According to Rep. Frank Wolf, it's up to the U.S. Department of State to decide if textbooks used by the Fairfax County-based Islamic Saudi Academy are being used to encourage religion-based violence in students.
"No authorization from the Department to renew the lease is required," reads a letter on the matter from the State Department to Fairfax Board Chairman Gerry Connelly. The letter from the State Department was a response to a request from Fairfax County asking for a federal opinion on whether it was proper to renew the ISA's lease with the county.
"This is the State Department's responsibility, and they have repeatedly tried to duck giving an opinion on this," said Wolf, who chairs the Congressional committee that oversees the State Department budget.
This game of political hot potato goes back to May, when the Fairfax board voted to renew the 20-year-old Islamic school's lease on a county building for another year. Shortly after that unanimous decision, the States Commission on International Religious Freedom announced that textbooks used by the ISA contained passages that promote religious intolerance and violence. Since the school property is leased through the Saudi Arabian government, the Fairfax supervisors felt it was outside their purview to take action on the matter without the State Department's advice. Wolf agrees, and has requested three times that the State Department issue an opinion on the matter.
According to Wolf, the State Department is legally required to do so because the ISA could be legally defined as a "foreign mission," since the Saudi Embassy holds the lease on the school's property.
"This is [the State Department's] responsibility because the embassy holds the lease. ... They keep trying to push this off onto Fairfax County," said Wolf. The congressman believes Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice should convene a panel of language experts to conclusively determine if the school's textbooks encourage intolerance.
"I think you owe that to both sides. ... If there's no problem, the school should be exonerated. If there is a problem, remove the books," said Wolf.
Further hurting the school's reputation is the conviction this week of school director Abdalla I. Al-Shabnan for failing to inform the police of the reported sexual assault of a 5-year-old student at the school. Al-Shabnan was fined $500 for the crime. This confluence of events has led to calls for the school to be shut down, and protesters marched outside the ISA during final exams.
Responding to the controversy, the ISA says it is creating new textbooks this summer that will be free of any offensive passages. Wolf says the new textbooks, which are reportedly being reviewed by Islamic scholars at American universities, should also be examined by the State Department.
"I thought it would be an easy one, just to ask them to give an opinion, but they've ducked their responsibility," said Wolf.