Thursday, November 8, 2012
The NY Regents approve fourth Gulen charter school
This week the application for the Utica Academy of Science Charter School (UASCS) was approved by the New York State Board of Regents. Founders of this school have described it as a “sister school” to the Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School (SASCS). When it opens next fall, UASCS will be the fourth Gulen Movement (GM)-affiliated charter school in New York state.
The Gulen Movement is a secretive and controversial religious group from Turkey that follows the teachings of Fethullah Gulen. Referred to as the cemaat (“The Community”) in Turkey, the GM is well-known for its schools. It operates a large number of private schools in Turkey and in many other countries around the world. In addition, the GM operates the largest network of charter schools in the United States.
The Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School (link), the Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School (link), and the Rochester Academy Charter School (link) have been identified as GM-affiliated. The Syracuse and Buffalo schools have exhibited high suspension rates, and the lease for the Buffalo school is a related-party deal. Further investigation into these and other aspects should be conducted.
All GM-associated schools provide Turkish cultural and language instruction, although that is rarely mentioned in their charter school applications. The Syracuse school has even gone so far as to teach students how to perform the religious ritual dance practiced by the Sufi Dervishes of the Mevlevi order (the GM is Sufi-inspired). It is unlikely that SASCS parents were aware of this aspect when they enrolled their children at the school, or even fully understand the reason behind it at this point.
A case study of a local politician
This past Tuesday, New York State Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (HD-45) celebrated his re-election with a small group of supporters at the Turkish Cultural Center of Brooklyn. Cymbrowitz has been embraced by the Gulen Movement and he has fully embraced them back. An observer once noted that the Gulen Movement employs a “strategy of seduction” towards parents and local governments (see this 1.33 MB pdf).
In May 2011, the NY Legislature adopted a Cymbrowitz, et al. sponsored resolution (K541-2011) “Commending the Turkish Cultural Centers upon the occasion of celebrating their 6th Annual Turkish Cultural Day.” The resolution states: “The Turkish Cultural Centers were first created by Fethullah Gulen...” and “There are 11 Turkish Cultural Centers in New York State, located in Albany, Binghamton, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Long Island, Manhattan, Rochester, Queens, Staten Island, Syracuse and Westchester...”
In November 2011, Cymbrowitz and others gathered for the inauguration of a new building for Brooklyn Amity School, a private Gulen school. A report by Ebru TV (one of many media outlets controlled by the GM) stated: “... New York State Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz said that founders of school had stayed true to teachings of Turkish Scholar Fethullah Gulen.”
A number of individuals from Brooklyn Amity School have also been involved with operating the GM’s charter schools.
And in February 2012, at one of the many dinners hosted by the GM, Cymbrowitz presented an official assembly proclamation of appreciation to Fethullah Gulen and mentioned his recent trip to Turkey (video). GM-affiliated organizations regularly provide influential Americans with free, guided, pro-GM propaganda trips to Turkey.
Like other special interest groups, the GM strategically invests its energy and money in politicians. In 2010 a Wall Street Journal article about Fethullah Gulen stated: “An English-language Turkish newspaper reported that Mr. Gulen has told his followers they couldn't visit him on his Poconos estate if they didn't first donate to their local congressman. Mr. Gulen denies making the remark.”
In 2011, Cymbrowitz received at least $7500 in political contributions from nine individuals involved with either the Turkish Cultural Center of NY or Brooklyn Amity School.
· $350 from Hayrullah Erdogan (Brooklyn Amity School building manager)
· $350 from Ayse Sevinc (Brooklyn Amity School science teacher)
· $900 from Taner Kanbir (Brooklyn Amity School website domain owner and teacher)
· $500 from Mehmet Ozbilgen (Brooklyn Amity School employment contact; petitioner of City Academy of Science charter school, a 2009 attempt)
· $500 from Ayse Sevinc (2nd contribution in 2011; see above)
· $350 from Zafer A. Akin (Brooklyn Amity School board member; President of Turkish Cultural Center of NY; lead petitioner of Staten Island Fusion Charter School, a 2011 attempt)
· $1500 from Cengiz Karabekmez (Brooklyn Amity School director)
· $1000 from Ismail Topkaya (Brooklyn Amity School assistant principal)
· $650 from Hayrullah Erdogan (2nd contribution in 2011; see above)
· $500 from Erdem Duran (Brooklyn Amity School teacher)
· $350 from Zafer A. Akin (2nd contribution in 2011; see above)
· $300 from Mehmet Ozbilgen (2nd contribution in 2011; see above)
· $250 from Mehmet Kilic (Vice President of Turkish Cultural Center of NY)
These political contributions, had they been made in one lump sum, would have ranked as Cymbrowitz’ third top contributor.
The Gulen Movement is highly controversial
Last May, during the CBS 60 Minutes report about the Gulen Movement, Lesley Stahl made this observation: “You know we have confronted real fear about this movement, particularly when we've tried to get critics to give us an interview.”
Dani Rodrik, Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard University and his wife Pinar Dogan recently posted this commentary on their blog:
The Gülen movement’s rhetoric and activities have won Gülen plaudits as an exemplary Islamic scholar who tries to build bridges between different faiths. Over the last decade, he has assiduously cultivated ties with Jewish and Christian leaders, and his efforts have yielded praise for his inter-faith activities and tolerance...
It is a massive understatement to say that these activities are at odds with Gülen’s sermons and writings prior to his move to the United States, which contain vitriolic passages against Jews, Christians, the West, and the U.S... Moreover, these anti-Semitic rants can still be found in their Turkish original on web sites maintained by the movement. At the same time, the managers of Gülen’s official site have taken care to ensure that there are no direct links to the content with the most offensive language...
Maybe Gülen has really changed his mind, and shed some of the offensive views he held shortly before he moved to the U.S... clearly his devotees are still propagating these odious views, while taking precautions to insulate Gülen’s official persona, especially the one presented to non-Turkish audiences, from them.
When confronted with Fethullah Gülen’s own distasteful writings, Gülen’s defenders shoot back with accusations of propaganda and disinformation... This is part of a pattern of deception and hypocrisy we have encountered repeatedly. In Turkey, Gülenist rhetoric is replete with democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Yet, as we have documented elsewhere, the movement is entangled in an astonishing range of misdeeds that run the full gamut from slander to the framing of perceived opponents...
New Yorkers should inform themselves about the Gulen Movement, the controversies which surround it, and closely monitor their state’s expanding network of taxpayer-supported, privately-managed Gulen charter schools.