MerryLynn Gerstenschlager of TEF Provides Inaccurate Information

A friend of mine told me about the Texas House Public Education Committee convened on February 17th. When asked what it was all about, he said "Just watch. Laughing guaranteed!"

This just piqued my curiosity and I clicked the link my friend provided to watch the much-advertised drama. The meeting was very long, like five hours, but the drama-filled part started towards the end of it.

MerryLynn Gerstenschlager, Vice President of Texas Eagle Forum, speaks as a witness during the public hearing and she just parrots what Donna Garner used to repeat a number of times before the GOP race began. Honestly and frankly, I feel pity for those who attack Fethullah Gulen blindfold, because the defamer must be knowledgeable about the person and his/her ideas and therefore should think twice before attacking. But those people like Garner, Gerstenschlager or others don't know one single correct thing about Gulen or Turkey. Let's break Gerstenschlager's sentences down:

"Turkish government taken over by radical Islamists!" (She utters this sentence verbatim without even giving credit to Rick Perry. Anyway, this statement is interesting, because it was presented in a way as if there has been a military coup in Turkey recently. Nope! The current government came to power through free election in 2011 whose turnout was 80 %, a percentage way higher than the one (52 %) in which Obama was elected.  Besides, the current government, whose some of the policies I criticize, got 50% of the votes in that 2011 election, received 46% in 2007 election and collected 34% in 2002 election. The party won all three elections by a wide margin (the numbers might not come impressive, because there are at least four or five major and about ten minor parties that compete in Turkish elections) and they describe themselves Conservative Democrat with liberal policies not Islamist or even Muslim democrat. Please see some scholarly books and articles about that party written by Graham Fuller, Angel Rabasa, Jenny White, and Hakan Yavuz etc.

"Gulen was kicked out of Turkey!" (How can someone be so ignorant? Fethullah Gulen came to United States in 1999 by his own will and in 2006, he was acquitted from all the legal cases opened to him. There is no legal obstacle for Gulen to return to Turkey at the moment. Also, if you believe that there is an "Islamist government" in Turkey and if Gulen tries to "establish an Islamic state", then why does he still reside in America? The conditions should be "perfect" for his return, right? If you are really curious why he is still in America, then I would say, "Go, ask him!"

"Gulen controls almost all newspapers and TV stations."  (This is another ridiculous statement made by Gerstenschlager in order to boost the drama effect in the meeting. Do you know Ms. Gerstenschlager, how many national newspapers are there in Turkey? I don't think you do. Let me tell you: 36! There are only two newspapers that you can say "This newspaper belongs to Gulen Movement". There are only five or six conservative newspapers, three-four liberal ones and the rest is secular or ultra-nationalist! Now tell me, who has the power in the media? How about the TV channels? Also, there are more than 200 nationwide and local TV channels in Turkey and only five of them can be affiliated with the Gulen Movement and only one of those five channels is a mainstream channel that caters everyone. The others include a news channel, a channel for kids, a channel broadcasting in Kurdish language and a channel with mostly cultural and intellectual programs. Is this "controlling everything"?

Anyway, after making such statements Alma Allen, State Rep., asked Gerstenschlager if she had been in any of the Harmony Schools she has been defaming. "No, because there were fences on which it said 'No Trespassing, Private Property'," replied Gerstenschlager. Rep Allen said, "You can go in any public school". 

That "no trespassing" pretext is really funny. You can even go as a prospective parent and say "I would like to get some information about your school and admission conditions". If you were sincere, Ms. Gerstenschlage, in your claims, you would visit one of the schools you have been desperately trying to connect with Fethullah Gulen and see them by yourself.  Same goes with Donna Garner, who never visits the schools she has been complaining.

Rep. Alma Allen said, “I have a large Turkish community in my district and several Harmony schools in my district. I think they are fabulous. I don’t think they teach religion.”

Gerstenschlager quickly emphasized she was not asserting that Harmony Schools teach religion into the classroom instruction. “I have read stellar things about their academic performance. I never said they taught religion,” Gerstenschlager added.

Allen told Gerstenschlager she should “underscore ‘stellar,’” and said she has visited Turkey twice.

“It’s beautiful. You should go. I will take you,” Allen said.

Gerstenschlager said she visited Turkey in 1999 for a U. N. conference and acknowledged that it’s a wonderful country.

Rep. Mark Shelton from Fort Worth told Gerstenschlager the Harmony charter school in his district is immensely popular. “They are lining up trying to get into that school. Parents are thrilled. I am just not hearing anyone saying that there’s some problem in the school related to the issues you are talking about,” Shelton pointed out.

Gerstenschlager repeated her standard refrain: “They are learning Turkish culture, and I believe these impressionable young children will become sympathetic to Turkey.”

John Harper, former Mayor of Rowlett, said he had been to 12 Harmony Schools and none of them teach religion. The accusations came from those who had never been to schools. More than 80% of the Harmony employees are American citizens, a rate that is comparable with the American universities who has international professors.

Rep. Alma Allen got in the last word during the public hearing:

“I am just dumbfounded. Of all the cultures.. I don’t know why we single out Turkey. I think the Turkish culture is wonderful. I hope they open up more schools.”

Courtesy of Houston Chronicle from whom I borrowed the last a few paragraphs... 

So, we see a double attack here. Both towards Fethullah Gulen, whose name is associated with fallacious concept of Gulen Charter Schools and successful American charter schools, like Harmony, whose existence should give disturbance to some vested interests.