Suzanne Fields

"In the case of Islamic activism, theological aims are often concealed in familiar, appealing civic language," the council reports. "Few publishers or editors understand history textbooks for what they are: instruments of civic education that have among their responsibilities the obligation to alert the young to threats to American ideals and security." Editors instead depend on highly biased sources for writing about subjects the authors know little or nothing about. Islamist propaganda, often not very sophisticated, is accepted as fact.

The textbooks make no distinctions between societies with law founded on separation of church and state and Muslim governments founded on primitive theology. There's no understanding of the differences between Sharia, or a religious code, and Western law derived from the consent of the governed. Distinctions between democracy and the totalitarian regimes of most Islamic countries go unremarked and unappreciated.

Prentice-Hall's high school world history textbook, "The Modern World," for example, presents the events of 9-11 with such flatness and brevity that the student learns nothing about who the "teams of terrorists" were, why they did what they did, what their political ends were. The rabidly radical Wahabbi sect in Saudi Arabia, which produced 19 of the 9-11 bombers, is merely described as "strict."

In many texts, "jihad" is cleansed of belligerence. Readers couldn't understand why jihadists should not be "appeased," nor understand an informed debate about the Israel-Palestine dispute. They get no understanding of how the only democracy in the Middle East is surrounded by powerful enemies like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who calls Israel a "stinking corpse" that he promises to destroy. They learn nothing about the state-sanctioned abuse of women. Poverty and ignorance are presented as the root of extremism, with no acknowledgment that the 9-11 bombers were wealthy and educated.

Reform of such textbooks requires the strong resolve of school boards, administrators, elected officials and parents to pressure the textbook publishers to tell it like it actually is.

President Bush told a small group of Jewish, Palestinians and Israeli Arab students in Israel that they must be alert to the "poisonous" propaganda from state-owned radio and television stations in the Middle East that obstruct true peacemakers. He's right, of course. And we must be aware of the "sweet euphemisms" about radical Islam in American textbooks if we're serious about the pursuit of authentic peace.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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