Few contemporary thinkers are as controversial as Fethullah Gülen. To his supporters, he is a visionary who promotes religious tolerance, while to his opponents, he is a closet Islamist who seeks to subvert the secular order. For examples of the different treatment, see these suspicious views, this middle-of-the-road treatment, and this effusive interview or biography.
That he is deeply influential in Turkey is without doubt. While Gülen himself stays clear of direct involvement in politics, his supporters permeate the Turkish government and, especially, its security forces. Indeed, with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) monopolizing power, the best way to think about divisions inside government are not along political party lines but rather as factions within the AKP: some members follow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan first and foremost, others prefer Abdullah Gül, while for others Gülen is the master. Factional rivalries and animosities run so deep that the wives of Erdoğan and Gül do not speak to each other.
As the AKP has consolidated control, Gülen’s forces have become the paramount power in the security forces. Two years ago, those security forces arrested investigative reporter Ahmet Şik and, in a blatant equivalent of prosecuting “thought crimes,” declared illegal his unpublished manuscript describing the penetration of Turkish state organs by Islamists. That Şik was attacked in Taksim Square and hospitalized with serious injuries is probably not a coincidence.
Fethullah Gülen has gently criticized Erdoğan’s handling of the Gezi Park protests, yet it is unclear if his criticism is simply a populist strategy to weaken a prime minister and sometimes-ally that has gotten too big for his britches, or whether Gülen is sincere. Unfortunately, the latter is likely not the explanation: because Gülen has such active influence among the security forces, the police behavior probably reflects more upon the real Gülen than all of those shadow organizations who continue to sing his praises as a man of peace.