By accepting more than $111,000 from Qatar Foundation International to provide U.S. teachers anti-Israel training, Duke University is abusing its status as one of only 14 Middle East National Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education to provide guidance on curriculum materials and teacher training for K-12 Middle East studies.
From June 23 to June 28 on the Duke campus this year, “Dimensions of the Middle East” was an immersion program for grades 6-12 U.S. educators. Presented by the Duke Islamic Studies Center, Duke University Middle East Studies Center, and Qatar Foundation International, the institute trains 40 teachers who are hand-selected by QFI, according to a Duke University spokesman.
Qatar Foundation International (QFI), based in Washington, DC, is a subsidiary of the Qatar Foundation (QF), with direct ties to the Sharia-law government of Qatar. While QFI cuts a moderate, even scholarly image in public, its parent QF has been tied to supporting terrorist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood. QFI partners with other elite universities for student outreach, but will resort to lawsuits to keep the financial details of these programs secret once the public begins to ask questions.
Documents received by the Haym Salomon Center shed light on the workings of Duke University’s unique influence operation targeting the U.S school system.
School districts from North Carolina to Chicago and Virginia have promoted the training to their teachers. Candidates vying for this all-expenses-paid immersion must first commit to QFI that they will create a Middle East curriculum based on the content provided. Educators will learn from “specialists” how to hone their messaging about the history of the Middle East. An internal copy of the training agenda suggests an extreme bias in favor of Islam and Sharia law, and against Israel.
Day one of the conference guides teachers through a series of lectures to help them “reconsider” the Middle East. A panel exploring “daily life” in the region features a Palestinian, a pro-Sharia Iranian, and an Islamic scholar, who leads Qatar’s Arab Museum of Art.
Notably absent from the discourse is balance. To give teachers a true composite of the living conditions in the Middle East, Duke would do well to include an Israeli whose life consists of battling torrents of fires caused by “terror kites” launched by Hamas or a Syrian Christian, for perspective of what “daily life” is like under most Islamic rule.
The remainder of the immersion dives favorably into Islam, and Islam exclusively, with lessons taught by its most ardent academic promoters. Sessions include: Foundations of Islam: Qur’an, Prophets, Muhammad’s Life; Islamic Art and Architecture; and a panel discussion on Current Challenges to Understanding Islam and Islamophobia. Missing are lectures or panel discussions dedicated to appreciating the Jewish or Christian faiths, although these two religions have been well represented in the Middle East for two millennia in countries like Israel, Iraq, and Lebanon.
The bias does not stop with the agenda. Some of Duke’s chosen “specialists” headlining the immersion are the same organizers involved in this spring’s controversial conference titled “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities,” which is now being probed by the U.S. Department of Education for anti-Israel bias and for featuring “anti-Semitic songs.” The conference was officially sponsored by the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies and the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies.
Shai Tamari is the associate director of the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies and the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, the department that officially sponsored the “Gaza” conference. Tamari will teach the only Israel-focused lecture during this week’s conference.
Leading up to April’s Gaza conference, Tamari promised the event would “shed much needed light on current realities in the Gaza Strip, giving participants a deeper understanding of the context of these realities and offering concrete options that can better the lives of Gazans.” In reality however, attendees reported that Tamari led an aggressive effort to block audience members from taking pictures during presentations, which leads to questions on how interested he is in “shedding light” on the content and context of the event itself.
Duke-UNC Consortium board member Miriam Cooke will be another expert helping teachers sharpen their understanding of Middle East history at the immersion. Cooke is unambiguous in her sympathy for radical Islamists and her disdain for Israel. She points to the establishment of Israel as a root cause of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks: “9-11 has a long history going back through the Gulf War to the establishment of Israel in 1948.”
Cooke leads the conference’s section on female activism in the Middle East. But Cooke’s view of women’s rights under Islam are as subversive as her views on Israel. In an interview on Feminism in Islam by Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute, Cooke defends the rampant abuse and mutilation of women living in the Middle East: “When men are traumatized [by colonial rule], they tend to traumatize their own women.”
And because the term “colonial rule” is carelessly thrown in academic circles, it would seem hard to fault any man for abusing women under this axiom. Cooke, a self-proclaimed feminist, also wildly asserts that “Polygamy can be liberating and empowering” for women under Sharia law. So much for women’s rights of equality and economic well-being in marriage.
Cooke’s radicalism is rivaled by that of other immersion specialists presented by Duke to participants, who again, are responsible for guiding primary school teachers through the process of creating social studies teaching materials and curriculum.
Anchoring the conference is professor Omid Safi. Back in 2014, Duke University’s decision to hire Safi to lead its Islamic studies program met outrage after the public learned of his reputation for falsifying his writings to demonize Jews. Labeled “Holocaust inversion” by the Brandeis Center, Safi’s article was published by Religion News Service (RNS) but subsequently removed because of “inaccuracies.”
Safi is also an avid proponent of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, sanctions movement. Twenty-seven of the United States have enacted laws against BDS amid complaints of associated anti-Semitism and mounting concerns about the movement’s ties to terrorism. The concerns are echoed in the international community, where the movement has been deemed anti-Semitic by the German parliament because it is reminiscent of Nazi-era programming to boycott Jews.
Other conference lecturers such as UNC professor Sarah Shields, University of California at Los Angeles professor James Gelvin, and Arabic rapper Omar Offendum, also evangelize the radical BDS movement. Perhaps the conference’s most high-profile speaker is Maggie Mitchell Salem, QFI’s executive director who is now implicated creating anti-Israel propaganda for Jamal Khashoggi, the murdered journalist.
The week-long immersion included a visit to the Islamic Center of Raleigh and lectures from several Triangle-area imams, including Sheikh Mehdi Hazari. Representatives from Duke and UNC declined to answer questions about efforts, if any, to include rabbis or pro-Israel specialists in its programming.
This article has been corrected with respect to the dates this program occurred.