My colleague David North has, from time to time, written about the Gulen organization, whose exiled leader has been accused repeatedly by his former friend and now antagonist, Turkish strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of attempting to undermine the Turkish government.
The organization — or cult, as some might suggest — has established a whole chain of charter schools, and seems to specialize in importing Turkish teachers to teach students its own unique curriculum. It has also established tentacles into at least one institution of higher learning, albeit of an apparently inferior nature.
In another context, I've written about the Confucius Institutes established in the United States under the auspices of various universities (including some prestigious ones) and paid for by the Chinese government — ostensibly its ministry of education, although there have been many credible assertions that, in truth, the institutes are outreach centers for Chinese intelligence agencies. As questions have mounted and concerns become more substantive, many U.S. universities have cut their ties and closed their on-campus Confucius Institutes.
I raise these two situations as instances in which it appears that foreign organizations are seeking ways to influence American society and outlooks through the educational system and, of course, in the process, taking advantage of U.S. immigration laws to do so, since nothing substantive could be accomplished without being able to assure the immigration, either permanently or on a long-term "temporary" basis, of the teachers, officials, and others needed to sustain such a network.
The Daily Caller has now published an article about a third such organization, the Qatar Foundation International (QFI) which, in return for grant funding, works with U.S. public schools to develop a curriculum that includes the teaching of Arabic — but also, according to the report, engages in various propaganda exercises including videos co-produced with the media network Al-Jazeera, which like QFI is an arm of the Qatari royal family.
The U.S. relationship with Qatar is complex. It has been a staunch ally, up to and including its willingness to allow our military to station a major Central Command base there, while at the same time maintaining a fundamentalist attitude toward religion and politics such that its Arab neighbors have cut diplomatic ties, accusing it of material support of terrorists and cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Under such circumstances, it of course behooves Qatar to engage in subtle outreach to the American people at grassroots levels, such as the QFI, which obviously will present the most benign possible picture of the sheikdom. Much is at stake if the United States adopts the position of Qatar's neighbors and abandons its support of the small nation.
Whichever version of Qatar one buys into, however, structures such as the QFI merit close examination for the same reasons as the Gulen organization and the Confucius Institutes. Exactly whom are they sponsoring for immigration to the United States, and for what purpose? Is that purpose consonant with other U.S. laws? And is it an unacceptable intrusion into the domestic affairs of our country?
For example, the Daily Caller article, citing the co-sponsored videos and other products, quotes knowledgeable individuals who suggest that the QFI should be required to register as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice, rather than being exempt as an "educational" organization.
More interestingly, the article discusses in detail one of the grants established by the QFI with the Tucson, Ariz., Unified School District, in the amount of $465,000 covering school years 2013-2018. It also provides a link to the memorandum of agreement (MOA) to substantiate its claims that in return for the money, QFI gained a measure of control over the coursework and materials provided to students, including direct access to the students themselves, periodic updates by the school district to the local QFI coordinator, and routine progress reports on each student, via the coordinator.
I find these latter points to be troubling in the extreme. There is an unseemly level of intrusiveness in the MOA that Tucson Unified School District has acceded to. The school district has given away a substantial amount of its independence in return for the nearly half-million dollars. Keep in mind that this is a public school district that exists thanks to federal, state, and local taxpayer monies. One also has to believe that the Tucson MOA is relatively standard, which means that any school district in the United States that accepted grant funding did likewise.
It seems to me that in doing so, the school district may have violated federal law. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) establishes very clear and strict boundaries over what and how much information may be provided by institutions of learning to outsiders, even when those outsiders are giving a school district money. FERPA requires that students and/or their parents give informed consent before a school may share information about them, except when they themselves are recipients of financial aid. But the recipient here is the school district, not the student.
In sum, in such instances as we have observed with the Gulen organization, the Confucius Institutes, and the QFI, the federal government needs a strategy and an operative mechanism so that all of the involved entities — including not least the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within the Department of Homeland Security, and as appropriate agencies of the Justice Department — can collectively assess and make uniform judgments about the propriety of the aims and goals of such organizations so that they can function thereafter in concert with one another.
After all, our youth are our future. How far do we want to go in permitting them to be swayed, especially during their most impressionable years, toward or against any particular country or cult and its foreign policy goals?