Critic Says Islamic Extremism Gets Whitewashed in American Textbooks
NEW YORK — An education expert is warning that some American textbooks present a biased view of Islam and offer a sugarcoated picture of Islamic extremism, a trend that has parents worried about what’s being taught in public schools.
In numerous history textbooks, “key subjects like jihad, Islamic law, the status of women are whitewashed,” said Gilbert T. Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, an independent group that reviews history books and other education materials.
Sewall, who authored a report on how textbooks teach and present Islam, singled out one book that he said failed to explain what the story of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
In a section discussing Islamic fundamentalism, the textbook “World History: The Modern World,” published by Prentice Hall, omits direct mention of the 9/11 hijackers’ religion, referring to the 19 Islamic fundamentalists as “teams of terrorists.”
“On the morning of September 11, 2001,” the book reads, “teams of terrorists hijacked four airplanes on the East Coast. Passengers challenged the hijackers on one flight, which they crashed on the way to its target. But one plane plunged in to the Pentagon in Virginia, and two others slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. More than 2,500 people were killed in the attacks.”Video
In his report on the text, Sewall called the passage “dismaying” in its flatness and brevity. “In terms of content, so much is left unanswered. Who were the teams of terrorists and what did they want do to? What were their political ends? Since ‘The Modern World’ avoids any hint of the connection between this unnamed terrorism and jihad,” he wrote, “why September 11 happened is hard to understand.”
But Muslim advocacy groups say students need to learn more about Islam to correct misconceptions and help turn away a wrongheaded focus on extremism.
“It’s wrong to show an entire faith community from the lens of a small extremist community, which is really a fringe. It’s a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the Muslim community, and that’s not how Muslims want to be framed,” said Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement.
“I think there is an unbalanced portrayal of Islam seen mostly through a political lens, but that is not the reality of who a majority of Muslims are,” she told FOX News.
Khan said when it comes to teaching about Islam, “I think the more important issue is American values of tolerance, respect and mutual understanding,” which can best be imparted with accurate information about the religion.
But the content of those religious lessons also has Sewall concerned, particularly on the controversial topic of jihad.
Sewall says the violent aspects of Islamic jihad are glossed over and that it is presented as an internal struggle or a fight for protection in books like “History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond,” published by the Teachers Curriculum Institute.
None of the textbook publishers contacted by FOX News regarding their books responded to requests for statements or interviews.
Islam in the Classroom: what the textbooks tell us [Summary]
Meanwhile, Newsweek tells Americans, “We don’t have to accept the stoning of criminals. But it’s time to stop treating all Islamists as potential terrorists.”
Learning to Live With Radical Islam
Reports from Nigeria to Bosnia to Indonesia show that Islamic fundamentalists are finding support within their communities for their agenda, which usually involves the introduction of some form of Sharia—Islamic law—reflecting a puritanical interpretation of Islam. No music, no liquor, no smoking, no female emancipation.
The groups that advocate these policies are ugly, reactionary forces that will stunt their countries and bring dishonor to their religion. But not all these Islamists advocate global jihad, host terrorists or launch operations against the outside world—in fact, most do not. Consider, for example, the most difficult example, the Taliban. The Taliban have done all kinds of terrible things in Afghanistan. But so far, no Afghan Taliban has participated at any significant level in a global terrorist attack over the past 10 years—including 9/11. There are certainly elements of the Taliban that are closely associated with Al Qaeda. But the Taliban is large, and many factions have little connection to Osama bin Laden. Most Taliban want Islamic rule locally, not violent jihad globally.
In the Bush administration’s original view, all Islamist groups were one and the same; any distinctions or nuances were regarded as a form of appeasement. If they weren’t terrorists themselves, they were probably harboring terrorists. But how to understand Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the countries “harbor” terrorists but are not themselves terrorist states?
We have an instant, violent reaction to anyone who sounds like an Islamic bigot. This is understandable. Many Islamists are bigots, reactionaries and extremists (others are charlatans and opportunists). But this can sometimes blind us to the ways they might prove useful in the broader struggle against Islamic terror.
it is crucial that we adopt a more sophisticated strategy toward radical Islam. This should come naturally to President Obama, who spoke often on the campaign trail of the need for just such a differentiated approach toward Muslim countries. Even the Washington Institute, a think tank often associated with conservatives, appears onboard. It is issuing a report this week that recommends (http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC04.php?CID=311), among other points, that the United States use more “nuanced, noncombative rhetoric” that avoids sweeping declarations like “war on terror,” “global insurgency,” even “the Muslim world.” Anything that emphasizes the variety of groups, movements and motives within that world strengthens the case that this is not a battle between Islam and the West. Bin Laden constantly argues that all these different groups are part of the same global movement. We should not play into his hands, and emphasize instead that many of these forces are local, have specific grievances and don’t have much in common.
That does not mean we should accept the burning of girls’ schools, or the stoning of criminals. Recognizing the reality of radical Islam is entirely different from accepting its ideas. We should mount a spirited defense of our views and values. We should pursue aggressively policies that will make these values succeed. Such efforts are often difficult and take time—rebuilding state structures, providing secular education, reducing corruption—but we should help societies making these efforts. The mere fact that we are working in these countries on these issues—and not simply bombing, killing and capturing—might change the atmosphere surrounding the U.S. involvement in this struggle.
The veil is not the same as the suicide belt. We can better pursue our values if we recognize the local and cultural context, and appreciate that people want to find their own balance between freedom and order, liberty and license. In the end, time is on our side. Bin Ladenism has already lost ground in almost every Muslim country. Radical Islam will follow the same path. Wherever it is tried—in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in parts of Nigeria and Pakistan—people weary of its charms very quickly. The truth is that all Islamists, violent or not, lack answers to the problems of the modern world. They do not have a world view that can satisfy the aspirations of modern men and women. We do. That’s the most powerful weapon of all.
As the folks at GetReligion.org ask, what worldview would that be?
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