The attack on America on Sept. 11 set off alarms everywhere. We were shocked to discover that few Foreign Service officers were fluent in Arabic or Farsi, the dominant languages of the Middle East. We didn't know much about Islam. Children grew up on the engrossing and romantic "Tales of the Arabian Nights," but few parents thought much about the implications of women portrayed in veils and harems, as the property of men.
College students grooved on "The Rubaiyat" by Omar Khayyam, the medieval Persian poet and philosopher, whose poetry was tailored to Western sensibility by the 19th century English translator Edward FitzGerald in "A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread -- and Thou." There's a small park on Embassy Row in Washington dedicated to the poem. The popular culture glibly entertained us with tales of flying carpets and genies popping out of magic bottles, and serious study of Islamic history and culture was grossly neglected.
Multiculturalism and increasing tension in the Middle East have changed all that, but we haven't improved the education of our children about Islam or the roots of Islamist terrorism. An insidious campaign to mislead, misinform and disinform is at work in the textbooks of the public schools. Do you know what your children are reading today?
A new report by the American Textbook Council, an independent research organization that monitors the quality of textbooks, is a new wake-up call. In "Textbook Troika: How publishers, activists and multiculturalists keep students in the dark about Islam," Gilbert T. Sewall, the director of the council, documents the malign influence Muslim activists exert on social studies texts. Not only do texts distort historical fact, but "disinterested scholarship" is in jeopardy, threatened by a gathering perfect storm of academic failure and fatuousness.
Muslim activists intimidate naive editors with misinformation in the name of "diversity" and "sensitivity." Unpleasant facts are replaced by euphuism, and timid publishers who know better are drawn into a propaganda con game. There's big money in textbooks, and publishers are tempted to defer to whomever exerts the most pressure. An uncritical and even reverential treatment of Islam rises in direct proportion to diminished respect for Western achievement.
Muslim apologists are hardly alone in attempting to present their faith uncritically in textbooks. Christians, Jews, Hindus and others simply don't enjoy the same clout in an environment of unquestioned multiculturalism. Islamists fuse faith with political activism and bully academic writers, editors and state bureaucrats responsible for overseeing curriculum standards.
The most important place to push the hot button is in California, mandated by its sheer size. Meeting state standards is big business worth hundreds of millions of dollars for publishers after texts are adopted. California, which is especially sensitive to political correctness, buckles easily under the bullying of the California-based Council on Islamic Education (CIE), which with other Muslim groups spreads Islamic propaganda through the newspapers, film and television studios. Islamic groups pursue a rich textbook market in Massachusetts, New York and Virginia, as well.
The textbook publishing troika consists of Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin. When McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin sought definitions of "jihad" and "sharia," they cowered under Muslim intimidation. Instead of showing the links connecting religion, law and ritual, they simply dropped all discussion of them. There is no mention of the Islamic mistreatment of women, homosexuals and members of other faiths.
The Teachers' Curriculum Institute (TCI), a relatively new company in the California textbook market, produces a social studies series titled "History Alive!" Teachers know it for its amateurishness and wealth of errors, but it is nevertheless popular for its trendy multicultural treatment of history. A seventh-grader who reads a Prentice Hall textbook will learn that medieval Islamic Spain was a "multicultural society." (This is news.) An ambiguous "team of terrorists" is responsible for Sept. 11; the religion of the hijackers is not mentioned. (How convenient.)
The Council on Islamic Education (CIE), which Sewall describes as an organization of "injustice collectors," has exerted enormous power over textbook publishers, forcing revisions and rewrites while managing to conceal exactly how much it controls content." What is in fact a propaganda machine," says Sewall, "presents itself as a resource center and scholarly authority."
Trusting parents are easily gulled into believing that their children's textbooks are based on legitimate scholarship. Americans stretch out to accept other faiths in good faith and with good humor, and are especially sensitive to the Muslim cry of scape-goating. But Sewall's disturbing research wistfully recalls the simple and innocent poetry of Omar Khayyam:
"The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it."