Georgetown University's Wahhabi Front
by Patrick Poole
In December 2005, Georgetown University announced receipt of a $20 million gift to endow the school's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, after whom the Center was renamed. The Center's director, John Esposito, has been known for his vigorous apologetics for Islamic extremism, authoring several books prior to the endowment's announcement dismissing the global influence of extremist Islamic ideology. Under Esposito's oversight, the Center has also developed questionable ties to individuals and organizations directly involved in Islamic terrorism. One example of these ties is the joint conference held by the Center with the United Association for Studies and Research (UASR) in July 2000. By that time, UASR had long been identified as the political command for HAMAS in the United States, and Esposito's co-chair for the conference was then-UASR executive director Ahmed Yousef, who fled the country in 2005 to avoid prosecution and currently serves as the spokesman for the HAMAS terrorist organization in Gaza.
As a result of the Saudi funding and terror ties, Rep. Frank Wolf last week directed a letter to Georgetown president John DeGioia expressing his concerns as an alumnus of the university over the activities of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and the seeming absence of criticism or discussion by the Center of human rights abuses and denial of religious freedom by the Saudi regime. An article by Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project reporting the contents of Rep. Wolf's letter also noted Esposito's long history of defending radical Islam and his vocal support and praise of his self-described "good friend", convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Sami Al-Arian.
In fact, there is much more for Rep. Wolf and other Georgetown alumni to be concerned about. Since Prince Alwaleed's gift, the Center at Georgetown under Esposito's direction has since become a haven for Muslim Brotherhood-connected scholars and longtime paid representatives of the Saudi Wahhabi regime. Two individuals that have recently been appointed to top positions within the Center, Susan Douglass and Hadia Mubarak, have been active in leadership positions with known front organizations for the international Muslim Brotherhood – identified as such in court documents by the Department of Justice. Douglas, who has additionally been a longtime paid employee of the Saudi regime (discussed below) is listed as the Center's educational consultant and Mubarak is identified as the senior researcher for the Center. A third staff member is Abdullah Al-Arian, the oldest son and family spokesman for Sami Al-Arian, who is listed as a researcher for the organization.
The appearance of Susan Douglass on the staff of the Center should be of particular concern. As investigative reporter Paul Sperry observed in a 2004 article, Douglass was a longtime instructor at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, VA – a Saudi government-funded institution that has been described by some media outlets as "Terror High". One recent class valedictorian, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was convicted in 2005 of joining Al-Qaeda and plotting to kill President Bush. Two other former students have also been convicted of plotting terrorist attacks. As Senator Chuck Schumer observed in a 2005 letter to then-Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar concerning the school's troubling record, the school's former comptroller, Ismail Elbarasse, is a known HAMAS operative and former assistant to designated HAMAS terrorist leader Mousa Abu Marzook. And just a few months ago, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom asked the US Department of State to close the school down as a danger to the country for its open promotion of hatred and religious bigotry in its Saudi curriculum, as reported by the Washington Post. One Post front page article in 2004 describes how children at the school "file into their Islamic studies class, where the textbooks tell them the Day of Judgment can't come until Jesus Christ returns to Earth, breaks the cross and converts everyone to Islam, and until Muslims start attacking Jews."
During her tenure at the Islamic Saudi Academy, Douglass had a series of textbooks published by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), an organization raided by federal law enforcement authorities investigating terror financing as part of Operation Greenquest. The Washington Post reported in 2004 how IIIT was founded with money from Muslim Brotherhood operatives and the Saudi terror funding network. Perhaps coincidentally, Esposito's "good friend" Sami Al-Arian has been charged with contempt of court for refusing to testify about his terror funding operation's ties to IIIT. Al-Arian initially claimed there was nothing to testify about, but later changed his story that testifying would put his life in grave danger (his attorneys have yet to explain how testifying about nothing would put him in danger).
But perhaps the most important point concerning Susan Douglass' past work is her role as the principal researcher and textbook review for the Council on Islamic Education (CIE), which has been pressuring American textbook publishers to revise their respective curricula to promote an extremist and revisionist view of Islam. One CIE campaign was directed at Houghton Mifflin Publishers, which resulted in a number of changes to their public school curriculum, including open promotion of Islam and requiring students to participate in Islamic worship activities. Gilbert Sewall of the American Textbook Council has documented the changes to textbooks resulting from CIE's efforts, and the changes made to textbooks under CIE's direction has been criticized by former Secretary of Education William Bennett. One published estimate states that Douglass and CIE have also trained more than 8,000 public school teachers.
It is precisely her role as "educational consultant" at the Georgetown Center that should cause concern. As noted by Stanley Kurtz last July, Georgetown is one of a few universities that receive money from the federal government under Title VI of the Higher Education Act for Middle East Studies centers to develop approved K-12 Middle East curriculum. This program has been used by the Saudis to circumvent educational oversight. Kurtz describes how this end-run works:
The United States government gives money — and a federal seal of approval — to a university Middle East Studies center. That center offers a government-approved K-12 Middle East studies curriculum to America's teachers. But in fact, that curriculum has been bought and paid for by the Saudis, who may even have trained the personnel who operate the university's outreach program. Meanwhile, the American government is asleep at the wheel — paying scant attention to how its federally mandated public outreach programs actually work. So without ever realizing it, America's taxpayers end up subsidizing — and providing official federal approval for — K-12 educational materials on the Middle East that have been created under Saudi auspices. Game, set, match: Saudis.
With a directed effort by the Saudis to influence American attitudes by exercising its influence of educational curriculum under this program, it is hardly surprising that Esposito's Saudi-funded Center would suddenly create an "educational consultant" position to be directly involved in this effort. Nor is it any surprise that the Saudis would turn to one of their own – Susan Douglass – who is a former longtime educational employee of the Saudi regime to oversee their educational efforts at Georgetown.
Then there is Hadia Mubarak, the Center's "senior researcher". Not only is Mubarak the former president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), but she is also a former national board member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Both organizations were identified last year by the Department of Justice as unindicted co-conspirators and as front organizations for the international Muslim Brotherhood in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism finance trial.
Ms. Mubarak's extremist views can be seen in her attacks on Stephen Schwartz, a moderate Muslim leader and director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, for his criticism of Saudi Wahhabism and the Muslim Brotherhood. She was quoted in an article in Church Executive magazine as saying regarding Mr. Schwartz that he maintained a "deep hatred of Islam", notwithstanding his own Islamic beliefs and leadership in the American Muslim community. Schwartz responded in an article noting Mubarak's multiple ties and involvement with MSA and CAIR, part of what his organization identifies as key components of the "Wahhabi Lobby" operating in the US. He concludes:
"The real message of Ms. Mubarak is the classic Wahhabi spin on Islam. That is, only one interpretation of the religion is acceptable, that propagated by the Saudis, and anybody who disagrees with the Wahhabi doctrine is an enemy to be attacked. With dreadful results, this view of Islam, denying its vital internal diversity, has come to dominate Muslims as well as non-Muslim so-called experts on Islam in the U.S."
Last, but certainly not least, of notable characters on the Georgetown's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding employee directory is Abdullah Al-Arian, oldest son of convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader and fundraiser, Sami Al-Arian. Abdullah's uncle, Mazen Al-Najjar, was also detained for three years during the Clinton Administration and later deported from the US for his alleged terrorist ties.
In recent years, Al-Arian has championed his father's innocence as the family's chief spokesman, undeterred by his father's guilty plea to conspiracy to materially support a terrorist organization. During his father's trial, Abdullah appeared as a character witness along with his sister, claiming that they never heard their father speak of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Apparently, they had never seen the videos of their father fundraising for Islamic Jihad, cursing the United States for its support of Israel, or being introduced by others as the head of Islamic Jihad at terror fundraising events. During his court testimony, the prosecutor questioned Abdullah about his own sympathies for Hezbollah and the Iranian regime, which is the primary financial backer of Islamic Jihad.
Abdullah made national news of his own in July 2001, when he was removed from a meeting at the Old Executive Office Building by the Secret Service, as reported by the New York Times. But more recently he has been semi-famous for his international promotion of the recent Norwegian directed and produced "documentary", USA vs. Al-Arian, in which he and his family figure prominently. The documentary declares Sami Al-Arian's innocence and casts Al-Arian and his family as martyrs of freedom and victims of an unjust American terror prosecution (despite Al-Arian's voluntary guilty plea), a narrative with Abdullah himself has openly promoted. One recent article covering a special premier of the film sponsored by CAIR quotes the younger Al-Arian reflecting on his father's upcoming deportation and the difficulties of locating a country that will take him. "It's a sad day when you have to leave the U.S. to be free," Abdullah said.
Confirming the business maxim that "personnel is policy", we can readily see the extremist and narrow interpretation of Islam promoted by John Esposito and the Georgetown Center as seen by these three staff members. Under Esposito's direction and since Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's capital endowment, the Center at Georgetown has become an active front for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudi Wahhabi regime, which has repeatedly shown its international commitment to using its significant financial resources to gain access and control of respectable private institutions for its own questionable purposes. (As an aside, I have not taken up the issue here of other scholars at Georgetown funded by terror-connected groups, such as IIIT.)
If Rep. Wolf or Georgetown President DiGioia want to know what's going on at Georgetown Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and the version of Islam they're promoting, they don't have to look far if they have the will to look.
Note: The content of external articles does not necessarily reflect the views of Center for Islamic Pluralism.