Usually when a foreign government intervenes in the U.S. labor market it is either to protect the interests of individual foreign workers or to see to it that the United States keeps hiring them in general.
But Turkey, through its lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, has just issued a statement saying that a group of Turkish-run charter schools in the United States has been using an American visa scheme:
that places under-qualified Turkish teachers into key positions in its schools, while simultaneously underpaying its more qualified non-Turkish teachers.
Turkey is not making these statements out of a concern for American students in those schools, or for the American teachers who are not now working because of the hiring of the H-1B teachers from Turkey, or because the Obama administration sought such a statement.
It is doing so because of a world-wide struggle between the increasingly authoritarian Turkish government of President Recep Erdogan and the followers of a cult led by Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in the Poconos. Gulen's followers have used the loosely managed charter school system to create some 150 charter schools of their own in the United States, all of which are 100 percent funded by local tax dollars, and most of which have unpublicized links to other Gulen entities.
Gulen and Erdogan once were allies in Turkey, both seeking to change the pro-Western society created by Kemal Ataturk after World War I. Gulen's followers were said to be strongly entrenched in law enforcement and in the judiciary, as well as running a number of academic institutions. They fell out a few years ago and Erdogan now regards Gulen's people not just as adversaries, but as terrorists.
Bearing that background in mind, I accepted an invitation to attend a Brookings Institute conference in Washington on charter schools a few weeks ago. When the time came for questions, I asked about the peculiar hiring policies of the Gulen schools, and got little in the way of response from the panel. But at a break in the session three Turkish participants came to see me, two of them from what turned out to be Erdogan-controlled newspapers. They told me that the FBI is investigating the Gulen schools "for not handling money properly." The third told me that the other two were from Erdogan-related entities.
The FBI is close-mouthed about ongoing investigations, but it will be interesting to see what they find.
Gulen's tentacles are not confined to Turkey and the United States. His people run schools and other activities in the parts of the Balkans once under Ottoman rule, and in the 'stans of Central Asia, where Turkic influences are strong.
Amsterdam, a Canadian citizen born in the United States with offices in London and Washington, has filed a complaint about the Harmony Schools in Texas with the Texas Education Agency, and has filed a similar complaint about the Magnolia schools in California. One of his beefs — that the Gulen Schools skirt competitive bidding rules to award contracts to Turkish vendors — sounds very much like our own reporting of a couple of years ago.
We described some of the mutually supportive arrangements between the dean of all Chicago ward leaders — Mike Madigan (Democratic state chairman, virtual permanent speaker of the State House of Representatives, father of the state's attorney general, etc.) — and the Gulen schools in that state. Some of the Gulen schools were paid at a higher rate per capita than other charter schools, and he, Madigan, had made four trips to Turkey as a guest of Gulen organizations.
Although Gulen is a religious leader in Turkey, the U.S. schools have not been known for promoting Islam.