Tuesday, June 7, 2011

NY Times Looks at Turkish Groups Who Sponsor Lawmaker Trips

The New York Times in a lengthy article today looks at the charter schools that have popped up in Texas that were built by and operated by a foundation associated with the same  Turkish-American friendship group that has been sending New Mexico legislators (and lawmakers from other states)  to Turkey.

You can read it HERE.

Most of the article is a detailed look at the Harmony Schools, which is associated with the Turquoise Center, a Houston complex that houses several foundations established by followers of Turkish-born theologian Fethullah Gulen.

Gulen, who now lives in Pennsylvania, has been a controversial figure. He's been praised by many top political figures here -- Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State James Baker, etc. He's been an outspoken opponent of terrorism and Osama bin Laden.

But he's got lots of detractors -- some whom seem to be on the edge of hysteria. One Gulen-movement paper in Turkey pointed out that in the U.S. his critics claim that Gulen, beneath his public statements, is an extreme Islamic fundamentalist who wants to bring Sharia law to both Turkey and the U.S. But in Turkey, his enemies portray him as a Zionist puppet of the CIA and Israel.

The Gulen movement in Turkey includes many in the current government. And as the Times article points out, " ... recently, the arrests of Turkish journalists critical of the Gulen movement have led to accusations of retaliation by followers in the current government, which has a more religious leaning."

The Harmony Schools, by many accounts, do an excellent job of educating students in science and other subjects. But there have been controversies, as The Times points out, about Harmony Schools giving preferential treatment in issuing contracts to other  Gulen-associated companies and for importing hundreds of teachers and administrators from Turkey who work in the U.S. on special visas.

This section, near the end of the article gave me a little deja vu:

Dozens of Texans — from state lawmakers to congressional staff members to university professors — have taken trips to Turkey partly financed by the foundations.

One group, the Raindrop Foundation, helped pay for State Senator Leticia Van de Putte’s travel to Istanbul last year, according to a recent campaign report. In January, she co-sponsored a Senate resolution commending Mr. Gulen for “his ongoing and inspirational contributions to promoting global peace and understanding.”
There have been a couple of non-binding memorials backed by The Turquoise folks that have passed our Legislature in the past two sessions that express support for expanding cultural relations between New Mexico and Turkey.

Apparently there is at least one Harmony-affiliated school here in New Mexico. The Albuquerque Journal did a story last October.

UPDATE 7-8-11: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said there were no Harmony schools in New Mexico.

PBS earlier this year did a report on the Gulen movement, the Harmony Schools, etc. It's pretty glowing. You can watch below and read the transcript  HERE.