Islamic cleric linked to U.S. charter schools involved in Turkey’s political drama

December 26, 2013

By Valerie Strauss

 

A Muslim cleric who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania and has been linked to a network of more than 135 public charter schools in the United States is believed to be deeply involved in the political drama that is unfolding in his home country of Turkey.

The reclusive cleric is Fethullah Gulen, who has been linked to charter schools in some 25 states and to other schools in dozens of countries around the world. Gulen, who has denounced terrorism and is said to believe in a moderate form of Islam, has lived in Pennsylvania for years. Gulen was until recently a close ally of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government has been deeply shaken by a corruption investigation.  The prime ministerjust replaced three of his key ministers after they were forced to resign in the scandal.

According to the Associated Press:

The corruption probe is one of the biggest political challenges Erdogan has faced since his Islamic-based party narrowly escaped being disbanded in 2008 for allegedly undermining Turkey’s secular Constitution…. Erdogan has denounced the investigation as a plot by foreign and domestic forces to thwart his country’s prosperity and discredit his government ahead of local elections in March. His government has won three elections since 2002 on the strength of the economy and a promise to fight corruption.

Turkish commentators believe the probe is fallout from an increasingly public feud and power struggle between Erdogan’s government and an influential U.S.-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whose followers are believed to have a strong foothold within Turkey’s police and judiciary. The two men, without naming each other, have been engaged in a war of words since the corruption probe was launched on Dec. 17.

The New York Times reported in this story that the corruption and bribery probe is widely believed to be under the control of Gulen followers, and it described the “powerful Muslim preacher” as being in command of “a network of businessmen, media outlets and schools as well as officials within Turkey’s police and judiciary. Gulen has denied involvement in the probe in Turkey, in which 24 have been formally charged, including the sons of two ministers in Erdogan’s government as well as the manager of the state-owned Halkbank.

Gulen has lived in the United States for many years. According to this Philadelphia Inquirer story, Gulen filed a lawsuit in 2007 in U.S. District Court seeking permission to live in the country legally after being denied a special visa by U.S. officials. In the suit his lawyers identified him as “head of the Gulen Movement” and an important education leader who had “overseen” the creation of a network of schools in the United States and around the world. He got a green card in 2008 and lives on a secluded compound called the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center in rural Pennsylvania.

The public charter schools in what is unofficially known as the Gulen network are believed to be operated by people — usually Turks — in or associated with the Gulen movement.  The schools, many of them with strong academic records, have different names and many of them are geared toward science, math and technology education. In Texas, for example, Harmony charter schools are believed to be linked to the network.

Some of the problems commonly cited with Gulen-inspired schools have affected the Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School in Anne Arundel County, which is has a strong academic record but has run into troubles cited last year by then district superintendent Kevin Maxwell. Though Maxwell supported a continuance of the school’s charter, he  said in June 2012 that the school had to hire qualified and fully certified teachers, reform the board of directors “to reflect the community it serves,” use appropriate procurement and bidding processes for outside contracts, follow board policy for the hiring of foreign nationals, and agree not to allow any of its contractors or subcontractors to “knowingly employ” anybody who has been investigated for criminal activity.

The  operators of schools believed to be in the Gulen network always deny being connected to the preacher’s movement  but state and federal officials have conducted various investigations over the years into such links.

A Harmony charter school was just given approval by the D.C. Public Charter School Board to open in Washington D.C.  Theola Labbé-DeBose, a spokeswoman for the charter school board, said in an e-mail that  ”there was very little discussion” about any possible connections to Gulen during the board meeting when the school’s application was approved.

Early this year, the Loudoun County School Board denied an application by a group of Turkish men seeking to open a charter school there because of questions involving curriculum and other operational issues. The applicants said they were using the Anne Arundel school as a model but had trouble answering basic questions to the board members’ satisfaction. The school would have been the first charter school in Northern Virginia if it had been approved.

During the application process, the board held hearings at which one speaker, Mary Addi, testified that that she and her husband, Mustafa Emanet, had worked at a Gulen charter school in Ohio, which was opened in Dayton with the help of one of the Loudoun charter applicants, Fatih Kandil. She said her husband, a Turk, had been been involved in the Gulen movement and that Turkish teachers at the Ohio school had to turn over 40 percent of their salaries to a secret fund used by the movement. Last January, during the hearings,  I asked Sinan Yildirim, listed as one of the members of the proposed school’s initial governing board, whether he and his fellow applicants are connected to Gulen and he answered: “We said no. They said yes. If they claim something they have to prove. And they can’t prove it.”

The FBI and the Departments of Labor and Education have  investigated whether some employees at some of these schools are “kicking back part of their salaries” to the Gulen Movement, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in this storyThe New York Times andCBS News as well as PBS have reported on the Gulen charter network, citing problems such as whether these schools give special preference to Turkish companies when handing out contracts.

Earlier this month, the FBI sent agents into the Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School in Baton Rouge, which is believed to have Gulen ties, according to this story on Nola.com, which reported that the agents left with boxes of unidentified material. According to the Web site, the school’s officials have denied any Gulen connection, but it said that “in 2011, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune reported that Pelican Educational Foundation, the nonprofit group that runs Kenilworth, does have various connections to the movement.”

 

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/12/26/islamic-cleric-linked-to-u-s-charter-schools-involved-in-turkeys-political-drama/

MoE launches its “Charter of Secularism”

Le Monde

09.09.2013

Just a year ago, Vincent Peillon, Minister of Education, has launched the idea of teaching “secular morals” beginning in French kindergartens up to high school level. The project was in the meanwhile enthusiastically received by the French public and  has been renamed “teaching moral and civic duties”. It’s due to be launched in 2005.

With the beginning of the French school and university terms, the Ministry of Education has presented its “Charter of Secularism”, which is aimed to be exhibited in every educational institution of the country with the exception of private schools. The details of the Charter are so far unclear, but scepticism has arisen amongst religious communities, including France’s Muslim community as to what influence such a charter will have on the right to freely express faith. During the presentation, Peillon made sure to calm his critics by reassuring that “the battle for secularism is not to oppose one another, but a fight against those who want to oppose one another”. In an interview to a regional newspaper days prior to the launch, Peillon stated that “the issue of secularism should not turn into an obsession of Islam” (…) The vast majority of our fellow Muslims are convinced of the benefits of secularism. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not to challenge education or miss a class . The charter recalls these principles.”

 

Islam: Islamic Federation of Campania and Avis together at the Naples mosque

June 5, 2013

 

The Islamic federation of Campania in collaboration with Avis, on June 4, will collaborate for a blood donation day near the headquarters of the Cultural Association Zayd Ibn Thabit in Naples, in via Corradino. This initiative, in conjunction with Charter of Values of the Italian Islamic Confederation are meant to pursue harmony between the Muslim community and all members of the Italian society.

 

Parti Quebecois: Crucifixes in, hijabs and monarchy out

News Agencies – August 15, 2012

 

Pauline Marois’s vision for Quebec includes fewer hijabs and fewer symbols of the Crown. She announced that if her Parti Quebecois wins the Sept. 4 election [ed note: they did], it will introduce a Charter of Secularism that would forbid public employees from wearing religious symbols on the job — like Muslim head scarves.

But the Charter of Secularism, it seems, would not be applied evenly. The ban on religious symbols would not extend to employees who wear a crucifix necklace. Nor would it extend to the crucifix hanging in the legislature, which Marois says is part of Quebec’s heritage. The ban on religious symbols would extend, however, to some non-religious aspects of Quebec’s history as selected by the PQ.

Artistic references to the monarchy would also disappear from the legislature under Marois’ watch. She allowed that “some moldings” might remain.

Marois made her secularism announcement on land belonging to a Christian religious order. She was accompanied by one of her candidates, Algerian-born Djemila Benhabib, an author who has been deeply critical of Islamic fundamentalism and a vocal proponent of secularism.

Work contracts terminated for Muslim employees

Lega Nord Trentino terminated a cleaning contract with a firm composed of Islamic employees.

Don Giuseppe Caldera, in charge of Migrantes and Director of the Missionary Diocesan Centre says it is discrimination and risks instigation of religious hatred. Assou El Bariji, coordinator of immigrant workers for CGIL (left wing Trade Union) in Trentino, denounced the Lega Nord initiative as racist and against the basic principles of the Human Rights’ Charter and the Italian constitution. He accuses the Lega Nord of bigotry and deplores its incapacity to recognize the value and contribution of foreigners to Trentino. The facts are raising political clashes and protests in the region and beyond.

Alessandro Savoi, head of the Lega Nord group explained that their request is motivated by security concerns: it is, indeed, neither secure nor appropriate to allow Islamic workers to move freely within their offices and to have access to their computers. Moreover, they were found sleeping on the office’s sofas.

Federation of Italian mosques mooted

Giuliano Amato, Italy’s outgoing interior minister, was expected to unveil a proposed federation of Italian mosques in Italy. The federation is intended to replace the Consulta Islamica, a body set up in 2005 by the Italian government, to represent various Muslim groups in the country. Amato put the Consulta Islamica on hold after several members fro Italy’s largest Islamic group, the UCOII, refused to sign a _charter of values’ in 2007 for Italy’s religious minorities. Under Amato’s proposition, the federation would contain 25 mosques – in addition to the 22 represented and headed by Rome’s mosque – which are linked to the Union of Italian Muslims, led by the imam of Turin. Amato was expected to present blueprints of the plans to journalists last week. It has the support of most members of the Consulta Islamica, who signed the Charter of Values.

Charter school’s religious activities are focus of state investigation; Muslim group asks FBI to probe threats

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked local law enforcement and the FBI to investigate threats against a charter school, citing possible hate crimes. The Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy in Inver Groves Heights has allegedly been receiving harassing and threatening messages, after recent public criticism of the school in the Star Tribune Newspaper. The school has received criticism for receiving public funds in conjunction with accusations of teaching Islam. However, Asad Zaman, executive director of the academy responded to the criticism saying: We do not teach religion. We do not favor any religion. Currently, more than 300 students attend the school.

Muslims of Europe Charter

Since early 2000, the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE) debated the establishment of a charter for the Muslims of Europe, setting out the general principles for better understanding of Islam, and the bases for the integration of Muslims in society, in the context of citizenship.

The FIOE formed a committee to prepare the charter, which was discussed at the organisations leadership level. The charter was then presented to many European Islamic bodies at a seminar attended by their representatives and held in Brussels in January 2002. The project was then disseminated widely, to include the greatest possible number of Muslim organisations in order to add their comments and suggestions.

After amendments were approved, and duly incorporated, the final version of the charter was ready. It was signed by Muslim organisations from 28 European states; these are listed in the accompanying document.

Thereafter, signature of the charter will remain open to all organisations that decide to adopt it.

Introduction to the Charter:

Despite their diversity, Muslims of Europe share common values and principles. In order to portray this to European society they need to clearly express their religious convictions and the nature of their presence in Europe.

This charter aims to define a number of principles in accordance with the common understanding of Islam within the European context and to set thenceforth the foundations of greater positive interaction with society.

The rationale for such a charter includes:

The contribution of Islam to modern Europe as well as the rooted Islamic presence as represented by Muslims in many of the Eastern European states. Likewise, the establishment of Muslim communities in several Western European countries has witnessed a shift from a transitory presence of foreign migrants to a more permanent presence.

The Muslim presence in Europe requires a framework of citizenship based on justice, equality of rights, with respect for difference, and the recognition of Muslims as a European religious community.

In line with the expansion and development of the European Union, there is a need for greater co-operation among Muslims of Europe.

The need to enhance the values of mutual understanding, working for peace and the welfare of society, moderation and inter-cultural dialogue, removed from all inclinations of extremism and exclusion.

The importance of Islam in the world and its spiritual, human and civilisational potential requires a rapprochement with the West, and Europe in particular, in order to ensure justice and peace in the world.

These considerations have led European Muslim organisations to formulate this charter in the hope of enhancing the role of Muslims in benefiting European society and to help it build bridges with the rest of the Muslim world.

Articles of the Charter

Section one: on the understanding of Islam:

1. Our understanding of Islam is based on immutable, basic principles that are derived from the authentic sources of Islam: the Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions (Sunnah), within the framework of Muslim scholarly consensus and with consideration for the time factor as well as the specifics of the European reality.

2. The true spirit of Islam is based on moderation as extended from the Universal Objectives (Maqasid) of this religion. This moderation avoids both laxity and excessiveness and reconciles reason and divine guidance, taking into consideration the material and spiritual needs of man, with a balanced outlook on life which brings together the reality of the next life with constructive work in this world.

3. In its principles, rulings and values, Islam can be structured around the following three areas: the creed as expressed in the six pillars of faith – Belief in God, the Angels, the revealed books, the messengers, the Hereafter and Divine Decree; the Shari‘ah as expressed in acts of Worship and human interaction; and the Ethical code which lays down the foundations for living a good life. These three interconnected areas are complementary and aim to fulfil the Interests (Maslaha) of humanity and avert harm from it.

4. The emphasis on the human dimension, legislative flexibility and respect for diversity and natural differences among human beings are general characteristics of Islam.

5. Islam honours human beings. This honour embraces all the children of Adam, both male and female, without discrimination. By virtue of this honour, human beings are to be protected from anything that is an affront to their dignity, is harmful to their mental faculties, is damaging to their health or which abuses their rights by exploiting their vulnerabilities.

6. Islam gives particular emphasis to the social dimension and calls for compassion, mutual support, co-operation and brotherhood. These values apply particularly to the rights of parents, relatives and neighbours but also to the poor, the needy, the sick, the elderly and others, regardless of their race or creed.

7. Islam calls for equality between man and woman within the framework of human dignity and mutual respect and views that a balanced life is one in which the relationship between man and woman is harmonious and complementary. It unequivocally rejects all notions or actions that undermine women or deprive them of their legitimate rights, regardless of certain customs and habits of some Muslims. Islam rather confirms women’s indispensable role in society and strongly opposes the exploitation of women and their treatment as mere objects of desire.

8. Islam considers that a family based on the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman is the natural and necessary environment for the raising of future generations. The family is an indispensable condition for the happiness of the individual and stability of society. Thus, Islam emphasises the significance of taking all measures in order to reinforce the family and protect it from all things that will weaken or marginalise its role.

9. Islam respects human rights and calls for equality among all human beings; it rejects all forms of racial discrimination and calls for liberty. It condemns compulsion in religion and allows the individual freedom of conscience. However, Islam encourages that freedom should be exercised in accordance with moral values, such that it does not infringe upon the rights of others.

10. Islam calls for mutual acquaintance, dialogue and co-operation among people and nations so as to enhance stability and guarantee peace in the world. The term Jihad that occurs in Islamic texts means to exert all efforts towards good, starting from reforming oneself to spreading truth and justice between people. Jihad in its understanding as warfare is regarded as one of the means available to any sovereign state when it needs to defend itself against aggression. The teachings of Islam, in this respect, are in line with international law. Based on such an understanding of Jihad, Islam rejects violence and terrorism, supports just causes and affirms the right of all people to defend themselves by legitimate means.

11. Islam enjoins Muslims to be honest and to respect their pledges; forbidding treason and treachery. It also commands them to pursue excellence in dealings with other people, as well as with the rest of creation.

12. Given the virtues of consultation (Shura) and with consideration to human experience in the political, legislative and constitutional realms, Islam affirms the principles of democracy based on pluralism, freedom to choose one’s political institutions and peaceful alternation of power.

13. Islam urges human beings to use nature in a responsible manner. This requires the preservation of the environment and its protection from all causes of pollution and harm as well as from anything that may destroy the delicate balance of nature. Likewise, it requires the protection of natural resources and forbids cruelty to animals, over consumption and wastage of wealth.

Section two: the Muslim Presence in Society:

The principles of interaction among Muslims:

14. Despite their ethnic and cultural diversity and their affiliations to various schools of Islamic law and thought, Muslims of Europe constitute one religious entity within the framework of Islamic principles, united by fraternity. They are also tied with each other, in each European country, by their belonging to the same national entity. Any discrimination arising between them based on ethnic origin is against the value of Islam which emphasises unity.

15. Considering the basic principles of their religion and their common interests, Muslims of Europe are urged to come together, co-operate and co-ordinate the efforts of their different institutions and organisations. This should not fail to recognise the natural diversity that exists among them, within the framework of Islam as generally agreed by scholarly consensus.

16. In addition to their belonging to the country in which they reside and their commitment to the demands of citizenship, Muslims of Europe retain their links with fellow Muslims by virtue of the normal relationship which exists between members of the same community.

On Citizenship:

17. Muslims of Europe respect the laws of the land and the authorities that uphold them. This should not prevent them from individually or collectively defending their rights and expressing their opinions based on their specific concerns as a religious community or on any general matter that concerns them as citizens. Whenever there is a conflict with regard to certain laws and matters that are specific to religion, the relevant authorities should be approached in order to arrive at suitable and viable solutions.

18. Muslims of Europe adhere to the principle of neutrality of the state regarding religious affairs. This means dealing fairly with all religions and allows those who hold religious values to express their beliefs and practise the rites of their religion either as individuals or groups, in conformity with European and international human rights charters and treaties. Muslims have, therefore, the right, as religious communities, to establish mosques, religious, educational and welfare institutions, to practise their religion in day-to-day affairs such as diet, clothing and other needs.

19. As European citizens, Muslims of Europe consider it their duty to work for the common good of society. Their endeavour for the common good is as important as defending their rights. Finally, an authentic understanding of Islam requires of Muslims to be active and productive citizens who are useful to society.

20. Muslims of Europe are urged to integrate positively in their respective societies, on the basis of a harmonious balance between preservation of Muslim identity and the duties of citizenship. Any form of integration that fails to recognise the right of Muslims to preserve their Islamic personality and the right to perform their religious obligations does not serve the interests of Muslims nor the European societies to which they belong.

21. Muslims of Europe are encouraged to participate in the political process as active citizens. Real citizenship includes political engagement, from casting one’s vote to taking part in political institutions. This will be facilitated if these institutions open up to all members and sections of society, an opening up which takes into account competence and ideas.

22. Muslims of Europe emphasise their respect for pluralism and the religious and philosophical diversity of the multicultural societies they live in. They believe that Islam affirms the diversity and differences that exists between people and is not discomforted by this multicultural reality. Rather, Islam calls for members of society to appreciate and enrich one another through their differences.

Islam’s Contribution to Europe:

23. Through its universal and humane principles, Islam adheres to the rapprochement of all people who respect the rights of others and their particularities, who abide by the rules of fairness among people in matters of dealings and co-operation. Starting from these principles, Muslims of Europe consider it their duty to participate in strengthening relations between Europe and the Muslim World. This requires the removal of all the prejudices and negative images which stand between Islam and the West in order to build bonds of rapprochement between people and to establish bridges of fruitful exchanges among different civilizations.

24. Given its culturally rich heritage and emphasis on humanity, Islam, through its presence in Europe, can participate in enhancing important values in contemporary society such as justice, freedom, fraternity, equality and solidarity. Islam gives primacy to moral considerations as well as to scientific, technical and economic progress. This participation can be beneficial and enriching for the whole of society.

25. The Muslim presence in Europe represents a key element in establishing better communication and co-existence between the different religions and beliefs by encouraging discussion between different faiths and ideologies. This will no doubt bolster the path towards global peace.

26. Through their religious and cultural legacy as well as their presence in many European states, Muslims of Europe represent an enhancing element to the efforts of strengthening the European Union. With its diverse religious and cultural make up, Europe can act as an important civilisational signpost with a key role in maintaining international stability between influential world powers.

“O Mankind, indeed we created you from a male and female and have made you different nations and tribes so that you may get to know one another.” (Qur’an; Chapter 49: Verse 13)

City of Gonesse Proposes Charter to Help Balance Secularism and Religious Freedom

Mayors across France struggle to respect French laicite and satisfy the freedoms of fellow-countrymen of different confessions, without being accused of pandering for votes. John Rock Blazy, mayor of Gonesse, has proposed the creation of a Committee of Ethics devoted solely to these questions of religion and secularism.

Minister to present ‘charter of values’ to Muslims

Interior minister Giuliano Amato will visit Rome’s mosque to present a ‘Charter of Values for Citizenship and Integration.’ This is the first public presentation of the symbolic document, seeking to bridge the divide between Muslims and Italian’s Catholic communities, and is aimed at seeking harmonious integration of Italy’s growing immigrant communities.