Corruption in High Places

Turkey’s political, business and banking establishments are currently being shaken by accusations and investigations of high-level bribery and corruption. Senior police officers are being removed from their jobs; cabinet ministers whose sons were allegedly involved in the scandal are resigning; well-known construction magnates are being arrested and held in custody; stars of the music industry are tearfully protesting the innocence of their accused husbands; the coalition of Islamic interests that brought the ruling AK Party to power in 2002 seems to be falling apart . . . Where will it all end?
Such is the public indignation that an unlikely new hero seems to have emerged. For ten years, the bogeyman of secular Kemalist Turks has been a reclusive Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gülen. The shadowy Hizmet movement of which he is the putative leader was said to have extended its tentacles into every sector of Turkish society, state and private. Mere mention of his name was sufficient to evoke visions of the collapse of the secular Republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and a return to the bad old days of shariah religious law and government by the mullahs. This was believed by many to be all along the ‘hidden agenda’ of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party government.
Now it seems that Fethullah Hodja has become a major source of hope for the salvation of the republic. Those same tentacles that extended their reach into positions of influence in the police force and law courts are now, it is said, seeking to strangle the politicians who empowered them. The name that was formerly anathema to Kemalist republicans is suddenly being uttered as the potential nemesis of Mr Erdoğan’s government.
How corrupt is your lot?
These are difficult days for Turkey, coming not long after the ‘pro-democracy’ disturbances of last summer – and with the influx of more than a million refugees in flight from the mayhem of Syria’s civil war. After ten years of AK Party government, conditions are ripe, one might think, for an opposition political party to step into the breach and offer a credible alternative to an electorate desperate for new directions.
Sad to say, the two major opposition parties represented in Turkey’s parliament seem totally incapable of offering such an alternative. With the reins of power being virtually handed to them on a plate, the leaders of the CHP and MHP parties are not seen, even by many of their own supporters, as having what it takes to lead the country. In the absence of effective organised opposition, and in spite of the voices raised against it, the AK Party may yet find itself ruling the country for another term.
Well I’m not here to defend politicians, financial wheelers-and-dealers and unscrupulous property magnates. I echo the words of the President of the Republic, Abdullah Gül, who expressed his wish for justice to take its course and wrong-doers to be punished. Only recently the nephewof a former President was convicted of serious white-collar crimes – and that is as it should be. High social standing, far from conferring immunity from prosecution, should rather require higher standards of moral rectitude.
Sad to say, this is not always the case, and not only in Turkey. I’ve written elsewhere of Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, Wikileaks and the questionable transparency of business and government in the United States. I’ve mentioned, in passing, the dubious career of Britain’s Tony Blah and his be-knighted big brother. Even my own country New Zealand, far from the main arteries of international affairs, is by no means squeaky-clean.
High profile politician John Banks was recently obliged to resign his ministerial responsibilities in the face of a court case charging him with accepting large campaign donations and making fraudulent statements regarding his knowledge of who they were from. Apparently the anonymous donors were a certain Kim Dotcom, resident in New Zealand but wanted by the US government on charges relating to his Internet business Megaupload; and Skycity, the outfit that runs the county’s largest casino.
Interestingly, there seems to be a Skycity connection to the current Mayor of Auckland, Len Brown, who is also embroiled in a controversy over his fitness to manage New Zealand’s most populous city. Most of the debate seems to be centring on a two-year extra-marital affair the mayor engaged in with an fascinating lady by the name of Bevan Chuang. Admittedly the details have some titillation value in a country short on big local news – but they do seem to be attracting attention away from the question of Mr Brown’s perks, which apparently included the free or cheap use of VIP suites in some of the city’s top hotels, among them Skycity.
Legislation has been recently passed by New Zealand’s right wing National government allowing the Skycity casino to expand its gambling activities under the guise of a law innocuously labelled the International Convention Centre Act. Passage of the legislation was accompanied by considerable public debate over the desirability of large-scale state-sanctioned gambling amid accusations of money-laundering and negative social impact, including documented cases of extreme child neglect.
As I noted above, New Zealand is a small nation far from the fast lanes of world affairs, and these activities would be scarcely worth a mention if it weren’t for another news item I came across the other day. Apparently the OECD people have released a reportassessing how its 30 member nations have been working to help curb to nearly $1 trillion of illicit cash that’s being smuggled out of developing countries each year.’ The article expressed some surprise that, according to the report, New Zealand rated highest of the thirty OECD countries for non-compliance with forty-nine different recommendations for fighting illegal flows of money. This, the writer pointed out, is somewhat in conflict with the country’s 1st equal ranking (with Denmark) on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Turkey, incidentally, ranked 53rd.
Well, it’s a dodgy world we live in, that’s for sure. The Turkish phrase Yalan Dünya suggests that you can’t rely on much in life apart from the certainty of death. Even taxes seem to strike with a measure of inequity. The bright spot in this web of lies, deceit and self-seeking corruption is that these people do sometimes get caught. One measure of a healthy democracy must surely be the existence of systems and processes for calling wrong-doers to account, regardless of who their father is, or how much money they donated to the President’s re-election campaign fund. It is not many years ago in Turkey that these kinds of people were conducting their dirty activities with impunity. Ordinary citizens tended to shrug and say, ‘This is Turkey’. I have hopes that the new Turkey is moving towards a higher placing on that TI index.

Understanding Politics in Turkey (2)

Three years or so ago I wrote a post I called ‘Understanding Turkish Politics’. In the interim, I have become a little more politically aware – hence today’s title. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’m much the wiser about what’s really going on. Rather, I am confirmed in the opinion I expressed at the time: there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and secret agenda are not the sole prerogative of the government.
Last week anti-government street demonstrations got under way again in various cities around Turkey. It was kind of expected. There had been talk of a resumption of protest activity in the autumn. Whether that was because many of the demonstrators were away on summer vacation I can’t say for sure. Whatever the case, the two-month layoff seemed to have thinned the numbers to a hard-core of barricade-builders, stone and Molotov cocktail-hurlers. The football season has resumed too, meaning that fans who swelled the ranks of June protests now have more pressing matters on their minds.
In Istanbul, Thursday was a particularly eventful night with police and protesters in Kadıköy carrying on the now familiar running battles. There seem to have been two reasons for that timing. One was the death of a young man in the southeastern city of Hatay. Some anti-government groups were claiming that 22 year-old Ahmet Atakan died from injuries received at the hands of police during a political demonstration. An autopsy, however, determined that his death was the result of a fall from a great height, and this seemed to be confirmed by a video captured by a reporter on the spot showing the young man falling several stories from a building to the street below.
Well, of course, we can’t be sure that police didn’t push him off that building – though given the current climate in Turkey, it’s hard to understand why they would – and investigations are apparently continuing. What has emerged, however, is that Ahmet and two others who died in the so-called Gezi Park protests were members of the Arab Alawite community in Hatay. Now I’m not denying anyone’s right to protest, having done a bit of it myself in my younger days. It is becoming increasingly clear, though, that green spaces and other issues of urban planning played only a small part in those explosive events back in June.
September 1980. From where to where?
Arabic is one of several native languages spoken in that southeastern corner of Turkey. I don’t know the history of the Alawite community (material for a future post?) but it would seem they are co-religionists of embattled Syrian President Assad. Evidently local tensions have been building up over the past two years as a result of the flow of refugees into Turkey fleeing the violence of the ongoing civil war. The count now exceeds 450,000, four times the number that brought UN Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie on a fact-finding mission two years ago. Not sure what she did with the facts she found, but that’s another issue, I guess. Certainly I’m not going to attempt to analyse all that, but clearly there is more to the business than tree-hugging in an Istanbul park.
Returning to the more recent action in Kadıköy, the other thing that brought protesters together, I gather, was that Thursday 12 September was the anniversary of the military coup that ousted the coalition government of Süleyman Demirel back in 1980. Well, it was a traumatic event in Turkish history, for sure. According to Wikipedia:
  • 650,000 people were placed under arrest.
  • 1,683,000 people were blacklisted.
  • 230,000 people were judged in 210,000 lawsuits.
  • 7,000 people faced the death penalty.
  • 517 persons were sentenced to death.
  • 50 of those given the death penalty were executed (26 political prisoners, 23 criminal offenders and 1 ASALA militant).
  • The files of 259 people, charged with capital offences, were sent to the National Assembly.
  • 71,000 people were judged on account of the articles 141, 142 and 163 in Turkish Penal Code.
  • 98,404 people were judged on charges of being members of a leftist, a rightist, a nationalist, a conservative, etc. organization.
  • 388,000 people were refused a passport.
  • 30,000 people were dismissed from their firms because they were suspects and therefore deemed unemployable.
  • 14,000 people had their citizenship cancelled.
  • 30,000 people went abroad as political refugees.
  • 300 people died in a suspicious manner.
  • 171 people are documented as having died by reason of torture.
  • 937 films were banned because they were found objectionable.
  • 23,677 associations had their activities stopped.
  • 3,854 teachers, 120 lecturers and 47 judges were dismissed.
  • 400 journalists were charged with crimes carrying 4000 years’ imprisonment.
  • Journalists were sentenced to a total of 3315 years and 6 months’ imprisonment.
  • 31 journalists went to jail.
  • 300 journalists were attacked.
  • 3 journalists were shot dead.
  • Newspapers were not published for 300 days.
  • 303 cases were brought against 13 major newspapers.
  • 39 tonnes of newspapers and magazines were destroyed.
  • 299 people lost their lives in prison.
  • 144 people died in a suspicious manner.
  • 14 people died in a hunger strike.
  • While fleeing, 16 people were shot.
  • 95 people were killed in combat.
  • A report of “Natural death” was given for 73 persons.
  • The cause of death of 43 people was announced as “suicide”.


The military junta ruled Turkey for three years, writing a new constitution (which is still mostly in effect) and eventually organizing an election contested by ‘approved’ parties. The army kept its grip on the nation’s throat, however, appointing General Kenan Evren as President for a seven-year term. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Republican People’s Party (the current CHP opposition) was permitted to resume political activity.
What I’m not sure about is whether the Thursday night demonstrators were holding Turkey’s current government responsible for those dreadful events of the early 80s, or whether they shared the frustration of some who, unable to achieve their aims through the ballot-box, would have liked to see Prime Minister Erdoğan’s government overthrown by another ‘Night of the Generals’.
The reason for my uncertainty here is that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, against formidable (non-parliamentary) opposition, has been little by little rewriting that 1982 constitution, pulling the teeth of Turkey’s paternalistic military, and making it possible for perpetrators of the above-listed crimes to be brought before the courts to answer for their actions. In my humble opinion as a foreigner, people in this country should be grateful for what the current government has achieved – truth be told, the majority probably are. Certainly, blaming Tayyip Erdoğan and his team for the actions of over-zealous generals back in the 80s seems a tad unfair.
A less political achievement, but nonetheless significant, was the opening, last weekend, of a system of underpasses aimed at turning Taksim Square into a pedestrian-friendly hub for the city. Once the buses and other traffic are redirected, the pedestrian area will cover close to ten hectares. One motorist interviewed said that he hadn’t expected the project to be completed so soon, considering that the Gezi Park protests had slowed down construction. I’m not an architect or a town-planner, but from a purely lay point-of-view, I have to say that Taksim Square has, up till now, been singularly unattractive and pedestrian-unfriendly, so I, for one, will not lament any improvements.
Still, despite the complaints you will hear from Istanbullites, traffic jams are not the sole cause of unhappiness among citizens of Turkey. Here’s a list of grievances I compiled from news media over the weekend:
  • Armenian writer Hrant Dink was shot and killed in January 2007 and some folks are complaining that justice has not been done. The European Court of Human Rights apparently agreed with them, adding fuel to that particular fire.
  • An organisation known as the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) has called on families to boycott schools as the new year begins to insist on the right to education in their native tongue.
  • Two of the top Istanbul football teams, Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe, have been banned from participation in UEFA competitions in the current season because of match-fixing. The Turkish Football Association has lost its appeals against the decision but is so far refraining from punitive action of its own.
  • Students at Middle East Technical University have been protesting about the construction of a road through the campus, and have now turned their attention to female students wearing headscarves and claimed to be associated with the Hizmetmovement of Fethullah Gülen.


Well, as I remarked above, citizens should have the right to protest when they feel their rights are under threat. On the other hand, as the Governor of Istanbul pointed out, that right may not extend to all-night protests involving Molotov cocktails, ripping up roads to use the paving stones as ammunition, and other wilful destruction of property. It is also perhaps a trifle unfair to expect the accumulated ills of 90 years of republican history (not to mention 500 years of Ottoman rule) to be cured overnight.
The young kid who actually shot Hrant Dink and the guy who put him up to it have both been sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment. It may be true that so-called ‘deep state’ Gladio-type operators were behind the killing, but the courts were unable to make a definite connection. It is also true, however, that the courts have been doing their best to bring members of that organisation to justice – and European Union authorities have been expressing their doubts about that case too.
The government of Turkey has opened discussions and proposed ‘democratisation’ packages aimed at addressing the grievances of minority groups, especially Kurds. The Prime Minister has apologised, on behalf of the state, for a massacre of Alevi Kurds that took place after an uprising in 1937, and is proposing to reinstate the name (Dersim) of their province, changed to Tunceli as a corrective measure after those events. None of these measures could have been imagined in the Turkey I came to in the 1990s. As for the ‘right’ to education in one’s mother tongue, it is unlikely that the overstretched education system in Turkey could cope with such a demand, and not at all clear that the majority of Kurds in Turkey want it. There seems to be some question anyway as to whether the KCK has authority to speak on their behalf, especially since its members have suggested the use of force to persuade families to support the boycott.
Of course, no one likes to see trees cut, and university students the world over are known for their political awareness and activism. However, the ODTÜ campus is very extensive, and a good deal of it is covered with forest. I’m a bicycle man myself, but Turkey is a developing country, and cycling as a post-modern lifestyle choice hasn’t really caught on yet. Most people see owning a car, the bigger the better, as a sign that they have made it. So the country needs roads. On the headscarf issue, I have difficulty understanding why some Turkish citizens have such a problem accepting the right of others to dress, within reasonable limits, as they see fit. Besides, it’s a well-known fact that most religious beliefs thrive on persecution. ‘Leave them alone and they’ll get tired of it’ seems to have worked well with Christianity. As for Fethullah Gülen, as far as I am aware, the jury is still out. Despite criticism bordering on hysteria, nobody seems able to explain exactly what the guy has done wrong. Schools opened in his name seem to focus on academic achievement, have no overt religious instruction, and long queues of hopeful customers wait outside the front gate. Most private schools in Turkey would kill for that level of popularity. Maybe that’s part of the problem.
And then there’s football. I read a quote from one club official along the lines of, ‘Well, there was match-fixing in that game, but it didn’t affect the outcome.’ It’s a bit like the argument that says the coup-plotters shouldn’t be punished because they didn’t actually carry out a coup. FIFA has banned those two clubs from Europe for a year, but I think they are also looking to the local association to take some kind of exemplary punitive action. Some hope. A well-known Turkish saying sums up the attitude: ‘Hem suçlu, hem güçlü’, which means, essentially, ‘Even if you’re caught red-handed, brazen it out’.
I know I have been harping on the theme of democracy lately, and I know Turkey is not perfect – but it’s a relative thing. Most of us, Americans, Brits, New Zealanders, Australians, will admit that our own systems do not always produce the greatest good for the greatest number. Despite the presence of droves of artists among the Gezi Park protesters, I can say the art scene in Turkey has improved out of sight since I first came to the country. One measure of this is the cinema industry, where mainstream films are now free to deal with previously forbidden topics such as the 1980 military coup, and Turkish military action against Kurdish insurgents in the east.
Well, this time I’m going to leave the last word to someone else. The following is an article that appeared the other day in the English language newspaper ‘Today’s Zaman’ under the headline ‘A Memory about September 12’:
“The belief that it is a crime to overthrow a democratically elected government by force has been accepted by large segments of society. Turkey’s secular-Kemalist elites have lost their power. They have no faith in elections, as they lose consistently. These days they are trying to discredit the government and render it dysfunctional by creating an atmosphere of widespread violence through street skirmishes. Will they be successful? It is unlikely, but that has been their aim since the Gezi Park protests.
“The constitution drafted in the wake of the Sept. 12 coup is still in force. Parliament has failed to come to an agreement about drafting a new Constitution.
“I was jailed in Diyarbakır at the time and released in 1988. Now, I am a person in middle age. It saddens me to see that Turkey is still being governed by the constitution of the Sept. 12 coup. On every anniversary of the Sept. 12 coup, that sadness returns to haunt me.
“Before the coup, I was a literature teacher at a high school in Diyarbakır. From the books we read, we knew or thought we knew what would happen if fascism arose in this country.
“But the reality depicted in books and the events of real life are never the same. At the time of the military takeover, I had the chance to flee abroad. I was living in a city that was close to the border, and it was a piece of cake for me to cross the border and make for Europe. But I believed that I was innocent. My actions, apart from some participation in civil and democratic work, weren’t reprehensible.
“One day, the school where I was working was raided, and they removed me from class right in front of my students. I was tortured for three months in the interrogation center. Then, I was arrested and jailed in Diyarbakır prison, where I learned that fascism couldn’t be learned from books.” Read more:

A Lot of Stuff You Probably Didn’t Know About Turkey – in case you’re not confused enough already

For ten years now, I have been hearing from different sources that Turey’s AK Party government, headed by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, has an Islamist secret agenda, aimed at resurrecting the Ottoman Empire, restoring shariah law, banning the consumption of alcohol and forcing women to cover themselves from head to toe in shapeless black sheets. Just today, however, I have learnt that the whole business is, in fact far more sinister. A friend sent me a link to a website (thanks Sinan) where the writer is arguing that the Muslim business is just a front, and, in fact, Turkey is entirely under the control of Israel, the CIA and a transnational Jewish conspiracy. I just had to share it with you!
How the Illuminati Terrorize & Control Turkey
The whole “Arab Spring” Islamist movement is modeled on Turkey, a Mossad-CIA state, run by crypto Jews. Bortecine, a Turkish patriot, recounts the consequences for investigating the Illuminati Jewish-controlled agencies behind terror and assassinations in Turkey.
In Turkey, the Jew controlled Turkish Military and Intelligence Agency are behind all political assassinations. They created and supported all terrorist groups.
Within the Arab Spring, International Jewry renovated the puppets in the Middle East and Turkey. All the Military Servants were dismantled and Judaist Muslims (Muslim Islamists) got the power. So I was stuck between their old puppets and new puppets. Turkish Military Forces were former Jewish Servants and Judaist Imam Fetullah Gülen’s Islamic Sect is the new servant of Jews.
Several journalists who have tried probing Gulen have found themselves prosecuted or jailed. He has hundreds of schools around the world. These schools are financed by CIA drugs. And these schools act like CIA & MOSSAD offices. If he doesn’t die in a few years, Jews will anoint him as the Caliph of the Muslim World. What is Caliph? The master spiritual leader of the Muslim World. The UNIQUE LEADER. A kind of Judaist Muslim Pope. Read more . . .
Well, it seems pretty much the only party missing from the mix is aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. If you can think of a way to work them into the conspiracy, I’m sure the author of that website would love to hear from you.

Who’s Going to Rule the World? Fethullah Gülen?

For much of my longish life I have been hearing tales, historical, contemporary and fictional, about the latest megalomaniac individual or evil empire determined to rule the world. Traditionally the contenders have based their claims on the possession of some kind of superior weapons technology – but times have changed. We are well into the post-modern era, and most predictions of earlier ages about what the world would be like in the year 1984 or 2000 seem naïve and laughable to us now. It is pretty clear that the task of ruling the world has moved way beyond the power of one individual (if that was ever a realistic possibility). The vast military resources of the one remaining global super-power have proved insufficient to rebuild even minor third world states in the US’s own image. So now we have nothing to worry about, right? We can get on with the job of lighting up our own small corners with iPhone 4s and Galaxy SIIIs without fear of global annihilation.

Uh-uh, sorry folks. I’ve got bad news. There’s a new battle shaping up, and it’s about the enemies within.

One reason I enjoy living in Turkey is that I don’t feel so much like crying when I read the local news. Back in New Zealand, before heading to work, I used to listen to a morning roundup on the radio of what ‘they’ were doing to my beautiful country. I confess, there was a time back then when the idea of joining some revolutionary band of bomb-throwing anarchists began to have some appeal. Now, however, from a distance of some 17,000 kilometres, I find I can read news of events in the Land of the Long White Cloud with more objectivity, and the tears don’t flow as once they did.

Let me give you an example of the madness, though, from my own field of professional interest. The National (read Tory) Government in New Zealand, in its 2012 budget, announced its intention to save $43 million by putting the lid on teacher recruitment. The inevitable result of this, of course, would be a steady increase in class sizes in schools around the country. Luckily, the government has a select band of tame ‘education experts’ who can be called upon to explain why this won’t be a bad thing. One of these, a Professor John Hattie, has apparently conducted research showing that class sizes are not a major factor in student learning. As far as I can learn, Professor Hattie’s research has not involved any actual time spent teaching actual kids in actual classrooms – he has been an ivory tower academic since 1975. Not sure I would take my car to be repaired by an ‘automotive expert’ with no hands-on experience, regardless of how many years he’d been studying the theory, but that’s just me.
Well, there are experts and consultants, it seems, and you can count on these guys to back each other up. One of the latter, a Dr John Langley, was quoted as saying, “If I had a choice of putting my child into a class with a poor teacher with twenty kids or into a class of thirty kids with a good teacher I’d go for the latter. It’s as simple as that.” Reassuring to know the government has access to people with such incisive problem-solving ability, and New Zealand taxpayers can feel satisfied that Dr John well deserves his no doubt generous consultancy fee.

These days New Zealand has a system of proportional system for electing representatives to its legislative assembly. The system was instituted in 1996 in response to overwhelming public dissatisfaction with the old first-past-the-post, two-party system such as exists in the UK and the US. Unfortunately post-modernism has insinuated its way in here too. The several small parties that manage to win the occasional seat in the legislature are run mostly by fringe lunatic refugees from the far right or left of the two main parties. The main role of these minor participants seems to be putting forward outrageous proposals which the government can proceed to implement in slightly modified form after the initial public anger has died down.

One of the more fanatical of these minor political groupings is a coterie of doctrinaire libertarians known by the acronym ACT, arguing with religious fervour for deregulation, privatisation, flexible labour markets and reduced taxes for the wealthy. And one of the more significant achievements of these neo-liberal economic geniuses has been the move to privatisation of the prison system. A recent editorial in the New Zealand Herald observed that, ‘Something is clearly awry when a Government proclaims the economic benefits of a new prison’.  Nevertheless, Auckland’s oldest prison has already been outsourced to private management, and a newly built facility soon will be. The group to which the NZ Government is entrusting the care and security of its criminals is a multi-national outfit name of Serco – which a Guardian journalist has described as ‘. . . probably the biggest company you’ve never heard of.’  OK, come on, you may say. Leave aside your left-wing socialist prejudices and tell us how they are doing. Well, a recent report on the first eight months of Serco’s management produced the following findings:

‘ . . .  as well as two prisoners being wrongfully released, the British firm had failed to meet 40% of its performance targets and was fined $150,000 after a prisoner escaped.
Targets for random drug testing and prisoner management plans were also not reached.
Annually, Serco can earn up to approximately $3 million in incentive payments, but instead it is having to pay for under-performing.
On top of the $150,000 fine it got after prisoner A. F. escaped, it was fined $25,000 for accidently releasing an inmate early and $50,000 for failing to file progress reports.
Another $25,000 fine is pending for releasing another prisoner early.’

In spite of these criticisms, the government is standing by its decision. Corrections Minister Anne Tolley said ‘ . . . there needs to be some improvement, but she also described it as a “bedding in” period for Serco’.

Well, once you have accepted handing over prisons to the private sector you have pretty much overcome, or chosen to ignore, all the arguments that can be mustered against privatization. So it is hardly surprising to see the free-marketeers turning their attention to schools and teachers. Unfortunately, private sector education has been around for a long time, and has often been associated with elitism, poor teaching, violence, and dubious educational standards. But even supposing they do find a good establishment, the wealthy resent having to fork out high tuition fees in addition to paying taxes, some of which are used to finance state-sector schools. So, our privateers have come up with a system which allows organisations to receive government funding for a school, while at the same time getting a special deal allowing them to avoid much of the normal regulation and overseeing. It’s called the Charter School system.

However, again unfortunately, there seem to be glitches in the system. In 2009, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University in the US, produced a report stating that ‘17% of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools; 46% showed no difference from public schools; and 37% were significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts’.

Fethullah Gülen

Now, if you have read this far, you may be wondering what all this has to do with my topic, which, you will remember, was ‘Who’s going to rule the world?’ But I assure you, I hadn’t forgotten. I want to redirect your attention to those figures in the CREDO report, and in particular, the 17% of charter schools [reporting] academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools. A Turkish colleague of mine recently sent me the link to a ‘60 Minutes’ documentary looking into the connection between some very successful charter schools in Texas, and a certain reclusive expatriate Turkish citizen by the name of Fethullah Gülen.

I watched the documentary with interest, because I have been hearing this gentleman’s name in Turkey for some years, generally spoken in tones of fear and loathing that suggest some kind of hybrid monster cloned from the DNA of L Ron Hubbard, Sun Myung Moon, Attila the Hun and the Ayatollah Khomeini. I was hoping for some conclusive evidence of evil-doing, since I was assured that Americans were now seeing Fethullah Hodja in his true colours. The programme, then, I have to say, turned out to be something of a let-down. The presenter, a long-serving correspondent for CBS with a big reputation as an investigative tele-journalist, visited schools supposedly associated with the Gülen ‘movement’, and tracked the elderly Hodja to his secluded residence in the Poconos, a mountainous region in north-eastern Pennsylvania.

She and her camera crew spoke to school administrators and students. As far as I could see, they learned that:
  • The school administrators are normal-looking, secular and articulate.
  • The students are bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kids who love their school.
  • The schools are among the most highly rated in the country in terms of academic success.
  • There is a waiting list for entry exceeding the total capacity of the schools.
  • There is no religious education taking place, and certainly no observable Islamic character.
  • Curriculum focus is on mathematics and science.

They were unable to interview the Hodja himself since, apparently, he has been ill for some months and rarely appears in public. His representative assured the interviewer that he takes no direct interest in the running of the schools. The most sinister information emerging from the programme was the presenter’s comment that some people in Turkey believe Gülen and his ‘movement’ have a ‘secret agenda’ though the details weren’t made clear – one assumes that’s because otherwise it wouldn’t be secret.

Undoubtedly the activities of the ‘Gülen movement’ are beginning to arouse interest beyond the shores of the Hodja’s native Turkey – however there seems to be some debate about the nature of these activities.

My Apple Desktop Dictionary defines a movement as: ‘a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas: the labor movement’, or the cubist movement.
Merriam-Webster Online suggests: ‘a series of organized activities working toward an objective; also: an organized effort to promote or attain an end, eg the civil rights movement’.

Two questions seem to arise here: Does a ‘movement’ require a leader in the sense of a person who takes responsibility for organizing and coordinating its activities? And, is a ‘movement’ good or bad, according to the definition?

Addressing the first question, it seems to me that the key factor in a movement is a concept or philosophy, rather than a ‘leader’ in the normal sense of the word – a concept such as: that labour needs to organize to counteract the power of employers; that human beings deserve equal rights before the law regardless of race; the use of ‘multiple perspective and complex planar faceting for expressive effect’ in a work of art. Participants latch on to an idea formulated by an initiator or trend-setter and the movement takes on a life of its own which may be quite independent of that person. Subsequently leaders may emerge but again, the movement continues or dies out more or less regardless of the existence or activities of those persons. Think of Martin Luther King or Pablo Picasso. As for the second question, in general, movements tend to be, to a greater or lesser extent, revolutionary, in the sense that they are usually a reaction to the prevailing status quo, and their appeal is that they offer some kind of new approach to what is perceived to be an existing problem. I guess they will ultimately be judged according to which side of the fence the judge is sitting on – or alternatively, by their results. ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits’ (Luke: 6, 43) has always seemed to me a good criterion to use in evaluating any group or individual.

So let’s get back to the Gülen Movement. First of all there is an official website. You won’t find the ‘hidden agenda’ of course, because that would, of necessity, be hidden. But you will find a very fascinating and comprehensive source of information about the man, his beliefs and goals. According to the brief bio, he ‘is an authoritative mainstream Turkish Muslim scholar, thinker, author, poet, opinion leader and educational activist who supports interfaith and intercultural dialogue, science, democracy and spirituality and opposes violence and turning religion into a political ideology. Fethullah Gülen promotes cooperation of civilizations toward a peaceful world, as opposed to a clash’. On this website you will find poetry and articles about education, the rights of women, the link between virtue and happiness . . . and other interesting topics too numerous to mention. You will find that Gülen cites as a source of his inspiration the 13th century Sufi mystic Mevlana Jalal al-Din Rumi, renowned for his inclusive philosophy of love and peace. 

Wikipedia will tell you, not surprisingly, that the Gülen Movement is inspired by the teachings of Fethullah Hodja. A key concept is the Turkish word Hizmet, meaning service, which connotes using your talents for the common good without looking for personal reward. On the other hand, Gülen does not discourage followers from making money through business – merely encourages them to use some of their energies to help the less fortunate. 

A recent Time magazine article  wrote about a meeting with members of the Gülen Movement in the eastern Turkish city of Diyarbakır. In an economically disadvantaged region of the country with a large Kurdish population, local businessmen have been raising money for the foundation of elementary schools and public reading rooms. While the article does say that many Turks view the Gulen Movement with suspicion’, on the face of it, you’d have to think that the fruits of its efforts seem quite positive, even laudable.

According to another website called Gülen Inspired Schools’,  there are over a thousand such schools around the world, including 130 in the United States. Independent audits suggest that these schools produce excellent academic results, ranking them among the most successful in their respective countries. Interestingly, administrators deny any control by the Hodja, or a central body associated with him, unlike, say, Catholic Church-run schools. Investigators have found no evidence of religious teaching, Islamic or otherwise. On the contrary, Gülen has been quoted as saying, “Studying physics, mathematics, and chemistry is worshipping God,” and the common thread running through the schools seems to be a curriculum focusing on these modern subjects.

Sounds ok, on the whole, what do you think? Still, I have to confess I found one or two negatives in my searchings. An article in the New York Times in 2006  reported that some of those Texas schools had been allegedly giving construction contracts and making other favourable deals with firms ‘connected to’ the Gülen movement. More seriously, Mr Gülen himself was apparently put on trial in 1999 for ‘attempting to overthrow the government.’ Still, when you consider that the present Prime Minister of Turkey served prison time in those days for a similar offence, you’d have to think that the legal criteria must have been somewhat more stringent than we would expect in the US or New Zealand. In his younger days, the Hodja also apparently fell foul of the military authorities after the 1971 coup in Turkey, being arrested, tried and convicted. Not surprising, then, that he chooses to reside in the USA – although Turkish courts did clear him of all wrong-doing in 2008.

Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your patience in reading so far. I’m not here to be an apologist for Fethullah Gülen or any political or religious ideology. I merely want to outline the philosophies and fruits of two movements, and ask you to consider who you would prefer to see ruling the world.

God or Mammon?

On the one hand, let me present bottom-line accounting, out-of-control free-market capitalism, as championed by Wall Street bankers, multi-national corporations and the so-called mainstream media. Key elements of this ideology are: privatisation of state-owned enterprises, belt-tightening (especially for the middle and lower socio-economic classes), welfare cutbacks, labour-market flexibility and outsourcing of manufacturing to countries with lower wage costs. MBA management courses churn out white-colour clones who can manage any enterprise, without needing to know anything about the activity of the industry they are managing. Governments are hijacked by corporate and financial interests with no personal morality or patriotism whatsoever, whose only belief is in the power of money to buy whatever they want, and a philosophy, if you can call it that, based on a firm sense of personal entitlement to rape the planet of its resources and exploit its people wherever they may be. Reduced taxes for the wealthy are an important tool in economic management. Why should the tax-payer pay for schools, hospitals, post offices, railways, electricity supply, relief for the the unemployed and disadvantaged? The tax-payer’s money is needed to bail out the banks when they have finished milking ma and pa small investors, superannuation funds, poor borrowers – and there’s no one else in the capitalist system to defraud.

On the other hand, let’s postulate a group of people with a personal morality based on religious beliefs, and a philosophy founded on a concept of altruistic service to the community. A group of people who operate without the need for a centralised bureaucratic structure, their operations inspired by a teacher with a vision of a better world and directed by their own confidence in the truth of his message. A group of people who, in spite of their lofty ideals, do not divorce themselves from the real world, but rather work within it, using their knowledge, skills and resources to provide educational opportunities and support to young people in their communities.

In the end, I guess, life choices are never so simple. I don’t imagine you will get the opportunity to cast a vote directly for one or the other. But I like the sound of this:

Along the winding road to The Truth
A hero, all selfishness banished,
The key to the mystery of creation in his heart,
Weaves his way through time to reach his goal.

Moving ever upwards he breathes the air of eternity;
He has met with Khidr: he knows the way.
And to fellow wayfarers he gives the good news of dawn;
A message of hope in a night of choking darkness.

In his hands burns a torch; he spreads light everywhere
And he brightens the Way for all who would follow;
His ascent radiates peace and serenity;
His amber fragrance permeates every atom of creation.

Wherever he treads finds life and becomes green:
The hills and valleys, plains and mountains are all dressed in color:
And on every breeze is borne the perfume of spring;
Blossoms appear, flowers burst into life, trees are quickened.

His mind nurtured ever by eternity,
And everlasting melody flows from his lips:
All he sees is the richly colored tapestry of life to come,
The belief in which is part of his every being.