Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

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Across the World and in Our Own Backyard

February 1st, 2017
Posted by: Sarah Fields, Public Affairs and Civic Engagement Manager, Peninsula

Working locally with our friends in the Hizmet Movement

So much is uncertain in our country with a new president, congress, cabinet leaders, and soon Supreme Court Justice. However you might feel about them, it's easy to become myopicly focused on domestic issues. In these times it's helpful to have a reminder to consider the rest of the world. As the Peninsula Manager of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, my reminder came recently in the form of the very dedicated member of the JCRC Assembly, Dick Heiman. Dick lives by the motto, “You can never have too many friends.” One of Dick’s many friends is a man named Mahmut, who is a leader from the Pacifica Institute, an organization that brings together the Western United States followers of the Turkish-Muslim Hizmet movement.

Recognizing a unique opportunity, Dick contacted me with the idea to bring together a group from the Pacifica Institute with the Los Angeles-based Scholar of Judaism and Islam, Rabbi Dr. Reuven Firestone. Reuven was visiting the Peninsula as a scholar in residence, speaking at the several synagogues and the Peninsula JCC. With significant civil unrest in Turkey, after a failed coup in the summer, our local Hizmet community members are very concerned about their relatives still in their home country. At the end of last year, Reuven met with Fethullah Gülen, the leader of the Hizmet movement living in exile from Turkey in Pennsylvania. (It should be noted that Gülen has been accused of orchestrating the coup from afar. However, this claim seems unlikely based on the friendships the Jewish community across US has enjoyed with Hizemt followers, as well as on Gülen's age and physical health.)

We came together at the private home of two Hizmet followers to have dinner and talk and learn from one another. The dinner was a lovely meeting of the minds and cultures. We sat together and with some language interpretation help we learned about one another. Reuven was able to provide some intellectual insights and some guidance for advocacy. It seems our friends are concerned about several things both here and abroad. The Hizmet movement values service to Allah (basically doing good deeds, kind of like mitzvot) and education (in a broad, secular sense).

Turkish President Erdogan seems to blame Hizmet followers and their leader in America, Fethullah Gülen, for a whole host of problems in Turkey beyond the coup. Trump Administration National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, while consulting for a pro Erdogan Turkish American Business group, has previously called for Gülen's extradition back to Turkey. As movement that values education, many Journalists, Academics, and Doctors who Hizmet or accused of being followers have been detained in Turkey indefinitely. Including several brothers and other relatives of locals.  

At the end of the night we thanked our hosts and Reuven for joining in a meaningful moment. The Peninsula Multifaith Coalition will be launching a program in the spring to bring people of different faith together in a similar way. We need more moments like this. JCRC has held a longstanding relationship with the members and leaders of the Pacifica Institute. We will continue to support their work locally and find ways to advocate with them in these uncertain times.

Further Reading

"My Meeting With Fethullah Gülen, the Man Accused of Plotting Turkey’s Coup," Reuven Firestone, Forward, January 16, 2017