(Video Duration: 2 mins. 40 secs.)
Hundreds gathered in New York City this week - for the 30th anniversary of the East/West Institute. The Global organization works to create dialogue between different cultures. And this year -- the group honored Turkish scholar Fethullah Gulen with a prestigious award.
Gulen also sent a message to the event, which was read by Asli Bilici on his behalf.
Full text of Gülen's message:
However, I can accept this award only on behalf of the countless volunteers from different creeds, religions, nationalities and backgrounds who have come together for nothing but to serve humanity.
After all, how can I accept this award on my behalf? It is those people of noble character, who have foregone their own desires, dreams, ideals and comforts, and dedicated themselves to helping others wake up to a better morning full of hope and confidence in their future.
The collective personality and action of these heroic people is in fact who truly deserves this award. It is the young college graduates, who have volunteered to fly to countries, some of which they had probably never heard of, but where they could help the children attain a modern education. It is the sacrificing parents of these heroic teachers who saw their sons and daughters off with compassion. It is the men and women who have never ceased to generously support these educational efforts. It is the blessed people of more than 140 countries who have wholeheartedly welcomed and embraced more than 1,000 schools. Again, it is the people of all nationalities, religions, creeds and backgrounds who have held the hand of friendship, amity and dialogue who truly deserve this award.
I have always felt honored to be among and behind these respected people, but never considered myself in front of them and leading. You were kind enough to recognize their sacrifice and efforts.
Indulge me with the privilege to tell you a little bit more about them. A set of noble values is what has mobilized them all: Gaye-i hayal (the grand ideal of life), the pursuit of God's will through serving His people (humanity). They consider this grand ideal as a key to their livelihood. Diğergamlık (altruism) is their fundamental characteristic that enables them to devote themselves to the fulfillment of such a noble goal. Mesuliyet duygusu (a sense of personal responsibility) is what moves them with compassion when they hear a child is dying somewhere in the world because of a lack of food, or a girl is deprived of her right to education because of the lack of schools. Finally, it is verme tutkusu (the passion of giving) which makes them donate generously from their time and money but expect nothing in return. For the last several decades, they have been working humbly but consistently to make it a better and more peaceful world, where everybody embraces one another with love and understanding.
However, the past decade has unfortunately been marked by the surge of interreligious and interethnic prejudice due to the ill actions of the extremists in every society. Some of them despised others for their way of life; some others took a false pride in demonizing the other's culture and religion; and some resorted to violence, and killed innocent people in the name of their religion. Nothing could be farther from Islam than using terrorism in the name of religion. I wish and pray that this dark epoch is behind us and will never come back. I hope a more secure, prosperous and peaceful world, where people warmly embrace each other without any prejudice.
In fact, there are already signs on the horizon for a brighter future. The peoples, one after another, are aspiring to achieve this prosperity, peace and freedom in their own respective societies. They are aspiring for more open and more democratic societies, where they can attain their full potential.
For us the question is not, and has never been, whether democracy is what we need or not, but whether the democracy we have is strong and rich enough to accommodate our needs and enable us to attain our full potential as free individuals. And the question is whether the rule of law has been used to protect the freedom of thought, the freedom of expression, the freedom of the press, the freedom of worship and assembly, and to ensure the respect and protection of human rights, or simply used to suppress them.
Our understanding of democracy is directly related to our understanding of human nature. That is, every human being is pure in the beginning, adorned with the seeds of numerous negative characteristics from jealousy to hatred and from greed to selfishness, and also positive characteristics from compassion to courage, from empathy to love. As such, a human being is likely to become everything. Only in truly free and democratic societies, and with an education guided by universally accepted norms and values, can individuals nourish these seeds of characteristics to benefit their societies. They then hate not others but hatred itself. Greed turns into an unquenchable enthusiasm to do charity. Jealousy forces one to surpass others only in good deeds. In the absence of such freedom and education, however, all these characteristics turn individuals into selfish, greedy, jealous and hateful beings harmful not only to themselves but to their societies. With the advance of globalization, the danger such individuals pose is unfortunately not limited to their own societies.
Today, I am very glad to see that my own country, Turkey, has made great strides towards becoming one of the most free and democratic societies. Once upon a time, in fact not too long ago, it was a country where the free will of civilians was not respected; where elected officials could form governments, but were not able to govern; where the law protected only the mighty, but not the weak; where people were banished from enjoying their cultural identities; and where the press was free only to serve this established lawlessness, but not to expose it. Certainly, the journey of democratization is a rough one. But the people of my country have demonstrated time and again that they are determined to make that rough journey.
It is a journey led by the people of my beloved country, the people from all walks of life. These heroic people have demonstrated the sincerity, courage and perseverance to attain a strong democracy protected by the rule of law. I pray for their success. Yet, I am deeply saddened by the unfortunate and continuous allegations that try to undermine and demonize their sincere democratization efforts.
Tonight, we have gathered here to thank the countless volunteers of the Hizmet (service) Movement for their selfless work to bring peace and harmony to our world.
Honored to be among them, I am humbled to receive the EWI Peace Building Award on their behalf."