- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Saudis in Loudoun

I cannot express my satisfactionthat the FBI is looking into corruption regarding Loudoun County, Va., officials and the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) (“FBI looks at alleged Va. corruption,” United Press International, The Washington Times’ Web site, Sunday). On the grounds of a possible threat to homeland security, a handful of Loudoun County residents in 1998 opposed the building of the ISA,a madrassa that was tooccupy a site thesize of two football fields — not to mention cause a loss of revenueto the countybecause of the zoning waiver for a school and increased traffic because of busing for up to 3,500 students.

More important, it was only after the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors approved the building of ISA in Ashburn that we learned that Ismail Selim El Barasse, an accountant from Falls Church, worked as a comptroller for the Islamic Saudi Academy before he was jailed in New York for refusing to appear before a grand jury investigating money laundering and that “the funds handled by El Barasse included bank accounts he shared with Mohammed Abu Marzook, a top Hamas leader who was deported to Jordan in 1996.” (The Washington Post, Oct. 31, 1998).

Our opposition to the Islamic Saudi Academy had less to do with building an Islamic school in Loudoun County than that the school was being financed and run 100 percent by Saudi Arabia. Highly disturbing is that both the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and the Board of Appeals ruled that financing of the school by any U.S. local, state or federal government agency would be in violation of a Loudoun County ordinance that prohibits financing of a private school by a government agency but that the ordinance did not apply to an agency of a foreign government.

Because of our concerns for the safety of the country, our small band of patriots was subjected to being called “un-Christian,” “bigots” and “racists.” These were very harsh words to swallow coming from those who should have been more concerned with protecting America from its enemies than being politically correct.

It is my sincerest hope that in some small way, our efforts in opposing the ISA resulted in the investigation of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, who decided that their personal gain and the priorities ofthe Saudis were more important than the rights and security of Loudoun County residents.

STELLA L. JATRAS

Camp Hill, Pa.

‘Teachers are not laborers’

Steve Jobs has indeed started an important conversation about the lack of professionalism inherent in today’s teacher unions (“Improving public schools,” Op-Ed, March 12). Unions have become consumed with ensuring that their rights are protected to the exclusion of what’s important: educating children.

The biggest problem with the unions’ monopoly stranglehold on public schools is that it in no way promotes a professional atmosphere for teachers. In fact, there is a fundamental disconnect between teachers and labor unions. Teachers are not laborers; they are academic professionals like doctors, lawyers and engineers. Industrial-style unionism neither encourages the respect and compensation that educators deserve nor improves the quality of education. Those teachers who strive to be taken seriously as true professionals need to align themselves with groups whose priorities do not focus on Big Labor and other political agendas that have little to do with the classroom.

GARY BECKNER

Executive director

Association of American Educators

Mission Viejo, Calif.

Talk with Taiwan

As Burma, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam hold coordinated public-health exercises under the observation of the United Nations and the World Health Organization to create a more effective response to a potential avian flu pandemic (“Asian nations test readiness to fight bird flu,” World, Monday), Taiwan regrettably remains left out of the loop on any international plan to handle such an outbreak.

Contrary to the spirit of pragmatism in which the meeting was said to be held, Taiwan’s continued exclusion from the World Health Organization is a potentially deadly mixture of public health and politics that creates a massive blind spot in the world’s ability to detect and act against outbreaks of diseases such as avian influenza.

Taiwan is a major international transshipment point for both cargo and people. It is responsible for the health matters not only of its 23 million citizens but of the 80,000 international ships that are serviced in it ports every year: 27 million international passengers and 1.5 million controlled flights that pass through its airspace annually. Taiwan’s geographic location off the Asian mainland also makes it a major stopping point for millions of migratory birds.

One would think that these facts would be more than enough to allow Taiwan to gain observer status in the WHO, but time and again, undue political pressure keeps the world body from allowing a country with one of the world’s best public-health systems to take part in the fight.

EDDY TSAI

Director

Press division

Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office

Washington

Aiding prospects for Mideast peace

In response to Joel Mowbray’s article “School linked to Hamas gets U.S. cash” (Page 1, March 5), I want to clarify some unfortunate misperceptions about the role of assistance provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to the Palestinian people.

America is working for a brighter future in the Middle East and supports those who favor tolerance, democracy, liberty and peaceful coexistence. Hamas and other extremists reject these values. The U.S. government, through diplomacy and assistance programs, seeks to engage with and cultivate allies among those in Palestinian society and on its university campuses who share our values and will work for a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

We take seriously our responsibility to ensure that our assistance is used for the purposes intended. USAID is diligent in taking numerous steps to comply with all U.S. laws and to protect U.S. tax dollars from being diverted to terrorists.

To that end, potential recipients of USAID’s assistance are carefully vetted through background checks and auditing to help ensure that this assistance does not benefit terrorists. Indeed, before providing any funding, each of the USAID-funded scholarship recipients at Islamic University in Gaza and al-Quds University in the West Bank was vetted, and none of those recipients was identified as a member of a terrorist organization.

Engaging in spaces, such as the Islamic University in Gaza, where there is both a Hamas presence and a significant community of moderates, is an important tactic in fighting the global war on terror. Numerous professors and students at these institutions seek a path of nonviolence and peace and welcome American support.

One student leader said it publicly and simply, “On behalf of all the students at Al Quds University, really we thank [America] for everything that you give us; suddenly you come and help us, and I want to thank the U.S.A.”

It is not in this country’s interest to retreat from creating a brighter future in the Middle East and to cede the political space in the West Bank and Gaza to those who strive for a complete American withdrawal from the Middle East. This is not a path that will advance the prospects for peace.

MARK S. WARD

Senior deputy assistant administrator

U.S. Agency for International

Development

Washington

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