The American Enablers
The Gulenists would never have been able to succeed without their American enablers. Many of these individuals have never even heard of the Gulen Movement, and are unaware that they are being co-opted to further its agenda. In every locality where the operate, Gulenists are remarkably skillful at identifying and exploiting community members who can, however unwittingly in some cases, function as allies.
By far the greatest support for Gulen schools comes from ordinary American parents who are simply seeking a high quality school for their child. The main basis for the Gulen charter schools' reputation is high scores on state standardized tests, which are administered on the school site by school personnel. We have noted on another page that the reliability of such tests is uncertain, and moreover, that concerns about testing irregularities have been raised in several Gulen charter schools.
There are however, several other types of American enablers, listed below, including one specific subset of parents:
(1) Ambitious parents of precocious students
If a student is exceptional in math, Gulen charter schools offers opportunities that many other schools do not. The schools use math placement tests to select a small, elite group (perhaps 1-2% of the student body) of top-performing students who are then given attention in the form of coaching and social activities (such as sleepovers and camps) to a degree that is far beyond what any normal school could offer. The labor supply for this comes from junior Gulenist teachers on H1B visas, who are forced to work very long hours. Parents of such students naturally sense that they are getting a remarkable value out of the school. Moreover, the school has expertise in preparing the students for competitions, and devotes time to seeking out such events and organizing participation of these elite students. In this symbiotic relationship, parents feel that they win by having their children garner multiple awards, while the school wins because the awards, even though they only reflect a tiny part of the student body, greatly enhance the school’s reputation. For non-math competitions as well, if a student has any potential to win awards, the school goes to great lengths to facilitate the process and indeed pushes it very aggressively, to enhance its own reputation. The school administration is constantly massaging the egos of parents of award-winning students by naming their children and displaying photographs of them with their awards in newsletters, circular emails sent out to parents, and press releases.
(2) Individuals in total denial
Many parents develop social ties with their child's school, and may even become deeply vested in the school through donations or volunteer activities. Similarly, many teachers want to believe in the school they work in. Usually these sentiments have a positive effect. In the case of the Gulen charters, some individuals find the revelation of the underlying reality behind the school, which may have been hidden from them for months or even years, simply too much to handle. Parents whose children have befriended Gulenist teachers may find it extremely difficult to disengage them from these relationships (this of course is the motivating factor behind many of these schools' activities which are deliberately structured to bring the Gulenists and the students together). Some individuals or their children are caught up so deeply in the Gulenist school culture that it becomes too painful or too embarrassing to admit the truth. It is not an easy process for any human being to admit that they have been deceived or manipulated. Thus, these individuals may resort to the coping mechanism of total denial. Unfortunately this has the effect of making them the allies of the Gulenists, who are using denial for far more devious reasons.
(3) Individuals or organizations getting their cut
NBC4 in Columbus Ohio recently ran a story on Nov 23, 2010 about increased scrutiny of Concept Schools and the Horizon Science Academy schools in Ohio. The director of the Buckeye Hope Community Foundation was quoted as strongly defending these schools. While the article stated that Buckeye Hope is one of Horizon's sponsors, it failed to mention what many readers might not know: that sponsors of charter schools in Ohio are allowed by law to charge schools they authorize fees of up to 3 percent of their per-student state funding. In another example, an Arizona journalist found that bond deals approved in Pima County, Arizona for several Gulen charter schools, including an approved 90 million dollar bond issue for the Horizon schools in Ohio, were financially beneficial to individuals affiliated with the Pima County Industrial Development Authority, an agency involved in their authorization.
(4) Journalists who reproduce press releases or write without investigating
Gulenists have mastered the art of the press release, and they know that stories about "successful charter schools" or "students excelling in math and science" fit the current national mood and fulfill newspapers' demands for feel-good articles. Further, such stories are unlikely to receive much scrutiny. Many journalists seem content to print Gulenist press releases nearly verbatim. Deficiencies in journalistic fact-checking are manifested in several newspaper articles about Gulen charter schools; one example is an article dated August 20, 2010 in the Baltimore Sun that reads as a lengthy advertisement for Chesapeake Science Point. The article contains two major errors: it claims that the school receives less than half the funding that non-charter district public schools receive; later it says the school received "another $1 million in private funds raised by school officials." Anne Arundel Public Schools officials have confirmed that both these statements are false, yet the Baltimore Sun does not appear to have ever issued a correction. Gulen schools issue press releases on PR Newswire; a recent release on AP scores of Magnolia Science Academy students appeared in news outlets in Guam, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Missouri, Texas and other locations where people would seem to have only a remote interest in achievements of students in a southern California school. As with numerous other occasions when the press has reported on accomplishments of Gulen charter schools, no background was given on similar successes of other (non-Gulen) schools to put the information in perspective.
(5) Political/ideological proponents of charter schools
The charter school movement has some passionate supporters who are driven by ideological principles. An example is libertarian Spear Lancaster of Maryland, the Board President of Chesapeake Science Point, a Gulen charter that not long ago was under threat of closure. There are also charter advocates who are motivated by a political agenda, often the desire to diminish the influence of the public school districts or even eviscerate them. Brian Allen, chairman of the State Charter School Board in Utah, the state agency entrusted with regulating charter schools such as the Gulenist Beehive Science and Technology School, concurrently holds the position of principal lobbyist of Capitol Hill Advisors, an educational lobbying entity. Allen’s agenda is not difficult to discern from his biography: “He was the main strategic advisor to the grass roots effort and successful vote to divide Utah’s largest school district; the first division of its kind in the history of education in the United States." Strong ideological supporters of charter schools are often unwilling to examine concerns about charter school abuses.
(6) Naive idealists.
These individuals view Gulen as another Gandhi, and they regard their support for him as a noble service to mankind that helps combat Islamophobia. While one must appreciate the desire of such people to work for world peace and understanding, it is regrettable that they have chosen Gulen and his movement as a vehicle. In his 2009 PhD thesis from the University of California Santa Cruz, Joshua Hendrick has painted a far more realistic picture of the Gulen Movement as driven by a desire to form favorable economic connections and to amass political lobbying power. Hendrick notes the irony of former Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov being honored at the Gulenist Turkish Olympiads, at a time when Niyazov was universally regarded as one of the world’s worst human rights offenders.
(7) Academics for sale
A number of university faculty members have produced publications that support the Gulen Movement and promote Fethullah Gulen as a great leader and peace advocate. These publications masquerade as scholarly works, but nearly all are in reality essentially propaganda. It has been difficult to assess exactly what these individuals are receiving by way of compensation, but it is known that they regularly attend Gulen conferences, where attendees and speakers receive generous honoraria. In addition, some have gone on trips to Turkey sponsored by Gulenist organizations. The Institute for Turkish Studies at Georgetown has received millions of dollars in grant money from Turkey, a fact that can hardly fail to influence some of its faculty. Of course, some academics on the Gulen conference circuit may fall in the "naive idealists" category.
(8) Politicians for sale.
Gulenists have made a number of political contributions to local, state and national candidates. Often these candidates make appearances at Gulenist events, presumably returning the favor. The Gulen schools routinely invite politicians and state education regulatory officials to school events. The close relation of some Gulenist administrators with the very state officials who are charged with regulating them is disturbing.
These are teachers and subordinate administrators who absolutely could not be hired in any other network or normal school, either because of incompetence, or lack of psychological fitness to teach, or because of some past infraction that would prevent their hiring in a normal school. They support the school administration unconditionally, remain silent regarding any questionable practices of the administration, and in return are allowed to retain their positions. Parents at Gulen charter schools are often baffled at the unresponsiveness of the administration when they complain about these teachers. They do not understand that the administration carefully cultivates such teachers as part of their support network.
(10) Desperately needing job security
These are employees who for various reasons place a very high premium on job security, and are willing to keep silent and tolerate the working conditions in Gulen charter schools in exchange for it. They are not necessarily unhirables; some may even be excellent teachers. Their great need for job security may stem from understandable factors such as, for example, severe financial pressures, illness in the family or other personal stressors. The current dismal job market for teachers is another contributing factor. These employees will never speak up about the administration as they know that remaining silent is the only way to retain their positions.
These are parents and employees who are susceptible to the Gulenist seduction strategies because they are lacking in social support elsewhere. The Gulenists target these people, especially single women or women whose husbands are absent or distant, and make them feel part of a family. The strategy again is to recruit them into the loyal support network. The seduction may be purely platonic, especially in the U.S., although in some countries, as Balci noted in his 2003 paper, "Gülen ... recommends that his followers respect the habits and traditions of the people who receive them, and marry local girls." (An example is provided by 4 Turkish teachers at the Gulenist Filipino-Turkish Tolerance School in the Philippines who were arrested on suspicion of being involved in a terror organization. They were later cleared of charges and released. It was interesting to note in the news reports that all four had Filipino wives. ) When these individuals cease to be useful, they may be rather shocked at how quickly the Gulenists drop the social connection.
(12) Universities seeking to do community outreach
Several public universities have either hosted or sponsored Gulen conferences, including the University of Chicago, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Ohio State University, Humboldt State University, Louisiana State University, Southeastern Louisiana University, Southern University in Baton Rouge, and the University of Houston. Questions are being raised about how the Gulen Institute came to be housed at the University of Houston, and to what extent it is funded with public money. All these institutions undoubtedly have the best of intentions and view their activities as constructive community outreach. Most likely they are not fully informed about the Gulen Movement's activities, both in the US and abroad.
With (1-12), the schools are inevitably able to build up very strong support in the community. In fact, they count on it for survival, in the event that any allegations arise. Most of these groups vigorously defend them whenever the school is criticized.
Bayram Balci, a scholar who has studied the Gulen Movement in Central Asia, wrote the following lines in his 2003 article “Fethullah Gülen’s Missionary Schools in Central Asia and their Role in the Spreading of Turkism and Islam" Religion, State & Society, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2003. His description of how the Gulenists build their support network is uncannily similar to what can be observed in the US charter schools, even down to the fact that the US schools often put on very ostentatious displays of patriotism, which they then skillfully use in response to any charges regarding their connection to a foreign politico-religious movement:
“The methods used by the cemaat to recruit its pupils mean that its schools include a large number of children of the elite of the nation. Leading businessmen and bureaucrats send their children to these schools because of the high probability that they will pass their university entrance examinations. There is usually therefore a real harmony between parents and the teachers, whom they much appreciate. This is very important because it helps the cemaat to defend its schools, if it proves necessary to do so, against threats by the authorities. The parents will usually lobby on behalf of the cemaat.After the first crisis in Uzbekistan the intervention of some important parents dissuaded the authorities from expelling the cemaat from the country altogether. Of course these groups are not strong enough ultimately to save the cemaat, as it was shown in Uzbekistan in September 2000.
“A strategy of seduction is employed by the cemaat not only towards parents but towards local governments too. In order to guarantee its presence in each country, the cemaat offers its support for the government’s policy and postsoviet ideology. In the schools Gülen’s followers teach the students to love the new independent state, the president, the flag, the new institutions, the new heroes who have been chosen by the new regimes and so on. For the same purpose, the General Directorate of the high schools will have some of the president’s books translated into Turkish and distributed in Turkey. The schools thus become ambassadors to Turkey for these Central Asian regimes, promoting their culture and history and also, of course, as mentioned above, contributing to the formation of new local elites.”