World’s No. 1 Thinker Lives in Philadelphia!


He’s connected to the momentous fight over Islamist threat to Turkey’s secular society.

Right-wing religious nuts infiltrate a secular Western government and try to transform their social-conservative views into national policies.

Solid gains over the years in, say, women’s rights and religious tolerance are quietly but gravely threatened by rollbacks.

The faith-based Bush regime? No.

This battle is going on in Turkey, and here’s the crucial difference: The faith-based regime of Prime Minister Recep Tayyit Erdogan is scheduled to go on trial July 1 on charges of sabotaging the country’s secularist democracy.

If you can’t have an impeachment trial of the Bush-Cheney regime, this may be the next most fascinating constitutional drama.

And adding to the fascination is that a major figure in this momentous court battle in Turkey has just been judged by a survey the planet’s No. 1 thinker. He’s Fetullah Gulen, spiritual leader of the stealth religious movement that increasingly threatens the planet’s most modernized and secular Muslim society.

Gulen’s followers stuffed the ballot boxes (see this morning’s Guardian story) to make him No. 1, but if he’s no Kant, there’s no denying that he can: Gulen is for sure one of the most powerful Muslim theorists in the world.

However, Gulen will be at the trial in Ankara only in spirit.

The world’s No. 1 thinker lives in exile in suburban Philadelphia, surrounded by a coterie of men — like a Turkish version of ex-famous Promise Keepers nutcase Bill McCartney (see my 1998 story).

Meanwhile, good luck reading about this Turkish court battle in the U.S. press, except on the op-ed pages of the New York Times, where Roger Cohen lays it out this morning in a well-written piece — aside from the sort of hackneyed pun lede that someone like me would use:

Let’s talk Turkey. A war is on for the country’s soul and everyone should be watching because the little matter of Islam and democracy depends in large measure on its outcome.

Turkey was not made for Bushworld. The polarizing labels of his Manichean global struggle — us-or-them, good-or evil, for-us-or-against-us — do not work for a nation of nuances, Muslim but not Islamist, religious in culture but secular in construct, of the Occident and the Orient, bordering the West’s cradle in Greece and its crucible in Iraq.

Here, in this bridging country, a NATO member long served the diet of mild bigotry that has held it not quite European enough for the European Union, a struggle has been engaged. It pits proud secularists against pious Muslims in a battle to establish the contours of state and mosque.

Gulen has gotten mostly good press in U.S. media outlets as a religious figure who doesn’t seek to subvert secular regimes. He was one of the early Muslim leaders to condemn the 9/11 attacks — he called Osama bin Laden a “monster.” A May 4 puff piece by the Times‘s Sabrina Tavernise portrayed Gulen as a moderate.

But be careful: Gulen leads a prominent Muslim movement with a stealth right-wing agenda. Take a look at this 2007 backgrounder on the ties between Gulen and Erdogan’s ruling AKP by the Eurasia Daily Monitor‘s Gareth Jenkins:

Although Gulen has actively encouraged interfaith dialogue and been vigorous in his condemnation of the use of violence, there is also no doubt that his followers have an ideological agenda. The Gulen movement is socially very conservative and almost completely dominated by men. Two of the main items on the program of [an October 2007 conference] were opposing evolution and publicizing the case for creationism.

Thinking of Gulen as one of them there pro-Western Muslim leaders could make monkeys out of all of us.