The flotilla that attempted to violate Israel's blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza last week has received criticism from a surprising source: Imam Fethullah Gulen, a controversial Turkish Islamist who has ties to John Esposito, an apologist for radical Islamists including the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Gulen, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal at his estate in the Pocono, said that organizers' failure to seek agreement with Israel before attempting to deliver aid "is a sign of defying authority, and will not lead to fruitful matters."
Gulen said he had only recently learned of IHH, the radical organization that played a lead role in organizing the flotilla. "It is not easy to say if they are politicized or not," Gulen told the Journal. He added that when a charity linked with his own movement wanted to help Gazans, he insisted that they get Israel's permission. Gulen said assigning blame in the case is best left to the United Nations.
Born in eastern Turkey in 1941, Gulen became a state-licensed imam in 1958.
"Followers have established hundreds of schools in more than 100 countries and run an Islamic bank, Asya, that its 2008 annual report said had $5.2 billion in assets, " the Journal reported. "They own Turkey's largest daily newspaper, Zaman; the magazine Aktion; a wire service; publishing companies; a radio station and the television network STV." A scholar who follows the group said followers donate up to one-third of their income to Gulen-linked foundations.
But Gulen's efforts to make Turkey an Islamic state have brought him into conflict with the nation's military, which has long been a bastion of support for modern Turkish secularism as conceived by Kemal Ataturk. In 1999, when he was visiting the United States for medical treatment, Gulen was charged in Turkey with trying to create an Islamic state. He has remained here ever since.
According to Rachel Sharon-Krespin of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Gulen is a bitter foe of Turkish secularism. In a detailed account of his public career, she portrayed Gulen (who has had well-publicized interfaith meetings with Christians and Jews) as an Islamic supremacist who wants Turkey ruled by Sharia.
In 2008, negative U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service decisions threatened to deny Gulen's application for permanent residency. A federal court reversed the rulings after receiving 29 letters on Gulen's behalf. One of those letters came from Esposito, Sharon-Krespin wrote, after his Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding received donations from Gulen's movement and sponsored a conference in his honor.
After the Journal interview appeared, Zaman ran a story entitled "Fethullah Gulen Sends Condolences to Martyrs, Criticizes Method," which described the nine people killed by Israeli commandos aboard the Mavi Marmara as "martyrs."
The story, which appears on Gulen's website, attacked "the bloody intervention Israel conducted against the humanitarian aid vessels that set sail to puncture…the embargo on Gaza, an open-air prison for 1.5 million Palestinians."
It also accused Israel of having "slaughtered" women and children in Gaza.