BY REBWAR KERIM
RUDAW: In terms of preservation of the mother tongue and education in it, what would you recommend to the peoples and administrations of the region, expounding on Said Nursi’s ideas?
GULEN: As is well known, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi identified ignorance, poverty, and disunity (inner conflicts) as the major roots of problems in the Islamic world in general and Eastern and Southeastern Turkey in particular. When he mentioned ignorance, he referred not only to ignorance in religious matters but also in the sciences that explore the universe. Likewise, he explained disunity in a broader perspective, including rifts among the clans in the region. Considering the fact that problems such as poverty and conflict are rooted foremost in ignorance, Bediuzzaman spent enormous effort on establishing a university, which would be named Medresetuz Zehra, in the province of Van. Proposing a female name for the university reflected his expectations in terms of productivity. He was hoping that similar schools would be established in neighboring cities such as Bitlis, Urfa and Diyarbakır.
Bediuzzaman identified the foundation of this university as one of the main goals of his life. Two features of this university were of ultimate importance. The first was expressed succinctly in the following statement: “The light of conscience is religious knowledge. The glory of mind is modern science. When these two unify, the truth comes forth, and thus, the student’s passion is able to fly with these two wings. If they conflict, however, the first gives birth to fanaticism and the second leads to manipulation and suspicion.” Thus, Bediuzzaman considered education in both religion and sciences to be essential.
The second striking aspect in his Medresetuz-Zehra model was the multilingual character of the university. He suggested that Arabic be required (vacip), Kurdish endorsed (caiz), and Turkish necessary (lazim). As we all know, all great civilizations have a common language in science. For example, the scientific language for Christian civilization was Latin. We can also say that English is the common language – scientific and otherwise – in today’s modern world. For Islamic civilization and science, the lingua franca has been Arabic. Also considering that Arabic is essential for Quran and Hadith, Bediuzzaman mentioned Arabic as a mandatory instruction language in such a model university that can be replicated, attracting students around the Muslim world. He brought up Turkish for a variety of reasons, including wide usage in communication all over Turkey, endorsement by a large number of people, better development as a language compared to Kurdish because of historical circumstances, and the fact that the Ottoman elite who governed the country were of Turkish origin. Languages are God’s wisdom and a sign of His unity, similar to races, colors, clans, and tribes; and thus, each nation has its own language. God did not make these differences as a reason to dispute one another; instead, these differences should bring recognition, assistance, and solidarity, similar to a system in which differences in occupation entail unity, assistance, and solidarity.
In addition to expressing such divine wisdom, Bediuzzaman put forward the significance of learning and teaching native language in his various writings. For example, he described how usage of the mother tongue is a natural method in education by saying, “As the mother tongue is so natural, words pour into one’s mind, not needing an invitation.” Learning and teaching native languages are among universal human rights. Putting a ban on vernacular languages is certainly a form of oppression, as it is against nature. And that’s why such a ban would not persist for long. Such reasoning was the logic of Bediuzzaman when he put Kurdish as an endorsed language in Medresetuz-Zehra, in addition to Arabic and Turkish.
Certainly, all groups should be allowed to use their own languages. Yet, as divisions based on races, colors, tribes, and clans are wrong, and thus, cannot be accepted. And as racism is non-humane, and in fact, a crime against humanity, languages should not be a reason for deep divisions; instead, they should contribute to recognition, assistance, solidarity, and harmony.
Thus, education in the mother tongue is a right that any state must acknowledge in principle because a state has to be fair to all of its citizens. But the problems that may occur in practice deserve special treatment. For instance, to provide such an education, the state must have proficient teachers who are capable of teaching in that language in sufficient numbers. That’s because if the cadre of teachers is not capable of providing education in that language, the outcome will be backlash, regardless of good intentions.
I must note that Kurdish parents should make sure that their children learn Turkish as well. Everywhere around the globe, communities that cannot speak the official language of their countries face significant problems. In general, they are left behind when compared to other communities in socioeconomic terms. Think about the first-generation of Turks in Germany who do not speak German well, or the Hispanic population in the United States who are struggling with English. If our Kurdish citizens taught English and Arabic to their children in addition to Turkish, this would be very beneficial for the future of their children.
On the other hand, differences in language and ethnicity as source of conflict ha ve no place in our cultural history. The Noble Quran states, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you” (49: 13). Bediuzzaman interpreted this verse as, “That is, I created you as peoples, nations, and tribes, so that you should know one another and the relations between you in social life, and assist one another; not so that you would regard each other as strangers, refuse to acknowledge one another, and nurture hostility and enmity.” (26th letter, Letters) Explaining the same verse in another place, he maintains, “Nationalist awakening can be positive if it is based on compassion for fellow human beings, and thus, facilitates mutual recognition and assistance. Such awakening, however, is destructive when it is based on racial greed, which causes obstinacy and denial of the other. Islam rejects the latter form.”
Here, Bediuzzaman highlighted two essential characteristics, i.e., recognition and assistance. The reason for forming various nations should be seen as humanity’s better knowledge of one another and collective assistance. Various nations in the Islamic world are like various organs of a human body. They all need one another and should know each other better in order to work together efficiently. The heart has direct relations with the brain, as the arms with the feet. If one organ fails, the whole body suffers. If God creates people divided into nations and wants them to recognize each other, endorsing a governing system in which one nation dominates others is a clear violation of Divine wisdom. Bediuzzaman’s perspective on positive nationalism should be effectively promoted and explained to all segments of the society. What matters is brotherhood in Islam. In Bediuzzaman’s words, positive nationalism may be a fortress, a shield for such a brotherhood, but “never a substitute.” That is because being noble in God’s perspective is about being righteous, not other differences.
In the year 2009, at a time when Turkey’s relations with Iraqi Kurdistan were quite strained, you sent a message that was full of hope for the future to the Abant Platform conference in Erbil. When you look back on your hopeful remarks, where do we stand today? Could you please be specific?
Not only as Turkey, our Kurdish brothers, and Iraqi Kurdistan, but as the Islamic world in general, we experience the most anguished, painful times, which perhaps has been the case for the past few centuries. Everywhere the problems are same: ignorance, poverty, and inner conflicts. In addition, some other problems have long been persistent: hopelessness; deceit, fraud, and reciprocal distrust; enmity and fanatical opposition; oppression in freedom of thought as well as social, economic, and political life; tyranny and despotism, and accordingly, blockage of intellectual, scientific, social, economic, and political progress, obstruction of individual development, and prioritization of selfish interests. These problems are exacerbated by those who do not want to see a better developed Muslim world or want these nations to fight over their selfish interests. It is highly questionable whether we – as Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Persians, and others – recognize our problems at all, including the root causes and the path to solutions.
And yet, hopelessness blocks every positive action, for all sorts of development and progress. Therefore, we are certainly optimistic and hopeful about our future in the full sense. Empty hope would not mean anything but cold comfort. So, I pray that such a hope will be firm ground to strive for: (1) transforming our current ignorance into knowledge and scientific progress; (2) transforming our poverty into an ability to claim the full potential of both open and underground richness in our lands; (3) transforming our experience of oppression into freedom – which is based on a delicate balance between our rights and responsibilities – as well as an accepted social and political culture in which we become neither yes-men to tyrants nor despots toward the vulnerable; and finally, (4) making individual interests subservient to our collective happiness.
The message you mentioned was sent four years ago. I hope the Abant meeting has resulted in constructive outcomes; I personally can say that remarkable steps have been taken since then. Although many things still remain to be done, historical circumstances, God willing, show that we will develop brotherhood and neighborly relations in the region. As far as I can see, education centers, media activism, and academic/intellectual initiatives in Iraqi Kurdistan will carry our relations to a further stage. In realization of this (close partnership), many significant duties fall on shoulders of education centers, businessman, and especially the media.
Moreover, I believe hard-work, honesty, reciprocal trust, morality in all its forms, love for love, enmity for enmity, consultation, collaboration, assistance, brotherhood and sisterhood, solidarity – yes, all of these characteristics: these are not solely essential foundations for our future as Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Persians, and other Muslims; rather, they are essential foundations for the future of all humanity in a globalized world.
Hizmet schools inspired by your ideals have been active in Iraq and Kurdistan since 1994, and are greatly appreciated by the local people. Recently, we have had some allegations that these schools are “making ideological propaganda.” Do you have any ideological agenda? What are your opinions on this?
If you look at history, there is no single humanitarian project that has not been accused of imposing a certain worldview. Even initiatives and projects that emphasized universal values such as hard-work, honesty, and altruism have been accused of being indoctrination by some people. For more than a half-century, I have been among my fellow citizens with my sermons, conversations, talks, writings, and personal visits. And for decades I’ve always experienced such accusations. On the other hand, partly at my suggestion, our fellow citizens have gone everywhere and established educational institutions in almost every corner of the world. Today, they say, the schools are active in more than 140 countries. These are countries with different languages, religions, worldviews, ideologies, histories, traditions, races and colors. Against some of these countries, we waged centuries-long wars. Moreover, most of the people who contributed to the opening of these schools (and those who work there) are Muslims, and they do not need to hide it. The countries are sensitive about these schools, monitoring them closely to make sure that they do not pursue ideological propaganda. This sensitivity is intensified by those radicals who exploit Islam and bring shame to it. If there has been any deviant ideology or propaganda, that couldn’t possibly remain secret – especially under these sensitive circumstances, and especially in a world where individuals’ private lives are monitored and intelligence services have extraordinary capabilities. If there is no shred of evidence in more than five decades to prove such accusations, what can I say? I accept your high intellect and conscience as the judge, you decide, please.
Moreover, the very term “ideological propaganda” does not exist in our conceptual repository. The Hizmet movement aims at moral improvement, building and maintaining peace, and providing world-class education to catch up with the developed world while respecting local customs. These goals are the same in Iraq and Kurdistan. The concept “ideological propaganda” is foreign to us; we do not know it. It is not very easy to juxtapose ideological propaganda with what we are doing in terms of conflict resolution, dialogue, consensus building, preparing the ground for scientific and technological innovations and promoting peace and security.
Hizmet schools have established close relationships with local authorities; their curriculums have been approved and they have carried out their activities under the inspection of both parents and the authorities and in a transparent fashion. Moreover, every state follows what goes on at these schools in legitimate ways. They would not tolerate anything that brought harm to their peoples. Therefore, baselessly accusing these institutions, which have been established with the efforts and sacrifices of thousands of people, of conspiratorial approaches would be unfair and illegitimate.
To the best of my knowledge, Hizmet schools in Iraqi Kurdistan provide an education that combines preservation of local cultures with integration into the rest of the world. In this regard, activities like the Kurdish Festival show that the programs of these schools are far from following any kind of indoctrination and ideological imposition. The truth is that the friendliness and farsighted attitudes of local authorities have played an important role in the opening and maintenance of these schools. Our Kurdish friends, with whom we have been partners in faith, as well as in times of happiness and sorrow, have disregarded baseless rumors and embraced these schools, which came out of clean bosom of Anatolia and grew in the Kurdish territories. Once again, they proved our historic brotherhood.
Do you think that the growing friendship between Turks and Kurds is at the desired level? If not, what should be done to strengthen relations?
We have the same faith, we believe in the same God. Our food comes from the same ultimate Sustainer; we live on the same soil and under the same Sun. We breathe the same air. We have the same religion, the same destiny, and the same history. We exist in the same present time and most likely, we will have a common future. As Turks and Kurds, we are everywhere in Turkey, we have spread all over the country together. In a rapidly globalizing world of revolutionary advancements in transportation and communication, and in a world that is evolving into a great village, European countries that fought endless wars in the past have gotten together and even seek political unity. That is how the world is, and we know that we were born as Turks and Kurds regardless of our personal wishes. Given the fact that it is not in our hands to become a Turk or a Kurd, isn’t it absurd to discriminate against people based on their Turkish or Kurdish identity or the language they speak? Isn’t it to the detriment of all of us?
Our geography has always been one in which different religions and cultures have lived together in peace. Throughout history, Turks and Kurds have intertwined and experienced common happiness as well as sorrow. Scholars like Ahmed Khani, Mulla Jezeri, Mulla Khalid Bagdadi, Salahaddin, and Bediuzzaman Said Nursi contributed immensely to the peaceful coexistence of Turks, Kurds, Arabs and other peoples in the region. Mr. Masoud Barzani mentions the wishes of his father (Mulla Mustafa Barzani) from time to time, “Have good relationships with Turks, do not make trouble for them and be with them.” These words that express the mutual feelings of both sides are remarkably important.
Being damaged in the last 100 or 150 years, the relations between the two peoples are still strong enough to endure such strains. The embrace of the Anatolian people during the great Peshmerga migration has accelerated normalization of our relationships. I myself shed painful tears for both Halabja and Al-Anfal; and I am not alone in this, the people of Anatolia felt the pain as if it were their own.
At a time when our relations have started to grow stronger, we should avoid adopting a solely security-oriented approach to existing problems. Instead, we should strengthen cultural and historical bonds to such an extent that they will never break. In this regard, Turkey should not only endow its own Kurdish citizens with their due rights and freedoms, but also extend a helping hand to Kurds who face problems in other parts of the world. It should defend the rights of Kurds who face political, religious or ethnic problems, speaking up for them at various international organizations, especially at the United Nations, in the name of justice. I think that every single effort is significant and noteworthy in order to bring back our unity and avoid conflict.
The issues, however, should not be limited to the political sphere. Efforts toward solutions should not be confined to states and politicians. Instead, all entities and people, including NGOs, business people, educators, opinion leaders, the Directorate of Religious Affairs, and students, should do their best to consolidate our togetherness. We must build more bridges and stay away from any kind of antagonistic attitudes, which will create nothing but conflict. Turks must rush to find solutions for the issues of Kurds even before Kurds themselves, and Kurds must stand by their Turkish brothers. Our relations might be limited to education these days, but they have the capacity to improve on academic, cultural and economic grounds. Turkey might be the gate for Kurds to get connected with the world at large.
Recently, we see that the borders of Misak-i Milli (The National Pact) is on Turkey’s agenda. What is your take on that? Whether it is something viable or not.
I am not a politician or a statesman or an expert on international relations. I am trying to walk together with my colleagues (and make my humble contributions) in a civic movement that emphasizes morality and common human values. So it would make more sense if the statesmen of the relevant countries talked about the borders in the region.
However, I must say that the steps Turkey has been taking in order to prevent bigger problems with neighbors, as well as the introverted foreign policy aimed just at strengthening relations with the West, has been interpreted falsely. The times when countries conquer other lands to extend their borders are past, and the borders have been determined by international law. In such circumstances, it does not seem logical for Turkey to consider extending its borders when the country needs to act collectively with its neighbors. For instance, the city of Batumi in Georgia was within the borders determined by the National Pact. Today, Turkey has good relations with Georgia. Citizens do not even need passports to cross the borders. In a situation like this, bringing the National Pact up on the agenda and aiming to annex Batumi only damages Turkish- Georgian relations. Those who bring up these issues should consider what kind of problems this rhetoric might cause among neighbors.
Ideals that don’t take realities into account can go no further than being just fantasies and illusions. We are living in a globalizing world; the issues of any region are becoming more and more relevant to other countries around the globe and are being closely followed. The Middle East, where the heart of the planet beats, takes special caution and precision. In my humble opinion, unity of hearts, mutual love, goodwill and sincere brotherhood override the pacts of political ambition. So, first things first; we must focus on such unity. We must identify our goals within our own realities. We must be extraordinarily careful about leaning towards goals (or being channeled in that direction) that would eventually bring catastrophe to the peoples of the region. Such leanings have the potential to turn the region into a swamp of armed conflicts. In such a case, we will lose all that we have gained as the peoples of the region.
Thus, for about a century, the National Pact has been perceived as an ideal by some people and an unrealistic utopia by others. What really matters, however, is lifting the boundaries that separate our hearts and establishing direct links of communication among our hearts.
There is an ongoing peace process in Turkey. We see that both Kurds and Turks support this process. Would you share your thoughts on the efforts of these peoples to live together peacefully? How can the culture of peaceful coexistence be established in the Middle East at a time when we most need it?
It is impossible not to support efforts that aim to stop the tears and bloodshed of the region. It is crucial to be constructive and leave the pain of the past behind.
It is also crucial to refrain from being part of any type of conflict, fight, or provocation that is based on ethnic or sectarian grounds. People should be careful not to fuel hatred and provoke separatist ideologies. As I tried to answer in the fourth question, the factors that support unity and alliance among us must be promoted. Existing opportunities must be utilized and we must look for new ones. Any chance for solidarity, philanthropy and togetherness on a cultural and economic basis must be put into practice. Peoples as well as the institutions that represent them must promote and popularize projects and activities that strengthen unity and solidarity. Once such activities are carried out by civil society, they will guide the authorities in the region.
Specifically, educational institutions and civil society play an important role in the application of a unifying culture. Education has a specific role in generating social values that prevent material conflicts. Contrary to our experience in the modern day, the peoples of the region have a long and deeply rooted history and tradition of peaceful coexistence. The Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Christians, Muslims, and Jews used to live in together peace. We need educational models and a culture of civil society that will rediscover and put into practice the values that facilitated this togetherness. Peaceful coexistence will be more feasible if youth can find a satisfying educational system in which they would not appeal to violence, war, and terror; and thus, education will be a strong alternative to violence.
That being said, educational institutions established by the Hizmet movement adopt a model that provides examples of coexisting peacefully regardless of religion, language, race, sect, and ethnicity. In most cases the children of those who antagonize each other get educated at the same schools, in the same classes, in the same schoolyards and laboratories, thanks to those teachers who extend their merciful hands to them equally. At these schools, the students breathe the very atmosphere of peace. We hope that they will put the values they get at these schools into practice. The Hizmet movement promotes peaceful coexistence of different groups and individuals and supports consolidation of the values to carry this out.
As a reality of the day, modernity brings issues and problems in brotherhood of peoples. What can be done to minimize the damage and to improve already damaged brotherhood?
There might be some damage coming from modernity, but it probably puts many more opportunities in front of us. “People are the enemies of those they don’t know.” We used to have problems before; Arabs didn’t know Turks well enough, Turks didn’t know Kurds well enough, etc. In the battle of Gallipoli, many Muslim soldiers fought against us without knowing who they were fighting against. This is a good example of how people may have animosities due to lack of knowledge. However, thanks to modernization, we know each other much better. It doesn’t make sense to oppose modernity that bears no fruit. Scientific and technological advancements set the trends and bring a lot of opportunities in terms of building better relationships with each other and consolidating the grounds for solidarity and brotherhood. This may be the way to compensate for the damage modernity brings.
On the other hand, modernization promotes individualism and puts individual rights before duties. When there is a problem with regard to rights, modernization supports the idea of giving up on duties until the problem is solved. In practice, this leads to a kind of vicious circle. In our culture, we are taught to be easygoing. When such an attitude gets widespread in society, it creates fertile grounds, a bigger circle of kindness. The success of the Western world depends on competition, whereas Eastern cultures aim to reach the same goal by helping one another in tranquility, without conflicts. We must promote the revival of such attitudes in our societies.
What is the role of civic society in facilitating the ongoing Peace Process in Turkish and Kurdish societies? What are your recommendations?
I believe that sincerity and mutual respect are crucial, as well as a characteristic expressed in a Hadith of The Prophet (PBUH): wishing for others what we wish for ourselves and avoiding deeds that we wouldn’t like to have happen to ourselves. Moreover, choosing other people over ourselves, a significant feature of the locals of Medina that is also praised in the Quran, will help us overcome hatred. Turkish and Kurdish civil society organizations can greatly contribute to peace by providing the grounds for the aforementioned values and facilitating people embracing them. On such grounds people can come together and form a kind of unity that will last. This is possible and efforts must be channeled in this direction.
Furthermore, avoiding offensive attitudes in both discourse and practice, embracing people in an all-inclusive manner, and being patient are of utmost importance. Everyone needs to act with caution and prudence and be on the alert against provocations. We must recognize that problems cannot be solved by shouting at each other or by slogans. Those who want to solve them and thus prevent conflicts should provide reports, declarations and well-thought-out texts. Issues should be handled with reason, perspicacity and clemency, not with rage or violent attacks.
Benefitting from slowly restoring the security atmosphere in the region, there needs to be improvement in economic, social, cultural and spiritual relations, particularly in education. To this end, joint projects must be promoted, especially those that are called The Bridges of Heart, extending from East to West and the other way around. The existing capacities and targets of these projects must be improved.
Also, it is of crucial importance to make Kurdish-dominated regions centers of attraction, with special emphasis on education. Indeed, solving education-related problems will help solve many other problems at the same time. Unemployed, dispossessed and uneducated people have always perceived themselves as second-class citizens. However, the people of these regions are actually very clever, and their ancestors were founders of major civilizations in the past. We need to take them out of the negative psychological atmosphere and possible inferiority complex that some are trapped in. While working for this cause, we should refrain from hurting each other’s feelings and pay respect to the principles of fraternity and equality.
In this regard, I would like to highlight the following: we must always remember that human rights and freedoms are gifts granted by God, and they cannot be taken away. It is not the people who granted us these things, so no one can take them away. People are all equals; everyone, even including the Prophets, is equal to each other in terms of human qualities and being created by God. Without recognizing this equality, no one can administer justice. We should not let our words, acts, and behavior give the impression of doing a favor. We should not see or use these basic rights and freedoms as the object of bargaining in the face of other values. Any other way that is outside the legal boundaries, anything that is not accepted by international law, and specifically violence, must be avoided at all costs.
*This interview appeared in Rudaw, translated into Sorani, on June 29, 2013.
Source: Rudaw, June 29, 2013
Source: Rumi Forum