Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Gulen Movement’s subsidized, guided trips to Turkey

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.”*

In 2012, a South Carolina political observer scratched his head about the same thing.

And recently, an investigator for a TV station in Tennessee noticed the trips, too.
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:
Be sure to read section five of this report:


The Perimeter Primate said...

"How the Turkish lobby influences American policy: Free vacations for the powerful." Hellenic American Leadership Council blog, 6/21/2013


A couple weeks ago, The Nation‘s Lee Fang published a piece asking why Washington wasn’t commenting more on the growing protests in Turkey. After all, the protests were receiving widespread attention in American media outlets. However, few elected officials even spoke on the matter. As Fang laid out, the Turkey lobby expends untold sums to woo American lawmakers...

Fang’s article just scratches the surface. There is also a mass of activity on the state level. Back in 2012, Rick Brundrett exposed the fact that South Carolina lawmakers were being taken on Turkish vacations with “no agenda” policy-wise that would have benefitted the state...

While there have been some decent articles about the influence of Gulen on America’s charter school system, the issue hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it deserves (and one could argue that Hayes, with his MSNBC show, has the perfect platform to launch such an investigative piece). Without the press drawing attention to the issue of foreign influence in America’s school system, it’s not surprising that so many lawmakers in so many states are eagerly accepting free vacations to Turkey.

This piece displays a tweet by Chris Hayes on 3/28/2012: "How has no one done the big investigative piece on Turkish Imam Fethullah Gulen and his movement's global school network?"

The Perimeter Primate said...

The Gulen movement's Pacifica Institute took Congressman Mike Honda's (CA) on a $5,675 trip to Turkey in August 2013.

The Perimeter Primate said...

"GRAPHIC: Where Illinois Lawmakers Traveled." Chicao Sun-Times, 12/23/2013

"From 2008 through 2012, Illinois state lawmakers reported receiving 43 foreign trips as gifts. Of those, 32 were to Turkey. Nearly all of these trips to Turkey were sponsored by two groups, The Niagara Foundation and the Chicago Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce, and were taken almost entirely by House Democrats. House Speaker Michael Madigan took four of these Turkish trips, the most of any lawmaker."

The Perimeter Primate said...

Four examples of a stellar return on the Gulen Movement's Turkey trip investment:

You would not believe the inroads that the Gulenists have made over the past 8-9 years by taking influential people on Turkey trips and turning them into their sympathizers.

Example #1 from a paper that explains how they ended up being able to open the Gulen-promoting Gulen Institute at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work:

"over lunch a dear colleague suggested that I join her and a dozen other academics on a trip to Turkey. I accepted the invitation at once... Back in Houston, I met with members of the Institute for Interfaith Dialog (IID), the local GM chapter that had generously underwritten my trip to Turkey... As a member of a faculty advisory board to the Institute for Interfaith Dialog, I decided to introduce members of IID’s administration to my dean... GCSW agreeg [sic] to provide space for the Gulen Institute; IID agreed to underwrite scholarships and other educational expenses that fit the Institute’s goal..."
Example #2 from an interview with Jill Carroll, a professor at Rice University who ended up writing a book for them:

"Well you know I didn't really know anything about him. I was approached by some Turkish graduate students. They came to my office and they said you know we're part of an interfaith dialogue movement and you know we're Muslims and we're taking these trips to Turkey and would you like to come... You know I went back to Turkey a few more times as guests of this community and visited with more people and interviewed more people and learned a lot more about the movement and they asked me if I would be interested in writing a book about it. And I said well sure... they asked me like three times and I kind of put them off but they kept pushing me...”
Example #3 from a press release about James Harrington, University of Texas Austin School of Law professor and founder of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who also ended up writing a propaganda book for them:

"My journeys with the Gülen movement began one Summer Sunday morning in 2008, when a judge friend of mine announced from the back of church, as we were about to leave, that she was putting together an interfaith trip to Turkey and looking for volunteers. I wasn't sure what it was about, but the price was right. I had some vacation time left and had never been to Turkey. So, always ready for something new in my life, I signed up... A few weeks after we returned from Turkey, it was suggested to me that I write a book on the political trial and acquittal of Fethullah Gülen. I really hadn't been aware of the trial... "
Example #4 from the promotional video for “Love is a Verb” -- a propaganda film about the Gulen Movement by Terry Spencer Hesser.

“...Then in 2010, I met a group of people who invited me on an interfaith trip to Turkey. Although I am not religious, I jumped at the chance to see Turkey and to have an adventure. I never dreamed that this trip would be a start of a three-year journey that would change my life...”

The Perimeter Primate said...

6/11/2014: NH delegation heads to Turkey in midst of 'evolving political situation' (New Hampshire Union Leader)

The Perimeter Primate said...

2013/5/20: "Gulen Movement Influence Invading Hoosier State From The State House To The Schools, Media And Beyond."

Eksili, who has made large campaign donations to several Hoosier public officials, including Gov. Mike Pence and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, has hosted numerous lunches, dinners and other events on behalf of the Niagara Foundation at which many of Indiana's top political, business, education, religious and community leaders have participated. He also solicits public officials and other leaders to accompany him on all-expense paid trips to Turkey. Advance Indiana obtained an e-mail solicitation that Eksili sent out in 2011 to persons who he sought to accompany him on a trip to Turkey. The following is a partial text of that e-mail, boasting about the number of influential persons who have accompanied him on past trips to Turkey...