How a man in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains is causing chaos in Turkey

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Marco Werman: Let's focus, now, on that cleric living in rural Pennsylvania. As Jacob reported, Fethullah Gulen is a religious scholar. He lives on a 25-acre estate in the Pocono Mountains region. Pictures often show Gulen sitting in front of a bookcase, in what looks like a home study. But he's much more than just a scholar. Joe Parkinson: This is probably one of the most powerful religious figures in the world that many people have never heard of. And yes, it's quite incongruous that he's exerting so much power in Turkey from this remote estate in Amish country. Werman: That's Joe Parkinson, Istanbul bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. He and a colleague have corresponded with Gulen, via email, to find out more about the cleric and his background. Parkinson: The Imam story is very interesting, and in some ways, kind of his tract Turkey's own turbulent, sort of, political past. You know, he was a young Imam at the age of 16. When the country liberalized and allowed more religious groups, he gained more followers, businessmen started following him. He built schools all over the country. He became a political force. In the year 2000, he moved over to the US, ostensibly for medical treatment, but at the same time, the then-secularist government were attempting to try for attempting to topple the government. He's now found himself in a not-too-dissimilar predicament with his one time ally, Prime Minister Erdogan. Both of them religious men, both of them long-term allies formerly against the secular establishment. And now, at loggerheads in a way that's really destabilizing Turkish politics. Werman: So how did, I mean, how did these two once-allies get on the outs? What happened to Prime Minister Erdogan and Gulen? Parkinson: It's a story which sort of exploded into public view in December, but had its origins a little bit further back. These guys were sort of, ideologically, a little bit different, but as I said, they were united by their opposition to the secularist establishment. They had frictions before, but what really broke--the straw that broke the camel's back, here, was that the prime minister attempted to close down what's called dershanes in Turkey, which are these cramming schools, many of which are controlled by Fethullah Gulen and are a key source of financing and recruitment. And when the prime minister attempted to do that, it was just considered a declaration of war. Werman: I mean, it sounds like there's some internal political stuff going on between Gulen and Erdogan. But is the division, essentially, over a secular state versus a religious state, and who's for which one? Parkinson: It's not. It's such a complicated situation in Turkey, with all these different moving parts. It's very difficult even being in the country, as I am in Istanbul, to try and understand what's going on, let alone being outside. But rather than the old conflict in Turkey, which was secularist versus religious, this is very much a war within the religious establishment. The religious establishment, for decades, were underdogs. Now they're the overlords. Now they control the levers of power. And frankly, now, they're fighting each other in a war that might destroy themselves. Werman: So what does Gulen actually stand for, there in his little estate in the Poconos? Parkinson: [Laughs] He preaches tolerance. He comes from the Sufi, more mystical, school of Islam. His ideology is, in some senses, more moderate than that of mister Erdogan, who comes from a more sort of orthodox Islamist political tradition. You know, but at the same time, the way that his network - which is called the Jamaat, or the congregation - conduct their affairs, with a lack of transparency, makes people very sort of suspicious about their motives and their ultimate goals. Werman: Joe, did you get to meet Gulen, in the Poconos? Parkinson: I didn't, unfortunately. We tried for weeks and weeks to seek an interview with Imam, because of course he's at the center of this political struggle, and he's known for being very reclusive. We actually, in the end, ended up exchanging emails, questions, back and forth, but we haven't had the chance to meet him. He's known to be very ill, he has respiratory diseases at the moment, and he's convalescing and doesn't actually move too far from this sprawling 25-acre estate that he's got up there in the Poconos. But at the same time, he's involved in this internecine conflict, so despite the illness, he must be very exercised at the moment. Werman: Joe Parkinson, with the Wall Street Journal, he's the bureau chief in Istanbul. Thanks very much, Joe. Parkinson: Yeah, no worries. Take it easy.