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Five major global socio-political challenges: How might Hizmet respond? A British perspective

Centro Cultural Brasil-Turquia

at the Sao Paulo University, in São Paulo-Brazil, on May 18-19, 2016 to bring together academics, scholars, researchers, journalists and opinion leaders to better understanding of Hizmet Movement


Session: Social-political aspects of Hizmet

Five major global socio-political challenges: How might Hizmet respond? A British perspective

Dr Max Farrar, Emeritus Professor Leeds Beckett University, UK


The world currently faces five major challenges, each of which produces complex sociopolitical issues which every nation must resolve, if we are to make more peaceful and just societies:

  • Climate change
  • Globalised economies that are increasing the polarisation of wealth and income
  • Mass migration
  • Increasing political violence, claiming religion as its justification
  • Decreasing social solidarity

In this paper, it is argued that Hizmet has an important role to play as a citizens’ organisation inspired by neo-Sufi beliefs. It can explain the heresy of ‘religious’ terrorism, and it can help us tackle social polarisation. Already it is effective in both these fields. Perhaps it can be more proactive in explaining how terror and social division are linked to — partly caused by — climate change and economic polarisation (both of which drive mass migration). Hizmet is uniquely placed to offer spiritual, intellectual and practical and responses to all these major problems. It has the potential to make focused interventions in civil society across all five fields of contestation in all the nations where it has a presence.


Thanks to Mustafa Goktepe, President of the Centro Cultural Brasil-Turquia and his team at the Centro Cultural Brasil Turkiye.
Hospitality. Sao Paulo.
I have been involved with the Hizmet movement since 2006 via my university (then called Leeds Metropolitan University). The London Branch of Hizmet took a group of us to meet the movement in Istanbul in 2008. I co-organised conference on Multiculturalism for the movement at Fatih University in Konya, Turkey in 2012. Fetulah Gulen was awarded an honorary doctorate by my university in 2010, accepted by my good friend Ozcan Keles, director of the Dialogue Society in London. I am on the editorial Board of the Journal of Dialogue Studies, established in 2012. My other work: 20 years in the public sector and 20 years in the Higher Education sector, gaining a PhD in sociology in 1999 with a study of the social movements, led mainly by people of African descent that shaped the neighbourhood in Leeds called Chapeltown. Now retired and active in several charities and supporting social movements. More on my website (above).

Outline of this paper

I believe are the five major challenges for the world in the early 21st Century of the Common Era. These are

  1. Climate change
  2. Globalised economies that are increasing the polarisation of wealth and income
  3. Mass migration
  4. Increasing political violence, claiming religion as its justification
  5. Decreasing social solidarity






My argument is that all five challenges are inextricably linked. And, in the spirit of supportive dialogue, I want to suggest that if Hizmet is to fully achieve the goal of its founding teacher, Fetullah Gülen, namely ‘the betterment of human life’ (El-Banna 2013 p.3), it might consider how to tackle all five of these challenges. Utilising its methodology of inserting Hizmet values into daily practical actions, I will suggest that the movement is well placed to demonstrate that each of these global challenges is connected with the other. Further, Hizmet might show that society can only be really made better if all of humanity joins together in co-ordinated programmes of constructive action which result in:

  • massively reducing our consumption of fossil fuels to reduce climate warming • increasing the income and wealth of the world’s poor, and reducing the income and wealth of the super-rich
  • greatly improving the economies and the environment of the developing world to reduce emigration pressure and to promote social solidarity
  • eliminating organised violence (perpetrated by all fundamentalist faith groups) to reduce migration pressure and promote progressive values (in all religions)
  • improving understanding and inter-communication, and thus increasing social cohesion, by helping us all to overcome the divisions between ethnic groups, between classes, genders, people of various levels of physical and mental ability, and the various sexualities

In this paper I set out some of the resources in facts and ideas that might assist Hizmet members and others in the daunting task o meeting the global challenges.

A note on epistemology

I come to this conference as a sociologist and as a supporter of the Hizmet movement. This should raise discussion about academic impartiality and objectivity and I therefore put my epistemological cards on the table: I have never been convinced that social science is like natural science. I follow the arguments of Marx, Weber and Habermas that knowledge is always derived from values and interests; feminists have called this ‘standpoint epistemology’. Having said that, I should also point out that I do not believe in God, at least as belief is understood among the religious, so I do not approach the Hizmet movement with that value standpoint, and I do follow the rationalism of modern philosophy which stresses the use of empirical evidence and logical inference. In this paper you will see facts and figures that I have derived from various sources. These are reputable sources, but, given my epistemology, I accept that they are disputable, and that other authorities have produced different ‘facts’ on the same issues. Thus I make no claim that these figures are the absolute truth. But I do believe they provide a sound basis for discussion of the five challenges discussed in this paper. I work within the tradition of critical social thought which crosses the boundaries between sociology and psychology, economics, history, politics and, in my case at least, literature and other types of media which analyse society. So everything I say here welcomes dialogic responses.


1) Climate change: heating-up the world

Justin Rowlatt used to be the BBC’s ‘Ethical Man’. He was passionate about climate change and he persuaded the BBC to give him the job of living as ethically as possible, so far as the environment was concerned, for the whole of 2006. His reports appeared regularly on the BBC and his diary, recounting all his efforts to reduce his and his family’s detrimental effect on the environment are still available on the web (Rowlatt 2006). When he spoke at the huge gathering of social movements and activists in Leeds in 2011 one of the points he made was that it was infernally difficult to get any media editors at all interested in climate change issues, despite the fact of global warming and its catastrophic effects is only denied by a few mavericks. The average temperature in the past 100 years rose between 0.4 and 0.8 °C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently predicted that average global temperatures could increase between 1.4 and 5.8 °C by the year 2100 (Live Science 2016). The World Health Organisation’s list of facts about the effect of climate change on death rates, malnutrition and illness provide compelling evidence for the need to reverse the steady climb in the earth’s temperature, caused by CO2 emissions induced by humans’ consumption of fossil fuels. Here are some of the WHO’s facts:

  • 600,000 deaths in the 1990s, 95% of them in developing countries.
  • 70,000 deaths in Western Europe due to the unusually hot summer in 2003.
  • 300 million people affected by asthma; the number is expected to increase.
  • Over half the world’s population lives within 60 km of the shoreline: rising sea levels will affect millions.
  • 40% of the world’s population lives with too little water, compromising their health. Water pollution causes 2.2 m people to die each year of diarrhoea.
  • Climate-sensitive disease killed 3 m people in 2004 (one third in Africa).
  • Increased temperature and decreasing rain results in malnutrition in all hot countries.

(WHO 2015)

During this conference the BBC World Service announced that nearly 14M people in Southern Africa are currently at threat due to drought.* The scientific consensus is that significant reduction in extraction and use of fossil fuels as energy sources is the primary antidote to this calamitous rise in the earth’s temperature. The required changes in energy policy will have an impact on economic growth, hence the difficulty in getting the public behind the changes that must come. For the betterment of society, however, the public must be educated in these matters, and individuals must change their own behaviour.

*BBC note here http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-36037414 Background information here 1 http://www.ann7.com/drought-affecting-14-million-people-across-southern-africa/

2) Increasing global inequality

Increasing inequality has massive implications for the happiness of populations. The British anti-poverty charity Oxfam has provided some of the facts on income inequality:

  • In the US the share of national income going to the top 1% has doubled since 1980 from 10% to 20%
  • In China the top 10% now take home nearly 60% of the income.

(Oxfam 2013)

A summary its recent report ‘An Economy for the 1%’ stated that:

The wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population has fallen by a trillion dollars since 2010, a drop of 38 percent. This has occurred despite the global population increasing by around 400 million people during that period. Meanwhile, the wealth of the richest 62 has increased by more than half a trillion dollars to $1.76tr. The report also shows how women are disproportionately affected by inequality – of the current ‘62’, 53 are men and just nine are women.

The article included a point which has obvious policy implications:

Globally, it is estimated that a total of $7.6 trillion of individuals’ wealth sits offshore. If tax were paid on the income that this wealth generates, an extra $190 billion would be available to governments every year.
(Oxfam 2016)

To make matters worse, Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel has shown that inequality in some of the poorest nations of the world is also increasing and ‘the trickle down’ is not happening:

Although seven out of 10 people in the region live in countries that have averaged growth of more than 4% a year for the past decade, Annan's study found that almost half of Africans were still living on incomes below the internationally accepted poverty benchmark of $1.25 a day.
(Elliott 2012)

Oxfam (2013) argued that this rampant inequality is economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive, environmentally destructive, and unethical. Other studies have shown that inequality makes people unhappy — even when the economy is growing. For example, Shigehiro Oishi at the University of Virginia and Selin Kesebir at the London Business School in research across 34 nations published in 2015 was summarised as ‘Economic growth is associated with lower levels of happiness in nations with higher income inequality’. Oishi and Kesebir said this:

Every single time income inequality decreased between two time points, the percentage of ‘very happy’ responses went up. And every time income inequality increased, the percentage of ‘very happy’ responses went down. In other words, although economic growth was steady and strong during this period, the evenness of the income distribution was fluctuating, and happiness was inversely related to income inequality.

Since our conference is in Brazil, it’s worth noting their findings on South American nations. Their report has been summarised like this:

The second dataset covers happiness in 18 Latin American countries with less advanced, less developed economies, using data from the Latin American Barometer . . . an annual public survey of happiness and well-being. Here the study generated two key findings. Again the researchers found that inequality dampened happiness. But in contrast to the findings for the advanced nations, they found that happiness did not increase alongside economic growth.
(Florida 2015)

Examining the level of happiness in society is one of the best ways of understanding the link between social conditions and personal experience. If we agree that a happier society is a better society, we need to influence one of the main determinants of happiness, the economic well-being of the whole population. If inequality makes us unhappy, we need to reduce the differential in wealth and income in every society.

3) Ever-growing mass migration

Unhappy, poor, frightened and starving people migrate. Climate change is one reason for mass migrations over the past 30 years. The authoritative International Organisation for Migration puts it like this:

There are no reliable estimates of climate change induced migration. But it is evident that gradual and sudden environmental changes are already resulting in substantial population movements. The number of storms, droughts and floods has increased threefold over the last 30 years with devastating effects on vulnerable communities, particularly in the developing world. In 2008, 20 million persons have been displaced by extreme weather events, compared to 4.6 million internally displaced by conflict and violence over the same period. Gradual changes in the environment tend to have an even greater impact on the movement of people than extreme events. For instance, over the last thirty years, twice as many people have been affected by droughts as by storms (1.6 billion compared with approx 718m). Future forecasts vary from 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis, with 200 million being the most widely cited estimate. This figure equals the current estimate of international migrants worldwide.
(IOM 2016)

We must note the IOM’s ‘no reliable estimates’ caveat, and add the point made by the World Bank in its investigation of this issue that much of the climate-induced migration is internal to a country (Raleigh et. al. n.d.). But it appears that 2.3 billion people have been affected by droughts and storms in the past 30 years, with obvious negative impacts on their economic livelihoods and psychological resilience. Even if the low figure (25 million) for climate-related migration by the middle of this century is accurate, the implications for all nations are enormous.

Economic migration — where poor people move in order to find work — is well understood. Britain actively recruited workers from its colonies to re-build its infrastructure and bump-start its economy after World War 2. It absorbed Eastern Europeans displaced by that war. In the 1960s it began to restrict economic migration in response to the rise of racism in the UK, but even then a voucher system was introduced to allow those with skills its economy required to continue to enter.

More pertinent today is another factor that propels mass migration: war. Explaining the wars in the Middle East is controversial. There are those who argue that the cause is aggression against the West by fundamentalists claiming Islam as its justification, provoking Western retaliation by its armies, navies and air forces. Others take the story further back to Western imperialism in Asia, Africa and the Middle East and Soviet subjugation of its Muslim populations. There are those who blame the West for setting up the state of Israel, and the Israelis for their effort to colonise the Palestinians. Another reason given is the fall-out from the revolt by the Shi’a Muslims in Iran in 1979 and the more recent uprisings by Arabs against their own dictators, with the consequent rise of armed factions in each country being another complicating factor.

Whatever the causes, the effect has been that huge numbers of people have fled their countries in recent years. Turkey is hosting almost 3M people who have fled from Syria. 1.26M people filed a claim for asylum in Europe in 2015, twice as many as in 2014. Of the 1.26M, 88,300 were unaccompanied minors, 13% of whom were under 13 years old (Reuters 2016). In Europe, politics is dominated by the moral panic that has resulted from the arrival of these desperate people, the dead bodies on the beaches, and the winding lines of men, women and children walking across the fields of southern Europe or stuck in camps at the barbed wire barriers some governments have thrown up. Xenophobia and racism are always lurking in every population that has taken the trouble to manufacture its own specific, and specially virtuous identity. It is this ugly side of the human spirit that is being expressed now, given spurious justification by right wing and sometimes fascist parties in every part of the globe. This must be the very opposite of the betterment of society.

4) Growing political violence claiming religious justifications

So we now turn to a more specific cause of misery in society: violence in the name of God. This is perhaps the most pernicious of all because it results in damage to both the individual and to society as a whole. It is an affliction that disorientates us in every dimension: in our psyche, in our social relations, in the nation’s political, cultural and economic life. This violence does its work because it instills the most unmanageable of all emotions: fear. In the actual moment of violence, that fear is transformed into terror, which is why the mobilisation of fear as a political strategy is called terrorism. We know that this strategy was developed in the modern period by political revolutionaries in the West (Farrar 2012) but it might be that their violence in pursuit of an ideology, such as fascism, communism or anarchism, is more manageable, socially and psychologically, than violence that claims its God as its justification. Even secular societies with low rates of active participation in religious institutions have high rates of belief in God, where God sits in our soul (another word for psyche) as a symbol of all that is good. So if a group claims that their version of God’s way legitimises the random killing of people going about their daily lives, even those who are believers, there is intense disturbance to the basic norms and values of society, those that shape our efforts to be good. This experience for the vast majority of people in any society is so deep and so perverse that it can shape the zeitgeist of the era. Western historians with an eye on the antecedents of the religious terrorists since the 1970s in the Weather Underground in the USA, the Red Brigades in Italy, the Irish Republican Army in Ireland and England and the Red Army Faction in Germany may well describe the past fifty years as the Age of Terror.

I refer here first to ideologies, norms and values, in order to set terrorism that claims religious justification in the wider context of political violence in general. Religiously-justified violence is just one element in the panoply of humans engaging in murderous violence against each other. Although there is a long and terrible history of warfare and its cousin, terror, since the earliest human settlements, and although all parties in recent wars (with their acts of terror) have claimed that God is on their side,* the scale of religiously-inspired violence today rightly alarms all of us. It’s important to recognise that the West’s current focus on violence from people claiming to be Muslims suffers from its familiar myopia. There is widespread violence in the United States by people claiming to be Christians against medical staff performing abortions, against Jews, against black people and even against state institutions.** In addition, Hindu fundamentalists have gained traction since the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in India, but their history of atrocities against Muslims is long and bloody, and they are increasingly turning their hostility to Christians.***

 * In Mein Kampf Adolf Hitler wrote ‘I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of  the Almighty Creator’ - source here http://atheism.about.com/od/adolfhitlernazigermany/tp/ AdolfHitlerFaithGod.htm In this extract from a speech by Hitler in 1922 he his religious justification, as a Catholic, for his venomous hostility to Jews in terms which some of today’s violent Islamists might well recognise: https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20091118055029AAMAKmx Accessed 13 May 2106 For 30 years of deadly attacks on absorption clinics see here http://www.vox.com/ 

** 2015/12/1/9827886/abortion-clinic-attacks-mapped Attacks on Jews are listed here http:// www.adl.org/combating-hate/domestic-extremism-terrorism/c/conspiracies-against-jewishtargets.html Whute supremacist attacks on black people are explained here http://www.bbc.co.uk/ news/world-us-canada-33198061 And Timothy McVeigh’s atrocity in Oklahoma City in 1995 should be recalled. See here for details https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_McVeigh#Religious_beliefs Accessed 13 May 2016 On Modi and Hindu nationalism, including attacks on Muslims, see here https://news.vice.com/ 

*** article/christian-and-muslims-are-facing-more-and-more-persecution-by-hindu-extremists-in-india On Hindu attacks on Christians see here https://news.vice.com/article/christian-and-muslims-arefacing-more-and-more-persecution-by-hindu-extremists-in-india Accessed 13 May 2016 

When thinking about violence in the name of God, it is worth noting that Christians could, like the so-called Muslims who practice jihad, call up texts from the Bible’s Old Testament which are as ferocious in their advocacy of violence as those that can be found in the Quran.* For instance, in the Christian book of Deuteronomy, at Chapter 7.1, the Prophet Moses is recorded as saying that when ‘you have defeated [your enemies], then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy . . . Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah [a goddess of the polytheists] poles and burn their idols in the fire’. Ralph Lengler has argued that these sentiments in Deuteronomy, and others in which Moses advocates stoning to death a family member who claims to believe in Jehovah but worships false gods, and advises on what to do with a captured woman, are transmitted in the Quaran. Supposedly Christian victors in modern warfare never utilise Deuteronomy 7.1 and Bible exegeses tend to omit that chapter altogether, presumably because it has been discarded by reputable contemporary theologians. (Although the utter destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki seems to reflect Deuteronomy 7’s ‘no mercy’, burning everything in fire.) Similarly, modern Christians eschew stoning of unbelievers and the forced marriage of captured women. The point is that mainstream Muslims, Christians and Jews have scrutinised their holy texts and interpreted them in ways which are compatible with modern values. Salafis and their jihadi outliers have not, and claim that all modern followers of the Abrahamic tradition are infidel or kufar whom the jihadis say should be slaughtered.

*Ralph Lengler includes Deuteronomy 7.1 in his answer to a question of how Islamic State finds justification in Islamic theology for sexual slavery. Available here https://www.quora.com/Whatverses-of-the-Koran-do-ISIS-use-as-justification-for-war-mass-execution-slavery-and-rape Accessed 15 May 2016

This minority strand in Islam has captured world attention because of their spectacular violence, so we must examine Al-Qaeda and Daesh/ISIS. For this conference, it will go without saying that their theology is extremely weak, but by way of illustrating that point, I should mention that when he found his one justification in the writings of ibn Taymiyya, Osama binLaden misunderstood that 14th Century (CE) scholar’s position: Tamiyya was simply calling for defensive jihad against the Mongol invasion. Similarly, Al-Qaeda’s adoption of the doctrine of takfir from the original Wahabbis is unfounded: even this most fundamentalist group of Muslims abandoned that pernicious doctrine long ago (Farrar 2012). A distinctive feature of the violent so-called Muslims who practice jihad is their self-justification in the words of the Quaran and Hadith, and their refusal to recognise the centuries of interpretation that Muslim scholars have engaged in, contextualising and undermining the violence in those texts, the ones which the jihadis take literally.

A partial record of the deaths caused by terrorists who say they are enacting the will of Allah gives us one way of acknowledging the scope of the problem the world faces: • 2,996 people were killed and about 6,000 wounded in the attacks on the USA on 9/11/2001, Madrid (11/3/2004) and London (7/7/2005) (Kilcullen 2016 p. 202)

  • 202 people were killed in Bali in October 2005 and another 20 in October 2005
  • 209 were killed in the bombing of the Mumbai railway station in July 2006; another 257 people were killed in attacks on Mumbai in November 2008; and in July 2011, 26 more people died.1
  • In Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria there were 6,362 deaths due to terror attacks from 2010 to 2013.2
  • In Pakistan, between 2003 and 2016, 21,130 civilians had been killed in terrorist attacks.3
  • India, Somalia, the Philippines, Yemen and Thailand accounted for between 1% and 2.3% of global deaths by terrorism in 2010 to 2103 (179 to 413 deaths).4
  • In Paris, 17 were killed in the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, and then in November another 130 lost their lives to terrorists. Thirty-one more died in the attacks in Brussels in March 2016.5
  • The Global Terrorism Index for 2014, summarises this in this way: from 2000-14, there have been 48,000 terrorist incidents claiming over 107,000 lives; in 2013 87 countries experienced terrorist attacks, with 24 countries suffering more than 50 fatalities (Camilleri 2015 p. 56).
  • Many more have died at the hands of terrorists in Libya (eg 65 were killed by ISIS on 8.1.16, 6 Mali (eg 21 killed on 20.11.15, 7 Somalia, Kenya (about 355 killed between 2010-2014, 8 and Bangladesh, where the targets have included LGBT activists and Hindus as well as ‘secular’ Muslims.9
  • In Turkey, deaths attributed to ISIS include 10 in 2016 and 102 in 2015.10

1 Bali and Mumbai figures derived from Wikipedia entries on terrorism in those countries

2 Figures from the US Global Terrorism Index published by the BBC at http://www.bbc.com/news/ 7 world-30086435  

3 See table here http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/database/casualties.htm

4 ibid.

5 Except where a source is cited, I’ve compiled these figures from Wikipedia entries for terrorist incidents in each city.

6 Wall Street Journal article here http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-terror-state-in-libya-1453159091

7 Guardian article here http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/20/mali-attack-highlights-global-spread-extremist-violence

Wiki article here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011–14_terrorist_attacks_in_Kenya

9 For recent attacks, see here http://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/07/asia/bangladesh-hacking/index.html

10 Extracted from this list https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Islamist_terrorist_attacks

A glance at the list composed on Wikipedia of terrorist deaths at the hands of Islamist jihadi groups since 1983 dispels all sense that the threat is being exaggerated by the mass media.* Thus the concern felt across the world about this violence is not a ‘moral panic’ (Stan Cohen’s sociological term to denote a national media-led panic which is not justified by the facts). These are immensely serious events and we are right to think very hard about the best strategies to stop them.

* See here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Islamist_terrorist_attacks

David Kilcullen (2016 pp 202-11) recently wrote that Daesh/Islamic State and the Al-Qaeda network pose these threats tor Europe and the USA:

  • the emergence in several European nations and the USA of ‘home-grown’ terrorists inspired by their doctrines
  • the rising numbers of people travelling to Iraq and Syria to fight, or work as doctors, IT experts or administrators with Daesh, with a small percentage returning to plan attacks in their own countries, some of whom are linked to criminal networks
  • the rejuvenation of other terror groups/cells inspired by Daesh.

Interestingly, he argued that the mere use of overwhelming force (in Afghanistan and Iraq) simply boosted the credibility and allure of the jihadis (p. 118).

Kilcullen is an Australian ex-army officer with a PhD in politics. He was chief counter-terrorism strategist in the US State Department and he advised General Petraus on the US ‘surge’ in Iraq. Predictably therefore he is a strong advocate of military intervention, but even he argued that the crucial factors in success in countering the jihadis are ‘political leadership, law enforcement and public engagement’ in all the affected nations (Kilcullen 2016 pp 203-4). Elaborating this point he stated that it was crucial that the countries with jihadi armies develop stable governments, trusted by their populace, in which human rights, the rule of law and democracy prevail, and economic prosperity develops (p. 211). These are important recommendations, but he fails to explain how notions that have taken three hundred years for the West to develop to their own imperfect state can be expected to appear in cultures in the South and the East with very different histories. Nor has he anything to say about the need for social, cultural and economic development in the countries of the West where terrorist threats and attacks are growing and it is to this point that I now turn.

5) Increasing social fragmentation

The most obvious result of the accumulation of the four major challenges discussed above is the breakdown of social harmony, the weakening of social bonds and the depletion of trust between people in neighbourhoods and nations across the globe. As always, it is important to set the problem of the fragmentation of societies in its proper context. The media sometimes makes it seem as though the breakdown of social bonds has been caused by Islamist terror. As we have seen, my argument is that the threats are much deeper than terrorism. But social fragmentation is an issue that sociology addressed from its earliest days, over a hundred years ago. Although this discussion can be traced to Karl Marx, it became popular in social philosophy when Ferdinand Tönnies described pre-industrial societies as being much more socially integrated than modern ones. He categorised the earlier societies as being characterised by Gemeinschaft (translated as ‘community’) where relationships were based in deep personal knowledge of the other. In contrast, in modern societies (called Gesellschaft, translated as ‘society’) relationships are more rationalised and formal and a sense of community is lacking. The often-expressed contemporary view that modern, capitalist societies lack social solidarity is based in Tönnies' idea, popular since a second edition of his book appeared in 1912. Followers of Karl Marx, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim engage in the same discussion in rather different ways, with both Marx and Weber being highly critical of modern societies on this score, while Durkheim argued that solidarity in modern society was more ‘organic’, and thus more effective, because people were forced to be more interdependent, than in the ‘mechanical’ societies of feudal times, where solidarity is enforced by ritual and custom. ‘Bowling Alone’, a best-selling book by Robert Putnam published in the USA in 2000, was sub-titled ‘The collapse and revival of American community’ and it took up exactly this debate. Being American, Putnam found some hopeful signs of ‘community’ in an otherwise gloomy account, where people going to the bowling alley on their own symbolised the loss of social connections between people across the supposedly United States.

Recent empirical investigation of these issues has concentrated more on whether social diversity, rather than the capitalist economy, has lowered the level of social solidarity in a country. Investigating this theme reminds us how skewed modern debate is by the fear some people express of being ‘swamped’ (Mrs Thatcher’s unfortunate term) by immigrants. According to a synoptic study, published in 2015, evidence in the USA suggests that more diverse neighbourhood are less well bonded. But the evidence in the UK and Europe is more mixed, and the conclusion is that ‘income inequality and deprivation may be more important determinants’ of social cohesion than the variety of ethnic groups in a neighbourhood (Demivera 2015. See also Farrar 2010). Here is another example of how important it is to counter economic inequality if we are to make progress in the world, where progress is defined as strengthening the bonds between humans, increasing trust and improving social harmony. We might also note that public discourse is, unfortunately, far more likely to focus on ‘immigrants’, and to blame them for social problems, than it is to highlight social deprivation as the more important cause of fragmentation, still less to demand its amelioration.

The obsession with migration and the resurgence of terrorist politics has, however, put the old debate about social cohesion in a new light. The young men who set off bombs in London on 7th July 2005 came from Beeston, a low-income neighbourhood in my home town, Leeds, in the north of England. Shortly afterwards I wrote an article which suggested that, after seeming quite well-adjusted in their schools, universities and workplaces, they had become deeply alienated from British society. That the new jihadi Muslims are alienated from modern, Western societies is a view that is quite common now. I further placed their turn to jihad in the context of a long history in Leeds of violent protest against repressive policing and racism. (This applies across many multicultural inner-city areas of England.) More controversially I argued that they suffered intense guilt at their amoral and profligate behaviour within mainstream British youth culture and looked to Salafism and suicide as an imaginary solution to their social and psychological problems (Farrar 2005, 2006). Thus, while not denying that social fragmentation is taking place, I want to emphasise that sociological concepts like alienation, political concepts such as rebellion and protest, and psychological concepts such as guilt (and probably paranoia and splitting) provide us with a more useful analysis of the turn to jihad among a small but significant group of mainly young people in Europe.

One strand of the British government’s response to the London bombings on 7/7 was programme it called ‘community cohesion’, established in 2005. Based on some rather vague sociology, and the spurious claim that Muslims in Britain were segregated from other populations and had developed ‘parallel lives’ from the mainstream, the plan was to encourage activities across all multicultural areas where Muslims lived that would bring them into contact with other populations and thus become more integrated into British society. Lots of city and neighbourhood programmes across the UK were funded under a scheme called ‘Prevent’. Ostensibly aimed at ‘preventing violent extremism’ whether it came from Muslims or from the violent far-right groups in the UK, most of the activity was concentrated on bringing young (usually brown-skinned) British Muslims into closer contact with their young (usually white-, sometimes black-skinned) fellow citizens. The theory behind this approach seems to be the ‘contact hypothesis’, which suggests that different ethnic groups get to know each other better when they come into contact, and that if this contact is sustained it results in more amicable and harmonious social relations. There has been surprisingly little evaluation of this programme, despite it continuing after Labour lost power. Skoczylis (2015) says that what evaluation there has been is ‘poor’ and ‘lacking evidence of the success or failure’ of the activities. And it has been argued that the underlying theory itself results on a reified and essentialised concept of ‘race’, where difference is assumed to fixed and identities so firmly set that successful interaction between different cultures is difficult to achieve (Farrar 2012).

More attention deserves to be given to a report that was written as a direct response to the ‘social cohesion’ programme. Titled ‘Our Shared Future’ and produced by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion (2007). It broadened the scope of the government’s approach, showing that affection cohesion only takes place when everyone has an equal chance in life and has full access to social justice. Further, it removed the focus on ‘Muslims as the problem’ and stressed that all diverse populations, including the new migrants, have a valuable role to play in creating a cohesive society (Farrar 2010). The point about equal life chances and social justice might be enlarged to point out that this means that every section in each nation — whether categorised by gender, class, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or ability/ disability — has an absolute right to equal treatment in their private and public lives, with full social, cultural and political rights.

The dispiriting conclusion of this section of the paper is that British governments have framed the ‘social cohesion’ issue issue wrongly. They have focussed on Muslims settling in Britain, falsely claiming they have failed to integrate, when the real causes are the nature of capitalist society itself, and the inequality it remorselessly generates. Instead, they should have made a more serious analysis of the degree of social dislocation, improved educational institutions (school and community-based education n particular), developed neighbourhood resources ((particularly in the areas of multiple social deprivation), and redistributed the nation’s wealth in favour of the poor.


Hizmet is a social movement and it cannot be charged with the functions of government such as those just mentioned. Democratically elected political parties must play that role. It is significant that Hizmet has continually refused to become that type of organisation (its values prohibit explicitly political activity) — yet its current repression by President Erdogan’s government in Turkey treats it as though it is an oppositional political party with a subversive agenda. * This says more about Erdogan than it says about Hizmet.

* The BBC recorded the arrest of 44 Hizmet supporters in 2015 here http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34709324 The Guardian reflected on the take-over of the Hizmet paper Zaman by the Erdogan government in March 2016 here http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/ mar/08/journalism-turkey-zaman-media-eu

As a social movement, it is clear that Hizmet already undertakes work which addresses some of the five challenges outlined in this paper. In her careful study of the work of the Dialogue Society in London, the Hizmet centre in the UK, Sanaa El-Banna uses the appealing expression ‘the betterment of human life’ as the overall goal of the movement (El-Banna 2013 p. 3, p. 40). She sets out these aims for its work:

  • to create social mobility through educational activities, the promotion of social integration and temsil (religion in practice)
  • to promote dialogue with mainstream Britain to help fulfil community needs 
  • to engage in service activity to eliminate ‘ignorance, poverty and internal schism’.

(El-Banna 2013 p. 40)

These aims are consistent with my own observation of Hizmet in practice. It sets itself out in the UK in this way:

The Dialogue Society is not a religious or ethnic organisation. It aims to facilitate dialogue on a whole range of social issues, regardless f any particular faith or religion. It stands for democracy, human rights, the non-instrumentalisation of religion in politics, equality and freedom of speech.
(Dialogue Society n.d. [2015] p. 2)

The Dialogue Society then explains its practical work in these terms:

  • Connecting communities (describing the many public meetings it holds with highly-placed representatives of key institutions in British society)
  • Empowering engagement (mainly through building the capacity for dialogue)
  • Inspiring ideas (via its work in education and its impressive publications on a variety of subjects)

(Dialogue Society n.d. [2015])

The Dialogue Society brochure describes the specific activities of the Society since its foundation in 1999. Its progress has been remarkable. Its allies in academia (I am one of several advisers based in British universities), its good relations with members of both the House of Commons and the Lords, as well as senior people in the civil service, the police and the media, and its publications are measures of its success. Its ‘community’ pamphlets illustrate its effort to combine education with practical activity, with titles such as ‘celebrating festivals’, ‘community engagement dinners’, ‘open mosque day’ and ‘community centres branching out’. At the same time it is actively intervening in higher education, with its Masters degree in that topic (co-delivered with the University of Keele, UK), its journal Dialogue Studies, and publications such as ‘Dialogue Theories’, ’Debating Multiculturalism’ and ‘The Muslim World and Politics in Transition’. It ‘policy’ publication is ‘De-radicalisation by Default: the ‘dialogue approach to rooting out violent extremism’ which shows how keenly it takes its responsibility as an organisation inspired by Mr Gulen’s Islamic teaching to impact upon one of the major challenges I have discussed above.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Dialogue Society seems not to set out its stall in the ‘interfaith’ field, which is flourishing across the country and is particularly impressive in my own city of Leeds, where an organisation called Concord Interfaith Fellowship has been active since 1976. Much of Concord’s work is educational, covering discussions of members of all faiths in people’s homes and holding conferences and seminars in public venues, applying a model very similar to the Dialogue Society’s. On occasions, such as the Walk of Friendship it convened in a multicultural area where the Leeds cell had constructed the bombs it set off in London on 7th July 2005, it takes part in peaceful, symbolic actions. (The Walks have continued each year since 2006.) (Bates 2016 p. 160)

In arguing that Hizmet in the UK, and elsewhere, might enlarge its range of activities to respond to the challenges discussed above I must stress that I accept Hizmet’s refusal to behave like a political organisation. The failure of the orthodox political parties all over the world is increasingly apparent, resulting in the rise of new parties and new leaders, some with far right leanings, and there are good reasons for remaining distant from the party methodology. But the failure of the conventional pray model also explains the rise of the new social movements. While these eschew religion, it is significant than one of the largest mobilisations in recent years in the UK was the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005. Almost half a million people emailed the Prime Minister (in 2005 far fewer people had email than today!). Almost a quarter of a million people converged in Edinburgh to lobby the Gleneagles summit of world leaders were huge precisely because the radical sections of UK Christian churches took part in the assembly. With its global focus, a clear understanding of the link between world poverty and the indebtedness of the global south, it had remarkable results in cancelling some debt, and increasing aid to the developing countries (Oxfam 2013). This coalition between people of faith and the secular movements in Britain is my inspiration for the following remarks.

Social movements are non-hierarchical, networked, value-based, loose assemblies of people who usually come together over a particular issue in some kind of action, and then disperse. They are criticised by members of political parties and sects for not having leaders and failing to produce a manifesto of general aims. They do not stand in elections (though many of their members will vote, usually for left of centre parties). Within each movement there are people who are organised in small cells who provide evidence, write pamphlets, and use social media and blogs to offer advice on what should be done in practice and how any actions should be organised. It was very sensible of Sanaa El-Banna to write about the Dialogue Society using the framework of the analysis of social movements that has emerged in academia. She rightly concluded that Hizmet, in the UK at least, fits well with the academics’ description of a social movement.* Perhaps the main difference is that the social movements are usually highly 18 critical of capitalism, and, as I have argued elsewhere, Hizmet is much more comfortable with the capitalist organisation of society (Farrar 2008).

* However, The Rumi Forum, part of Hizmet, hosts a paper by Heather Brown which argues that Hizmet only partially fits within social movement theory. El-Banna calls the Dialogue Society ‘a new type of social movement’ (2013 p. 65). See here http://rumiforum.org/the-hizmet-movement-andsocial-movement-theory-applicability-or-irrelevancy/ Accessed 22 May 2016


My suggestion is quite simple: that Hizmet broadens the scope of its activities to research and advise on global warming, economic inequality and mass migration. It already works very hard on the two other challenges I have discussed: violence that claims religion for its justification and the breakdown of social solidarity. This paper has argued that the first three challenges are the underlying causes of the last two, but perhaps the argument is better put like this: all five challenges are interrelated and none should be addressed on its own. It old be entirely commensurate with Hizmet values, I think, for its educational work to be extended to cover the first three challenges. Thus it might organise events on those topics and produce publications on its websites and/or in print. Already, in the USA, Hizmet has convened a panel on ‘Climate change and disaster management’ in light of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.* The Gulen Institute hosts a very useful briefing on world income inequality.** These indicate that my own concerns are not far from Hizmet’s, but I cannot find any Hizmet entries on mass migration, and I humbly suggest that the movement takes up all these issues in more detail. Because it is, almost uniquely, a global movement, Hizmet is extremely well placed to take a leading role within the social movements on each of the challenges discussed here. For instance, Hizmet might discuss medical and wider health issues as they are exacerbated by climate change. Mass migration has obvious impacts on health and economic status and it brings with it the challenge of new and host populations coming to understand each other’s customs and values. Dialogue is the particular methodology required for the development of empathy, knowledge and trust, and Hizmet is expert in that field, along with a range of organisations in the UK’s civil society as a whole. (On dialogue in practice, I particularly recommend the work of Together for Peace in Leeds.***) Perhaps the crucial overall issue for society as a whole is dialogue designed to improve social cohesion. Again, this is a key existing role for Hizmet, but in my view there is a crying need to cross the sometimes deep divide between men and women, between different socio-economic groups, different ethnicities, sexualities, abilities and faiths. Quite specific educational work is required here; equally important, perhaps, are practical activities in which the various groups work together for social change. In each category, quite significant changes would need to take place, the main one of which is for the most powerful section in each category to reduce its power and nurture the power of the least advantaged. In the case of differences of faith, the big change will come when the believers accept that they have much in common with non-believers, and the ‘secular fundamentalists’ accept that their values are not so different from the millions of open-minded believers who support equality, democracy and social justice. 

* A detailed account of the event, involving an international panel of experts, including one from the Hizmet disaster relief organisation Kimse Yok Mu Relief Foundation is available here http:// hizmetnews.com/7067/a-year-after-hurricane-sandy-climate-change-disaster-management/ #.V0GwwleCyVR Accessed 22 May 2016

** Robert Clark’s paper is available here http://www.guleninstitute.org/publications/world-income-inequality/ Accessed 22 May 2016

***Together for Peace is a small, flexible, non-governmental organisation whose projects often focus on inter-cultural understanding and practice. It is an exponent of the Art of Hosting methodology for facilitating consensual discussions in large groups. See here http://www.t4p.org.uk and here http://www.artofhosting.org Accessed 22 May 2016

There are seven to ten million Hizmet supporters across the globe (El-Banna 2015 p. 63). So far as I can see, no-one has estimated the numbers, globally, in the non-religious social movements. Its reach was well described by Paul Mason — he outlined mass protests in Egypt, Greece, Britain, the USA and the Philippines (Mason 2012) — and British TV has shows us huge assemblies in Spain, Hong Kong, India and Brazil since then. We can just imagine the difference that would be made if Hizmet were able to find points of contact with these social movements and proceed along the lines I have just outlined.


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