Academia - Concerns about Objectivity
Page created June 10, 2010 last updated January 1, 2012
Academics laud the Gulen Movement, but fail to disclose honoraria and other benefits received
As Joshua Hendrick notes in his 2009 PhD thesis (UC Santa Cruz), the Gulen Movement has sought to "monopolize the discourse" about itself here in the United States. Scholars have been invited to Gulen conferences, where they are given red carpet treatment (the Introduction of Hendrick's thesis is quite revealing in this regard). They are then asked to write about Gulen and his movement - and the results tend to be very favorable. But is it scholarship?
Few people believe that it is possible for an individual to produce an objective study about an organization that is giving them significant benefits. That is why in many fields of academia, scholars are required to disclose any possible conflict of interest.
It is difficult to find objective studies of the Gulen Movement. Countless books on Gulen have been produced by the movement itself, although many outsiders may be unaware that Tughra Books and The Light are vanity presses controlled by Gulen's followers.
Jill Carroll admitted on Australian National Radio that she was commissioned by the movement to write the book "Dialog of Civilizations." Her trips to Turkey appear to all have been sponsored by the Gulen Movement. One may legitimately wonder whether has she had sufficient opportunities to acquaint herself with Turkey's secular community, which sees the Movement in a very different light from that presented in her publications.
A recent book by Helen Rose Ebaugh, a professor at the University of Houston, is unabashedly apologetic. It is known that Ebaugh has attended Gulen conferences, and it is also known that attendees receive generous honoraria. Further, Ebaugh is a professor at the University of Houston, which hosts the Gulen Institute, so there is a possibility of grant money being involved. We would have appreciated Ebaugh disclosing in her book the total value of all benefits received from the Gulen community.
Ebaugh appears to have done scant research on the Gulen Movement's activities in the US charter school system. Consider this line from her book: "In Europe and in the United States, the schools attract Turkish immigrant families who want to raise their children in the "Turkish way." While this sentence might apply to Europe, where many Gulen schools are private and they indeed seem to mainly cater to students of Turkish ethnicity, the statement is completely misleading with regards to the situation in the United States. The overwhelming majority of students in the over 100 state-funded Gulen charter schools in the US are not of Turkish ethnicity, and the prime motivation behind most parents enrolling their children in these schools is their apparently strong performance on state standardized tests.
Gulenists are infiltrating US academia and may be using their positions to promote their agenda
Dilshod Achilov, who obtained his MA and PhD in political science at the University of Arizona while working at a Gulen charter school (Sonoran Science Academy), is now a professor at East Tennesee State University. He recently gave a talk that was co-sponsored by the Society of Universal Dialogue, a Gulenist foundation in Tennessee. The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, Tennessee reported on this talk on Feb 11, 2011, describing Achilov as "a Middle East researcher and expert." This newspaper quoted Achilov as saying that "the more politically radicalized Muslims are, the more likely they are to support democracy." This statement is puzzling, so much so that it should perhaps be confirmed that he was not misquoted before entering into an analysis of whether any evidence supports it.
Achilov was also interviewed in a Feb 17, 2011 article in the International Business Times, in which he was quoted as saying "In Turkey, the majority of Kurds are well integrated and living in one society with ethnic Turks. Both ethnic groups practice Sunni Islam and coexistence between the two ethnic groups extend back for centuries. However, the PKK Kurdish rebels (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) represent the secularist, Marxist communist ideology. More importantly, PKK is denounced by most ethnic Kurds living in Turkey (a small percentage of Kurds living in Turkey actually support the PKK). It is important to note that the state of open civil society (including the media) in Turkey is very high." While many other statements by Achilov in this interview were not especially controversial, this denial of any serious problem with freedom of the press or with the status of Kurds in Turkish society is not accepted by most observers and runs contrary to many reports from newspapers, human rights groups, and academic researchers.
On Aug 23, 2010, Democracy Now reported that American journalist Jake Hess had been arrested, detained and deported for reporting on attacks by Turkish soldiers on Kurdish civilians in southeast Turkey. On Jan 10, 2010, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a report expressing its outrage at the 138-year prison sentence for Kurdish journalist Emine Demir, whose only offense, apparently, was writing about Kurdish issues. The report mentioned other Kurdish journalists who were persecuted for similar reporting. "The government's treatment of the country's 14 million ethnic Kurds, most living in the east and southeast, has long been a focus of international criticism and domestic sensitivity," the CPJ report stated.
On Aug 12, 2010, an article in the highly reputable German newspaper Der Spiegel reported on charges that the Turkish government had used chemical warfare against Kurdish rebels. The article stated that "German experts have confirmed the authenticity of photographs that purport to show PKK fighters killed by chemical weapons."
In a piece that appeared in Hurriyet Daily News on April 6, 2010, Oral Calislar opined that "The psychological distance between Turkish society and them [the Kurds in Turkey] is getting bigger." And while a Jan 10, 2011 New York Times article carried the optimistic title "Step by Step, Gulf Between Turkey and Kurds Narrows," the use of the word "gulf" here is an admission that Achilov's contention that "the majority of Kurds are well integrated and living in one society with ethnic Turks" is highly questionable. Indeed, the Kurdish problem has been a major issue in Turkey over the last few decades, leading to a huge loss of life. It was one of the most serious obstacles to EU accession. Further, the latter part of 2011 has seen a resurgence of violence in Kurdish areas of Turkey (see New York Times articles of Oct 19, 2011 and Dec 30, 2011) destroying nearly all the optimism that prevailed only a few years earlier.
Yet however contrary to evidence it may be, Achilov's assertion that Kurds are well-integrated with the rest of Turkish society under the current AKP (ruling party) government of Turkey is fully in line with Gulenist ideology.
Further, many recent reports suggest that freedom of the press in Turkey has taken a major hit under Prime Minister Erdogan and the AKP government. A number of prominent journalists have been arrested under what appear to be fabricated charges (some of this is summarized on the page "Repression in the Name of Tolerance"). Achilov's assertion that "the state of open civil society (including the media) in Turkey is very high" is therefore highly questionable, particularly with regard to the media. Yet once again, it is in line with the Gulenist desire to present Turkey and the AKP in a very positive light.
Achilov is only one of a number of Gulenists now occupying positions in US institutions of higher learning. Another example is Muhammed Cetin, now an Adjunct Professor of Sociology at East Stroudsburg University. Cetin served as a ministerial advisor under the notoriously repressive government of Turkmenistan, and received an award for translating dictator Niyazov's rambling treatise "Ruhnama," the book that, under his regime, replaced all other textbooks in that Central Asian nation's public schools (see the Gulen and Saparmurat Niyazov page). Such a background would not normally be expected to lead to a US academic position.
Gulenists also hold academic positions in the field of education. For example, Ibrahim Duyar, who worked at Wisconsin Career Academy (a Gulen charter school in Wisconsin) and then was a founder and board member of the Lisa Academy school (a Gulen charter school in Arkansas) is now a professor of educational leadership at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Academic publications that in fact are advertisements for Gulen schools or the Gulen Movement
Gulenists also show a propensity for producing publications and studies that masquerade as academic but in fact advertise Gulen schools. In 2011, Hasan Aydin completed his PhD thesis in the field of Multicultural Education at the University of Nevada-Reno. This thesis, entitled "The Educational Effectiveness of Gulen-inspired Schools: The Case of Nigeria," arrived at very flattering conclusions regarding the Gulen schools in that country, using questionable methodology (small sample size, and conclusions based on interviews with individuals likely to have a favorable view of the schools). The abstract describes the people working at the schools as "diligent, hardworking, giving, and dedicated to improving quality of life in Nigeria through education." This, of course, is exactly the impression that the Gulen Movement wants the world, and especially tuition-paying parents, to have about all its schools. Interestingly, one of Aydin's thesis committee members was Murat Yuksel, who has served as President of the Board of Coral Academy of Science, a Gulen charter school in Nevada. Yuksel was also the lead applicant for Capital Academy Charter School, a proposed Gulen charter school in Troy NY that never materialized, and he previously was on the staff of the International Turkmen-Turk University, a Gulen university in Turkmenistan. Aydin himself now works for the Gulenist think tank UKAM which addresses Kurdish issues. It is highly questionable whether Aydin and Yuksel were able to approach the topic of this thesis with objectivity, yet the University of Nevada-Reno was almost certainly completely unaware of the inherent conflict of interest. The end result is that Gulenists now have a seemingly legitimate document, approved by an accredited American university, that they can use to promote their schools.
Another example is the paper "Managerial and Educational Features of a Turkish University in Central Asia," by Lutfu Sagbansua and Ibrahim Keles (Bulgarian Journal of Science and Education Policy, Vol. 1 2007) which paints an extremely favorable picture of the International Ataturk Alatoo University, a Gulen university in Kyrgyzstan.
As already noted on another page dealing with Gulenist publications and media, the Gulen Movement even produces several pseudo-academic journals itself, again with papers promoting its agenda, sometimes subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly. In one such paper, Gulenist Ihsan Yilmaz of Fatih University (a Gulen institution) concludes that "Gulen’s understanding of Islam, one can expect, will also be influential in the wider Muslim world in parallel to the increasing influence of both Turkey and the movement on a global scale" (European Journal of Economic and Political Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2011). Some of these journals are indexed by mainstream academic databases, and most readers are unlikely to be aware of the large international network of secretive collusion that lies behind them.
A conflict of interest that is very well hidden, and difficult to prove
The examples of Achilov's interview and Aydin's thesis raise the serious concern that Gulenists in academia may lose their objectivity on issues that touch on the Gulen Movement's (or AKP's) agenda, and that they may even be using their positions as part of a concerted effort to actively promote this agenda. This is particularly troublesome as the affiliation of Gulenist academics with the Gulen Movement is usually denied by them, and unknown to most of their colleagues, their students, and the members of the public who attend their talks under the assumption that they are "experts" in their fields. This is not to deny that some Gulenists in academia may be quite intelligent and articulate, and may have done much work and amassed accomplishments that would lead to the general view that they merit their positions. Indeed, in many cases, it is precisely their overall aura of credibility that is the most troubling.
Anyone attempting to inform the public about these inherent conflicts of interest faces an uphill battle, firstly because the Gulen connection, while very real, can only be proven through a large mass of intricate circumstantial evidence rather than a definitive, simple paper trail, and secondly because Gulenists have the perfect alibi - they can always counter that they are being targeting only due to their ethnicity or religion. The academic world is inclined to be very sympathetic to such a defense. Yet ensuring the objectivity and integrity of all scholarly work should be academia's highest priority.