The situation at the ISA has become so well-known that it was reported on Al Jazeera. MEMRI has posted a subtitled version of the video, as well as a transcript. The news reporter says this in voice-over:
This child recites verses from the Koran with perfect diction, even though he is only six years old. These flowers, which have just begun to bloom, have sprouted on American soil. Their parents decided to help them find their roots in a supervised environment. This goal has been achieved at the Islamic Saudi Academy. However, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which was established by Congress, has recommended that the academy be shut down, alleging that its religious curricula, which are taught in Saudi Arabia as well, included material inciting to racism and intolerance towards other religions. [emphasis added]
Yes, they are taught in Saudi Arabia as well — that’s why we don’t want them here in Virginia.
The local TV stations and Washington newspapers covered last Tuesday’s protest, and that — plus the fact that the director of the school has been charged with obstruction of justice for his failure to report a possible instance of child sexual abuse — seems to have made the Fairfax County authorities a little bit nervous.
Up until last week the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Mr. Gerry Connelly, had been a staunch defender of the ISA. But Mr. Connelly has rather abruptly changed his mind. According to The Fairfax County Times:
Supervisors pass buck on Islamic school- - - - - - - - -
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has put the fate of a controversial Islamic school in the hands of the U.S. Department of State.
“We’re essentially telling the federal government to do their job,” said Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay (D).
Board chairman Gerry Connolly [N.B. I’ve seen his surname spelled both ways, and I don’t know which one is correct. — BB] sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking the State Department to sign off on the board’s May 19 extension of the Islamic Saudi Academy’s lease on a former Fairfax County school building.
“Our lease with Saudi Arabia specifically recognizes the State Department’s role and responsibility in this regard,” the letter, which was unanimously approved by the board, states.
The board is reexamining the lease extension in the wake of new questions about the teachings of the Islamic Saudi Academy, which has campuses in Alexandria and Fairfax, by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Earlier this month, the committee flagged the school’s textbooks as promoting religious intolerance and violence.
Some of the school’s textbooks “include some extremely troubling passages that do not conform to international human rights norms,” according to a USCIRF statement. Reportedly, the textbooks contain passages teaching that it is permissible to kill or steal from those who don’t believe in Islam or members of differing sects of Islam.
Further complicating the matter, the school’s director, McLean resident Abdalla I. Al-Shabnan, 52, was arrested June 9 for failing to report an alleged incident of child abuse of one of his students, a 5-year-old girl.
The confluence of scandals has put the Board of Supervisors, and especially Connolly, who is currently in the midst of a congressional campaign, in a politically difficult situation.
But the State Department shows no eagerness to take any responsibility for a decision about the ISA:
“We’re asking the U.S Department of State to tell us yes or no, instead of playing ping pong in the media,” Connolly said.
The state department had not received the board’s letter at press time, but a department spokesperson said the department does not oversee locally accredited schools.
This issue is a real hot potato, and is going to be passed from hand to hand indefinitely. According to CQ Politics:
Rob McInturff, a spokesman at the State Department, confirmed that the department received Connelly’s letter. He said he believed it was the responsibility of local school boards to monitor what happened at schools such as the academy.
The State Department, while willing to cooperate, was concerned about getting the Saudi government to change its textbooks around the globe, including at the academy, and it wouldn’t be able to confirm whether that had been accomplished until the fall.
“I think, the bottom line is, the State Department is more than happy to cooperate and help out, and we’ve said we’ll cooperate as we can, but that’s very different than saying we’re responsible for all foreign schools in the United States, and we’re not, legally we’re not,” McInturff said.
As you can see, State is going to punt the potato if it possibly can, and put it back into the hands of Fairfax County.
In the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing yesterday, Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey engaged in some high-grade diplomatic waffling:
QUESTION: …I understand that you’ve received a letter from the — from Fairfax County asking you whether you could give an opinion on the lease of the Saudi school in Alexandria and whether the county should extend that lease, which I am told it’s worth $2.2 million a year. But — just, I mean, do you expect to pronounce yourselves on that? Is that something that you — MR. CASEY: Well, I think it’s something we’ve just gotten. We’ll certainly take a look at it and see what kind of response would be appropriate, but I — you know, it’s not something we’ve had a chance to really look through. As you know, this is a school that is incorporated and overseen through the county there. It’s not an institution that we have any sort of formal role in accrediting or managing. But certainly, we’ll take a look at the letter and if there’s some thoughts or advice that we can offer, we’ll certainly do it. QUESTION: I was just wondering whether you thought — if it’s appropriate for them to be asking you, since you don’t really have (inaudible) in this. MR. CASEY: Well, you know, kind of beside the point, since they’ve asked and we’ll take a look at what they’ve asked us and see if we can come up with a response that makes sense and see what would be useful input that we might be able to have into their decision-making… QUESTION: Who would consider that for the State Department? Who would be looking into it? MR. CASEY: Well, I think that involves a number of different people. Probably, first and foremost, the Bureau of Near East Asian Affairs, might involve the office of Foreign Missions, although certainly, this isn’t a diplomatic facility. It might involve the legal advisor since basically anything you do anymore require lawyers. So it’ll be the — you know, like anything else done in this building, there will be many hands at work.
“We’ll certainly take a look at it and see what kind of response would be appropriate…”
Translation: “We’ll pass it around as many different departments as possible and keep the potato in the air for months, until it cools off and everybody forgets about all this tiresome bother, and then we can go back to business as usual, with our noses up the hind portion of the Saudi jalabiya.”
You can see why the bureaucrats are so reluctant to deal with this issue. It’s a real career-killer, whether you’re in the State Department, or Congress, or the White House, or on the Board of Supervisors.
Everybody in Washington depends on Saudi money to get by. If you’re a mid-level flunky and want that big promotion, above all else you try to make sure those thick bushy eyebrows under the haughty burnoose never draw together in a scowl.
If you’re a member of Congress or a cabinet official, your comfort in your golden years after retirement depends on landing one of those lucrative Saudi lobbying sinecures with a prestigious D.C. law firm. Who wants to risk that?
And everyone in elected office, national or local, wants to make it through the next election with franking privileges intact.
One of these days this issue, or one very like it, is going to blow up in everybody’s faces. Rascals will be thrown out, a new broom will sweep clean, and — depending on how long the day of reckoning is postponed — villagers with pitchforks and torches may make an appearance.
But until then, everyone in government just wants to keep riding the gravy train.
Oil is going up to $200 a barrel. The pie is only going to get bigger, and everybody wants a slice.
I’ll close with this press release that UAC sent me yesterday, which served to remind me to post an update on the ISA:
The efforts of United American Committee (UAC), as a part of an interfaith coalition of grassroots organizations, have resulted in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BoS) calling for a full U.S. State Department investigation of the Islamic Saudi Academy. The UAC’s Virginia and New York chapters have worked with the Traditional Values Coalition, ACT! For America’s Virginia and Maryland Chapters, Center for Security Policy, and Stop the Madrassa to demand transparency, due diligence, and accountability from local and Federal government. This coalition has made a difference.
On June 23, 2008, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, responding to public outcry, unanimously reversed its support of the Islamic Saudi Academy, and called for the U.S. State Department to investigate the school. Though the UAC applauds the BoS’s decision to demand such an investigation, the UAC disagrees with the BoS’s claims of ignorance regarding the ISA. Given the preponderance of available government reports, and the testimony presented to the BoS during a May 19, 2008 hearing on the ISA, the BoS only remained unaware of relevant information due to its own preference. The UAC questions how the BoS on May 19th, proclaimed their investigation of the ISA sufficiently resourced and conclusive, yet now claims the County lacks the capability to conduct an adequate investigation.
The UAC regrets that it took the arrest of the ISA Director General, another government report, and a protest to convince the BoS to finally take action and heed the warnings of the USCIRF reports that BoS Chairman Gerry Connolly called TVC member Jim Lafferty slanderous for citing.
The UAC also disagrees with the BoS assertions of impotency, as, on May 19th, it fully had within its power to delay the approval of the ISA lease until completion of a US State Department investigation. Instead it issued the ISA, and its now arrested Director General, an apology. The BoS has now called upon the US State Department to conduct the same investigation UAC and coalition partners requested on May 19th.
The UAC believes the BoS can do even more, and believes the ISA has abused the goodwill of its hosts. The BoS must stop passing the buck and finally hold the ISA accountable for its repeated lies and running a curriculum of religiously sanctified murder for almost 20 years. Accordingly, the UAC calls for the closure of the ISA and competitive bidding for use of the County property it leases.
Join the United American Committee, Traditional Values Coalition, ACT! For America, Center for Security Policy, Stop the Madrassa, and a growing group of concerned citizens, in demanding transparency, due diligence, and accountability from our government. Visit saudiwatch.wordpress.com for information on how to help.
For more information contact:
Virginia Chapter Director
United American Committee
Hat tips for various pieces of this post: Frontinus.