Judge rejects inmate’s suit seeking cleric from Muslim sect

SCRANTON, Pa. — A federal judge had dismissed a former inmate’s religious freedom lawsuit against a Pennsylvania jail, saying he had no right to a cleric from the specific Muslim sect he preferred–the Nation of Islam.

Courts have ruled inmates have a right to practice their religious, but that right isn’t unlimited and must be balanced against the jail’s ability to run safely and efficiently.  In this case, the judge agreed with an attorney for the jail who argued that the jail did offer Muslim services and religious items but the inmate didn’t participate because the cleric wasn’t affiliated with the Nation of Islam.

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/

Pa. man gets 8 1/2 years in terrorism promotion case, attack on FBI agents who questioned him

PITTSBURGH — A western Pennsylvania man whom authorities called a “homegrown, radical extremist” was sentenced Tuesday to 8 ½ years in prison for helping lead an Internet forum that promoted terrorist attacks against American military and civilian targets.

The sentence for Emerson Begolly, 24, formerly of Redbank Township, also includes time for having a concealed gun and biting an FBI agent when he was arrested in 2011.

Begolly apologized for his posts and disavowed his stated beliefs, telling the judge his comments were “completely reckless. No good would have come from making such comments.”

“All I want to do is pursue a path of peace and righteousness,” Begolly continued. “I feel I’ve learned my lesson and I feel I don’t want to make jail a revolving door for myself.”

But Assistant U.S Attorney Jimmy Kitchen said Begolly’s willingness to kill or be killed was summed up in a post: “If I have the choice between 12 jurors and six pallbearers, I’ll choose the latter any day.”

And when agents tried to arrest him as he sat in his mother’s car in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant, Begolly bit them and reached for a 9mm pistol hidden in a military field jacket.

All parties agree Begolly is a socially inept, outcast who has struggled with autism and mental health issues since he was a young child. He can’t drive a car, never learned to ride a bike and never had a girlfriend.

Begolly’s sentence was far less than the 15-year term he agreed to when he pleaded guilty nearly two years ago, and which prosecutors still sought in a sentencing memorandum filed last week. He will receive credit for 30 months he’s spent in jail since his arrest, and so will be free in about six years.

At Muslim LGBTQ retreat, attendees try to reconcile their faith and sexuality

There was speed dating, a talent show and a baby naming.

But there was also a locked Facebook page. And a strict rule: Attendees should not disclose the retreat’s exact location.

That’s because the 85 people who gathered in the Pennsylvania woods over Memorial Day weekend had come from 19 states and three countries for a somewhat surprising event: a three-day LGBTQ Muslim and Partners Retreat.

Some wore T-shirts that read, “Muslim + Gay = Fabulous.” They prayed. They attended workshops about pioneering progressive Muslims. Ever heard of Isabelle Eberhardt, a.k.a. Mahmoud Saadi, a convert to Islam who challenged gender norms at the turn of the 20th century?

And they held discussions on struggling to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, and their sexuality with their faith. (Many folks said that they face Islamophobia from inside the mainstream LGBTQ community.)

 

Philly security firm sued over Muslim head scarf

The EEOC is suing ABM Security Services, which provides guards for the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, for religious discrimination after an employee claimed she was forced to choose between keeping her job and wearing her traditional Muslim head covering.
ABM hired Tahira, a devout Muslim, and she reported for training wearing a khimar, a head covering worn by some Muslim women. Her trainer told her to take off the scarf, but she refused, explaining that her religion required it. An ABM representative told her that she could not work at the convention center while wearing the khimar and sent her home.
Tahira filed an EEOC complaint, noting that ABM never discussed accommodations that would allow her to perform the job and observe her religious beliefs. EEOC mediation attempts failed, and now, barring a settlement, the lawsuit will go to trial.

Randall Terry Airs Graphic, Anti-Muslim Ad Against Obama In Pennsylvania

A gruesome, anti-Muslim television ad aired Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, insinuating that President Barack Obama is sympathetic to violent extremism in the Middle East.

The ad, first flagged by the liberal group American Bridge 21st Century, was paid for by fringe write-in presidential candidate Randall Terry and aired around the popular 11 p.m. time slot on Pittsburgh’s local FOX affiliate WPHG.

It features a sleeping woman who is struggling through a nightmare. It intersperses graphic images of bloodied corpses and a man being decapitated. A portion of President Obama’s speech in Cairo about bridging the gap between the Muslim and western worlds, and chants of “Allahu Akbar” serve as the background audio in the ad. The woman ultimately wakes up from the nightmare and says, “I can’t vote for Obama again.” The ad ends with Terry on screen saying, “A vote for Obama helps Muslims murder Christians and Jews. I’m Randall Terry and I approve this message.”

Arab-American Muslims and the Presidential Elections

November 5

Arab-Americans are poised to play a critical role in the US presidential
election on Tuesday. Numbering about 4 million, they’re heavily
concentrated in several battleground states — including Florida,
Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia — where every vote will count
in a race that many consider too close to call, writes Vivian Salama.

The Muslim Swing Vote

As the 2012 presidential election picks up steam, Republican candidates find it tempting and beneficial to bash Muslims as a way to attract voters. In the wake of the 2010 midterm elections, “Americans are learning what Europeans have known for years: Islam-bashing wins votes,” the journalist Michael Scott Moore wrote that November. At the time, many of the 85 new Republican House members buoyed by the surging Tea Party movement found the political virtues of anti-Muslim rhetoric an easy way to prove their mettle to the surging conservative base.

Since then, the animosity against Muslims has only intensified. Republican presidential hopefuls Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich frequently warned that Muslims were attempting to take over the government and impose Shariah law, using “stealth Jihad,” as Gingrich put it in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute late last year.

The problem for the United States, the former speaker of the house argued, is not primarily terrorism; it is Shariah — “the heart of the enemy movement from which the terrorists spring forth.” Rick Santorum, not one to shy away from the subject, continues to conflate Muslims with radical Islamists. He has often warned audiences of the dangers of losing the war to “radical Islam,” even suggesting in a 2007 speech at the National Academic Freedom Conference that the American response to the threat should be to “educate, engage, evangelize and eradicate.”

Although it is true that American Muslims constitute a small percentage of the national population, they are concentrated in key swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida. Despite being very diverse and far from monolithic, this constituency is growing faster than any other religious community and has become increasingly visible and sophisticated in its political engagement. Republicans who found the Muslim community an easy target in the primaries may find themselves in trouble in the states that may determine the winner of the election.

Md. teen plans guilty plea in terror case in Pa.; charged with helping woman dubbed Jihad Jane

PHILADELPHIA — A Maryland teenager charged in a global terrorism plot plans to plead guilty in Pennsylvania.
Court papers filed Monday show 18-year-old Mohammad Hassan Khalid is due in court in Philadelphia for a change-of-plea hearing next month.

Khalid was an Ellicott City, Md., high school honors student when he became a rare juvenile arrested and detained by the FBI.

He’s charged with helping a Pennsylvania woman dubbed Jihad Jane raise money and recruits for a Muslim holy war. He pleaded not guilty in October.

His lawyer has declined to comment on the April 2 plea hearing. A prosecutor hasn’t returned a message seeking comment.

Penn. Interfaith Leaders Challenge Anti-Sharia Bill

A rabbi, an interfaith leader, and a Temple University professor joined the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on Wednesday to denounce as “Islamophobic” a Pennsylvania bill they say is an attack on sharia law, which is followed by devout Muslims.

House Bill 2029, introduced by Rep. Rosemarie Swanger (R., Lebanon), says state courts shall not, in deciding cases, “consider a foreign legal code or system” that lacks “the same fundamental liberties” as the state and federal Constitutions.

The language is plain and seems innocuous. Swanger’s June 14 letter promoting the bill to her colleagues, however, repeatedly mentioned sharia law as a menace.

“Increasingly, foreign laws and legal doctrines – including and especially sharia law – are finding their way into U.S. court cases,” she wrote. “Invoking sharia law, especially in family law cases, is a means of imposing an agenda on the American people.”

Critics say her bill is based on a model of legislation, introduced nationally two years ago, that has had the effect of ostracizing Muslims.

Separately, the Anti-Defamation League of Eastern Pennsylvania, a Jewish antibias group, also criticized the bill.