Consortium Against Terrorist Finance Aug. 29, 2016, 10:41am

In an increasingly connected world, a country’s reputation determines much more than just how its people and government are viewed around the globe. A reputation for corruption, for example, may limit foreign investment and trade while a reputation for dangerous threats will hinder incoming tourism. With this in mind, it is not hard to imagine why a foreign government may spend millions on, for example, a glistening new glass and steel headquarters for a prominent D.C. think-tank or countless hours of lobbying on its behalf. Yet, amid an increased number of terrorist attacks in the West, foreign financing of charities, mosques, think-tanks, and armed groups have become the targets of Western suspicion over Islamic foreign influence. However, an equally dynamic channel of foreign influence has gone largely unnoticed in the West: a complex network of foreign influencers capable of manipulating the U.S. education system towards the teaching of subjects that serve their strategic interests.

Foreign influence in U.S. schools has been primarily conducted through the Common Core and Connect All Schools initiatives. Three years before the introduction of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (or Common Core) and its global focus, the One World Education program was gradually being adopted in schools throughout the country. The One World Education program aims to “utilize student-authored writing about culture and global issues as teaching tools for other students” and is an active, on the ground (or “in the classroom”) partner in the consortium of the Qatar-backed Connect All Schools program. The Connect All Schools program, announced following President Obama’s June 2009 speech in Cairo, lists the U.S. Department of State (DOS), U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the Qatar Foundation International (QFI) as its three “sponsors and supporters” in pursuing its goal of connecting every school in the U.S. with the world.

So, why has the Qatari government-funded QFI chose to strongly support an initiative aimed at adding a global perspective to U.S. schools? The answer lies in the nature of the “connections” being made. Since QFI partnered with DOS and DOE in 2011, the government-backed non-profit has invested $2 - $5 million a year in Arabic-language instruction in U.S. public schools with reports claiming that QFI-backed Arabic classes have even become a required study for some elementary school students. Beyond ensuring that American students are studying the Arabic language, QFI has granted “Curriculum Grants” to seven U.S. schools and language centers in order to “develop comprehensive and innovative curricula and teaching materials to be used in any Arabic language classroom.” Thus, despite its partnership with the Departments of State and Education, it appears that QFI is pulling the strings when it comes to U.S. schools new “connections” to the Arab world.

QFI’s hidden influence in the U.S. K-12 educational system should not be overlooked. Closely tied to a government that has proven its commitment to buying global influence through new channels, QFI has also demonstrated signs of support for the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2015, a new Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies building in Doha was opened under the patronage of Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation and one of three wives of former Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser. One of the colleges’ five research centers is named after the highly controversial Islamic theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi who, despite being referred to as a “moderate” by the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, has espoused extremist views and voiced his support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Also, QFI launched a Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics in 2012 under the leadership of Oxford professor and grandson of Hassan al-Banna, Tariq Ramadan. Al-Qaradawi, a trustee of the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies since 2004, also contributed to the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies during Ramadan’s tenure which has led some to believe that their collaboration led the Egyptian theologian to help Ramadan find a role at Oxford.

Today, Common Core, which may have been in-part inspired by the Connect All School’s-orchestrated One World Education initiative, acts as the clear college and career readiness standard for K-12 students in English language arts, literacy, and mathematics. Common Core, created by the National Governor’s Association (NGA), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), Achieve Inc., ACT, and the College Board, has also relied on many groups for help in creating its standards and curriculum. One of those groups, Pearson Education, has created hundreds of curricula designed to assist educators in teaching for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In addition to the curricula offered, Pearson Education advertises its “professional development opportunities, aligned content, assessment, and school services” to K-12 educators.

While claiming to offer a product based solely on assisting educators in preparing their students to meet the CCSS, Pearson Education’s third-largest investor, the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), may be disguising ulterior interests. The LIA is a government-managed sovereign wealth fund and holding company founded by Muammar Gaddafi’s once-powerful son, Saif al-Islam, before the 2011 revolution led to the freezing of the portfolio’s $67 billion in assets. The LIA had also allegedly acted as a channel for the Council on Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group often tied to Hamas, to invest in Pearson Education. While the LIA’s assets are still frozen, caused by international sanctions levied in the wake of the government’s brutal 2011 crackdown, the group’s leadership has launched a campaign aimed at regaining management of the portfolio’s funds.

Although LIA’s assets were frozen soon after the multimillion dollar investment in Pearson, the potential for portfolio management rights to be returned to LIA constitutes a serious threat to U.S. schools. Similar to Qatar’s subtle role through Connect All Schools, influence driven by Libya’s new central government in the textbooks and curriculum of American children should not go undetected.

Conventional channels of foreign influence have come under increased public scrutiny in recent times. In search of a new, more subtle way of disseminating one’s worldview and interests in a connected world, Qatar and Libya are leading efforts to gradually establish a voice in the U.S. education system through a complex network of influence. While wealthy Qatar’s investments have largely been limited to the establishment of Arabic-language classes and Libya’s LIA assets are frozen, the U.S. public should be concerned about the establishment of networks that would allow for more impactful foreign influence to enter the classroom in the future.

See also: Qatar: From Oxford Classrooms to Europe's Hearts and Minds

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