An Oxford University panel organized in three sessions underlined the explanatory role of Hizmet doctrine of the evident nonradicalization of Hizmet affiliates and the graduates of Hizmet education institutions. The “Hizmet, Education and Nonradicalization” Panel, participated by eight academics from Pakistan, Israel, UK, Canada and the US discussed both the theory and the practice of Hizmet’s formal and nonformal education activities and their impact in preventing radicalization. While the “Religious and Moral Themes in Hizmet Thought and Action Preventing Radicalization” session hosted by Prof. Dr. Paul Weller and participated by Dr. Kamil Yilmaz of the Swansea University, Dr. Recep Dogan of the Charles Sturt University and Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen, Director from the Ohr Torah Stone’s Blickle Institute for Interfaith Dialogue dealt with the share the Hizmet doctrine and Fethullah Gulen’s teachings have in prevention of radicalism among Muslim youth, the “Nonradicalization through Education: Pak-Turk Schools 1995–2018” session presented strong evidence for the nonradicalizing impact of the Hizmet schools run in Pakistan between 1995 and 2018. The panel was closed by the “Hizmet, Education, and Deradicalization in the UK” where findings of an ethnographic study into the nonformal education activities of Hizmet in the UK for the last two and a half years was publicized. The panel was held on 26th of October 2023, Thursday.
HIZMET DEFIES THE RADICALIZATION PATHWAYS LITERATURE
In his presentation titled “Understanding the concept of non-radicalization: A Case study from Turkey,” Dr. Kamil Yılmaz, a postdoctoral research officer at the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law of Swansea University in Wales, underlined that while terrorism studies have focused extensively on pathways towards radicalization, such as political persecution, imprisonment, torture, social pressure and forced migration, Hizmet affiliates’ nonradicalization despite experiencing all of these should inform new policies of resilience and protective factors towards larger populations. Basing his research on 15 ethnographic interview, Dr. Yılmaz has found the three foremost reasons explaining nonradicalization of Hizmet participants as the role of Hizmet doctrine, their religious adherence, and individual personality traits and resources.
GULEN DERADICALIZES NOT BY REFORM BUT BY A RETURN TO THE FUNDAMENTALS
Participating in the panel from Israel online, Rabbi Dr. Yakov Meir Nagen, the Director of the Blickle Institute for Interfaith Dialogue and the Beit Midrash for Judaism and Humanity suggested that the strength of Fethullah Gulen’s deradicalizing voice emanates not from a reformist stance, but from a return to the fundamentals of Islam. Claiming that use of the term “fundamentalists” to describe violent extremists is a misnomer, for these are exactly the people who most violate the fundamentals of their religion, Rabbi Nagen suggested that what is necessary to confront these radicals is not to reform religion but rather the opposite, to return to the fundamental values and sources that reflect the authentic voice of each religious tradition.
Praising Fethullah Gulen to be courageous enough to change his understanding of the status of non-Muslims according to Islam based both on live encounters with the other and by a careful study of root sources of the Islamic tradition, Rabbi Nagen suggested that Mr Gulen’s path and the Hizmet Movement should be taken as a role model for deradicalization of religion.
Dr. Recep Doğan, an adjunct at the Charles Sturt University of Australia participated the panel with his “Global Terrorism and Islamic Radicalization: Analyses from Fethullah Gulen’s Perspective,” paper. Dr. Doğan underlined that Gulen deems terrorism as the greatest blow to peace, democracy, and humanity and he always condemns any terrorist activity no matter by whom it is carried out or for what purpose it is done. Supporting Rabbi Nagen’s claim that Gulen has found his peaceful commentary of Islam by a return to the primary Islamic sources, Dr. Doğan showed how radical interpretations of these sources were products of particular interests and how religious legitimation always followed the actual acts of terrorism. Doğan also dealt with the Muslim equivalent of dehumanization, excommunication of a particular individual or group, which generally accompanies violence being declared permissible.
NONRADICALIZATION THROUGH EDUCATION: PAK-TURK SCHOOLS 1995–2018
The second session of the panel was dedicated to a discussion of the creation of a culture of non-violence and nonradicalization in Pakistan by the PakTurk Schools run by Hizmet affiliates between 1995 and 2018. These schools were confiscated from their legitimate owners and transferred to a foundation established by the Turkish government to exterminate the educational activities of the Gulen Movement.
The first presentation in this session came from Dr. Seema Arif, a former head of department at the Department of Education at the School of Social Sciences & Humanities at the University of Management & Technology in Lahore, Pakistan. Dr. Arif, who currently serves as the CEO of Digi-Tal, a consultancy firm that propagates the use of technology in teaching and learning, participated the panel with her presentation titled “What is Hizmet’s Aim: Radicalization or Inclusion.”
Dr. Arif underlined that before Hizmet Schools were opened in Pakistan, education had served as a means for radicalization at the hands of the radicalizing madrasas. Since these radicalizing madrasas were largely established by American funding and were used as a formal way of recruiting jihadis against the Soviet invasion, the Hizmet Schools had to pass the test of nonradicalization, particularly because they came to the attention of the public only after Fethullah Gulen had moved to the US and also because the Turkish regime of the time was accusing of the Hizmet Movement of a secret agenda of Islamization of the country.
As distinct from the radicalizing madrasas, the Hizmet Schools in Pakistan proved their worth by following the National curriculum of Pakistan till 8th grade and offering Standardized Cambridge O&A Levels system at the secondary education level; by engaging the parents of the students in their education processes; by encouraging high levels of achievement and participation in international contests; by promoting sports and other peaceful extracurricular activities. Dr. Arif observed that the PakTurk schools had diversity and inclusion at all levels of its structure, from the multiethnic teachers to funding of the students from war-ridden and underprivileged areas. Dr. Arif ended her presentation with a few rhetorical questions: Have the PakTurk school students ever been proved to be a part of a terrorist activity? Have any Turkish or Pakistani teachers of these schools ever engaged in hate speech? Have you ever witnessed a Hizmet teacher indulged in any morally corrupt or deceptive activity? Have you ever seen a Hizmet teacher living a luxurious life?
A PERSONAL WITNESS STATEMENT
Presenting his speech as a personal witness statement supporting the empirical findings of Dr. Arif, Farman Ullah Anjum, former Director General of Higher Education Council of Pakistan told his reasons to have send his son to the PakTurk Hizmet schools. Reminding the audience of the difficult times the Turkish teachers of these schools endured in Pakistan when the government had to bow the pressure of the Turkish government and cancel the residence permits of these teachers, Dr. Anjum told a particularly moving story of devotion and altruism of these teachers. “When the permits of the teachers were cancelled, they were expecting an immediate deportation or arrest, hence they left their houses and stayed in continuous moving to evade an unwanted result. This meant they had nothing left of their houses, their kitchenware, their food. So as the parents we came together and prepared food aid packages for our teachers. We delivered them to their temporary aboding places. The next morning, I started to receive calls from a local orphanage thanking me for the food packages. Despite their years of service to the Pakistani nation, despite the difficult time they were passing through, despite the fact that we have wronged these devoted teachers, they were still keeping their dignity and altruism intact. This is the kind of moral integrity they left behind,” Dr. Anjum told the audience.
Participating the panel from Saudi Arabia, where he works as a researcher on Iranian studies, Dr. Naveed Ahmad, a father of two former students of the PakTurk Schools, continued the witness statement. Stressing his satisfaction with the level of education and the visionary outlook of the Hizmet Schools in Pakistan, Dr. Ahmad also added that the schools re-educated him as a father. Whereas before the Hizmet schools, an engagement of parents and the school was necessary only when the kid made a mistake, Dr. Ahmad observed, the Hizmet Schools incorporated the parents and the rest of the family in the education process.
A REPLICABLE MODEL OF NONRADICALIZATION THROUGH EDUCATION
The last speaker of the “Nonradicalization Through Education: Pak-Turk Schools 1995–2018” session was a former biology teacher at the PakTurk Schools, Mrs. Meral Kaçmaz. Herself an example of the multinational experience of the Turkish schools of the PakTurk schools, Mrs. Kaçmaz had worked at Hizmet affiliated schools in Bosnia Herzegovina, Turkey, Nigeria, Senegal and Burkina Faso before coming to Pakistan. Her last posting didn’t came to a peaceful end though. Together with her husband and to young daughters she was abducted from Pakistan, brought illegally to Turkey, suffered ill-treatment, arrested and released only under international pressure. The title of Mrs. Kaçmaz’s presentation was “Pak-Turk Schools’ influence and their pivotal role in promoting nonradicalization from 1995 to 2018.”
According to Kaçmaz, the Pak-Turk Schools served as a bridge between two historic nations, Pakistan and Turkey and beyond their educational role, they had been agents of positive change, fostering a culture of understanding, respect, and moderation. “By embedding a curriculum that encourages critical thinking, global awareness, and cultural appreciation, these institutions have played an unyielding role in shaping young minds resistant to extremist ideologies. By intertwining the rich histories and values of Pakistan and Turkey, these schools provided students with a broader perspective. This cultural blend, presented within the educational framework, fortified students against parochial beliefs and instilled in them the values of inclusiveness and global citizenship. Through extracurricular activities, students learned the values of teamwork, mutual respect, and understanding – the very antitheses of radicalism. By engaging students in community service, these schools instilled a profound sense of responsibility, compassion, and unity. Such initiatives further distanced students from the divisive ideologies that feed radicalization,” Mrs. Kaçmaz told the audience.
The session commenced with the observation that the PakTurk Hizmet Schools were a testament to the power of collaborative international education endeavours in countering radicalism and hence offered a model of nonradicalization through education, replicable for nations worldwide.
The “Hizmet, Education and Nonradicalization” Panel was supported by the London Advocacy. The panel took place at the Colliers Room of the Regent’s Park College and was broadcasted online.