Islam in the sign of the rainbow?
Heinz Siebold, Stuttgarter Zeitung (Germany)
The following article appeared in the Stuttgarter Zeitung on July 28, 2010. Click here to view the original.
A private school, mainly for Turkish children? In Freiburg, opinions are mixed on this enterprise.
FREIBURG – It was not to be a "Turkish" school, even if the founders of the private "Rainbow Elementary School” in Freiburg were all either Turkish immigrants or children of Turkish immigrants. "The school is open to all children," says Taskin Tuna (33), the chairman of the organization “Akademische Plattform" [Academic Platform] of Freiburg. Such associations of academics of Turkish extraction exist in several German cities. Until now they have mainly operated study halls [homework assistance centers]; now they want to establish schools. There are some already in Bad Cannstatt, Ludwigsburg, Mannheim and Karlsruhe. Kindergartens are also being planned.
In Freiburg, the lessons are to begin in the new school year in a pavilion next to the German-French high school. Ten applications are already on hand; there will be18 students, girls and boys. However – although the founders do not speak of this in public - the approval of the Education Authority is still pending. And critics say it should not be granted.
"Highly explosive and dangerous"
For the so-called Akademische Plattform is ideologically inspired by a controversial person and a worldwide network, the movement of Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen. "This is a highly explosive and dangerous organization," said Carlos Mari, head of the Freiburg Youth Relief Organization (Jugendhilfswerkes Freiburg), a nonprofit educational institution that has its own private school with 250 students in 14 classes - and a high percentage of immigrant children.
Mari, a native of Spain, who has been in Germany for 46 years categorically dismisses them as "schools exclusively for immigrants.” It is far more urgent to open regular schools for the promotion of integration. Of course as a private school head he has nothing against the establishment of private schools, but the proposed "Rainbow" school will have no other effect than "to cement the Turkish community.” That was probably the intention of the movement behind it, "which pursues goals which the parents of the children probably know nothing about." The Akademische Plattform denies that its goal is segregation. "Success in life is only possible with education," said Chairman Tuna, a dentist by profession at the Freiburg University Hospital. Those who learn German well in elementary school will handle secondary school better. The question remains how to assess the movement of the preacher Fethullah Gulen and his global network of associations, foundations, corporations and educational institutions.
"A power-conscious Islamic chauvinism"
Gulen fled to America because of rumors in 1999 of his involvement in a coup in Turkey. The sociologist Necla Kelek, herself a native Turk, accuses Gulen of playing power politics under the cover of educational institutions. "Outwardly, he represents a kind of Islam light," wrote Kelek on July 21, 2008 in the online edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "inwardly, he preaches a power-conscious Islamic chauvinism. " Neither the school board of the government of Freiburg nor the Ministry of Culture in Stuttgart have investigated the background of the school founders. Yet under Prime Minister Helmut Rau (CDU), consent was indicated last year to the Freiburg private school founders around CDU member Taskin Tuna. However, only in principle, citing the possibility to found a private school if there is "a special pedagogical interest" under Article 7.5 of the Basic Law, a spokesperson of the Ministry confirmed.
The legally binding approval of the local education authority is still pending because not all the documentation is at hand, according to the regional council of Freiburg. In both agencies, nothing is known regarding a problematic ideological background of the sponsoring organization, even at the city council of Freiburg, which has granted the organization a pavilion at nominal rent as an interim solution. City school chief Gerda Stuchlik (Green Party) sees "no negative signs" and considers the founding of the school "positive".
Reform or religion?
Fethullah Gulen was born on April 27, 1941 in the village of Korucuk, in the Turkish province of Erzurum. He was educated by priests and became an influential preacher. Gulen is seen as the successor of the Preacher Said-i Nursi, who developed the Nurcu ideology within Islam.
The Gulen movement is seen by observers variously as either an Islamic reform movement, or as a religious movement in disguise, bent on the Islamization of the secular Turkish Republic. The "inscrutable" network of associations, foundations and businesses worldwide with 1.5 million supporters resembles the Opus Dei order, in the opinion of critic Necla Kelek. The Gulen movement is "the most influential politico-religious secret society in Turkey,” and has representatives in highly influential positions of the state and government. From Gulen's writings, "a deeply reactionary and dogmatic way of thinking" emerges.