The woodsy mountainous state of Maine is known for its picturesque towns, the fortress-like solidarity of their old-timers, and the enormous moose roaming its woods and occasionally blocking the road. It’s the last place I would have expected the Gülen movement to apply to open a school. But why not? The proposed charter school in Bangor was ultimately rejected for financial reasons, although is expected to reapply. The Maine Sunday Telegram published a well-researched and fair assessment of the proposed school’s ties to the Gülen movement that is worth reading (click here). The article does a good job of excavating the history of Gülen-associated schools and institutions in the US and discusses the tangled issues emerging from what Joshua Hendrick called their “culture of strategic ambiguity” and evasiveness. This has more easily allowed the movement to embed its activities in local contexts around the world. It has done so quite successfully in the US.
…In recent years, Gulen’s activities in the United States prompted concern among consular officers at U.S. diplomatic posts in Ankara and Istanbul, as large numbers of visa applicants appeared “seeking to visit a number of charter schools in the U.S. with which consular officials were unfamiliar,” according to a leaked May 2006 cable sent by the Istanbul consulate and published by Wikileaks.
After further investigation and thousands of interviews, the confidential cable stated, consular officials “complied a substantial list of organizations that seem in some way affiliated with Gulen” including “over thirty science academies (set up as charter schools) in the U.S.” and 22 educational consultancies and foundations in the U.S…
The schools generally have a good scholastic reputation, but have gotten in trouble for hiring and visa practices, bringing Turkish teachers and other employees into the country for positions that could be filled by US teachers, giving contract work to vendors that turn out to be Gülen-associated, rather than through fair bidding processes, and requiring what the law sees as kick-backs from their employees and the Gülenists see as tithing.
A New York Times investigation in June 2011 estimated Gulen followers had helped start 120 charter schools in 25 states, and raised “questions about whether, ultimately (its Texas charter schools) are using taxpayer dollars to benefit the Gulen movement — by giving business to Gulen followers, or through financial arrangements with local foundations that promote Gulen teachings and Turkish culture.”
In 2012, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the FBI and the U.S. departments of Labor and Education were investigating Philadelphia’s Truebright Science Academy over “whether some Turkish charter school employees are required to kick back part of their salaries to a Muslim movement founded by Gulen” and possible abuse of the H1-B visa program, “which has allowed hundreds of Turkish teachers, administrators and other staffers to work in charter schools.”
Maine is famous for its gruff, dug-in American society; it seems incongruous to imagine outsiders like the Gülenist Turks, tidy and professional in suits and headscarves, settling there. But why not? Like all newcomers before them, they’ll learn to be wary of the moose.