This week, Fox News (Business) released a video stating that the British/IB based private school system, GEMS, in Dubai, had provided over $5 million directly to Bill Clinton. It stated that GEMS is an educational institution which provides Sharia Law based teachings to their global network of pupils (it should be noted that there is a GEMS school in Chicago). Further into the video, implications that GEMS charges a “religious tax” and sends that tax directly to Islamic jihad was stated as fact.
To the average American watching this video, it may have seemed that what they were receiving was factual news based on responsible journalistic investigation. But I am not the average American.
I moved back to the United States from Dubai as a expat in January. A GEMS school was within walking distance from my home for four years. My children attended an IB school which would have been part of any government applied “religious tax” that Fox News stated was being charged and applied to support terrorism abroad.
The implications of such erroneous and false accusations will unfortunately fall on the children attending these schools, the parent who pay the fess to these schools, and the establishments which have strived to bring a world class education to all parts of the world.
Susan Percival-Simmons, a British expat living in Dubai, and the Vice-Chair of the Parent Council at GEMS Wellington Academy, is incensed by the recent video. Her three boys have attended GEMS Wellington for five years. She wrote to me: “I’m concerned about false and unsubstantiated claims told by the media in the US for political gain, which are stirring up bad feelings amongst the American population against other nations, and particularly, Muslims.”
The KHDA (Knowledge and Human Development Authority) in Dubai declined to comment on the issue. GEMS also declined to comment on the video.
Dubai is a part of the United Arab Emirates, which is a Muslim country that follows Sharia Law. However, the Fox News video stated that the GEMS schools in Dubai were teaching their pupils Sharia Law and having them follow it. Although some schools teach Islamic Studies as part of a cultural awareness area to non-Muslim children, Sharia Law is not taught to the children as part of the curriculum or as something they are expected to adhere to as non-Muslim children. My own children never attended one Islamic Studies class in the four years they were in a private school in Dubai. The Muslim children do attend Islamic classes, much as a child in the US in a private educational institution would attend a mass session on Friday. The KHDA’s own website states the policy for teaching Islamic Studies in schools in Dubai. It is written that Arab and non-Arab Muslim children must attend Islamic Studies three times per week. There is no requirement for non-Muslim children. My own daughter attended an Episcopalian preschool before we moved to Dubai, and although she wasn’t being raised Episcopalian, or Christian for that matter, she was expected to attend mass with the other children. My children were also in the private school system for four years and if you were to ask any of them what Sharia Law is, they wouldn’t have a clue. The video made a cross-culturally sensitive educational environment seem as if it were a Taliban sponsored Madrassa in Afghanistan. These types of false and fear-mongering accusations are reckless and irresponsible.
In my attempt to uncover the truth that led to Fox News reporting on a “religious tax”, or zakkat, I obtained two separate bills from private school tuition. One was from a GEMS school in Dubai, the other my own bill from another private school in Dubai, dated for the fall of 2015. Neither had the “religious tax” that the video claimed was being sent to support Islamic jihad.
The reality of the situation is that this story was glamorized and terrorized (for lack of a better word) without regard to any factual proof of the accusations. In an attempt to sway voters in the upcoming election using fear mongering tactics, they have now implied that an entire education system, and the parents who pay the fees, myself included, have provided monetary support to Islamic jihad.
The real story is meant to be an attack on the Clinton Foundation, and in conjuncture, Hilary Clinton. The Clinton Foundation was established in 1997, and helps governments in Africa with reforestation, helps lower the cost of life-saving medications for the AIDS virus, improves global health and wellness through their efforts, increases opportunities for women and children, and helps reduce childhood obesity, to name a few of their accomplishments. GEMS, which was established in 2000, (and The Varkey Foundation, founder of GEMS, Sunny Varkey’s foundation), partnered with The Clinton Foundation to continue to establish initiatives around the world to support educational growth, innovation, and solutions to world issues. The Varkey Foundation has supported technology advancement in schools in Eastern Ghana, and established a program called Making Ghanian Girls Great Again. It is worth noting that the Hon. Bertie Ahern, Former Prime Minister of Ireland, is on the Global Advisory Board for The Varkey Foundation.
The story they should have told is one where the GEMS system donates over five million USD to The Clinton Foundation to establish a partnership which will continue with efforts to provide solutions to global issues, which is something that should be applauded in a school system that helps shape the minds of our children. The foundation of the GEMS organization is leading through innovation, pursuing excellence, growing by learning, and global citizenship, which is a far reach from the portrayal that was slandered all over Fox News. American citizens must come together to put an end to this type of inexcusable and reckless journalism, and ensure that trusted news establishments are not reporting with the same accountability, fact checking, and honesty as The Onion.