Monday, January 12, 2015

The Gülen School Rabbit Hole

This article sent me down a rabbit hole of googling about the Gülen school phenomenon.1 During our Kazakhstan year, Turkish schools were in every city and were quite prominent. We have friends who were graduates and Turkish secondary schools and Turkish Universities. Both seemed to have a good reputation. No one called them "Gülen schools", at least not to me. They were just "Turkish Schools"--a place where students followed a Turkish curriculum and learned Turkish in addition to the three languages that the government has mandated that every student must learn (Kazakh, Russian and English).

Anyway, my googling led me to this list of Gülen schools in the U.S. That, in turn, led me to the web site of Trubright Science Academy, a charter school here in Philadelphia that appears on that list. The list of Gülen schools appears to be compiled by people who don't like "the Gülen movement", so it is a little suspect. But Trubright is interesting just because there doesn't seem to be anything Turkish about it at all. While it brags about preparing students in "a world language" that world language is Spanish, with a "second World Language, Latin, [which] could be added in the future." There is no reference to Gülen, his movement, or anything Turkish anywhere on the site, at least not that I found. Its description of how kids are taught doesn't give anything that would raise any flags about pan-Turkism or Gülen's power struggles with the current Turkish regime. While the school could be sneaking that stuff in without not advertising it on the web site, it would be ridiculously obvious if they tried. I mean, some parent would be sure to comment if their inner city American high school student was being taught some lesson about the grand destiny of the Turkic nation. The closest thing to anything Turkish on the web site is the list of the members of the school's Board of Trustees, as the list happens to include a lot of people with Turkish names. (5 of the 6 Trustees, by my count)

The bottom line is, why is this school viewed as part of the Gülen movement at all? Other than the fact that the parent company seems to be funded by Fethullah Gülen or his followers, why does that matter? I mean, why is it viewed as part of Gülen's movement if there doesn't seem to be anything in the curriculum that would advance the group's alleged goals? Try as I might, I just don't see anything scary about it.

1- The article states that it is not clear what the Turkish schools "have done to offend Tajikistan’s aid-dependent and graft-prone government." I know very little about domestic politics in Tajikistan, but here's a guess: Tajiks are Persians not Turks. That is, unlike all the other former Soviet Central Asian Republics, the dominant ethnic group in their country does not speak a Turkic language. Tajikistan does have a lot of Turkic-speaking minorities--Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Tatars--who might be receptive to the pan-Turkic message that Tajik authorities seem to believe is being fostered by Gülen schools. I could see how that would be viewed as a security threat to the leaders of a country like Tajikistan, an ethnic Persian outpost in a predominantly Turkic neighborhood whose territory is regularly depicted as being part of the pan-Turkic or pan-Turan dream country. (for example)