Friday, January 31, 2014

When Does The Gulen Mess in Illinois Become A Scandal?

Let's review what we know, shall we?

 A secretive transnational social movement emanating from Turkey, the Gulen Movement, is very busy in the US expanding its network of taxpayer-funded charter schools, including the Concept schools here in Chicago.

Its spiritual leader, Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed "exile" in Pennsylvania, is a central figure in the current meltdowm of the Turkish Government, in which systemic corruption is possibly a baseline behavior. The Turkish prime minister has long been in an alliance of convenience with Gulen, but that alliance is now over, and the two sides are evidently trying to eliminate the other. The Gulenists' power base in Turkey appears to flow from the Turkish justice/judicial system and police, a fact you would never guess from the benign, touch-feely, interfaithy outreach arm of the Gulen effort in America. Never guess, that is, until you start looking at some of the people they're trying to cultivate here.

But these things are all very well known outside the US, which as you know has much more critical things to worry about. In Turkey, over half of the population has a negative view of the Gulen Movement, according to this poll. But more importantly, there are very few sentient people in Turkey or Central Asia, or really anywhere with internet access  who aren't aware that the Gulen Movement is a highly organized, secretive, aggressive social movement with a religious, economic, political, and religioius-nationalistic agenda.

For example, secular Turks are widely aware that Gulen and Erdogan (the prime minister) are pretty much two sides of the same coin when it comes to the authoritarianism vexing them.

Please  consult Joshua Hendrick's recent Gulen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey for a scholarly ethnographic treatment of the Gulen Movement, but for now let's focus on these things related to what's going on here in the States. (The excerpts below are from Chapter 8.)
As this manuscript goes to press in November of 2012, there is no place where the GM cemaat and arkadas manage more institutions, or go to greater lengths, to simultaneously promote their leader than in the United States....
 Adapting proven strategies to recruit sympathizers... from the ranks of local, regional, and national leadership, among the activities of these organizations is the growing regularity of "award dinners," wherein members of the GM offer Ottoman/Turkish themed awards to specifically targeted recipients....
Collectively, GM activists in the United States spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on events that range from "interfaith dinners," to citywide Turkish cultural festivals, to speaking forums, to lavish overseas tours of Turkey's conservative democratic transformation....
Here in Chicago, the public face of the Gulen Movement is the Niagara Foundation, which has been feverishly cultivating influential people from the business, religious, and political leadership across Illinois, and particularly from the Democratic Party. If you know anyone connected to influence in Illinois Democratic Party, the odds are that this very same person is on a Gulenist project timeline back in Saylorsburg.

Much of this was revealed in the December 2013 Sun Times piece by Dan Mihalopoulos, who should earn a Pulitzer for his work. In that article, you see Speaker Mike Madigan posing with a Turkish mayor who was subsequently arrested by Gulenist prosecutors. The mayor appears to be out of jail now, and his prosecutors? Who knows? They've probably been re-assigned; it's a complete mess over there at the moment.

For me, the most interesting revelation of that story was the number of Niagara-sponsored junkets to Turkey for Illinois legislators. These are the exact trips Josh Hendrick is referring to in his book. 74% of all reported legislator travel involved these influence-cultivating trips to Turkey, according to the Sun Times. The details aren't clear because there's been little disclosure--- we don't know about the nature of these travel gifts, how much of it was "comped," how much of it was paid for by the lawmakers at below-market rates, that sort of thing.

But for me, the truly hypnotic piece in all of this is the annual awards ceremony at the Niagara Foundation. I'm going to post it below. I've watched it over and over; there a lots of familiar faces in this video, and there's a lot to discuss. But what I'd like to skip right to is the Commitment Award given to Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, who is certainly committed; while the Justice is giving her (let's face it, mundane) talk, she lets it be known that she too has been to Turkey, with the Niagara guys themselves!   It's at 23 minutes, 42 seconds, so be patient.

Niagara Foundation Peace Awards 2013 Part 1 from Niagara Foundation on Vimeo.

Isn't that special? I wonder if it ever occurs to these honorees to ask themselves why in the hell they're all being festooned by these people. Anyway, so yes, at least one Illinois Supreme Court Justice has been worked on seriously by the Gulenists; she went to Turkey with the chief people of the Niagara Foundation, Sherif Soydan and Melvut "Hilmi" Cinar.

It's impossible to know under Illinois law exactly who paid for what. I'm guessing she paid air fare and Fethullah Gulen picked up the rest, or she paid some very discounted rate for hotels, meals, and indoctrination. Nobody will ever know until someone (the media?) demand to see the receipts. I'm guessing these are very, very valuable travel gifts, and I'm also guessing, based on Dan Mihalopoulos's work, and my growing list here, that we're looking at a behavior pattern that would qualify for a RICO investigation in more honest times. Especially when you start looking at the charter school commission's decisions, and who else was on these trips.

In case you missed my point--- a supreme court justice!

By the way, when you look at the whole tape, and you will, you'll see a Who's Who of people in a position to influence charter school decisions, including Barbara Eason Watkins (12:39) from 2009; Henry Bienen (12:42) also from 2008; Lisa Madigan (13:15) [<--- did she also go to Turkey?]; Sunny Chico is in there somewhere, getting an award. (It's exhausting keeping tabs on the connection between taxpayer money and the Chicos.)  There's even a Roosevelt in there (13:22).  Many, many more.

Really, the school stuff is just one little slice of the agenda; it happens to be what I write about.

Anyway, before I move on, check out the cute little sitcom posings they have the honorees doing in the videos. They're almost my favorite part; there's one at 13:12, for example. Justice Burke's little pose is at 13:50. I love that they can pose these politicians like they're on reality television.

Moving On...

Just for the historical record, Alderman Burke himself re-confirmed the Turkish trip, and that it was in March of 2013, and that he, too, was there. The trip had a profound impact on his understanding of community, according to him. He talks about it right at the start of this clip. Burke's talk takes place at the Niagara Foundation, which of course is another way the Movement builds up the people they're trying to cultivate.

Ald. Ed Burke from Niagara Foundation on Vimeo.

He then goes on to give, to his credit, a much better talk then either of the Tribune guys, who were just dreadful. One detail that strikes me is at the 45 second mark; evidently, he was in Turkey with at least seven other Americans, including his wife, Justice Burke. Who were the other six? Will we ever find out? Will anyone ever ask? Would he answer? Will they show their receipts?

Burke's brother Dan, the legislator and member of the state charter school funding task force  (appointed by the Speaker, and given Madigan's many long sojourns in Turkey, I wouldn't be surprised if he emailed Alderman Burke's brother's appointment directly from Istanbul!)--- also went on a 2012 Niagara-sponsored Gulen junket, so that's comforting. The Lesser Burke later dutifully trudged up to CMSA and performed the ritual video pitch, like they do, except that he does possibly accidentally damn them with a bit of faint praise. You tell me.

I don't know what it's going to take for someone outside of the Sun Times and this blog to detect a pattern. It needs to be looked at, seriously. All of these public figures should go on record about who paid for what on their trips and support those statements with receipts.

Stay tuned.

PS. Many thanks to Sharon Higgins, relentless researcher.

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