What are US students learning about Islam?
Politically correct textbooks are distorting key concepts and historical facts.
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The whitewashing of Islam becomes even more noticeable when contrasted with how history textbooks treat Christianity. One book describes the Crusades as "religious wars launched against Muslims by European Christians." But when Muslims attacked Christians and took their land, the process is referred to as "building" an empire.Skip to next paragraph
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A McDougal Littell volume claims that non-Muslims in Muslim-ruled territories converted to Islam because "they were attracted by Islam's message of equality and hope for salvation." A good history class should teach students to ask critical questions. Are students asking how much of that "conversion" was coerced by the sword? Sadly, most texts gloss over Muslim leaders' history of enslavement of "infidels" and their brutal treatment of women, which continues today in some countries.
In an interview, Sewall summed up the reactions of textbook publishers to his report. "In a word," he said, "hostile."
Sewall says the pressure tactics used by some Muslim groups on publishers to portray Islam in a favorable light amount to a kind of "cultural jihad." This essentially is what the founder of the Council on Islamic Education, the main Islamic group for vetting textbooks in America, was saying when he described his work as a "bloodless revolution … inside American junior high and high school classrooms."
Sewall understands that historical inaccuracies sometimes take decades to be written out of textbooks. "Once lies are written into textbooks," he says, "they tend to be perpetuated in new editions." Which is one reason why Sewall will continue to make his case to publishers.
I hope Sewall has better success than I had. When I served as undersecretary of the Education Department under President Reagan, I discovered that a "values neutralism" was saturating school textbooks, seriously misleading our children about the nature of Soviet governance by, for instance, stating that women enjoyed the same rights as men and severely downplaying the suppression of basic human rights inherent in communist political systems.
In the same way, students today are being taught a distorted view of Islam. Having been on the front lines in the struggle to achieve the best education for our children, I understand that change will come only when teachers' and parents' voices are heard. Teachers need courage in overcoming political correctness by talking candidly about controversial topics like Islam. Parents must be engaged in their children's education by participating on curriculum committees and communicating with teachers. Parents also should communicate with their members of Congress to ensure that textbook publishers are not being pressured to present a false account of history. Feel-good distortions of history don't help our kids; they just help those who wish to do us harm.