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

Dec 26, 2013 by

fethullah_gulen1By 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 minister just 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.

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

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