Sect under the wings of open society
De Volkskrant, Netherlands, Dec 31, 2010
(This opinion piece appeared in De Volkskrant, a high-circulation daily Dutch newspaper.)
[Caption to picture of Fethullah Gulen]
The Gulen Movement generates no clarity about itself and thus maintains a shadowy image.
This month, the investigation by Professor Martin van Bruinessen into the Gulen Movement in the Netherlands was presented, and a debate over this took place in the Lower House (of the Dutch Parliament). The report was anticipated with some suspense, because since last year each laborious discussion concerning this movement finished with the conclusion that insufficient clear facts were available to obtain a clear picture.
The then-Minister of Integration Van der Laan found even a year ago that "it is of great importance that we have a clear picture about what the impact is of boarding schools and homework help centers associated with (the ideas of) Fethullah Gulen" and said "Five years from now I would rather back look and say, 'What was I worried about? " than say: “Why have I not done anything?" The study had to give clarity regarding the indications and rumors that behind the scenes of the institutions in question, there would be orthodox Islamic indoctrination.
I myself, unsuspecting and going only by official information, ran into this very bizarre orthodox-Islamic background through the Cosmicus Montessori Lyceum in Amsterdam and its associated homework help center Witte Tulp.
Meanwhile I have no doubt that this had to do with the fact that our son, who also speaks fluent Turkish and thus was so interesting for the movement, was just a little too forcefully recruited. The discovery that we were dealing with a deeply religious Turkish sect within a community school that in Amsterdam is known only as free and open, I find baffling.
For this reason, I read the report and followed the parliamentary debate with interest. Unfortunately, the report offers little that is definitive. A handful of institutions linked to the Gulen Movement are identified by name. But Van Bruinessen seems nevertheless to especially want to show that the concerns are unfounded. However, the parliamentary debate confirmed that the doubts of all parties have not yet been resolved.
Yet the government leaves the Movement alone. Minister Donner seems to find it entirely in order that an institution exists which appears secular on the outside, but that in its core is deeply religuous. This religious core cannot be held up to light, because that might restrict freedom of religion. The government must not, out of principle, be allowed to interfere in order to not impinge on this important fundamental value of our society.
Parents must draw their own conclusions if they feel themselves placed under pressure; municipalities that provide subsidies must themselves check how those are spent, and furthermore, neither the report nor the minister specify criteria for this.
Rule of law
Donner said furthermore that he wanted to make sure that conflicts from abroad are not imported to the Netherlands.
That he seemed to direct this at Sadet Karabulut, an SP [Socialist Party] member of parliament with a Turkish background and the initiator for this debate, is surprising.
From the way in which time and time again public debate on this Movement is conducted there arises in fact a great confidence in the rule of law.
It is precisely the opaque methods of the Gulen Movement that originate from another far less free and democratic context, and here are carried on further.
Dutch law offers followers of each religion the freedom to live by their own rules, to establish institutions, and even to found schools. Who here believes in a different way to win supporters or to exercise social influence, does not seem to appreciate the value of that freedom. That this movement, seemingly supported also by many politicians, is strongly committed to open and tolerant dialogue can only be called bizarre.
Even now that the Cosmicus Foundation was named in the report as a Gulen-related institution, they continue to deny this in a very distorted way.
Why does the movement in the Netherlands give no openness about its background? With this strategy is perhaps a bigger piece of the pie to be had than when one openly declares oneself to be religiously motivated? The chances are high that in that case the Cosmicus Foundation would not have found a place under the Montessori dome when a school was founded.
The school Executive Boards were persuaded to this arrangement by the explicit wish of the former Minister of Education Maria van der Hoeven, and have by that - while it seems with the best intentions – let themselves be maneuvered into a now very uncomfortable situation .
Possibly here lies the reason that the connection between the two high schools and homework help centers, with regards to which the study indicates that "most volunteers are followers of the movement," is completely denied in the report: "There is no formal link between the schools and the boarding schools or other extracurricular activities of the movement." The fact that the Gulen organization White Tulip in Amsterdam-Oost [a neighborhood of Amsterdam] has the same address as the school, namely that of the Cosmicus Montessori Lyceum, seems to contradict that assertion. SWT [Stichting Witte Tulp, i.e. the White Tulip Foundation] has the use of the building outside school hours and on the weekends, and the Turkish-Dutch director of this (part) school had previously worked for many years at the homework help center. Cosmicus College in Rotterdam and the Foundation Boarding School -- now renamed -- have similar staff connections. But the report states simply that they [i.e., connections] do not exist.
The very closed, monoethnic boarding schools, which are not under any government oversight at all, still constitute the greatest source of concern.
Following recent reports, Bruinessen acknowledged in Binnenlands Bestuur [Internal Affairs, a Dutch weekly for government officials] that the boarding schools may not all be closed as had been explicitly stated by him in the report. The schools are not investigated because they fall under the supervision of the education inspection, but Van Bruinessen’s comment in the same publication that "all Gulen institutions, including schools and homework centers, serve as places where potential followers are recruited," can hardly be any more reassuring to anyone.
Doubts and suspicions will continue to play a role in the schools. It is hoped that parents, co-administration councils and coordinating executive boards in cooperation with local authorities will use every opportunity to consistently require transparency and to intervene. For Amsterdam above all it is hoped that Mayor Eberhard van der Laan has not forgetten his words of one year ago.
The author came in contact with the Gulen Movement through a search for a school for her Turkish-Dutch son. According to her, Gulen abuses freedom of religion.