Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dispatch From Gulen-Land

So let's take a look at what's been happening with America's Gulen situation over the past week or so.

As you know, a controversial Turkish imam living in the Pennsylvania countryside, whose followers have started thousands of schools around the world, is engaged in a political death-struggle with Turkish President Erdogan, his former political ally. 

Some 147 American charter schools are run by organizations closely linked to the imam, Fethullah Gulen. The more you look at it, the more you see a highly organized structure designed to function as an economic and political engine for the Movement's American operation, which is actually quite vast relative to the number of people actually running the thing, and which has the look and feel of a highly managed personality cult in many respects. 
They've had a busy week or so. First, Fethullah Gulen himself published an op-ed in the NYT. It's a woe-is-me, I-am-a-man-of-peace type thing lamenting the crackdown on press freedoms in Turkey, a crackdown that is indeed lamentable. But Gulen leaves out a few important details; I'd go through a close-reading for you, but the conservative columnist Claire Belinski already did a better job than I could ever do.  In short, what is good for the goose is not in fact good for the gander when the gander is Gulen--that seems to be the message coming from the gentleman in Pennsylvania. 

Sharon Higgins is pointing out that the Gulen piece was published on the same day that Zaman announced a partnership with the NYT.

"Time magazine and The New York Times from partners : Turning Points"
The Times may or may not have published this editorial without a financial arrangement with the Gulen Movement's own media empire, but the fact is that there is indeed a financial arrangement now, and that the timing is pretty convenient. Other Gulen-watchers have pointed out that this Turning Points thing is an NYT licensing/marketing, content-distribution arrangement.  It's not clear how much the licensing costs, but it does appear to me that you can possibly negotiate editorial space as part of the deal.

Anyway, the Gulen Movement is on a public relations rampage here in the states; I regret missing this tweet before the account referred to in it was deleted.

The word holocaust is losing all meaning, I regret to say.  And you can be sure that all 89 of the unnamed US lawmakers who signed some letter written to John Kerry have been subject to Gulen charm offenses in their own districts, and that the letter itself was probably written at the Compound, and there's an excellent chance that the author used to drive around the Chicago suburbs (Oak Park, Des Plaines) trying to gin up some charter school work.

Meanwhile, Turkey has revoked Gulen's passport, which is the sort of move a country makes when it thinks an existential threat or a dangerous criminal is on the loose. For example, the US did the same thing to Edward Snowden.  The entire Turkish-American relationship is starting to revolve around the fact that Gulen is here, and that the schools are the engine. Turkey is going after the Gulen schools in Africa already. More on that here.

In the US, the beleaguered, scandal-ridden Concept charter school in Cleveland has received words of support from its authorizer, a private group. In Ohio, like elsewhere, various private groups are empowered to authorized the diversion of taxpayer money into charter schools; it's bizarre. People paying attention to the Ohio situation are saying that individuals from the authorizer, Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, have been recipients of junkets to Turkey in the past, although I myself have yet to track those trips down.  Sharon Higgins reminds everyone to read the travel diaries  of some unrelated junketeers, so that you get an idea of the "hyper-euphoria" one experiences on a Gulen Movement-sponsored junket.

In California, the Gulenist group running charter school there has hired one of the sketchiest individuals in the entire ed reform establishment, Caprice Young. Sharon, and the great Robert Skeels are on that case. The Gulen-linked schools in LA are on the ropes politically but I'm sure they've made smart investments in lawmakers there, as well. I can't keep up with the California Gulen operation.

Back in Wind Gap, PA, just down the street from the Compound, an amusing situation transpired last week. An anti-Gulen group (there are quite a few; this group I know nothing about) was distributing fliers for their documentary, which is being shown today at a small theater there. They put a flier on Gulen's own mailbox.

Not to be outfoxed, the Gulenists last week rented the very same theater on Superbowl Sunday and showed their own hagiography of Gulen, Love is A Verb, produced by Chicago's own Ken Hunter.  Mr. Hunter was in the audience; it appears to me that they did a little Q & A thing for the small audience.

Ken Hunter in Wind Gap, PA
Other Movement luminaries were in the room, possibly including Lynne Ozgur, the subject of one of my 2014 posts on message control in the Gulen Movement. Mz. Ozgur served in that post as an example of the lengths to which the Movement would go to obscure the relationship between the Movement and the charter schools it runs. I'm still going through the photos.

I myself have been busy with school, but when I get a moment or two, I try to review the record of Gulen's writings over time. It isn't a pretty picture, and they've taken steps to obscure some of what the imam used to say regularly. Here's a slightly younger Gulen on jews, for example.
Their incurable enmity to Islam and Muslims aside, these people, which look with scorn upon even their own prophets and killed many among them, will finally end up in the position of Nazis and will look for a place to hide in the four corners of the earth.  Nevertheless, since dwelling on the true causes and motives related to this topic will both oppose the business of truth and result in raising undue passions, we shall let this pass for the moment. Yes, until Islam comes to be represented to the desired extent, it seems like luck will favor the Jews for some time still.
It's my own impression that Gulen has been lying low on the extremism because he knows it won't play here in the States, where he has been successfully working policymakers since he arrived. It's ironic, because it is a common perception in Turkey that Gulen is the puppet of the US and Israel. You see a lot of inflammatory imagery on social media with this theme.  It's a very, very tangled web, and the confusion is deliberate.

All of these phenomena are interesting on their own merits, but when you factor in the taxpayer-funded charter schools, it's bizarre and unsettling.  If I were the king of ed reform, and if someone applied for a charter from me, just a few of the questions I would ask would be these: are you closely connect to a religious figure involved in a political struggle overseas, and do you lead a secretive network of individuals who deny their relationship to you? Do you have armed enemies? Have you ever infiltrated a nation's judiciary system? Has your passport been revoked? 

But that's just me. If the answer was yes to any of these questions, I'd wish the person well and advise him or her to start a private school rather than a public school.

And, finally, this: a still-online sermon of Fethullah Gulen, about compulsion in religion. I think Mr. Gulen's fans here in the States probably stop reading things in the early paragraphs. My advice is to soldier on through, because you can't really see the extremism until he's been talking for a while. There's a lot of kooky-talk in this piece, a lot of under-the-smile revulsion for the West, but these two paragraphs seem like a bottom line to me:
However, certain kinds of breaches threaten the social ethos as a whole. If such threats are not countered, the social ethos becomes eroded and society's general order and stability is undermined. Where informal private efforts to correct matters right have failed or are of no use, formal public measures, including force, must be applied. For example, Islam forbids the consumption of intoxicants, gambling, adultery, fornication, fraud, theft, and other harmful practices. It considers them both sins and crimes subject to punishment. If these vices are allowed to take root and spread, society has failed to fulfill its duty to the law and moral ethos of Islam. Collective action must be taken to prevent or undo widespread corruption within the social body. While such action includes positive efforts to educate the community in the corresponding virtues, it also must accept the negative action of imposing appropriate penalties on those who wilfully and systematically introduce vices into society that will destroy its discipline and Islamic character.
Consider the issue of apostasy. Under Islamic law, apostasy is regarded with the same gravity as treason is regarded by most states and all armed forces. The hope must be to prevent, by pleading, prayers, persuasion, and all other legitimate means, such a crime from becoming public and offensive to society. Those who insist on pursuing this path must be asked to reconsider and repent. If they reject this opportunity, the penalty is death. No lesser penalty could express society's abhorrence of breaking one's covenant with God. The shahada, by which the individual enters Islam, is a most weighty affair. To overturn it is to insult the whole balance of creation and its relationship with the Creator. If apostasy were regarded as an individual affair only, personal conscience would be tantamount to degrading religion to a plaything, a literary toy—now a pleasure or convenience, now a displeasure or nuisance, according to the whim or caprice of the moment.
Update: May12, 2016: I just circled back to the above link and I notice that they "Updated" the original text to whitewash it. Of course they did; that's how they roll. What you see above was the original sermon, and here is a web archive of it. 

One man's apostasy is another man's free will. Fethullah Gulen is entitled to his opinions, and his junket-bedazzled fan club is free to skip the inconvenient details of his consultations, but it looks like gently worded extremism to me.  When death is the penalty for personal religious decisions, what you've got there is extremism. When other people's behaviors need to be regulated by force to comply with your religious beliefs, what you've got there is extremism, again. 

As I said before, I wouldn't really be involved in this, except that I seem to be funding some of these things with my taxes, and schools are involved. 

H/t Sharon Higgins, and many others

1 comment:

  1. Excellent piece Tim Furman, the bribing machine of the Gulen Movement knows no bounds or limits. They want what they want and that is to grow share of power until they control education, businesses that supply to schools, politics, media. Playing "victim" is not going to work, Gulen fled Turkey some 16+ years ago because of his anti-secular speeches and pro-cultish behavior. They are merely doing as their Hocaefendi ordered them to do "work into the arteries of the system until you reach all power centers"
    To piggyback on your article, some other developments in California is paying for EX board members like Caprice Young and Barnett (SDUSD) - Caprice Young I am sure has her eye on their funds of $9 million and I am quite sure she didn't know about the deal that Barnett tried to strike up with SDUSD to purchase a school. Gulenists sweetened the pot by $2.2 million if SDUSD would increase the grade levels ($4 million to $6.2 million offer) they declined and also admonished Barnett for his behavior and use of his ex member of SDUSD. One can only imagine how much commission he was to be paid if the deal was accepted and actually went through.
    CCSA is also getting very nasty and desperate to put their own pro charter people on the board of LAUSD, they have pumped lots of money into the race where incumbent Bennet Kayser is running. CCSA is putting their money and marketing into Ref Rodriguez a PUC Charter Executive, with a dirty low down campaign accusing Bennet of keeping Latino kids from charter schools (they are playing the race card) and even mentioning a medical condition that Mr. Kayser has.
    CCSA is a lot like the Gulen Movement they are greedy and predictable with their strategy and behavior. The results of the state ordered audit should be finalized shortly and it will reveal a lot of things about Accord, Pacifica, and the key players who started the schools out west. Many are back in Turkey working in Gulen universities and other businesses (those that haven't been shuttered by the Government)
    Rest assured I have known these "characters" personally and long enough to know their next move, however with that said what you will see is them getting sloppy and desperate in the next 6 months with their methods. Predictability is their greatest weakness.
    Some of the movement are becoming disillusioned - those that dare to question the money, why their salaries are low or don't exist at all but they see the elders living in nice houses and getting lots of perks at their expense. The other glaring issue is the immigration fraud, of so - called teachers to the USA who have largely opened businesses to service the schools or reap the bid benefits of the billion dollars worth of grants the last 16 years. Now there is an extensive paper trail or money trail and all points lead to a gulenists with strong ties to "Hizmet" not to mention the backroom bribes to politicians who think they are entering some kind of business arrangement with the Gulen operated businesses (TUSKON) Sunshine Foundation is investigating many of these "transactions"-the paper trail is extensive. Each document leads to another Gulenist operating in yet another state.
    These H1-b Visa "teachers" are also the lobbyists who must reach out to local politicians, universities for invites to dinners or to conduct a "dialogue" speech. Sometimes it involves money or an award (or both) it use to involve a trip to Turkey. But as Gulenists fall out of favor and power in Turkey the trips there have dropped off, as well as some Central Asian countries that have closed the Gulen schools and confiscated their operations (mining, textile mills)
    Yes your tax money is going to fund some of this, remember the ADA is nothing but keeping the lights on the big win fall comes from the millions in grant money. This will also be their downfall as grant money is very specific on how it's to be spent.