In addition to having acquired the operation of the largest network of privately-managed, taxpayer-funded charter schools in the US (currently 135 in 26 states), members of the Gulen Movement are very active with efforts to recruit sympathizers. One of their approaches is to invite academics, journalists, politicians, public officials, and religious community leaders on one of their subsidized, guided trips to Turkey. The trips are also regularly arranged for American students, parents, and teachers associated with the Gulen charter schools.
It must be mentioned that travelers are not always aware of the full intention behind the trips. As one photo journalist from Colorado noticed on the fourth day of travel, "We are beginning to understand the reason for the cultural exchange: it is not simply to meet local leaders and learn about Turkish culture, but also to gain an understanding of the Gülen Movement..." "Gain an understanding," as in acquiring the perspective fed to them by members of the Gulen Movement over the course of nine to 10 straight days of tightly controlled immersion. This secretive group happens to be highly controversial in Turkey, and elsewhere.
The paper embedded below contains a brief explanation about the Gulen Movement’s Turkey trips. But Joshua Hendrick explains more in his PhD dissertation, “Globalization and Marketized Islam in Turkey: The Case of Fethullah Gulen” (2009, University of California, Santa Cruz). Hendrick is considered to be a leading authority on the Gulen Movement and currently teaches at Loyola University Maryland.
Excerpts (emphasis added):
"Recruiting sympathizers," in influential sectors of social opinion making, therefore, has emerged as a focused strategy in the GM. This process was perfected in Turkey and exported abroad, where academics, journalists, politicians, and religious community leaders are recruited to promote the "Sufi-inspired" movement of Fethullah Gülen to a demanding international audience. Strategies of recruiting sympathizers include taking groups of influential people on all-expenses paid trips to Turkey, hosting dinners, conferences, presentations, and other events at university campuses or at community centers; and offering awards that commend a particular unaffiliated person for his or her life's work. Financial favors, questionable handouts, and lavish enticement have become routine... [p. 142]Investment for GM schools is generated in the form of religious donation (himmet), which is collected from members of the cemaat and arkadaş in the GM network in an organized fundraising system led by GM operatives whose specific job is to solicit money from potential donors. Original benefactors expect no immediate return from their himmet. They are told that himmet is a religious rite, and that trust networks in the GM will assure that it goes to a "faithful" cause (e.g., to pay for a student's scholarship, to provide start-up capital for a new school, to send a group of influential Americans on a two-week trip to Turkey, to sponsor an "academic" conference devoted to Fethullah Gülen, etc). In this way, schools and other GM needs provide businessmen with 'the service" (hizmet) of satisfying their obligatory rites according to the Islamic tenet of giving. [pp. 250-251]
The trips are also discussed in “The Gulen Hizmet Movement and its Transnational Activities.” The authors of this book are highly sympathetic to the Gulen Movement. In the chapter titled “Hizmet Intercultural Dialogue Trips to Turkey,” Nancy Gallagher explains that her original contact with the Gulen Movement was when she was invited to go on one of their trips (see page 73).
Some reporters have noticed these Turkey trips but clearly do not have an adequate grasp of the Gulen Movement and its approach.
For example, concerns were raised in Idaho in 2011 in a series of newspaper articles, one of which reported, “... more than a tenth of the Legislature has traveled to Turkey this year.”*
- “Five Idaho lawmakers safe after deadly bombing in Turkish capital.” The Idaho Statesman, 9/21/2011
- “Legislators Have No Business In Turkey.” The Boise Guardian, 9/22/2011
- *“Which Idaho lawmakers went on the Turkey trip, and why?” The Idaho Statesman, 9/28/2011
In 2012, a South Carolina political observer scratched his head about the same thing.
- “It’s Nobody’s Business But The Turks.” FITS News, 5/16/2012
- “About Those Free Trips To Turkey…” FITS News, 5/31/2012
And recently, an investigator for a TV station in Tennessee noticed the trips, too.
- “Turkish Groups Offer Free Foreign Trips For Lawmakers.” NewsChannel5, 4/29/2013
The reporter, Phil Williams, began his report by asking, “Who's providing free foreign trips to state lawmakers -- and what do they want?” He obviously wasn’t aware that Joshua Hendrick had already answered that question. The "what do they want” is the opportunity to recruit sympathizers.
Beyond the trips being used as a way to acquire close proximity to powerful and influential American leaders, a number of Turkey-tripped travelers have ended up as the token non-Turkish board members for Gulen charter school organizations. For more about this topic, see these informative pages by CASILIPS:
- Ethics concerns regarding public officials' Gulenist Turkey trips
- Gulenist Turkey trips of members of Congress or Congressional staff
- Elected state and local officials who went on Gulenist Turkey trips