Islamists against Islamists: The steadily growing influence of the Gülen movement in Germany

About 400 men and women have gathered in Munich’s Karlsplatz square on this cold October morning. They are refugees belonging to the Gülen movement and have come from Swabia. The network organised by the Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen has been present in Bavaria for 30 years, but for the first time it is protesting. Barrier fences surround the area with 30 white plastic chairs. The participants hold up signs with messages: “Humanity died in a white plastic chair” – “Stop Erdoğan”. The photo of the dead police commissioner sitting on a chair in a Turkish cell spread all over the world.The organisers of the rally are the associations “Frohsinn Bildungszentrum Augsburg”, “Rumi Augsburg Kulturforum” and the “Initiative für Flüchtlinge Augsburg” (Initiative for Refugees Augsburg), founded by 330 Turkish academics who had been refugees. That they all declare their allegiance to the preacher Gülen is not stated anywhere. “They are Turkish opposition members,” says a passer-by. “It’s terrible what’s happening in Turkey.” Mehmet Badal, managing director of the Frohsinn Bildungszentrum, gives a speech. He does not mention the connection to Gülen. They are presenting themselves as the opposition to Erdoğan.Yet the movement had become a mainstay of the Turkish system over decades, with hundreds of thousands of followers in the bureaucracy, judiciary, military and police. Experts at home and abroad condemned Erdoğan’s mass arrests after the coup attempt in 2016, while being astonished about the now visible spread of the network.Christian Rumpf, a lawyer and expert on Turkish law, notes: “Gülen’s followers reached the structures of a huge community with strong cohesion and loyal networks in all social spheres – an almost secret alliance with greater power than the legendary Illuminati”. Prominent exiled journalist Can Dündar, whose documentary on the coup attempt will be shown on television for the first time this Friday, writes in his announcement that Erdoğan and Gülen are “two political Islamists fighting for power who, after years of cooperation, became enemies and dragged their own followers to their deaths”.Between 2016 and 2020, 32,000 Turkish citizens asked for asylum in Germany, according to figures from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. In Bavaria, there were 3500, including countless Gülen supporters. A lack of transparency is a characteristic of the movement. The network has also been active in Augsburg for 30 years, mostly undetected. Before 2016, it numbered about 150 adults. Besides Frohsinn and Rumi, the Gülen followers founded four kindergartens, a women’s association and three faith-based hostels.Matthias Garte, former integration commissioner of the municipality, explains that there had always been something suspicious about Frohsinn. “We suspected that there was a network behind it. Until I left office in 2015, the people in charge denied that Islam or a network played a role in their affairs,” he reports.The Jettingen Mindeltal School is the showcase project. It connects the local network with Gülen organisations from all over southern Germany. In 2009, Frohsinn, along with sister associations from Munich, Ingolstadt, Neu-Ulm and Ravensburg, founded the girls’ public school with a grammar school, secondary school and boarding school. According to the latest figures from the Bavarian Ministry of Education, 164 students are currently being taught here, and the State of Bavaria contributes 975,000 euros per year. About 90 per cent of the students are of Turkish origin. The school’s catchment area extends to Liechtenstein, Austria and Switzerland. The Mindeltalschule also conceals its Gülen membership. The school has deleted the supporting organisation and the founding associations from its website. Neither the mission statement nor the new information on the boarding school refer to Fethullah Gülen or his writings. Only the bank account is still in the name of the sponsor: Vision Privatschulen gGmbH.However, the new content on the boarding school gives clues to the leading figure Gülen. As in many associations of the movement, the religious talks (Turkish: “sohpet”) have been renamed “tea time” in order to be suitable for the German public. Once a week, mentors give “values education”. This is the basis for “social coexistence and appropriate manners”, as it says on the website. The aim is to educate the young people to become “morally judging members of society”. The school and the boarding school do not answer questions about what exactly is meant by this.In Gülen’s understanding and practice of Islam, moral guidance is central alongside obligatory prayers and dietary rules. The early days of Islam and the life of the Prophet Muhammad are seen as models. In practice, young people and children are taught by abis (big brothers, overseers) and ablas (big sister), separated by gender. While the discussions in Turkish are conducted under Islamic terms, in German language they are increasingly translated as “democracy” and “values” education.Enisa S. is the only Abla mentor mentioned by name. She organises the ” Working Group Olympics”. Enisa S. graduated from Richmond Park College in Bihac in 2014, a school that also belongs to the Gülen network. She is now studying in Munich. The ” Working Group Olympiad” is the lowest level of the international Turkish and Cultural Olympiads – competitions whose final events are held annually in changing cities on all continents and help to strengthen networking.Realschule and boarding school management at the school Mindeltalschule were given to Fikriye Bedir last year. Social media shows that not only she, but also a newly hired maths teacher are affiliated with the Gülen network. Mehmet Badal of Frohsinn, whose three daughters go to the schools, says he has no information about who runs the boarding school. He also does not want to answer whether teachers belong to the network: “I don’t know what the teachers at the boarding school might or might not think.”The promised transparency by Gülen representatives since 2016 does not exist. The Gülen movement is increasingly seeking publicity in its fight against Erdoğan. But as long as it does not bring light into the darkness of its network, mistrust is justified. Criticism is even coming from within: “There is a black box in the movement,” says one of the refugees in Augsburg, an engineer. “And we have to look into it.” Mehmet Badal, however, is stubborn: “You can say that, but nothing has been proven.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s