by Claudio Gatti - Il Sole 24 Ore (Italy)
------NEW YORK - A Muslim religious movement wants to conquer America. In fact, in a sense it has already conquered and no one has yet noticed. Nothing to do with al-Qaeda, terrorism or Islamic fundamentalism. We speak of a sect that is rather mysterious - so much so that it has been called the Muslim Opus Dei - founded in Turkey in the 1970s by an imam named Fethullah Gülen. And noted rather for its moderation.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Gulen’s followers opened dozens of schools in Central Asia. From there, the network of “Gulenist” schools has spread across all of Asia and in many African countries with the aim of forming a new ruling class tied to Turkey and the Gulen movement. Eleven years ago, to escape the military, Gulen relocated from Turkey to a spiritual center in Pennsylvania that is two hours from New York. Since then, his movement, known among followers simply as "the Service" - Hizmet in Turkish – have opened a flurry of schools in the U.S.. The difference is that it is being done at the expense of American taxpayers.
Il Sole 24 Ore has been able to determine that for months, the FBI, Department of Justice and Department of Education have been investigating the possible illegal use of these education funds, a criminal conspiracy, extortion, and violation of immigration laws. "The suspicion is that, behind an educational effort, there is a giant conspiracy" a federal officer, requesting anonymity, explained to our newspaper. "The plan is as simple as it is brilliant: to use public funding for schools to educate a new generation of Americans favorably inclined to Turkey and thus indirectly to the Gulen movement, and also to spend some of that money to fund foundations and cultural centers."
Federal authorities have identified at least 120 schools opened in recent years by the movement in some twenty U.S. states, all charter schools, which are outside the loop of public education but financed by states and the federal government. Since each of these schools receives from 1.5 to 3 million dollars each year in public funds, it is a matter of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Those funds also serve to give employment to thousands of followers of the movement brought in specially from Turkey to teach scientific subjects. An analysis of work permits for teachers reveals that between just 2007 and 2009, the "Gulen" schools requested and were granted 1,851 visas in three years, more than some major American corporations such as Motorola and Google.
Part of the public funds also ends up in the coffers of companies founded by Gulen to provide services to schools. Il Sole 24 Ore has identified two such companies, Concept Schools and Breeze Inc., which in various documents appear to have contracted for over 100 thousand dollars a month with each of six schools in Ohio suspected of being affiliated to Hizmet.
Gulen declined to answer our questions, but when Il Sole 24 Ore asked Beksir [sic- should read Bekir] Aksoy, chairman of the spiritual center of Pennsylvania where the onetime imam lives, if the founder has any relationship with these schools, the response was an emphatic no. And the school administrators themselves have always denied any formal relationship with the movement.
But federal authorities have documents and emails that prove the link. Not only that, they show that the Hizmet would split the U.S. territory into five regions, assigning each of these to a single responsible individual, and that each teacher "imported" from Turkey would be required to return a percentage of their salary to the movement.
The region including Ohio was to be entrusted to a Turkish imam named Veli Aslan, better known as "brother Veli.” An email sent in June 2008 with regard to teachers who were late in making the paybacks reads: "Brother Veli wants to have all the “salary returns." And he says to withhold future salaries from those who have not made them."
More incriminating still is an email dated June 13, 2007 and sent to the principal of a school in Ohio and copied to the CEO of Concept Schools, a board member of Breeze, and the Executive Director of the Niagara Foundation, a foundation personally headed by Fethullah Gulen. The email recommends "increasing the number of teachers from Turkey ... to acquire more money."
Federal investigators believe that proves the involvement of all the various branches of Hizmet - schools, service organizations, and the most important Gulenist foundation in the U.S. - in what they call "the Tuzuk conspiracy", namely the illegal financing of the movement at the expense of taxpayers.
From Izmir to Washington
Fethullah Gulen, born in 1941 in Erzurum, Turkey, was in his youth a disciple of the Muslim leader Said Nursi. In 1966 he moved to Izmir, where the audience of faithful who attended his sermons began to widen. In the 70s he founded the Gulen Movement, which takes its name, known to his followers as Hizmet, "the service:" an organization in no time very active in establishing schools, first in Asia and Africa, and today in the United States, with the goal of creating a ruling class tied to Turkey and the movement.