TURKISH GULENIST MOVEMENT IN AUSTRIA AVOIDS CONFLICT OVER MUSLIM INTEGRATION; FOCUSES ON HOMELAND
2009 March 30, 15:08 (Monday)
Classified by: Economic-Political Counselor J. Dean Yap for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Summary: The international movement of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen is represented in Austria by a cultural foundation, a high school, and a newspaper. While Gulenists in Austria are openly critical of the Turkish secular state, they avoid controversies over Muslim integration in Austria. They are generally well educated and integrate more easily into Austrian society than most other immigrants. At the same time, they have created a kind of parallel society for their members. End Summary.
2. (U) Gulen is the leader of a religious movement that has established schools, universities, and other institutions around the world. In his speeches and writings he promotes interfaith dialogue and tolerance. He also embraces science and rejects the idea that science and faith are in conflict; Gulenist schools tend to be strong in sciences. Critics claim that the Gulenist movement has a hidden Islamist agenda. Gulen, who has resided in the U.S. since 1998, was indicted in Turkey in 2000, but was later acquitted, on charges of threatening the secular state. Gulenist Institutions in Austria --------------------------------
3. (U) The Gulenist presence in Austria consists of the Friede Institute for Dialogue (a cultural foundation that sponsors symposia, classes and travel programs), the Phoenix Gymnasium (high school), and a media group centered on the Austrian edition of the Turkish newspaper Zaman. There is no official connection among these organizations, but it is clear that they are bound together by a common outlook and by personal connections among their members. It is difficult to say how many Gulenists there are in Austria because the movement has no official criterion for membership (our contacts at the Friede Institute and Zaman use the term "trend" rather than "movement").
Zaman has 5,000 subscribers in Austria and claims a total of 20,000 readers. These numbers give some idea of the extent of the movement's influence in Austria. The Zaman Media Group in Vienna has all the trappings of a modern, sophisticated news agency, including an educated multilingual staff and an office in an upscale part of the city. Zaman in Austria is published primarily in Turkish, with a few pages in German. However, the paper's editors say they plan to convert to an all-German format in order to become a more truly "Austrian" paper. The paper reveals its affiliation with the Gulen movement most clearly in the religion section, which features material from the Friede Institute as well as writings by Fethullah Gulen himself. Critical of Turkish State... ----------------------------
4. (C) Gulenists in Austria are openly critical of Turkish state secularism, including, for example, the ban on headscarves in Turkish universities. Aynur Kirci, an Austrian born editor for the paper, averred to us that the changes now being carried out in Turkey by the Islam-oriented, ruling AK Party are as important as Ataturk's reforms. A harsh citic of Turkey's staunchly secular military, she old us that, "After the military has been cleare from politics, Turkey will be a different country." ...But Cautious on Austrian Events ----------------------------------
5. (U) In Austria, however, the Gulenists steer clear of the often tense debates over Muslim integration. Austria's Arab-dominated Islamic Faith Community (IFC), the official representative of Muslims in Austria, has frequently been accused of supporting religious extremism and minimizing the influence of the Turkish community, by far Austria's largest Muslim group. A recent study indicated that a significant percentage of Islamic instructors in Austria, who are hired by the IFC, hold anti-democratic views (reftel). The IFC is often at odds with ATIB, the Austrian branch of Turkey's Religious Affairs Ministry, which represents Turkish state-sanctioned Islam. The Gulenists maintain a low profile and avoid both criticizing or siding with other Muslim organizations.
6. (C) Kirci told us that Zaman attempts to portray the positive side of the Turkish experience in Austria; this includes profiles of successful Austrian-Turkish politicians, intellectuals and business leaders. While Zaman in Austria VIENNA 00000381 002 OF 002 offers thorough "real time" coverage of developments in Turkey, it tends to report on integration-related controversies in Austria only after some time has passed.
Kirci said this is done to allow for a balanced, objective analysis. Gulenists tend to accuse the media and politicians of exaggerating the conflicts over Muslim integration in Europe. Kirci maintains that the Austrian media are obsessed with the issue due to an unfounded fear of Islam. She argued that immigrants from Christian countries in Eastern Europe have never been seen as an "integration problem," even though they suffer from many of the same social and economic problems as Muslim immigrants. Parallel Society ----------------
7. (C) The Gulenists generally come from the educated middle and upper classes, and therefore integrate more easily into Austrian society than other immigrants. At the same time, however, they have established a kind of parallel society. The Gulenists are not concentrated in Muslim or immigrant neighborhoods, but they maintain their own schools and newspapers. It is possible for serious followers of the movement in Austria and across Europe to study at a Gulenist high school, graduate from a Gulenist university, and start a career in the Gulenist media. Kirci expressed a desire to move from journalism into teaching, and told us this would most likely mean a position at a new Gulen university in Poland, or at one of the movement's many secondary schools.
All of these institutions present a Gulenist view of the world, to the exclusion of other perspectives; indeed, this is their goal. When we asked Valeria Heuberger, an Austrian expert on Islam, if the Gulenists have a hidden agenda, she replied, "Yes, they do have a hidden agenda, but I don't think it is a radical agenda. Their agenda is simply to further the ego of their leader, the same as any cult." Gulenists in Europe support intercultural dialoge because it is part of Fethullah Gulen's teachings and worldview, not because they see it as a step towards integration into European society, she said. Comment: Focused on Turkey --------------------------
8. (C) Gulenists in Austria appear focused on political debates in Turkey. They have taken no actions that could be described as promoting radical Islam or discouraging integration in Austria. The movement's network in Austria provides opportunities for education and advancement, though at the cost of separating members from mainstream society. KILNER