From Harvard Yard to kindergarten classrooms, Saudi extremists have launched a sustained campaign to influence young American minds. These proponents of Wahhabism, a radical Islamist ideology, understand that wars are not fought on the battlefield alone. Indeed, sometimes the most powerful weapon is the idea.
For years, while other philanthropists were busy endowing buildings, the Saudis have been working assiduously to influence the content of what is taught. This includes endowing chairs and creating textbooks. Armed with petrodollars, the Saudis, as well as the United Arab Emirates and other oil-rich Arab nations, have been flooding U.S. schools with approximately $100 million over the years.
The ultimate goal, it appears, is to convince young Americans of the inherent merits of the Arabist perspective regarding Israel and the Palestinians, and the post-Colonial and post-Zionist agenda. If America is not careful, an entire generation will graduate with American degrees harboring a sense of moral ambiguity, relativism and guilt concerning the role of America and Israel in the world.
Apologists for the Saudis might argue that the patrons from this Gulf kingdom are simply interested in education. However, if this is the case, why not bankroll more educational institutions on their own soil? Indeed, Saudi Arabia is a country with a literacy rate of only 40 to 50 percent.
Rather than Saudi students, American students have been showered with huge gifts of Saudi largess. Prince Alaweed bin Talal has provided gifts of $20 million to Georgetown and Harvard Universities, and millions more to the universities at Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, California-Berkeley, Cornell, Michigan, Texas A&M, California-Santa Barbara, and others.
The Saudi investment is now beginning to pay dividends. Graduates of these programs are beginning to assume positions of leadership. Many of them are graduates of a troubling program known as "Title VI."
This U.S. government program, formally called "Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965," provides funding and support for scores of educational programs across the country, with a focus on the study of "foreign languages, as well as area and other international studies critical to strengthening our ability to ensure the nation's security and economic competitiveness."
While these programs may have had some success in their early years, they now represent a gross misallocation of tens of millions of U.S. tax dollars. This is particularly the case with Middle Eastern studies programs. Title VI programs have yielded graduate students and professors who, rather than undertake research in search of truth, peddle one-sided ideological propaganda against the United States, and Israel.
U.S. taxpayers now want to know: How did this happen?
Much of the moral relativism and anti-Americanism seen in Middle Eastern studies across the United States can be traced back to the late professor of English and Comparative Literature, Edward Said. In 1978, he penned a polemical treatise, Orientalism, which challenged the scholarship of anyone who was not a Middle Eastern native.
"Every European," Said insisted, "was a racist, and almost totally ethnocentric." Indeed, he held a post-Colonial view of America as a force of evil in the region. He cast Israel as America's puppet in the Middle East. He enshrined the Palestinian cause at the top of the hierarchy of wrongs that must be righted.
During a time when Middle Eastern studies lacked leadership and direction, Said's substitution of political diatribe for scholarship quickly caught on. As scholar Martin Kramer observed in his groundbreaking book Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, "groupthink" set in. Disciples of Said sprung up in universities nationwide, and the ideas went virtually unchallenged, primarily because tenured professors can teach what they like once they achieve that coveted perch.
Classes dealing with the Middle East have shifted away from a "free market place of ideas." A polemical environment now dominates Middle Eastern studies, which has only been reinforced through Title VI programs, where this "groupthink" continues to dominate.
The problems of Title VI go even deeper. For universities to receive federal funding, they are required to offer teacher-training workshops for teachers of kindergarten through twelfth grade. Through this requirement, the Saudis now fund several foundations that supplement these workshops.
One such foundation is Dar al-Islam, a sprawling campus in New Mexico. On this campus sits a mosque, a madrassa, a summer camp, a teacher training workshop, and a publishing house. This publishing house produces both Wahabbi Qurans and curriculum guides for Title VI workshops.
The Dar al-Islam website features a plethora of effusive letters submitted by American classroom teachers testifying to their newfound appreciation of Islam through these teacher-training workshops. However, a closer look at this curriculum reveals a not-so-subtle package of anti-American and anti-Israeli biases. In one such curriculum guide, the question is asked: "Why was America attacked on September 11, 2001?" The answer supplied: "Because of its support for Israel."
These teachers' guides have infiltrated millions of American classrooms. Teachers support the program because they receive continuing education credits for attending Title VI workshops. These credits can often result in higher teacher salaries.
Stanley Kurtz, a scholar at the Hoover Institution, has followed Title VI for years. Writing in National Review Online, he observed:
Unless we counteract the influence of Saudi money on the education of the young, we're going to find it very difficult to win the war on terror. I only wish I was referring to Saudi-funded madrassas in Pakistan. Unfortunately, I'm talking about K-12 education in the United States… the Saudis have figured out how to make an end-run around America's K-12 curriculum safeguards, thereby gaining control over much of what children in the United States learn about the Middle East… the Saudis have taken a surprising degree of control.
The Battle Ahead
Islamists are clearly targeting the American educational system. Two important steps must now be taken.
First, it is the responsibility of parents and teachers to imbue our children with an unwavering appreciation of America, its allies, and the evils of the ideology that seeks to corrupt us from within. Second, taxpayers must pressure the federal government to conduct a full review of Title VI, its funding, and its programs. Only then will Islamist influence in our classrooms begin to wane.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president the Washington, D.C.-based Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).
Related Topics: Campus Issues, Saudi Arabia | Winter 2008 inFocus | Sarah Stern
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