Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Report Offers Suggestion On What Schools Should Be Teaching About Islam

The American Textbook Council has just released a new report entitled "Islam in the Classroom: What the Textbooks Tell Us." In its executive summary, the report finds that:
  • Many political and religious groups try to use the textbook process to their advantage, but the deficiencies in Islam-related lessons are uniquely disturbing. History textbooks present an incomplete and confected view of Islam that misrepresents its foundations and challenges to international security.

  • Misinformation about Islam is more pronounced in junior high school textbooks than high school textbooks.

  • Outright textbook errors about Islam are not the main problem. The more serious
    failure is the presence of disputed definitions and claims that are presented as established facts.

  • Deficiencies about Islam in textbooks copyrighted before 2001 persist and in some cases have grown worse. Instead of making corrections or adjusting contested facts, publishers and editors defend misinformation and content evasions against the record. Biases persist. Silences are profound and intentional.

  • Islamist activists use multiculturalism and ready-made American political movements, especially those on campus, to advance and justify uncritical Islam-related content makeover in history textbooks.

  • Particular fault rests with the publishing corporations, the boards of directors, and executives who decide what editorial policies their companies will pursue.
The full report is available as a PDF.

Naturally, the report covers what is in the curriculum that should be either changed or removed--but it also covers some of the things that should be included in the curriculum.

Think about that. What would you want to see included in a curriculum covering Islam?
According to the report:
History textbooks should stress that:

The Islamic conquest of the Mediterranean defined the Middle Ages and Europe. Arabic conquests and expansion occurred in the seventh and eighth centuries. The Turks who conquered the Balkans and Asia Minor, the Mongols in Central Asia, and the Delhi Sultanate in South Asia were Islamic expansionists who were not Arabic, and their conquests occurred centuries after the Arabs took control of what today is called the Middle East.

Containment of Islam was European policy from Tours to Vienna. Landmark encounters occurred between Europe and Islam from the early Middle Ages to modern times: Battle of Tours (732), First Crusade (1095), fall of Constantinople (1453), and Battle of Vienna (1683). In each case textbooks should explain how and why the West was threatened. Likewise, textbooks should explain that the so-called age of discovery and the voyages of Columbus to the New World in fact were a European search for maritime trade routes to Asia designed to circumvent Muslim territories.

Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 began the push of “the West” into Islamic lands, for strategic and, later, economic reasons. In the nineteenth century European imperial powers took sovereign control of Islamic territories and introduced laws, political values, and educational systems into colonies with varying responses. From the 1920s economic imperialism prevailed. The presence of oil in Islamic lands has uniquely affected geopolitics and global transportation ever since. Additionally, the influence of Western entertainment carries an aspect of cultural imperialism.

When textbooks cover Islam as a geopolitical and cultural force in the world today, they should explain:

Islam is aggressive in a postcolonial world. The Arabic union against Israel since 1948 and the creation of Pakistan after World War II provide vivid historical illustrations. In today’s 51 world Islam has several power centers: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Indonesia. The idea of Islamic unity is constrained by the vicious division and power struggles of Sunni and Shia sects, as contemporary Iraq makes clear. Muslims include the Taliban of Afghanistan and the bankers of Abu Dhabi.

Yet Islam sees a world split into dar al-harb and dar al-islam. Dar al-harb (territory of war or chaos) is its term for the regions where Islam does not dominate, where divine will is not observed, and therefore where continuing strife is the norm. By contrast, dar al-islam (territory of peace) is Islam’s term for those territories where Islam does dominate, where submission to God is observed, and where peace and tranquility reign. This ideation constitutes—to what extent, experts disagree—a rivalry of alternative worldviews, metaphysical ideas, and conceptions of evil. But these ideas, if acted upon by the Islamic revivalists who are rapidly growing in number, might constitute a clear and present danger to global security, particularly in the West. Al Qaeda is the orchestrated global effort to re-establish Islam’s historical and mythic supremacy worldwide through jihad. The international community has immense collective self-interest and incentive to avoid nuclear terrorism as a holy struggle.

Islam’s ability to embrace modernity and secular society remains an open question. Many leaders in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan—and many more than in the recent past—are ambivalent about or reacting to twentieth-century secularism. Almost a century ago the eminent medieval historian Ferdinand Lot concluded that Islam’s legal and political outlook made a modus vivendi with the West unlikely. Specialists today point out that Islam has no real institutional or theological mechanism to facilitate religious liberty. It has no element that allows the individual or society to explore, criticize or deny doctrine without fear of punishment or reprisal. At its extremes, it raises the prospect of thought control. [emphasis added]
Good luck getting any of that into the school curriculum.

Read the report.

[Hat tip: John J. Miller]

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