Sunday, April 20, 2014

More Thoughts on Religion (and Politics) in the Gulen-Linked Charter Schools

I've got a couple minutes here, so let me review what I've heard about the Gulen-linked charter school language arts festival that was held in Rosemont on April 12.

Actually, surprisingly little. Here's the coverage in the English language Gulenist media outlet, Today's Zaman, which has the date wrong.  I won't even quote from it, so read the whole thing. Looks like a young lady named Biviana Benitez from Horizon McKinley Park* won first place; I don't have video of that yet (the video server on the Turkish press site isn't working tonight.. I have no doubt she's very talented, and she chose a popular song from an artist I like.

I will note that in the Zaman story, we learn that Elaine Nekritz was at the event. Rep. Nekritz took a 2008 trip to Turkey compliments of the the Gulen Movement, and you know how hard it is to say no to people who've been so generous and hospitable.

   Also present at the Rosemont event were Representative Michelle Mussman, whom I know nothing about but who I suspect will soon be receiving some kind of award from the Niagara Foundation; and Idris Bal,  a former member of the Turkish Parliament, who has evidently joined with the Gulenists in their war against the prime minister.  In the Turkish Gulenist press, we learn that DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba was present. (Read the page in the Chrome browser; it will automatically translate it for you.) Perhaps they've given up on cultivating Tom Dart. It looks to me like they possibly read aloud the weird Susannah Mendoza praise-to-Fethullah Gulen resolution from 2011.

I wonder if they managed to put together a photo op or even a little parley between Idris Bal and Elaine Nekritz, Michelle Mussman, and Sheriff Zaruba to buttress their efforts against the elected government back home. Incidentally, there's no mention of the actual Turkish Consul of Chicago attending, or anyone from the consulate.

Also in the Turkish article, we see that the sponsors were sure to mention that they received letters of support from Tammy Duckworth, Robin Kelly, and Pat Quinn. If you've been reading these posts, you'll understand how important to the Movement to project an image of its influence with elected leaders. Here are some other people who were evidently there.

Possibly that's the mayor of Rosemont there on the lower right? Possibly Alderman Mary O'Connor above him? Not sure about the gentleman on the left.

I'm sure they'll put together a better video in the coming days, but as you can see, for now I'm relying on what I've seen on Twitter. Take for example, this tweet, about a young man performing at the event. The tweet appears to be from this individual, who I believe is the daughter  or close relative of one of Fethullah Gulen's closest advisors (also here), and who is certainly not the first young person linked to the Movement to intern in an elected official's office (Jan Schakowsky's).

In the not quite functional video on this page, the young man is singing at 2:08 at the Rosemont event; however, there are a couple of better videos of him in rehearsal, (possibly posted by his teacher?) which show clearly the performance he was honing for the show. He's a talented young man; you should take a look.

He's certainly got the moves, and a talent for language, but let's look at the lyrics, and then check out what he's singing in translation.

Remember how in a previous post about religion in the Gulen-linked schools, I talked about revivalism? I talked about how you might not pick up on the connotations of words and symbols unless you were familiar with the language, the iconography, etc. Well, what is this young man singing about? Do roses have any connotations for you? They do for some. How about tulips? How about martyrs?-- there's a word we don't often hear kids singing in public schools in the US. Is it within the realm of reason to assert that this song is a religious song? What are the other words in the song that evoke religion? How about the other songs? I've only examined this one.

Run the song past a Turk and see what you get. Their language is ancient-- the connotations of their words go back to the time before America was invaded by Europeans.  As for me, I'm pretty sure that this young man in the video has no idea about any of these things; he's just trying to remember a song and doing a good job of it. As for the adults running the show, I'm pretty sure they're happier about this song at a deeper level. It all fits in very well with the descriptions of crackling political and religious nationalism that are exemplified by the Turkish Olympiad, a topic we've talked about at length. I know this is just one young man singing just one song, but when you look at the ultimate goal, the Turkish Olympiad, and all of the kids from all over the universe of Gulen-linked schools, you see a theme.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it looks like the Gulen Movement is on the ropes in Azerbaijan, what with the vindictive, victorious Erdoğan flying hither and yon, getting his political allies ready to shut down or take over the Gulen schools throughout their range. It appears that when the Gulenists released the illegal wiretaps in Turkey, they played their last hand and lost. 

Bayrum Balci makes a good point in the same article:

Last but not least, Erdoğan’s determination to eradicate the Gülen movement in Turkey and abroad could create a climate of suspicion everywhere where Gülenists have developed activities. Consequently, genuinely innocent people who have been working for them for years, sympathizing with their ideas or not, could suffer and be endangered as a result of the ongoing witch hunt.

I see what he's saying. In any movement as large and dispersed as the Gulen Movement, there are bound to be true believers, samaritans, and generally well-meaning members in the outer circle, and these members may comprise the majority of the movement. And they might very well be blind to the machinations, the wheelings and dealings, and the true feelings and motivations of the inner circle. It's just that for me, it's clear that the inner circle is in Pennsylvania, and it extends to Ohio and Chicagoland, and I think the people inside the inner circle are closely connected to some very sketchy behavior back in the old country. 

I don't have feelings of alarm or panic about the relationship between our nation's largest charter school chain and a transnational social/religious/political movement. I think it's inappropriate, this relationship, and also that it doesn't "culturally compute," as Joshua Hendrick might say, in a land where the governance of public schools is typically open and democratic and clearly separate from opaque, secretive religious movements. There are risks, clearly, because of the tense showdown between the Movement and Erdoğan, which Erdoğan is clearly willing to extend outside the Turkish borders. However,  even in Concept, which appears to have been very, very sophisticated in the way it has hidden its relationships to the very top of the Gulen Movement, I believe that the Movement-linked people mean well. And the American teachers? They have no idea about any of it.

Charter accountability, sunlight, oversight.... these things will be good for everyone involved. It's time for the Legislature to wake up.

*Horizon McKinley Park is one of the two Gulen-linked charter schools that were inserted into Chicago by the Illinois State Charter Commission over the objections of the Chicago Board of Education. They're on the march. Like the other schools in the chain, they're wasting no time in cultivating political relationships, although I'm not sure they're going to do the same video series as Chicago Math and Science Academy. If they do, I'm predicting you'll see a video testimonial from State Senator Tony Munoz, or that he'll be getting an award soon. 

New to the topic? Please see some of my previous posts.

No comments:

Post a Comment