Thursday, June 9, 2011

Harmony or Texas Turkey? Part 2

For Part 1, click here

Still under construction after supposedly opening in January, this Harmony campus in far southwest Dallas enjoys a prime hilltop site.

So, who exactly is Fethullah Gulen?

Is he the sickly billionaire living in self-imposed exile among Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, or is he the mastermind of massive immigration and construction fraud involving cultish followers from Turkey?

Depending on whose blog you read, he's either a fanatical brainwasher, or the world's best hope for reconciling all religions in tolerance and respect.

He's been linked with Microsoft founder and education mega-philanthropist Bill Gates, but how much can be made of that relationship, since Gates' foundation gives millions to all sorts of educational endeavors, not just Gulen's?

When he was both governor of Texas and president of the United States, George W. Bush was believed to have been a close friend of Gulen's, and a primary figure in the push to broaden charter school options in Texas and across the country.  Influential Texas State Senator Jane Nelson is one of several Texas legislators whose trips to Turkey Gulen has funded.  And Bush's close friend, confidant, and political adviser, Karen Hughes, is now directing a public relations campaign to secure further financial and political support for Gulen's Harmony schools in Texas.

But true to his claims of being a person of peace and tranquility, Gulen has spread his wealth among politicians of both Democratic and Republican persuasions, claiming, among other liberal luminaries, Bill and Hillary Clinton as personal friends. Which, along with his relationship with Clinton's successor, pretty much solidifies Gulen's span of the political spectrum in terms of his influence in the United States.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt

It doesn't take much searching on the Internet to find a host of government watchdogs, public education advocates, and thinly-veiled Islamophobes who are appalled at the relatively easy and surreptitious way in which Gulen and his followers have ingratiated themselves among America's political elite. I suppose almost anybody able to throw money around like Gulen can attract a crowd of politicians eager to do their bidding. Nevertheless, in our post-9/11 world, Gulen appears to have a remarkable ability to either capitalize on political correctness or convince budget-stressed legislators that he's harmless.

Judging by the opening and closing paragraphs on a page on one of Gulen's own websites, I think his critics have some valid concerns.  Perhaps we Americans haven't been suspicious and vigilant enough when it comes to who we're letting educate our kids:

"Focusing on the acquisition of knowledge considered to be essential to future careers, schools rarely consider ethics and values as part of the curriculum. This lack, coupled with a materialistic perspective toward educational outcomes, has contributed to the sense of a moral crisis in the U.S. and in its schools. In response to this crisis, a character education movement has attempted to instill virtue into U.S. students. Similarly, another education movement has arisen, that of Fethullah Gülen. This movement has founded hundreds of schools around the world, seeking to integrate science and spirituality in an attempt to raise a "Golden Generation" of individuals who will usher in a world of peace and harmony...

"...Many have been inspired by Fethullah Gülen to spend their time and wealth to establish schools of excellence. Why?...In part, it is due to Fethullah Gülen himself. His stories, his moral example, and his teachings inspire others to take action, to sacrifice, and to serve humanity rather than themselves. From Gülen (2000), we read:

'...Preferring the sacred cause over all worldly and animal desires; being steadfast in truth, once it has been discovered, to the degree that you sacrifice all mundane attachments for its sake; enduring all hardships so that future generations will be happy; seeking happiness, not in material or even spiritual pleasures, but in the happiness and well-being of others; never seeking to obtain any posts or positions; and preferring oneself to others in taking on work but preferring others to oneself in receiving wages-these are the essentials of this sacred way of serving the truth.' (p. 84)  - Charles Nelson (one of Gulen's admirers)

Oh, my!

Nelson writes that "Fethullah Gü[s] to integrate science and spirituality in an attempt to raise a 'Golden Generation' of individuals who will usher in a world of peace and harmony."

If that doesn't sound like some sort of New Age mumbo-jumbo tantra of peace, love, and happiness, I don't know what does. The Bible warns us that in the last days, "while people are saying, 'peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape" (1 Thessalonians 5:3). So right away, I'm suspicious of Gulen.

Nelson also relishes some of Gulen's revered sayings which envision a world in which people do not work in executive positions or get paid for their work. Now, while some people may view the hierarchical structure of capitalism in a negative light, there's nothing unBiblical about competent people seeking for and working in positions of authority. Nor is there anything unBiblical about being paid for one's work; in fact, God expects both employers and employees to be extraordinarily fair with each other, both in the quality of work produced, and the pay given for that work. From Gulen's own writings, it sounds like his vision of world peace is having everybody sit around all day in some sort of Sharia stupor.

What Your Definition of "Is" Is

Part of this goes back to what I was discussing the other day about the difference in definitions of words and concepts between cultures. Americans hear "peace" and "harmony" and envision a world without wars because everybody is busy working to provide for their family and contribute to society. Gulen - and many radical Muslims - hear "peace" and "harmony" and they envision a world in which everybody does what they say must be done.

Can you see the difference? Americans generally have a macro, or broad view of peace and harmony, whereas Muslims generally have a micro, or personal view of peace and harmony.

It would be dangerous to assume we're both talking about the same thing.

Don't Panic - Yet

We will all have to conduct much more research before it can be determined if taxpayers are selling away our future by letting Gulen and his Harmony schools pillage our public education funding. If, indeed, they're even doing that.

And I'm not going to reveal - at least right now - what things Saul, of the New York Times, and I discussed which sparked her continued pursuit of this story in Texas. It's her scoop, and if she finds anything more to report, I'll pass it along.  I'm not sure she'd be too crazy about what I've already said on this subject anyway.

I do think, however, that we need to seriously consider some of the ways that we've gotten ourselves into what seems to be the start of a pretty messy patch of pro-Islamic ideology in Texas' public classrooms. In particular, I wonder the extent to which the flourishing homeschooling and private school trends in this state have contributed to evangelical Christian parents dropping out of local public school decisions, thereby paving the way, through their absence, for misguided doctrine to creep in the back door. Because after all, if Gulen's influence in public education gets as bad as it appears it might, Christian homeschoolers might actually uniquely suffer from the cultural changes Gulen-indoctrinated schoolkids perpetrate on our Judeo-Christian society when they become old enough to vote.

Another finger should be pointed at our elected officials in Texas, who for years have kicked the proverbial ball of school funding into somebody else's legislative term. It's no surprise that Texas is facing a worsening education crisis, because experts have been warning for years that this shortfall was coming.

Like most people, Texans hate taxes, but unlike many Americans, Texans don't understand that you can't always cut budgets to avoid raising taxes. Or that - pardon me while I grind this axe - reducing fat in school spending must include reducing the ridiculous amounts of money Texans want their schools to spend on football programs. A lot of Texas voters still assume that even after years of scrimping and cutting, most school district budgets remain bloated, but considering all that we're asking schools to provide for our communities - from breakfasts to instruction in multiple languages - can we still afford to compromise education quality?

Regardless of how we've gotten to this point, it's obvious that school funding relief is so desperately needed that elected leaders don't fully vet the form that relief could take.  Hence the Texas legislature's giddiness over Gulen's Harmony organization.  Funding for Texas schools is one of those issues that Gulen has apparently seized upon as a weak spot to exploit for his own religious ends.

Signed by Republican David Dewhurst and Democrat Royce West, this certificate from the Texas State Senate gushes about Dallas' wonderful new Harmony school that opened this past January... but it still under construction.
OK, I Admit It

Thirdly, I suppose by now it's no secret that I'm not crazy about the Muslim religion, if indeed it can even be called one. I realize mine is not a politically correct position to take, but I think it's a position which has a legitimacy based in fact. We need to be realistic about the likelihood that the patterns of violence and civil rights abuses perpetrated by adherents of Islam across the globe aren't random acts of aggression but indicative of the ugly side of Muslim totalitarianism that defy conventional attempts at moderation.

We need to understand that Islam is not simply a religious faith, but a worldview designed for universal domination. Does because this worldview isn't expressed equally potently in all of its adherents deny its core reality? Some Muslims may be as backslidden or marginally-devout as many backslidden Baptists or marginally-devout Jews. But from what I've read and observed in the worldwide expression of Islam, their backslidden brethren are the impotent minority.

I believe this means that we need to be exceptionally careful when it comes to the extent to which we allow Muslims - particularly Muslims as intentional as Gulen - to perpetrate their beliefs and advance their goals with tax dollars.

This School Lesson is to Not Ignore Our Schools

Could it be that once Gulen dies and his memory fades, his Turkish contractors and teachers will find the welcome mat being rolled up here in Texas and across the United States? Might significant numbers of parents, upon identifying the patterns of anti-American bias in Gulen's schools, start putting their kids back in conventional educational environments? If the facilities these Turkish construction companies are building start falling apart before their time, might public school officials finally realize they're not getting as much of a bargain as they thought?

Considering Gulen's remarkable ability to accomplish so much, so soon, and so quietly, using charter schools in the United States, don't count on the media to keep us updated on his progress. Gulen's obviously either been flying below their radar, or has managed to convince them he'd bore their audience. And don't be suckered into hoping a Muslim will be able to bring your definition of peace and harmony to the world. At least, not through America's public school system.

We like to think our military is good enough to protect us from our enemies. What if, however, our lack of vigilance over our educational standards proved to be America's downfall?

After all, if the Islamic militants can't overthrow America through terrorism, why not try going through the next generation of our school children?

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