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/

Theresa May considers ‘second-tier’ banning orders

Ministers are “actively considering” a second-tier banning order that would outlaw groups that are not outright terrorist organisations but promote extremism and hatred on the streets, the home secretary, Theresa May, has confirmed. Ministers continue to be concerned about pockets of activity by Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is believed to have several thousand members in Britain, and is particularly active in radicalising young British Muslims on university campuses.

 

French ministers refuse to attend conference with Islamic scholar who teaches at Oxford University

Tariq Ramadan is an Islamic scholar who teaches at Oxford University and a former member of a working group on extremism set up by Tony Blair. Time magazine once described him as the “leading thinker” among Europe’s second and third-generation Muslim immigrants. Yet two French ministers have suddenly announced that they will not attend a conference in Florence tomorrow on the future of the European Union because of the presence of the scholar, Tariq Ramadan. He is due to be a panellist at the conference, entitled The State of the Union, speaking about “migration, identity and integration”. The French Interior Minister Manuel Valls and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the Women’s Rights Minister who is also a government spokeswoman, informed organisers that they were pulling out, saying they had “not been informed” of Professor Ramadan’s attendance. The philosopher is a controversial figure who has been accused of advocating violence and for some years was banned from entering France.

Dutch Police Use “Disproportional” Force to Dismantle Asylum Seeker Camp

25 May 2012

 

Police intervened to break up an impromptu camp established by failed asylum seekers near Ter Apel, the Netherlands. Riot police arriving in 20 minibuses used force to dismantle the site and arrested about 110 individuals at the site, failed asylum seekers from Iran and Somalia who claim that they will come to harm if returned to their country of origin. A group of Iraqi asylum seekers, involved in the camp’s original set up two weeks ago, had been removed earlier to an apartment complex where they were guaranteed housing until June 15 as the Dutch and Iraqi immigration ministers negotiate next steps.

Meanwhile a judge in Groningen determined that the level of response and force in the deconstruction was “disproportional”. The defended actions claiming that it was a necessary measure due to the health concerns at the impromptu camp.

Demand for marking of meet slaughtered without the stunning

May 11, 2012-05-13

 

Meet which comes from animals that have been slaughtered without the prior stunning should be marked. This is the opinion of the Swedish Ministry for Rural Affairs (Department of Agriculture). The Swedish Radio reports that the Ministry will propose changing of the EU rules on animal slaughter on the next meeting of the EU ministers of agriculture next week.  The reason for such proposal is that many slaughterhouses in the EU member states misuse the judicial exemption which allows slaughter without prior stunning due to the religious regulations in primarily Islam and Judaism. These slaughterhouses produce far more meet (slaughtered without anesthesia) than there are consumers of such meet. According to the EU Commission report (Directorate General for Health and Consumer Protection) 75 percent of all meet produced within the EU comes from animals slaughtered without the prior stunning.

US Supreme Court: Church-state separation extends to religious schools

The Supreme Court extended the principle of church-state separation to shield religious schools nationwide from discrimination suits from teachers and school employees who serve as “ministers” of the faith.

In a unanimous ruling, the high court for the first time concluded the Constitution includes a “ministerial exception” that protects churches and their schools from undue interference from the government and its courts. A concurring opinion by Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Elena Kagan said they understood the “ministerial exception” to extend equally to “Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists” even if those religions do not use the term “minister.” The exception “should apply to any ‘employee’ who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith,” Alito wrote.

However, lower courts have long recognized that churches are protected from lawsuits involving their internal workings.

Notre Dame Law Professor Rick Garnett called the ruling “one of the court’s most important church-state decisions in decades.” It “protects religious liberty by forbidding governments from second-guessing religious communities’ decisions about who should be their teachers, leaders and ministers,” he said.

The 1st Amendment forbids “an establishment of religion” by the government, and it protects the “free exercise” of religion.

In the past, the court had often invoked the separation of church and state doctrine to strike down state laws that gave aid to religious schools, citing the ban on “establishment” of religion. In this case, the court ruled against government interference with religion, citing the “free exercise” clause.

Nick Clegg Distances Himself From David Cameron on Violent Extremism

3 March 2011

Nick Clegg has set out a rival government vision for combating violent extremism, striking a different tone from David Cameron’s month-old doctrine to disengage from extremists.

In a speech in Luton, Clegg disagreed with Cameron’s disavowal of multiculturalism, was hesitant about moves to ban extremist groups and said he did not share the prime minister’s wish to rule out engaging with non-violent extremists. He pointed to his decision to allow one of his ministers to attend the Global Peace and Unity conference – which occasionally hosts controversial Islamic scholars – while Tory chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi was forced to pull out.

In contrast to the timing of Cameron’s speech in Munich – the same day as an English Defence League rally in Luton – the deputy prime minister delivered his speech in Luton on Thursday, where he deployed a more emollient tone.

State Multiculturalism Has Failed, Says David Cameron

5 February

The prime minister has criticised “state multiculturalism” in his first speech on radicalisation and the causes of terrorism since being elected. Addressing a security conference in Germany, David Cameron argued the UK needed a stronger national identity to prevent people turning to extremism. He also signalled a tougher stance on groups promoting Islamist extremism.

But the Muslim Council of Britain said its community was being seen as part of the problem rather than the solution. Mr Cameron suggested there would be greater scrutiny of some Muslim groups that get public money but do little to tackle extremism. Ministers should refuse to share platforms or engage with such groups, which should be denied access to public funds and barred from spreading their message in universities and prisons, he argued.

Manhattan: American Muslim Day Parade Held on Sunday

The annual American Muslim Day Parade, first held in 1985, was celebrated in Manhattan on Sunday amid controversy. The event brings together Muslims of many ethnicities and nationalities who worship in the New York region. The parade is intended as a celebration of diversity and pride in the Muslim community, but this year it had a difficult context: national controversies over a planned Islamic center and mosque near ground zero, the threatened desecration of Korans by anti-Muslim ministers, and recent incidences of what the authorities called hate crimes against Muslims, including a New York City cabdriver who was slashed.

A Law Banning the Burqa and Niqab in France Would be Legally Tenuous, Say Specialists

While French ministers like Eric Besson claim that a possible law against the burqa is a way to protect the dignity of women, others point to how it would remove practicing Muslim women’s dignity of choice. Denys de Bechillon points to how the notion of dignity is one of the most complicated to determine in contemporary legal matters. Moreover, legal scholars usually cannot determine whether it was forced upon her by her husband or her brother. Until now, there has been no legal text or position in France which claims that the face must be visible in the public sphere, except for identity cards or being stopped by police. It is unclear how the constitutional council would react should such a ban be put into place as no law like it has come before the courts.