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 SFGate.com (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 CinnamonStillwell.com.

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.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Columbia's Catastrophic "Nakba" Conference

Exit Zero blogger Mary Madigan bravely charted the "Nakba" waters last week by attending a faculty panel discussion on the subject at Columbia University. She wrote about the experience for Campus Watch and her article is posted today at Frontpage Magazine. Here's how it begins:
As Israelis look towards the future in their celebration of the nation's 60th birthday, some Palestinians cling to the past by commemorating what they call the "Nakba" or "the catastrophe." A faculty panel discussion held at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) last month and titled, "60 Years of Nakba—The Catastrophe of Palestine 1948-2008," was one of many similar lamentations held worldwide.

The tone from the outset was grim. Speakers acknowledged that another "Nakba" anniversary was confirmation that combined Palestinian and Arab attempts to eliminate the Jewish state have not succeeded.

Despite this, Columbia's controversial associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history, Joseph Massad, was upbeat. According to Massad, the Israelis have won military victories, but the "Palestinian resistance" has successfully rebranded them. Through 60 years of tireless propaganda efforts, the Palestinian term, "Nakba," has replaced "Israel's war of independence"; "apartheid" has replaced "Jewish sovereignty"; the "plight of the Palestinians" has replaced "the return of the Jews to their ancestral homeland"; the "Palestinians" has replaced "the non-Jewish community of Palestine." And even in the culinary world, Massad claimed, "Palestinian Maftool" has replaced "Israeli couscous." (Like many of Massad's claims, the couscous issue is debatable. A recent visit to Whole Foods Market proved that Israeli couscous is still the preferred nomenclature.)

Massad's concept of victory reframed the event. It was no longer a dirge-like recitation of perpetual victimization, but rather a showcase—a preview of new trends in "resistance" propagandizing.
Continue reading "Columbia's Catastrophic 'Nakba' Conference"