Shadows on High: Ohio Tax Money Tied to Exiled Turkish Leader Who Wants an Islamic Republic
The inane "Ground Zero mosque" debate pretends to be about 9/11 sensitivity. The contention is that putting a community center and prayer space into an old Burlington Coat Factory blocks from the World Trade Center site is somehow provocative.
(Unlike Glenn Beck's farcical rally in the shadow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, which wasn't provocative, no siree.)
In reality, this debate was fueled by a surprisingly large faction on the right that finds anything Islamic borderline toxic and incompatible with baseball, apple pie and all things America.
So, now comes news that Ohio tax payer money is going to schools tied to a controversial Islamic religious figure previously wanted for trying to overthrow the Turkish government.
Where's the outrage?
Josh Mandel has built a career opposing pension money being invested in companies with ties to Iran's radical Islamic government. Where is he on this?
Jon Husted? Charter school money got your tongue?
Mr. Kasich? Mr. DeWine? Ding Dong. Anyone home in right-wing Ohio?
Ahh, the irony.
Here's the low down: Concept Schools is part of a national network of Turkish run schools and operates 17 schools in Ohio.
USA Today reports that the network has over 100 schools in 25 states that educate 35,000 American children, and are largely financed through taxpayer funding.
The newspaper reports that all the schools have ties to Fethullah Gülen, leader of the Gülen Movement, the third most powerful faction in Turkish government, after the military and the secular government.
In fact Concept Schools is just one of the Charter school networks with ties to the Gülen Movement.
Oddly though, Mr. Gülen resides in America, Pennsylvania, specifically. He is in voluntary exile for allegedly pushing for an "Islamist" state from the fractured and secular Turkish rulers.
And while his movement is not hostile to the West, it is ironic that he operates in charter schools, a world filled with right-wing fanatics whose hatred toward everything Muslim extends to placing a Muslim community center a few blocks from Ground Zero where fast food joints and strip bars now roam.
- Horizon Science Academy - Cincinnati
- Horizon Science Academy - Cleveland Elementary School
- Horizon Science Academy - Cleveland Middle School
- Horizon Science Academy - Cleveland High School
- Horizon Science Academy - Columbus Elementary School
- Horizon Science Academy - Columbus Middle School
- Horizon Science Academy - Columbus High School
- Horizon Science Academy - Dayton Elementary
- Horizon Science Academy - Dayton High
- Horizon Science Academy - Denison Elementary School
- Horizon Science Academy - Denison Middle School
- Horizon Science Academy - Lorain
- Horizon Science Academy - Springfield
- Horizon Science Academy - Toledo
- Horizon Science Academy - Youngstown
- Noble Academy - Cleveland
- Noble Academy - Columbus
- Described by turns as a moderate Turkish nationalist, a peacemaker and "contemporary Islam's Billy Graham," Fethullah Gülen has long pushed for Islam to occupy a more central role in Turkish society. Followers of the so-called Gülen Movement operate an "education, media and business network" in more than 100 countries, says University of Oregon sociologist Joshua Hendrick.
- Top administrators say they have no official ties to Gülen. And Gülen himself denies any connection to the schools. Still, documents available at various foundation websites and in federal forms required of non-profit groups show that virtually all of the schools have opened or operate with the aid of Gülen-inspired "dialogue" groups, local non-profits that promote Turkish culture. In one case, the Ohio-based Horizon Science Academy of Springfield in 2005 signed a five-year building lease with the parent organization of Chicago's Niagara Foundation, which promotes Gülen's philosophy of "peace, mutual respect, the culture of coexistence." Gülen is the foundation's honorary president. In many cases, charter school board members also serve as dialogue group leaders.
- Education officials who are familiar with them say the schools aren't trying to proselytize for Gülen's vision of Turkey. While Turkish language and culture are often offered in the curriculum, there's no evidence the schools teach Islam.
The ties themselves are - well the movement calls them "non-organic." Here is how USA Today describes it:
- While the Turkish-affiliated schools disavow any connection to the Gülen Movement, Gülen himself maintains in legal filings that he's the inspiration behind their growth. But William Martin of Rice University in Houston says educators' assertions of "no organic connection" to Gülen are accurate.
- Nonetheless, he says their efforts to minimize ties to Gülen, likely from fear of being branded Islamists, bring "unnecessary and probably counterproductive" suspicion. "I do not think they are a sinister organization."
- In an e-mail interview, Mehmet Argin, principal of Tucson's Sonoran Science Academy, says his school's parent corporation, Daisy Education Corp., "has no legal or organic ties" with other schools. He cautions against linking charter schools founded by Turkish-Americans directly to the Gülen Movement "just because Turkish-Americans may be inspired by Mr. Gülen."
- In an e-mail interview, Gülen denied any direct connection to these schools, rejecting the notion that there is a "Gülen Movement," but acknowledging there may be educators now in U.S. schools who have listened to his philosophy. "I have no relation with any institution in the form of ownership, board membership or any similar kind," he said.
All of this leads us to continue to question the wisdom of handing over public money to charter schools, when so many continue to be less than transparent about their finances and practices.
In fact, recently the Columbus Dispatch featured a charter school that fired its founder because the music "academy" was so poorly run "that even the treasurer could not be certain whether public money was being spent to launch records and hold concerts."
Right-wing conservatives seem to rail these days about wasted government spending, sweetheart contracts, government corruption and, lately, Islamaphobia. Here we have a litany of stories about David Brennan's profiteering, lawsuits against his White Hat management, gospel singers turned teachers abusing classroom money and murky connections to Turkish Islamist politics.
Yet the outrage over Park51, where taxpayer funds are not at stake and the First Amendment couldn't be clearer, was ceaseless. But no one ever said my right-wing friends value consistency over the Fox talking point of the day.
So next time you're watching O'Reilly or Beck and that commercial comes on for ECOT telling your kids they're safer learning at home on the computer than attending high school, over here on the left, that looks as wasteful as Sarah Palin's bridge to nowhere in Alaska.
As for Mr. Gülen, last week he won concessions favoring his Islamist movement over the military in Turkey.
Given the way the books are kept at some of these charters, you never know how much you may or may not have contributed to that movement; there is little evidence either way.
Just remember, it's a non-organic connection.
Ohio conservatives, you gotta love 'em.