Is Turkey heading towards a Khomeini-style return of its most influential Islamic leader? Turkish media asked the question today after the Court of Appeals upheld the acquittal of Fethullah Gülen on charges of plotting to establish shariah law in the officially secular state. Gülen, who lives in the United States, has millions of followers in Turkey and abroad who support his modern and moderate form of Islam and the schools and media he has set up to propagate it. This week, he came out on top of a Foreign Policy magazine poll of the world’s leading public intellectuals. That was an Internet survey, so it can’t be considered scientific, but the flood of votes for him is a rough indicator of wide and/or well-organised support.
“After the last verdict, there are two questions to be asked: Is Gülen going to come back to Turkey? If he does, it is going to be a Khomeini-style homecoming?” the centre-right daily Aksam asked. Hürriyet, a popular nationalist daily, hinted at a return in a report saying that his U.S. green card appeal had been rejected and he had one month to leave the country.
It’s an interesting thought, but it doesn’t seem likely he’ll come back. The secularist establishment, including high-ranking army generals and intellectuals, still suspect him of trying to destroy the secular state. Just because he’s been acquitted in this case doesn’t mean another couldn’t be brought against him.
Hüseyin Gülerce, an associate of Gülen (pictured at left), told HaberTurk that speculation about a Khomeini-style homecoming was wrong “because Gülen is a modest person.” Harun Tokak, president of the Writers and Journalists Foundation whose honorary chairman is Gülen, told Zaman (a Gülen newspaper) the preacher’s poor health would probably be the deciding factor. “He had no legal limitations preventing him from returning to Turkey. Up until now, he has decided to stay there according to his own considerations and the advice of his doctors. I think his future decision will be based on the same factors,” he said.