March 11, 2013

Proposed Bangor charter school linked to Turkish imam

But Maine's commission rejected the Bangor plan over financial issues, its chairwoman says.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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State Sen. Joseph Brannigan, D-Portland, state Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, and their spouses took the subsidized trip, along with state Rep. Jane Knapp, R-Gorham, and Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the NAACP's Portland branch, according to Keschl, who said CTAA officials were up front about their ties to Gulen when he questioned them directly.

CTAA -- which is active in Maine as the Turkish Cultural Center of Maine -- is the regional affiliate of the Washington, D.C.-based Turkic American Alliance, the umbrella organization for the Gulen movement in the United States.

Kilic, the lead author of the Bangor school's application, helped found Pioneer Academy Charter School in Everett, Mass. -- on which the proposed Queen City Academy in Bangor is explicitly modeled -- and two other Gulen organizations, the Boston Dialogue Foundation and Ace It, which operates as the Turkish Cultural Center in Boston, according to federal tax filings.

Another Queen City board member, Patricia Perane of Hanover, Mass., serves on the Pioneer school's board.

The real motivation of the Gulen movement -- charter schools and all -- is to accumulate political and financial resources to further the transformation of Turkey itself, according to Joshua Hendrick, assistant professor of sociology and global studies at Loyola University in Maryland and perhaps the leading U.S. scholar of Gulen. He noted the ongoing ascent of a center-right in that country, which is "pro-capitalist, democratic, socially conservative and believes a revival of faith is good for national development."

"It's unfortunate that we have this rise of Islamophobia because it takes people's eyes off the ball for a legitimate critique that has to do with teachers' concerns about suspect hiring practices or school boards' concerns about suspect financial dealings and governance issues," Hendrick said. "The real questions are: 'Where do you buy your desks and chairs? Who supplies your books? How are people hired and promoted?' ... It has nothing to do with stealth jihad."

'A CULTURE OF STRATEGIC AMBIGUITY'

One of the main criticisms of the Gulen movement is its lack of transparency, but outside of the public spotlight, followers can be quite open about their inspiration and philosophical mission.

Take Keschl's experience. The Maine legislator said all of his colleagues received an invitation from CTAA's New England regional coordinator, Eyup Sener, to take part in the subsidized trip, with participants responsible for less than half the $3,300 estimated per-person cost. The invitation made no mention of Gulen, but participants were to visit numerous Gulen-affiliated institutions in Turkey, including the Zaman newspaper, Fetih University, the Kimse Yok Mu anti-poverty organization and several Turkish charter schools run by his followers.

While considering the invitation, Keschl, who has a military intelligence background and was posted in southern Turkey in the late 1990s, did some research himself on receiving the invitation and quizzed his would-be hosts on what seemed to be an obvious connection to the Gulen movement.

"When we began exchanging emails about the issue, that all came out," Keschl said. "Gulen is the initiator of this and his belief in education and cultural exchange stems way back. They were very up front about that. They didn't say (in their invitation), 'Oh, and Gulen is the reason we're doing it,' but when we started looking into the possibility, they didn't try to hide it."

Keschl, like Martin in Texas, said he went to Turkey with open eyes, and was impressed with what the movement had accomplished in Turkey. He later submitted a letter of support for the Queen City Academy Charter School and said it would likely do a good job educating children.

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