by Andrew Walden
Hiding behind the benign sounding label, “Mokapu STEM School”, a religious cult with billions of dollars in assets is secretly trying use the charter school conversion process to take over Mokapu Elementary School located in Kaneohe on Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Mokapu STEM School organizers Kazim Gumus and Adam Oksuz propose to transform Mokapu into a K-12 school with 1,400 students in an effort backed by the Turkish Gulen Movement, sometimes referred to as the Risale-I-Nur movement. But parents at other Gulen schools—many of whom originally chose the schools specifically to expose their children to Islam—are having second thoughts. For many of the teachers, parents and even school board members, just discovering their schools’ hidden Gulen links took years of research. And after years of experience with the Gulen schools, parents and teachers are reporting that Holocaust denial, 9-11 conspiracy theories, and denial of the Ottoman Turkish WWI era Armenian genocide are part of what a Tucson, Arizona newspaper describes as a “hidden agenda”.
It wasn’t easy to unearth the links between the Mokapu STEM School proposal and the Gulenists. Gumus, a Texas Tech researcher recently hired at UH Manoa, is the only Hawaii resident named in the Mokapu proposal. An email inquiry to the Mokapu STEM School drew no reply. A contact number listed on the Mokapu STEM School brochure is a disconnected Waikapu, Maui cell phone. Nobody returned a message left at Gumus’ Lubbock, TX cell phone number which was also provided as a contact number. An item in the Mokapu STEM proposal titled “Letter of Support from Kaneohe Marine Base” is blank.
An item titled “Charter” was on the agenda of the Mokapu Elementary School Community Council November 17 and December 13 and it looks like the Gulenists will be back to try again this year. Ruth Tschumy, Chairwoman of the Charter School Review Panel tells Hawai`i Free Press, “Mokapu STEM withdrew its application for a charter, saying it might apply for the next round of chartering. The next round began in December, 2010, and the Panel did receive a letter of intent from the group.”
Movement leader Fethullah Gulen has espoused a Machiavellian approach to democracy, saying to his followers in a message broadcast on Turkish TV in 1999 that "every method and path is acceptable [including] lying to people." Shortly thereafter Gulen fled Turkey into exile after being indicted for trying to overthrow the secularist Turkish state and replace it with an Islamic state. Gulen movement schools are outlawed in Russia, Uzbekistan, and other Central Asian countries with Turkish populations.
But in 2002 the legal Islamist AK party--was elected into power, and Gulen’s fortunes have improved. The Wall Street Journal June 4, 2010 reports:
Followers have established hundreds of schools in more than 100 countries and run an insurance company and an Islamic bank, Asya, that its 2008 annual report said had $5.2 billion in assets. They own Turkey's largest daily newspaper, Zaman; the magazine Aktion; a wire service; publishing companies; a radio station and the television network STV, according to Helen Rose Ebaugh, a University of Houston sociologist and author of "The Gülen Movement." She says followers donate up to one-third of their income to independent Gülen-linked foundations….
Mr. Gülen's detractors see him as a cult-like leader whose empire aims to train an Islamic elite who will one day rebuild the Turkish state. Soner Cagaptay, a Gülen critic who is a Turkey analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says the Turkish police force may be largely influenced by the imam through Gülen sympathizers in key positions—effectively creating a counterbalance to Turkey's powerful military, a secularist bastion.
The Gulen connection is not explained anywhere in the Mokapu STEM website—it mentions only the Sonoran Science Academy--or the official charter school conversion proposal. But, armed with a chart of the Gulen organization in the US, the ties become suddenly obvious. The proposal reads:
The Mokapu STEM School conversion will include a partnership with Accord Institute for Education Research that develops curriculum for DAISY EDUCATION CORPORATION dba Sonoran Science Academy Schools for curriculum support…. As members of the Local School Board, DAISY EDUCATION CORPORATION will work with Mokapu STEM School to improve student achievement, increase parent and community involvement, and realign its curriculum.
Accord, Daisy, Sonoran, and Harmony are all Gulen movement organizations. Describing the educational philosophy of the Accord Institute for Education Research, the Mokapu STEM School proposal is less than literate:
Paramount is the proper understanding of human nature and providing opportunities to learn for mental and cultural thriving to spur academic and social growth. AIER believes that ignorance is not bliss. It can be source many problems. High quality education is panacea to all economic, social, and cultural problems.
Gulenists have been accused of stacking the boards of Gulen Charter schools in order to maintain control. An email exchange between Gulenists in Ohio shows them illegally planning the agendas and preparing the votes for several Gulen school boards in violation of open meeting statutes. As in Ohio, the Mokapu STEM Interim Board is 100% Gulen. In addition to Gumus, the members are Arizona residents Metin Yildirim M.Sc., and Mehmet Argin PhD, Superintendent of the Sonoran Science Academy. Not mentioned in the Mokapu application, Yildirim is a board member of Paragon Science Academy, a Chandler, AZ Gulen school. Also left out: Gumus formerly taught science at the Gulen-controlled Harmony Science Academy in Austin, TX.
Gulenists’ misogyny is an ongoing issue. After touring the Gulen compound last November, New Republic reporter Suzy Hansen describes the scene:
Upstairs, on the hushed second floor, about 15 young men sat on divans against the windows and on the carpeted floors, reading. One had a laptop; he looked up and smiled, as did some others, but a few scowled at me. We were clearly disturbing them. When a young man suddenly stood up and whispered something to Aksoy, I could have sworn he was complaining about my presence. Aksoy seemed to admonish him. Later, I asked, “Was that young man upset that I was there?” “Our people do not complain,” Aksoy replied. “They obey commands completely.”
Hansen also provides some insight into the internal workings of the Gulen movement:
One of the biggest mysteries is how much sway he holds over his followers. Some visit Pennsylvania as much as once a month; what do they want from their visits? At the end of my tour, as Aksoy was driving me back to a McDonald’s near the Camp where I had left my car, I asked him whether Gülen tells people what to do.
“He would never tell; he suggests,” Aksoy replied. “And then what do people do with that suggestion?” I asked. “Let me put it this way,” he said. “If a man with a Ph.D. and a career came to see Hocaefendi, (Turkish term meaning master, lord, or teacher) and Hocaefendi told him it might be a good idea to build a village on the North Pole, that man with a Ph.D. would be back the next morning with a suitcase.”
After fleeing Turkey in 1999 Fethullah Gulen established a comfortable exile in a 25 acre compound in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. Gulen is seen by many as the grey eminence behind the Islamist AK Party which holds the majority in the Turkish Parliament. AK is accused by Amnesty International of torture, murder, and the use of anti-terrorism legislation to prosecute children as young as 12 for participation in peaceful demonstrations. The AK has attempted to shut down gay rights organizations.
After government forces rounded up opponents in mid-2009, Soner Çağaptay in Foreign Policy magazine wrote:
Although some of the people interrogated and arrested might have been involved in criminal wrongdoing, most appear to be innocent. Take, for instance, Turkan Saylan, a 73-year-old grandmother who was undergoing chemotherapy. Saylan ran an NGO providing liberal arts education scholarships to poor girls in eastern Turkey, an area where Gülen's network runs many competing organizations. She was interrogated by the Turkish police for allegedly plotting a coup from her death bed, and passed away only four weeks later.
Many others have languished in jail, or even died, without seeing an indictment. The Gülen-controlled parts of the judiciary and police have also wielded illegal wiretaps against those entangled in the Ergenekon case, leaking intimate details of their private lives, such as marital infidelity, to pro-AKP and pro-Gülen media in order to damage their reputations.
The Gulenists’ chilling reply:
Çağaptay portrays Türkan Saylan as just a grandmother; he never mentions that she could not explain a document discovered on her computer mentioning encouraging girls to make every sacrifice needed to become close to young officers. Several other original documents that were filed by the prosecutors also show similar activities.
What can Mokapu parents expect from Accord Institute? When the Accord-controlled Beehive Academy in Salt Lake City, Utah, was shut down last year by state regulators, the Deseret News June 1, 2010 discovered unsettling information:
The school is $300,000 in the red, yet, teachers say, the geography class is without maps, the computer labs are stocked full of second-hand equipment and the school can't afford a janitor. The administration's unusual approach to education has driven many to question: what is the school spending its money on?
In the days since the state voted to revoke Beehive's charter, the Deseret News has scoured hundreds of pages of public records and interviewed dozens of people inside the Salt Lake City school. The emerging facts paint a troubling picture:
E-mail exchanges between teachers and administrators document a lack of transparency in administrative decisions, raising questions about the school's autonomy.
In a time of teacher layoffs, Beehive has recruited a high percentage of teachers from overseas, mainly Turkey. Many of these teachers had little or no teaching experience before they came to the United States. Some of them are still not certified to teach in Utah.
The school spent more than $53,000 on immigration fees for foreigners in five years. During the same time, administrators spent less than $100,000 on textbooks, according to state records….
Beehive's financial problems came to the board's attention in July, 2009 when a former school board member accused the school of having clandestine ties to a controversial Muslim preacher. After a six-month investigation, the State Charter School Board officially declared any association with Islam "circumstantial" and cleared the school of pushing religion. Now, however, as Beehive prepares to appeal the school's closure, nearly a dozen teachers and parents have come forward with new evidence linking the school to a powerful Islamic movement unknown to many Americans….
Beehive Academy doesn't have a gym or a cafeteria. It is housed in an old, dilapidated office building with peeling carpet and spotty paint. The elevator is broken. A boy on crutches limps up the school's main staircase. In the hallways, there is evidence of long-abandoned efforts to remodel: spackle on the wall, plastic sheets hanging from the ceiling….
By 2009, all administrators and more than 50 percent of teachers and staff were Turkish men. American teachers at the school issued a formal complaint to the State Charter School Board that Turkish teachers were given hiring preference and favored for promotions. Female teachers reported being told to cover their hair and reminded that "a woman's place is home raising her children."
After a favorite teacher was fired with no explanation, Wayment discovered that the principal wasn't making personnel decisions. Instead, Accord Institute for Education Research, a California-based nonprofit that oversees charter schools in Arizona and California appeared to be calling the shots. Oddly enough, that organization — and the schools it oversaw — were also run by Turkish men.
Beehive, it turned out, was paying Accord a considerable amount of money for professional development and curriculum helps. Workshop guest lists suggested, however, that only Turkish teachers were invited to teacher training. Aside from textbooks, at least some teachers said they were given no materials.
"It was really overwhelming," said Adam Kuntz, who taught at Beehive from 2008 to 2009. "I was a first-year teacher and I got no support from the administration, no feedback, no curriculum guidance."
Administration asked Kuntz to "make up" an elective. He approached Beehive's then-principal, Muhammet "Frank" Erdogan, about offering a class focused on World War II. He recorded the conversation.
"No," Erdogan told him. "It's too controversial."
When Kuntz pushed, Erdogan went on to explain that he believed the Jews were to blame for the Holocaust. He compared the event to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, which, he said, are also disputable.
"Everyone believes it was al-Qaida," he said. "I believe they are not part of a terrorist organization or something."
…It took months of research to put all the pieces together, but in the end, the answer was simple. The Turkish ties, the strange allegiance to an outside management company — it all boiled down to one person: Fethullah Gülen, a mysterious Muslim preacher none of them had ever heard of.
Sonoran Science Academy—the model for Mokapu--is a Tucson, AZ Gulen school. Parents and teachers challenged the school’s lack of transparency and historical revisionism in a December 31, 2009 Tucson Weekly article which echoes the Salt Lake City parents’ experience:
… some parents of children who attend the academy on West Sunset Road believe it harbors goals reaching far beyond academia. They suspect the Sonoran Academy of being part of a confederation of learning institutions secretly linked to, and advancing, the cause of Turkish scholar and Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.
While most of those parents have resisted coming forward, fearing reprisal from an organization they say is known to target critics, one parent did agree to speak to the Weekly if we pledged to keep her identity hidden. The parent says she represents others at the academy who've become suspicious about the striking similarities of its educational programs to those of other schools around the United States which are operated by Turkish-born staff members.
She says teachers and administers freely circulate among these schools. At the same time, says the parent, the Sonoran Academy seems constantly to be bringing Turkish educators into the United States, and subjecting students to substitute teachers while the teachers await work visas.
According to this parent, all of these ties may lead covertly back to the Gülen movement, named for the scholar, who founded a network of schools around the world and now lives in exile in Pennsylvania. She says several Sonoran Academy parents believe the school has a hidden agenda to promote Gülen's brand of Turkish nationalism, advance sympathy for that country's political goals such as winning acceptance into the European Union, and discourage official acknowledgement of Turkey's genocide against the Armenians during World War I.
"We found one document, in Turkish, that talks about the purpose of these charter schools," says the parent. "They refer to them very explicitly as schools (belonging) to their movement. They're calculating, and they say if they can have something like 600 schools, then every year, they can produce 120,000 sympathizers for Turkey.
"I sent my kids to this school because I wanted them to meet regular Muslims and to see them as ordinary people," she says. "But when I find that my kids are to be turned into genocide-deniers, that's very disturbing to me."
Perhaps confirming parents’ fear of reprisal, Sonoran Science Academy Middle School Principal Fatih Karatas tells Tucson Weekly:
"I'm hoping that they know that these are defamatory allegations which may put them in trouble later on. These are excelling schools. ... I hope they are aware of what they're doing."