WASHINGTON – A congressionally mandated panel that promotes religious freedom is recommending the Bush administration close a Virginia-based Islamic school run by the Saudi government if school officials don't comply with demands to turn over textbooks that may include lessons on jihad and intolerance toward other religions.
"Significant concerns remain about whether what is being taught at the (school) promotes religious intolerance and may adversely affect the interests of the United States," said a report released Thursday by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Saudi embassy officials say the books long ago were cleaned up and made available to commission members, but the commissioners never bothered to go to The Islamic Saudi Academy in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., to check them out for themselves.
"There's nothing to hide. The books are there," embassy spokesman Nail Al-Jubeir said.
Commission spokeswoman Judith Ingram said the panel did not request to speak to academy officials because that went beyond the commission's mandate, but it has been trying to get a hold of the religious texts, written in Arabic and sanctioned by the Saudi government for use at the school, since this summer.
Without the books in hand, the school should be closed voluntarily until the State Department can determine exactly what the books say, reads the report.
The panel's findings focuses on a number of areas of concern with Saudi Arabia, including a 2003 study showing that Saudi texts encouraged violence toward others, "misguides the pupils into believing that in order to safeguard their own religion, they must violently repress and even physically eliminate the 'other.'"
A separate study last year conducted by The Center for Religious Freedom, run by Freedom House, and the Institute for Gulf Affairs, found that a ninth-grade Saudi textbook "teaches teenagers in apocalyptic terms that violence towards Jews, Christians and other unbelievers is sanctioned by God," the report reads.
"Because Saudi Arabia is a friend and ally of this country — our sincere hope is that the secretary of state will have a productive dialogue with the Saudi embassy, and that she will be able to secure the textbooks and curriculum that are used," Commissioner Leonard Leo said in an interview with FOXNews.com after a news conference Thursday.
If the texts don't promote violence and comply with accepted human rights standards, then everything is fine, Leo said.
"But if that doesn't work, our hope is that the secretary will invoke the power that she has under the Foreign Missions Act to close the ISA," Leo said. The Foreign Missions Act can be applied because the ISA is "an arm of the Saudi embassy," and therefore can be shuttered by the State Department, commissioners explained.
Commission Deputy Director Tad Stahnke said Thursday commissioners made several official inquiries about the books when they visited Saudi Arabia in May and June, and in the United States through the Saudi embassy.
Specifically, Stahnke said, the commission sent an official request to Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir, the school board's chairman and brother to the embassy spokesman. "There was no response from the ambassador," Stahnke said.
The request, written in a June 27 letter, sought "copies of textbooks, which include curricula on Hadith (Islamic traditions), Fiqh (matters of religious law and ritual), Tawhid (matters of belief) and Arabic language and Saudi history used at all grade levels, kindergarten through 12th grade, for schools in Saudi Arabia." The letter also asked for "copies of such textbooks used at all levels of study in the Islamic Saudi Academy's two campuses in Fairfax and Alexandria, Va.," according to a description given to FOXNews.com.
The letter explained that the commission would reveal its findings in a report. Commissioners confirmed that the embassy did receive the fax.
Nail Al-Jubeir said that because the texts are school books, the embassy is the wrong place to look for them. The books the commission wants are printed yearly in paperback and regularly thrown out. The embassy had last year's texts, but not the current year's.
"They can get them from the academy. ... I find that hard to believe that they were in Saudi Arabia and they could not get copies," Al-Jubeir said, noting that because they are official religious school texts, they are widely available and distributed to roughly six million students in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Jubeir said the embassy has no plans to close the school. He added that while the ambassador is the board chairman, the embassy does not meddle in ISA's academic programs.
Stahnke said that the commission was interested particularly in the texts in the United States. He added that because the school is on Saudi-owned or rented land, the commission's protocol is to go directly through the Saudi embassy.
Commissioners said that without more legal authority, it's up to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to negotiate with the Saudis to get the texts. They have called on Rice to immediately begin negotiations with the Saudis and report back within 90 days.
In the State Department's daily briefing on Thursday, spokesman Tom Casey did not have an immediate response to the commission's recommendations.
The commission says that Rice can close the school forcibly "on the ground that the non-diplomatic activities of the ISA cannot be conducted by and through an embassy, and because significant concerns remain about whether what is being taught at the ISA promotes religious intolerance and may adversely affect the interests of the United States."
Commissioner Felice Gaer, who was the group's chairwoman when members traveled to Saudi Arabia earlier this year, said that because the commission's recommendations are nonbinding, lawmakers may want to step in to turn the recommendations into law.
"We're an advisory committee. We have no executive authority to tell them to do it. Should Congress wish to (enforce the recommendations), that's — obviously that would be helpful. Should the State Department wish to do this voluntarily, that would be great," Gaer said.
At least one congressman hopes to force the State Department to get moving. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., said he will introduce legislation to require the State Department to begin within 90 days of the law's enactment the process of getting the documents and reporting back findings to Congress another 90 days later.
It was not clear Thursday if there would be any specific consequences in the bill should the State Department fail to meet the requirements.
The legislation may be unnecessary, said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., suggesting that despite his concerns over Saudi efforts to spread the Wahabbi brand of Islam, which Wolf and a number of critics call "extremist," he thinks the U.S.-Saudi relationship will prevail.
"My sense is that reasonable people will get to the bottom of this," said Wolf, a co-author of the bill that started the commission during the Clinton administration.
Wolf said that if the ISA does have textbooks that promote hate against Jews, Christians or Muslims, "it is unacceptable."
One observer Thursday said that he doesn't think the report went far enough.
"It reflects the present administration policy towards Saudi Arabia. The present administration policy at this time is retreating to its habits prior to 9/11," said Ali Alyami, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.
Alyami said the Bush administration in its second term has been embracing the Saudi government more.
"This is this same institution that is feeding terrorism, hate toward this country and democracy, and that hasn't changed, regardless of what books have been — what language has been taken out from these books.
"The fact remains the same. Freedom, religious freedom, is non-existent" in Saudi Arabia, Alyami said.