Cinnamon Stillwell

I’m the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum that focuses on Middle East studies. I was a political columnist for (San Francisco Chronicle online) from 2004-2008. I've written for the American Thinker, Frontpage Magazine, Family Security Matters, Accuracy In Media, Newsbusters, Israel National News, The Jewish Policy Center, J-The Jewish News Weekly of N. CA, Intellectual Conservative and many others. More info at

Saturday, May 10, 2008

U.S. Soldiers Learning Arabic at Wahhabist Islamic Saudi Academy

According to the Mount Vernon Gazette, twenty-two soldiers from Fort Belvoir in Fairfax, Virginia just graduated from the nearby Islamic Saudi Academy's "Arabic as a Second Language" program, where they also learned about "Middle Eastern culture and traditions."

While this would sound fairly harmless on the surface (and Arabic language instruction is certainly needed in the U.S. military), it turns out this school has Wahhabi skeletons in its closet.

This would be the same Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) that came under scrutiny last year over its Saudi-produced textbooks. As reported by the Washington Post at the time:
In a report released yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom criticized what it called the promotion of religious extremism in Saudi-run schools around the world, including in the kingdom. It leveled particular criticism at the Islamic Saudi Academy, which operates two campuses in Fairfax County, expressing "significant concerns" that the school is promoting a brand of religious intolerance that could prove a danger to the United States.

The commission does not specifically criticize the school's teaching materials; it said Saudi officials would not make them available. But it said it is concerned about the textbooks used in the school because those used by schools in Saudi Arabia promote violence against Christians, Jews, Shias and polytheists.

...As evidence of the type of material it believes is being taught at the school, it cited a 2006 analysis of Saudi textbooks by the Center for Religious Freedom and Institute for Gulf Affairs. One ninth-grade textbook taught teenagers that violence toward Jews, Christians and others is sanctioned by God. A 12th-grade textbook, the 2006 report says, reads "the hour [of judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them."
School officials denied the charges, but offered this not terribly reassuring explanation:

But [Acting Director-General Abdulrahman] Alghofaili said that school officials revised their curriculum last summer, eliminating material considered controversial in the United States.

Administrators took textbooks sent from Saudi Arabia, ripped out pages deemed inappropriate and in some cases added material, said Alghofaili and David Kovalik, the education director who was involved in the curriculum changes.
And here's some background on the academy that's even less reassuring:

The Saudi academy was founded in 1984 to educate pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade children of Saudi diplomats; it also enrolls others. Its enrollment has fallen to 1,000 students from 1,300 five years ago, a decrease Saudi activists call a result of negative publicity in recent years. About 30 percent of the students are Saudi.

The academy is unlike other private Muslim schools in the United States, in part because it is heavily funded by the Saudi government, whose official religion is a rigid strain of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. The chairman of the school's board of directors is the Saudi ambassador.
So who was entrusted with following up on this matter? None other than that bastion of pro-Saudi sentiment, the State Department. It didn't help that school officials refused to make the textbooks available to the commission. They later backed down, no doubt fearing that their image was taking a publicity hit. More from the Washington Post:

Yesterday, Al-Shabnan invited a few reporters, including one from The Washington Post, to tour the school and meet with teachers, students and parents. Officials displayed some of the textbooks used, including a few routinely used by students in Fairfax County public schools. Others, written in Arabic, are religious or language texts, academy officials said. They denied that any of the texts promote religious extremism.

...Commission members said they were not persuaded by the school's invitation to reporters, nor a letter they received from Al-Shabnan on Wednesday. In the letter, dated Nov. 12, Al-Shabnan stated that the school had made its textbooks available to a Fairfax County supervisor for review. Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said yesterday that his office had received six boxes of books from the school and that a translator from the county's library system was looking through them.

Al-Shabnan also invited commission members to come to the school to review the textbooks.

Commission Chairman Michael Cromartie said the offer was not taken up because academy officials wanted mutually acceptable scholars and translators to review the textbooks. He said the commission had repeatedly asked Saudi Embassy officials in Washington for the books but had not received them.
Looking back to February 2005, ISA's valedictorian in 1999, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was indicted on terrorism charges or, more specifically, a plot to assassinate the president. The case prompted New York Senator Charles Schumer to issue a press release questioning whether ISA was "another madrassa" and to send letters to Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan and then-U.S. Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales expressing his concerns.

Captain's Quarters runs down the case, as well as providing additional background information via Jihad Watch (here and here) and The Weekly Standard. Its seems the school withdrew and lost accredation with an association of private schools in 2002 "after the organization asked questions about how the academy is funded and governed." Furthermore, CAIR (of all people) and the Free Muslims Against Terrorism publicly objected to the school's use of a first-grade Arabic textbook, in part because it instructed "teachers to tell students that any religion other than Islam is false."

Micah Halpern, writing at Frontpage Magazine, provides even more damning details about the school's curriculum:

The school teaches:

That trusted friends can only be Muslim.

That even family members, if they are non-believers, have nothing in common with you and should be abandoned or ignored.

That people further away from you geographically and culturally are truly closer to you than the family you live with if your family does not believe.

That one should never establish a close and trusted friendship with a non-Muslim.

Ninth and twelfth grade curricula heavily emphasize the concept of Jihad, of holy war, and the obligation to fight and destroy the enemy and the non-Muslim. There are no grey areas in Saudi schools, it is all black and white and it is all reinforced in classroom assignments, papers and homework.
Nevertheless, Fort Belvoir has a partnership with ISA that everyone seems to be gushing about. According to the Mount Vernon Gazette:

ISA's partnership with Fort Belvoir is only one of the school's many community involvements, but, one of which [ISA's Director General Abdalla] Al-Shabnan is extremely proud. The "Arabic as a Second Language" program received a commendation from the U.S.Military, which occupies a prominent place in Al-Shabnan's office.
One has to wonder why no one in the Department of Defense or any other position of leadership in the military saw fit to check into ISA's background before entering into this cozy "partnership," or if they did, why there were no objections. Could it be that the "infiltration" author Paul Sperry details in his book of that same name extends to the upper echelons of the military? In this day and age of ever-expanding Saudi and Gulf influence, it certainly wouldn't be surprising.

Update (5/19): Family Security Matters (for whom I was a regular contributor) has an important editorial up today on concerns over the textbooks used by the Islamic Saudi Academy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in the military and served in Iraq. 99% of Soldiers are apolitical, especially officers. Officers are now trained to be mindlessly tolerant, not intellectually patriotic. I was reading five years ago in Iraq, and people laughed at me, until I nailed them on subject after subject. Slowly, I gained their respect, if not outright mild fear. That included colonals, while I was merely a sergeant. Knowledge is power.

Saturday, May 10, 2008 5:13:00 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

For years, because I'm local to Northern Virginia, I've been ranting about and researching the ISA and the pass it gets from appropriate scrutiny and possible closing.

I know the southern campus (Popes Head Road) very well. How the look has changed there! It's a walled compound.

If you're checking on the skeletons in ISA's closet, do some research on Susan Douglass. According to what I've read, she's a convert to Wahhabism and used to teach at ISA. She's now moved on to Georgetown University, I believe.

You'll find info about Douglass at Front Page Magazine, World Net Daily, Northern Virginiastan, Always On Watch Archives, and possibly at my present site. You'll also find more info on the ISA at those sites. If you can't find the info I'm thinking of about the ISA's bus accident in April 2005, email me, and I'll get that info to you.

Sunday, May 11, 2008 7:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am always shocked and saddened when I read articles about the Islamic Saudi Academy that seem to be written by misinformed individuals.

I am an American from a Christian family. My daughter attends the Islamic Saudi Academy. Her teacher is a wonderful American Christian women. In fact, most of the staff is American and Christian which is not at all relevant to my child's learning, but just a point I make for those who like to paint a picture of anti-Christian/Jew and anti/Americanism at the school.

I visit the school frequently, chaperone field trips, etc. and find the enviornment to be very wholesome, nuturing and surprisingly American.

With regard to Ms. Stillwell's article that mentions that the US Military learned Arabic from the school, it should be noted that despite all the hoopla from the US State Department about its incentives for schools to start teaching Arabic at the elementary level so as to staff the CIA, FBI and Military with fluent Arabic speaking employees, you will be hard pressed to find any elementary schools that teach Arabic. There are none in Fairfax County and none in the entire State of Florida, which is one of the reasons we moved to Virgina to put our child in ISA - so she could learn Arabic so she could communicate with her grandparents - not to train her for jihad.

I did extensive research on Islamic schools in the US and found that most are underfunded, do not have certified teachers and have inadequate facilities. Further, most are very conservative - requiring that girls cover from head to toe beginning in Kindergarten.

ISA is by far the best Islamic school in the country. It's teachers are certified, the school is accredited, it has adequate facilities - gyms, libraries, computer and science labs, etc.(thanks to Saudi funding) and does not require a dress code any different than any other private school. You might note that Saudi Arabia started this school back in the the mid 1980's for the children of its Embassy workers. It's student body grew because there was such a demand for an Islamic school in the area.

With regard to the comment made by Always on Watch, this person is confused. The Popes Head campus consists of 3 small house-like structures and a playground surrounded by acres of trees and flowers. There is a small white fence that outlines the property similar to the type you see surrounding horse farms. No walls - no compound.

I don't read Arabic, so I can't confirm what may or may not be in the school's books, but let us not forget that Christianity teaches that those who do not accept Jesus shall go to hell. How different is this from calling other religions false?

I'm just curious to know if Ms. Stillwell has ever had the opportunity to visit either of the ISA campuses? It might have helped her gather more accurate facts for her article.

Saturday, June 07, 2008 8:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stillwell you are not doing God's work through your hate mongering

"A believer will highlight the good in the other and conceal his faults

A hypocrit will highlight the bad in another and conceal his good"

I think your actions stem from a deficiency in your own heart

May Allah guide you


Monday, August 18, 2008 10:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Noor Ali said...

I, too, am bothered by the obvious bias that Cinnamon Stillwell has towards Islam and Muslims. While reading her very long and detailed take on the ISA, I wondered what her agenda is, why her heart seems so hardened, what's behind her bitterness, and why she seems intent on presenting misleading information.

We have enough problems in this world - do we need more people stirring the pot and creating enmity rather than attempting to be agents for peace?


Wednesday, October 22, 2008 10:08:00 AM  

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