in Turkey (now under direct control of Erdogan’s government), a hospital, banks and other financial institutions, and hundreds of interfaith and intercultural dialog and charitable institutions around the world. “We are the first movement in the history of mankind that is completely and utterly devoted to charity,” says Mustafa Yesil, a Gülen confidant in Istanbul.

Gülen’s critics sometimes refer to him as a cult leader. They point to the residences in many countries for schoolchildren and university students, often free of charge, but dictating a strict daily routine of work, prayer and sleep, and a demand that they devote their lives to “Hizmet,” or service to Islam.

In his book “Fasildan Fasila,” (From Time to Time) Gülen writes that a pupil must be “on the go day and night” and cannot be seen sleeping. “If possible, he sleeps three hours a day, has two hours for other needs, and must devote the rest entirely to hizmet. In essence, he has no personal life, except in a few specific situations.”

Within the Muslim community, he has been accused of violating the principles of the Koran. According to Gülen, “My efforts for interfaith dialogue were criticized as softening Muslims’ perspectives on Jews and Christians. I have not done anything that I did not believe to be in the footsteps of the Prophet Mohammed. He was the one who stood for a funeral procession of a Jewish resident of Medina, showing respect for a deceased fellow human being.”

Erdogan has repeatedly pledged to crush Gülen’s conservative religious movement, which he said has infiltrated the police, judiciary and bureaucracy since his party won power in 2002. Erdogan particularly declared war due to a corruption investigation targeting him, led by police believed to be Gülen followers. Saturday’s raid on Gülen’s media empire, turning Turkey’s leading opposition newspapers into state-sponsored media equivalent to Moscow’s Sputnik News or the Tehran Times or China Daily, is a blow to Turkey’s free press and to Turkey’s relations with the West. There’s certain to be blowback, and I doubt that it will end well. AFP and Der Spiegel (8-Aug-2012) and The Atlantic (14-Aug-2013) and Debka

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Zaman Media Group, Cihan News Agency, Aksiyon magazine, Felhullah Gülen, Hizmet
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