Garrett Harris 10:11 p.m., May 23
"60 Minutes" to Air Report on Turkish Charter School Cleric Tied to Bob Filner
Just in time for the final stretch of San Diego's race for mayor, the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes is airing a report this coming Sunday about a controversial Turkish spiritual leader, followers of whom, records show, have contributed money to the mayoral campaign of Democratic congressman Bob Filner.
The Muslim scholar, Fethullah Gulen, leads a worldwide movement that has been heavily involved in creating high-tech charter schools around the world and has both backers and detractors.
As we reported in March of last year, Filner visited Turkey in late December 2010, courtesy of a nonprofit corporation called the Pacifica Institute:
"Highlights, according to the itinerary, included a stop at Topkapi Palace, lunch at Sultan Ahmet Square, a visit to the Karakoy Jewish Foundation Museum, capturing '700 years of amiable relations between Jews and Turks,' and a December 25 shopping tour of the Grand Bazaar, 'one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with more than 58 covered streets and over 1200 shops.… Many of the stalls in the bazaar are grouped by type of goods, with special areas for leather coats, gold jewelry and the like.'"
Filner took another tour paid for by Pacifica, this one with stops in Istanbul and northern Iraq, in April 2011, according to a travel disclosure he filed with the House a year ago this month.
The congressman subsequently wielded a pair of scissors at the 2011 ribbon-cutting for the new Washington headquarters of the Turkic American Alliance, an event videoed and posted on the group's YouTube page.
"California Congressman Bob Filner, who had just returned to the US after a TAA-sponsored trip to Turkey, indicated that the nature of the relationship between Turkey and the US has changed as it was a more military-based tie before," according to a description of the event on YouTube.
"'Now we have to have a people-to-people relationship,' Filner said, adding, 'What you [the TAA] are doing is extremely important, and that is establishing real people-to-people talk.'"
Also in 2011, Filner was featured at a Gulen Institute-sponsored essay awards ceremony for college students, according to the movement's website.
Mayoral campaign finance disclosure data posted online by the San Diego city clerk show that on February 21 of this year Ilker Yildiz of Irvine, listed as "outreach coordinator" for Pacifica, gave Filner's campaign $200; Ferdi M. Ates of Tarzana, California, Pacifica's chief financial officer, gave the Filner bid a total of $400 last June.
(Pacifica's role in Gulen's outreach is chronicled by UC Santa Barbara history professor Nancy Gallagher in her January 2012 book, "The Gulen Hizmet Movement and Its Transnational Activities: Case Studies of Altruistic Activism in Contemporary Islam.")
On February 29, Mesut Inci, branch director of Pacifica's Mira Mesa offices in San Diego, contributed $100 to the Filner cause.
In a video posted last year on the People's Post website, Inci talks about his life's work and inspiration, and Gulen's role in the Pacifica Institute.
"There was a man who inspired me...His name is Fethullah Gulen," Inci says in the video.
Reached at Pacifica's offices today, Inci confirmed he had made the campaign contribution reported by Filner, then said he was too busy to discuss the matter further.
Inci said he would call back within an hour, but did not. We'll update here when he does.
(UPDATE: Inci has called back to say that though he was aware of Filner's Pacifica-sponsored tours of Turkey and Iraq, nobody with the institute had asked him to make a contribution to the congressman's mayoral campaign. The Pacifica branch director says he was motivated to contribute because he liked Filner's position on various local issues.)
In an online preview of Sunday's 60 Minutes story, correspondent Lesley Stahl goes in search of Fethullah Gulen himself, currently an exile living in seclusion on an estate in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania, in an attempt to interview him.
"Will he come out? Will we get to see him?" Stahl asks a Gulen aide.
Viewers will have to tune in Sunday for the answer.
We left messages with Filner's campaign and congressional offices this morning and will update when he gets back to us.