Rick Perry and the “Pro-Sharia Curriculum:” Pamela Geller is Wrong
By David Stein
(My absolute final word on the subject — even if Pam Geller calls me “asshat” again — HERE)
In an article from last week, I thoroughly addressed, and (in my humble opinion) fatally wounded the claim promoted by Pamela Geller that Rick Perry forced Texas public schools to use a pro-Sharia curriculum.
In my post, I printed lengthy excerpts from the school lesson plan on Islam that resulted from Governor Perry’s association with the Ismaili Muslim Aga Khan Foundation. Far from being “pro-Sharia,” the lesson plan, written by retired history teacher (and self-described Christian Zionist) Ron Wiltse, was pro-Israel, pro-West, anti-Sharia, and critical of Islam.
There are so many legitimate topics of discussion regarding the pros and cons of each candidate in the race for the Republican nomination, I honestly hoped that, at the very least, we could put the “Rick Perry pro-Sharia curriculum” myth aside.
Not so. Late last week, Pamela Geller responded with a post boldly titled “Perry/Aga Khan Curriculum: ‘shocking example of Islamic propaganda forced upon unsuspecting students attending Texas public schools.’” The post opened with a thinly veiled attack on me and this site:
“Have you seen supposed ‘counter jihad’ sites giving the Perry/Aga Khan propaganda curriculum an A+? Huh? Did they even bother to read that garbage? it is strangley (sic) disquieting to see these ‘fighters’ fight for the Islamic propaganda of unabashed Islamic supremacists. If they are down with this, what exactly is it that they are they fighting? Do they know how stupid they look?”
Well, I’ll be the first one to admit that I look pretty damn stupid most of the time, but that’s on account of my disdain for shaving and my love of Hawaiian shirts. But on this blog, at least, I try fairly hard not to look stupid.
Geller approvingly posts an email sent to her from one of her regular readers, “Dave” (no relation). “Dave” has this to say about the Perry/Khan curriculum:
Thank you for calling attention to Perry’s cozy relationship with the Aga Khan. I have personally reviewed the curriculum developed as a joint project between Gov. Perry and “his highness,” and discovered that it is indeed a shocking example of Islamic propaganda forced upon unsuspecting students attending Texas public schools. It’s appalling. To put it in a nutshell, the Islamic perspective of history has been inserted without critique into Texas classrooms….I’m willing to grant Gov. Perry the benefit of the doubt and believe that his actions are the product of naiveté and ignorance, rather than actual hostility to the West. However, his ignorance is inexcusable, and the damage he has done is immense. If Barack Obama had imposed such a curriculum on schools we’d be calling for his impeachment. Therefore it is unconscionable to look the other way when it comes to Perry. In my opinion, not only should Perry not be President, he should be impeached from the Texas governorship. Thanks again; you were right!
To prove his point, “Dave” quotes paragraph after paragraph of text from the “curriculum.” For anyone who read my original article, and who then read this Atlas Shrugs piece, there must have been a certain amount of confusion. What “Dave” posted was completely different from the lesson plan I posted and linked to in my original article.
And there is a very simple reason for that…“Dave” was not quoting from the school curriculum.
“Dave” was quoting from the abstracts (summaries) of the sessions that the teachers who volunteer for the Muslim Histories and Culture Project (MHCP) attend. On the MHCP site, one can read abstracts of each seminar (also referred to as “sessions”).
There are no authors credited with writing the abstracts. There is no way to know how accurately they represent what the sessions are actually like, except to do what I did – interview a teacher who completed the training (the aforementioned Ron Wiltse). Mr. Wiltse told me, in no uncertain terms, that the training involved no pro-Islam proselytizing.
And, in the end, the proof is what resulted from the training – what actually made its way into the classroom. I can trust a 60-something-year-old world history teacher with a Master’s Degree to read books from various points of view and reach his own conclusions. My concern, and I think I share this with most of my readers, is what our children are exposed to in the classroom.
And that’s what the lesson plan I quoted from in my original article is. Those are the words that the students see. What Atlas Shrugs posted are abstracts from seminars that are not intended for students, and not attended by students.
When Pamela Geller claims that the excerpts she posted are “forced upon unsuspecting students attending Texas public schools,” she is, at best, mistaken. At worst, it’s a blatant falsehood.
While Ms. Geller was (knowingly or not) misrepresenting the seminar abstracts as the school curriculum, other “Rick Perry Sharia curriculum” die-hards (especially those who left comments on my story and clogged by inbox with angry emails) were taking a different tactic. After picking apart the lesson plan, and finding nothing in it that even remotely qualifies as pro-Sharia, they decided to complain instead that the lesson was poorly written and not exhaustive enough!
I agree that the lesson plan isn’t exhaustive. But the original charge wasn’t that the Perry/Khan curriculum is less-than-exhaustive or peppered with typos. The original claim was that the curriculum is pro-Sharia. That’s what Ms. Geller charged.
The lesson plan is not pro-Sharia. Period. Pamela Geller is wrong.
Ms. Geller wasn’t the only one reacting to my article. The eminent Robert Spencer took to the comments section of his own site to reply to a reader who posted some excerpts from my piece (Spencer’s comment is the 6th one down). Spencer’s reply refers to a quote of his I used, in which he affirmed that the Ismaili Muslims are nonviolent and not pro-jihad:
When I did that symposium with (Dr. Timothy) Furnish, I agreed that the Ismailis taught nonviolence. That was all. Now it has come to light, thanks to Pamela Geller, that the Aga Khan owns an al-Qaeda bank and has been funding Syria, a state sponsor of terrorism. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t teach nonviolence — my words in that symposium simply aren’t dealing with the facts I present in this present post, and cannot be used to refute them or even to show a contradiction.
Citizen K, I fail to see how Pamela Geller discredited herself in any way. The sources I use above are ones she uncovered.
Now, technically, Mr. Spencer’s reply gets Perry off the hook entirely for his past association with the Aga Khan. After all, if Robert Spencer – whose entire raison d’être is investigating and tracking Islamists – didn’t know about these “new facts” until last week, well…certainly Rick Perry can be excused for not knowing them as well.
All the same, these “new facts” deserve to be examined. Here are the new allegations “uncovered” by Pamela Geller:
1. The Aga Khan Foundation and Habib Bank
The Ismailis are peaceful, yes, and the Aga Khan Foundation is an established Islamic charity. But the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development is also part-owner of the Pakistan-based Bank al-Habib, which Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s widow Mariane sued in 2007 for damages relating to its funding of al-Qaida and involvement in the murder of her husband by Islamic jihad terrorists. She dropped the suit later that year without explanation, except to note that the Habib Bank had never answered her charges.
Indeed, in 2007, Daniel Pearl’s widow sued Habib Bank (along with several other parties), charging that the bank had failed to freeze the account of the Pakistan-based al-Akhtar Trust, which, in the early 2000s, had been used to fund terrorist activities. In a press release, the bank vigorously denied the charges, claiming it froze the account several years before the murder of Mr. Pearl, after the Pakistani government issued notices to all banks to freeze the trust.
However, what would have been helpful is if Ms. Geller had informed her readers that the Aga Khan Foundation was not part-owner of Habib Bank until two years after the murder of Daniel Pearl. The controversy over whether or not the al-Akhtar Trust was frozen after 9/11 is a problem the Aga Khan Foundation inherited when it purchased a majority share in the bank in 2004. The bank, Pakistan’s oldest (with branches in New York, California, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, and Australia), had been nationalized in 1974. In a “fire sale”-type move, the Pakistani government put 51% of the bank up for sale in 2004, to help pay off its overseas debt and reduce its budget deficit. Sensing a good business opportunity, the Khan Foundation put in the highest bid, beating the second highest bidder, the State of Qatar.
The transfer of management control to the Khan Foundation occurred in February 2004, exactly two years after Pearl’s murder.
Whether or not the bank froze the Akhtar Trust after 9/11, the Khan Foundation was not involved at the time. In 2006, under Khan Foundation control, the bank submitted a formal plan to the U.S. Federal Reserve Board to assure full compliance with anti-money laundering laws.
Considering the fact that the government of Pakistan is about as loyal and trustworthy an ally as a pet scorpion, the Western-friendly Khan Foundation is probably a preferable alternative when it comes to who controls Pakistan’s largest commercial bank.
2. The Aga Khan Foundation and Syria
And then on August 26, 2008, the Aga Khan Development Network made a proud announcement: “The Syrian Government and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) yesterday signed three landmark agreements designed to strengthen collaboration in the areas of microfinance, healthcare, and cultural tourism.” Syria’s Prime Minister, Mohamed Naji Al-Otri, and the Aga Khan signed the agreements. The agreements involved recognition of the First Microfinance Institution (FMFI), part of the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance, “as the first microfinance institution to operate in the country.” Between 2003 and 2008, it spent $40 million to develop business in Syria.
Investigative reporter Mark Mitchell observes that “the Aga Khan Foundation’s membership and supporters also include top military officers in Syria, such as General Moustapha Sharba, who had a hand in the early stages of the covert nuclear weapons program that Syria was developing with help from North Korea (and probably Iran).”
I’ll take the second paragraph first. The “General Moustapha Sharba” accusation is found only on the “everything but the kitchen sink” conspiracy-theory site of Mark Mitchell…which wouldn’t be a problem if he sourced it. But he doesn’t. And Mitchell himself doesn’t even seem convinced of his own claim, writing on other pages of his site that “it is believed” that Sharba had a hand in Syria’s covert efforts. “It is believed?” By who? By Mark Mitchell? Sorry – I need a bit more than that (actually, I need a whole lot more than that).
Regarding the first paragraph, the Aga Khan visited Syria in 2008 as part of his Jubilee celebration:
The Aga Khan leads a community of 15 million Ismaili Muslims living in some 25 countries around the world and is a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family). In the Ismaili tradition, the Imam’s Jubilee celebrations offer occasions to launch new social, cultural and economic development projects. In keeping with the ethics of the faith, these projects aspire to improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable in society. During the Jubilee year, the Aga Khan will travel to a number of countries to meet with members of the Ismaili community, visit projects of the AKDN and announce the creation of new development institutions and projects and the significant expansion of existing ones.
The Aga Khan Foundation is philanthropic and nonviolent. As part of its mission, it launches and maintains projects that encourage social, cultural, and economic development in the countries in which Ismaili Muslims live (there are over 200,000 Ismailis in Syria). In some cases, this means working with repressive governments. I will point out that this is not an uncommon practice by philanthropic organizations that represent ethnic or religious minorities that live under repressive regimes. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), for example, worked with the government of brutal dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, pumping money into Romania in order to create social welfare institutions to benefit the Jewish community in that country. The JDC also partnered with the tyrannical Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe to provide medical training and care, and with Fidel Castro’s government to provide non-sectarian medical care in Cuba.
To assuage the anger of the all-caps comment crowd, I want to clearly point out that I am not comparing Jews to Ismailis. The Ismailis are often persecuted, yes, but they have never had to endure the wholesale oppression and mass-slaughter that has been inflicted on the Jews, from pogroms, forced conversions, and expulsions, to the Holocaust, to the wars of extermination against Israel, to the daily threat of Muslim terror. I am not comparing the plight of Jews to that of Ismailis; I’m merely pointing out that, for any organization tasked with protecting the interests of persecuted minority groups, having to deal with unsavory governments is a simple fact of life.
Needless to say, if Ms. Geller (or anyone else) can show that as much as one dollar of the Khan Foundation money that was spent in Syria went to terrorism-related activities, that would be an important story, and I would be the first to repost it.
3. Governor Perry and Grover Norquist
Yes, all Perry did was give a speech in partnership with Grover Norquist, and promote it on his website. Norquist heads up Americans for Tax Reform, and Perry’s tax-cutting message is redolent of Norquist’s influence. But Norquist also has deep and extensive ties to Islamic supremacists and jihadists, as I showed in the first commentary. That raises legitimate questions about whether or not Perry knows about, or cares about, or even endorses, that activity by Norquist. I certainly would refuse to speak at the same event in partnership with Grover Norquist – let alone promote it on my website. Shouldn’t Rick Perry have, too?
I’m sorry, but this is just silly. Norquist has been a GOP insider since the days of Reagan. He defines “insider.” Read this article to understand the influence he wields with the current Republican congressional leadership, and with presidential candidates like Romney and Bachmann. As an example of just how ubiquitous Norquist is, he sits on the board of the American Conservative Union (along with potential presidential candidate Ambassador John Bolton) and the advisory council of the recently CPAC-expelled GOProud (along with Ann Coulter and Andrew Breitbart).
Earlier this year, Norquist spoke at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference, along with Michele Bachmann, Allen West, Thad McCotter, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Herman Cain, Paul Ryan, and Newt Gingrich.
Bachmann, West, Rubio, McCotter, and Ryan are all proud signatories to Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, with their names proudly displayed – with permission – on his website.
Concerns about Norquist’s ties with members of the Muslim Brotherhood are absolutely legitimate. Such concerns were laid out eloquently by David Horowitz, a man of great integrity who had the guts to call Norquist out at his own CPAC.
But what is not legitimate is to single Perry out for having an association with Norquist on anti-tax issues, when almost every other GOP presidential contender has done the same. That’s just asinine.
In his CPAC speech, Horowitz credited Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy (CSP) as being the first person to bring Norquist’s unsavory Muslim Brotherhood associations to the attention of the other CPAC board members. I seriously doubt that most conservatives would accuse Gaffney or the CSP of being “dhimmis.” Yet CSP spokesman Dave Reaboi offered a heartfelt defense of Rick Perry, in an email to Commentary. I have a vacation to get back to, so I think I’ll let Mr. Reaboi have the last word:
The Ismailis are a persecuted Shia minority in Saudi Arabia; indeed, Perry’s meeting with Khan could not have won him many friends there. Rather than reaching out – as both presidents Bush and Obama mistakenly did – to problematic organizations associated with the Muslim Brotherhood’s expressly political agenda, Perry’s choice to engage with a more ‘progressive’ group is a good sign.