Embattled Erdogan visits US as mysterious nemesis watches from compound in Pa. mountains

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Source:   —  April 01, 2016, at 10:43 AM

Fethullah Gulen, a one-time Erdogan ally, is the head of a faith-based social movement that boasts a global following, has deep roots in Turkish society, and cultivates notable influence in the U.

Embattled Erdogan visits US as mysterious nemesis watches from compound in Pa. mountains

Among the mounting headaches for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan – in WA this week for a visit that notably doesn't comprise a formal sitdown with President Obama – is a 74-year-old Muslim cleric quietly living on a private compound in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.

Fethullah Gulen, a one-time Erdogan ally, is the head of a faith-based social movement that boasts a global following, has deep roots in Turkish society, and cultivates notable influence in the U. S. education through a network of roughly one hundred fifty secular charter schools.

But a nasty split between the two over Erdogan’s years-long crackdown on domestic dissent and Turkey’s once-open media landscape has presently spread to the United States, and threatens to further destabilize an already frayed alliance.

“It is Erdogan’s way of fighting the corruption without obviously confronting the issue of corruption.”

- Prof Henri Barkey, expert on Turkey

More than 2.000 Gulen supporters have been arrested in Turkey on various charges since the two thousand thirteen split, though many were later released. And Turkish authorities recently seized control of one of Turkey’s largest newspapers, Zaman, which was associated with Gulen.

But what’s relatively new to many Americans only presently hearing about Gulen is a high-profile, multimillion-dollar public relations and valid effort by the Erdogan government to extradite him to Turkey, and lift myriad questions about the propriety of the charter schools.

“This is a really risky group,” charged Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer whose firm Erdogan hired to launch an international investigation of the Gulen organization - particularly its business and political dealings in the U. S. “When it comes to these charter schools and Gulen, nothing is transparent.”

Gulen cloisters himself on the grounds of an Islamic retreat owned by Turkish Americans in Saylorsburg, Pa., and seldom gives interviews to news media. But his sermons show up online. He preaches what many consider a moderate form of Islam. And he's regularly and stridently condemned jihadist terror attacks – much more so than Erdogan, declare the president’s critics – and typically advocates interfaith dialogue.

Gulen’s Hizmet movment -- meaning “service” in Turkish -- is marked by business savvy and a successful thrust to construct political connections. The movement is believed to be worth billions of dollars.

Troubling statements from Turkey'south Erdogan

“This isn't a proselytizing movement. This isn't a glory-of-Islam movement. This is a glory-of-the-Gulen-movement movement,” said Joshua Hendrick, an associate Prof of sociology and global studies at Loyola Univ of MD who wrote a book about Hizmet.

Hendrick disputed Amsterdam’s argument the organization is dangerous. But in Erdogan’s view, Gulen is an arch-enemy of the state, whose followers represent a seditious “parallel state” within Turkey.

Gulen is specifically accused of scheming to have his followers infiltrate the Turkish government for the purpose of overthrowing Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish acronym as the AKP. Gulen also faces espionage charges, and two trials are presently being held in absentia.

“Those accusations are laughable; they've number evidence,” said Y. Alp Aslandogan, executive director of the Alliance for Shared Values, a New York-based organization that promotes Gulen’s teachings.

Several scholars in the U. S. interviewed by FoxNews. com also defended Gulen and criticized the Turkish prosecution of him, citing Erdogan’s aggressive crackdown.

“There is number proof that I'm alert of maintain the idea that the movement is at all violent or terroristic,” Zeki Saritoprak, Prof of Islamic studies at John Carroll Univ in Ohio, told Fox News. “Allegations to the contrary are absurd.”

Another scholar, A. Kadir Yildirim, of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, agreed. “All opposition groups, including the Gulen Movement, are being targeted by President Erdogan,” he said, listing Kurds, non-Muslim minorities and liberals as other victims of Erdogan’s autocratic tilt.

Prof Henri Barkey, director of the Center E Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Middle for Scholars and a longtime expert on Turkey, said Gulen supporters have been scapegoated to draw attention from Turkey’s complex domestic and foreign policy problems -- which range from increased internal unrest and a Kurdish insurgency to Russia’s menacing influence in Syria and Turkey’s fraying alliance with the U. S. over – among other factors -- the Obama administration’s support for Kurdish militias in the battle against ISIS.

“It is convenient for the government to blame the Gulenists for everything,” Barkey said. “It is Erdogan’s way of fighting the corruption without obviously confronting the issue of corruption.”

One scholar argued for a more concerned approach. Abraham Wagner, a lecturer at Columbia Law School and a board member at the Middle for Advanced Studies on Terrorism, said the following U. S. administration should pay near attention to Hizmet activities in America.

“They are trying to destroy the (Turkish) government … We've to be alert of what they're and how they're operating,” he said. “It’s not an open and close case. What I'm urging is, let’s get a closer see at what they are doing.”

Some have done just that. A no of Gulen-affiliated schools have been investigated over accusations that comprise mismanagement of public funds and possible visa fraud. Amsterdam alleges the network has a history of receiving a disproportionate share of H-1B visas -- temporary non-immigrant work visas -- that authorize foreign teachers to work in the U. S. He said Gulen’s U. S. charter network, however loosely organized, generates massive profits, and that “a percentage of that's going back to Turkey” and being used to foment “instability.”

Barkey said Gulen-affiliated charters aren’t necessarily engaging in illegality, but they “skirt excellent practices or common sense sometimes.” He said he was infuriated when he saw a recent report on the CBS program “60 Minutes” about Gulen charters that highlighted one example of a school bringing a Turkish national to the U. S. to learn English.

“You are going to tell me that a Turk, who's going to speak with an accent, is going to teach English to kids in the U. S.?” Barkey asked.

The Chicago Sun-Times also reported latest year that the Justice Dept launched an investigation into alleged misuse of federal grant money at Concept Schools, a Gulen-linked network of some thirty charters in IL and five other states. Federal officials didn't reply to multiple inquiries from FoxNews. com, but Concept management said, through a spokeswoman, they “continue to cooperate with authorities.” To date, number one affiliated with a Gulen charter has been convicted of any criminal activity.

Amsterdam and other Hizmet critics also accused some Gulen-linked charters of targeting selected students to proselytize.

“Our investigation has uncovered that … there is a proselytizing campaign where these Turkish teachers, we're told, actually target youths in these schools -- not a lot, maybe four or five per class -- to bring them into the movement,” Amsterdam said.

When asked, Amsterdam, who reiterated many of the charges in a news conference in WA Thursday, wouldn't immediately provide specifics.

That charge, too, was met with skepticism by those who note Gulen schools are frequently highly regarded and more focused on science and technology instruction.

“Worldwide, to my knowledge, there has been number credible proof of religious indoctrination at any school established or running by Hizmet sympathizers,” said Saritoprak.

Amsterdam vows his investigation is distant from over. His efforts have thus distant produced one Ct case -- a pending civil suit in U. S. District Ct in Pennsylvania -- which alleges Gulen used a two thousand nine sermon to signal his followers in law enforcement in Turkey to falsely arrest three political opponents.

Gulen’s lawyer in that case, Michael Miller, argues U. S. law doesn't apply, and called it “an abuse of the U. S. courts to attempt to begin a lawsuit love this as portion of a global campaign, a political campaign, to harass Mr. Gulen.”

Meanwhile, Aslandogan and other Hizmet supporters wish Americans to look through these anti-Gulen efforts, and recognize this as an international political fight led by the increasingly autocratic Erdogan.

“We are talking about a person with dictatorial ambitions in Turkey, and he's taking his battles to American shores,” Aslandogan said.

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