Shadow of a doubt. Trouw Dec 15, 2010
This article by Annemarie Geleijnse and Rineke van Houten ran in the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw.
Click here to view original article.
[Article showed photograph of Fatih College]
Picture caption: The Fatih School in Istanbul is led by followers of the Turkish Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. Is his movement tolerant or not?
Are boarding schools of the Turkish-Islamic Fethullah Gulen movement in the Netherlands hindering integration? According to a study performed at the request of the Lower Parliament the boarding schools are now closed. At the end of a cul-de-sac in the Utrecht Overvecht district is a somewhat shabby looking building, half-hidden behind a wintergreen hedge. On the bars of the steel fence hangs a chain lock. There is no sign of life in sight.
Here, at Orinocodreef 17, the boarding school Beatitas was established. Until a year ago Turkish adolescents at the age of puberty lived there. They went to an ordinary middle school, but after the classes they were in Beatitas, where motivated volunteers were ready to help with their homework and to accompany them in other activities, also on the weekend. The boys were also sleeping there. The building can accommodate 45 beds.
Beatitas was founded in 1996 by the Education Center Foundation of Utrecht (Stichting Educatie Centrum Utrecht or SECU), which in turn, was created by “concerned Turkish parents“ who wanted to prevent dropouts. With other activities as well, such as parenting courses for parents, SECU increased the students’ chances in the job market and thus of securing a solid position in the Dutch society.
In its heyday the Foundation managed two boarding schools (also one for girls), facilities for assisted living, an education center and a women's center. These were all inspired by the ideas of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim preacher who also has followers in the Netherlands in education, business and politics.
Last year, the Lower House of the Parliament ordered then-Minister Eberhard van der Laan to conduct an investigation into the boarding schools. That effort was to clarify whether they hamper integration, and whether the boarding schools were isolating the children from the society. Every shadow of a doubt had to be removed.
Research Martin van Bruinessen, anthropologist at the University of Utrecht and an expert on Turkey, concluded in the report, which Trouw gained access to, that in the Netherlands there are no more boarding schools that follow the Gulen movement. "One by one, the boarding schools were closed, and as a result beginning with the year 2010-11, as far as the researcher knows, no boarding schools exist." The negative concern towards the boarding schools seems to have played a role in the decision to close them, the report states.
"Turkish parents now know the Dutch education system and Dutch society better", say leaders Vecih Er and Mustafa Goktas of Beatitas in Utrecht. According to Vecih: "Our mission was successful. It is over. According to the board, parents who are still waiting at the door can no longer be accommodated.”
This statement contradicts the experience of a Turkish mother who tried, for Trouw, to find a place for her son in a Gulen boarding school. A week ago she called around and found four boarding schools in operation, including two belonging to the Gulen movement. Beatitas in Utrecht is one of them.
According to the man on the phone, the boarding school is presently being renovated and will reopen later. "There will be accommodations for 25 children." The son of the Turkish woman can be admitted this year because the children are housed elsewhere during the renovation.
At his office at SECU Mustafa Goktas reacts with surprise as he hears about the experience of the Turkish mother. "That's false information, unfortunately. The boarding schools are closed; we are going to sell the building."
How does researcher Van Bruinessen explain that the boarding schools still function while he concluded that they are closed? "I finished my research in the summer. Something must have happened half a year later."
In addition to the Utrecht Beatitas there is also the “residential study center” Sprint in Rotterdam which is ready to talk to the Turkish mother about the placement of her son. Rumors have also spread about its relationship with Fethullah Gulen. From inquiries at Sprint it is learned that the boarding school was acquired from The Center, a boarding school that was previously the subject of severe criticism by Leefbaar Rotterdam [translator's note: this is a Dutch political party that has been associated with right-wing views on immigration].
There are differing accounts of the program of the boarding schools, depending on the source. A former resident claims that there is “not a single place for private activities” and that he was there every moment of the day outside the school hours. The day would begin at 5 a.m. and end at 11 pm and there was a considerable amount of time spent on Gulen studies. However, those involved in Beatitas in Utrecht call this "not realistic".
A number of pupils of Beatitas are housed in special dormitories in Utrecht, also managed by SECU. According to Mustafa Goktas: "These students were already so far into their training that it carried too much risk with it for them to go to a school in their own hometown."
In his reports the investigator notes that the student houses (dersanes) for the Gulen movement are the main setting for the “formation of a pious personality.” It is estimated that they number several dozen in the Netherlands. In Utrecht SECU has eight: five for male and three for female students.
According to Van Bruinessen there is no segregation in these dormitories. "The living rules have it that you do not go out in the street unnecessarily and you stay inside much, but this does not hinder integration."
Documents that Van Bruinessen received from SECU do not call for avoiding contact with non-Muslims; so his report states. He finds signs of integration in the fact that the education of the Gulen movement leads to good academic results and good positions in the job market.
Van Bruinessen notes that there exists “a strong social pressure.” But leaving and detaching yourself from the Movement gives, according to the people the researcher has spoken with, “no particular problems.”
"Did he really say that!” asks a Turkish boy when we present that quote to him. His experience: "They continue to haunt you, come to your door and ask why they can’t reach you."
He will speak only if his name is not known. Fear dominates the conversation, as in the contacts with other involved people. Why? "My wife and children would themselves turn away from me." Or: "My family in Turkey would risk a lawsuit." Another: "They can destroy my life. Literally, they can take everything from me. "
Researcher Van Bruinessen speaks of peer pressure, pressure from the group to get involved. "Do you necessarily have to pray five times a day in a boarding school? No, but because everyone does it, you automatically join in. You want to belong.”
Most of the sources in his report are also anonymous. "As an anthropologist you must respect the privacy of your informants." Van Bruinessen says that he has also heard stories about threats and intimidation, and he has tried to trace them as much as possible,. He has not come across anything more than “peer pressure and persuasion.”
Meanwhile on the Orinicodreef in Utrecht, small snowflakes fall on the boarding house building. Tomorrow in the Lower House of Parliament it will be seen if this report removes “every shadow of a doubt” about these types of boarding schools.
The original article on the Trouw.nl website had the following additional material, which seems to no longer be available online at the Trouw website.
What are dersanes?
In the student housing that researcher Van Bruinessen calls dersanes, Turkish students live together. To the outside world, a dersane can not be distinguished from other student housing. Students live inexpensively there, but must abide by the living rules: a tight schedule, studying and praying together, and regularly reading from the works of Gulen and other clergy.
Opaque nature reinforces suspicions of the Fethullah Gulen Movement
The Fethullah Gulen Movement is controversial. Proponents praise the preacher puts the emphasis on tolerance and dialogue, opponents point out that behind a secular facade the movement conceals a hidden agenda of Islamisation of society as an ultimate goal. The lack of transparency reinforces the suspicion of critics. In 2008 a broadcast of the television program "Nova" stirred up criticism in the Netherlands.
The movement is in Turkey itself, according to Professor Martin van Bruinessen "a political factor of increasing importance."
The activities of the Fethullah Gulen Movement lie above all in education, in the Netherlands as well. Besides boarding houses and dormitories, the Movement has homework help centers, student associations, the Cosmicus College and Cosmicus primary school in Rotterdam, and the Cosmicus Montessori Lyceum in Amsterdam.
In addition, Van Bruinessen cites the Turkish-Dutch association Hogiaf, the Dialogue Foundation, the Dialogue Academy, the Dutch edition of the Turkish newspaper Zaman, the Sanitas health center, and the Rotterdam Birch bookstore, where many of the works of Gulen sold. [Translator's note: the Birch name likely derives from the Turkish word “Burc”, phonetically “Burch,” which means constellation. In other countries, Gulen institutions carry this name.]
In Zaandam, Agnes Jongerius of the Advisory Board recently revealed in an article in Domestic Government that The White Tulip homework institute appeared to have a relationship with the Fethullah Gulen Movement.
From current research, yet another new elementary school was founded in Amsterdam: the White Tulip Elementary School.