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.