Textbooks? What textbooks?

TeachingIslam.jpgSometimes it’s surprising how little institutional memory the mainstream media has. Take this story from the New York Times, explaining a debate over a building plan by a Muslim school in Northern Virginia. Reporter Theo Emery explains that Islamic Saudi Academy officials in Fairfax, Virginia, are seeking permission to erect a new classroom building and move hundreds of students from another campus. But some neighbors are opposed because of congestion. Other neighbors have a different basis of opposition altogether:

But others object to the academy’s curriculum, saying it espouses a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism. A leaflet slipped into mailboxes in early spring called the school “a hate training academy.”

James Lafferty, chairman of a loose coalition of individuals and groups opposed to the school, said that its teachings sow intolerance, and that it should not be allowed to exist, let alone expand.

“We feel that it is in reality a madrassa, a training place for young impressionable Muslim students in some of the most extreme and most fanatical teachings of Islam,” Mr. Lafferty said. “That concerns us greatly.”

School officials and parents say they are bewildered and frustrated by such claims. The academy is no different from other religious schools, they say, and educates model students who go on to top schools, teaches Arabic to American soldiers, and no longer uses texts that drew criticism after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Kamal S. Suliman, 46, a state traffic engineer with three daughters at the academy, called the accusations “fear tactics and stereotyping.”

I know the “he said, he said” model of journalism is quite popular. But this story glosses over the main reason why people are concerned about what’s being taught at the school.

Let’s go all the way back to, um, last June for the Associated Press story on the matter:

Textbooks at a private Islamic school in northern Virginia teach students that it is permissible for Muslims to kill adulterers and converts from Islam, according to a federal investigation released Wednesday.

Other passages in the school’s textbooks state that “the Jews conspired against Islam and its people” and that Muslims are permitted to take the lives and property of those deemed “polytheists.”

Now if you read that story, academy officials also had said they no longer used troubling texts. But the commission found that while some of the offending portions had been removed, various permissions for violence against Jews and apostates remained. It’s just odd, frankly, to have an entire story about the academy without mentioning the central issue — the grave concern over the textbooks.

From a September discussion in the Washington Post, Nina Shea of the Center for Religious Freedom had more to say:

The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education publishes and disseminates teachings that Muslims are to hate and treat as “enemies” other religious believers, including other, non-Wahhabi Muslims. Those were our findings in a 2006 study of Saudi government textbooks. And despite the media outcry that followed, our most recent investigation shows that Saudi textbooks, now available on the Saudi Ministry of Education website, have not been cleaned up. The same violent and intolerant lessons remain.

A 2008 review found similar results. Not that the presence of violent and intolerant lessons should necessarily impact a zoning vote, but at least the central argument should be included.

The Times story does include one other angle of opposition to the school — the track record of some of its graduates — but does so with more “he said, he said” and moral equivalency:

Until Sept. 11, 2001, the academy drew minimal attention, but shortly after the terrorist attacks, Israel turned away two graduates over suspicions they were suicide bombers. One was charged with lying on his passport application, and received a four-month prison sentence.

In 2003, the academy’s 1999 valedictorian, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was arrested in Saudi Arabia, where he had gone to study, and two years later was convicted in Federal District Court in Alexandria of conspiracy to commit terrorism, including a plot to assassinate President George W. Bush. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Mr. Abu Ali’s family called the accusations “lies,” and his lawyers say he was tortured when he was held in Saudi Arabia.

Besides, academy officials and parents contend, an entire school should not be condemned for the actions of one or two students. They point out that no one laid the blame for the massacre at Virginia Tech on the high school alma mater of the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho.

This is just such a shallow approach to the legitimate debate over Wahhahbism and violence. But wait, right at the end we get a brief mention of the texts:

Last year, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan federal agency charged with promoting religious freedom in United States foreign policy, concluded that texts used at the school contained “exhortations to violence” and intolerance.

School officials rejected those findings, saying the commission misinterpreted and mistranslated outdated materials. The school now prints its own materials and no longer uses official Saudi curriculum, said Rahima Abdullah, the academy’s education director.

Now, apart from the conflicting explanations of the academy’s education director, I think most people would assume it odd that this academy in Northern Virginia would be the sole school — out of tens of thousands run by the Saudi government — not to use Saudi curriculum. Not to mention that the school has had a history of declining to turn over all of its texts to congressional investigators. Why not mention this? It’s not like this is a new story.

But most importantly, how about just go to the Saudi Academy’s web site where they claim, contra Abdullah, to be using official Saudi curriculum?

The Islamic Saudi Academy is a subsidiary of the Ministry of Education for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Hence, it follows the Islamic Studies curriculum which has been set forth by the Kingdom.

The Islamic Studies curriculum is one of the most important subjects taught at the Academy, as it aims to build a strong Muslim student population with strong morals and values. These morals and values will produce young men and women who will succeed in this life and in the Hereafter.

Emphasis mine. I found that using teh Google, which took all of 5 seconds or so. It’s just odd that the academy wasn’t asked some more questions about these textbooks.

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  • http://bullmoosegal.blogspot.com bullmoosegal

    This kind of mushy thinking is directly tied to the moral relativism deemed to make one ‘unbiased,’ that is so popular in our culture, and to the type of moral equivalence practiced by our president.

  • Jerry

    The real story, of which this is one example, is the effort by the Saudi government to promote Wahhabism throughout the world by using their oil wealth. One of the ways of counteracting this is obviously promoting energy independence.

    I’m also reminded of a Hadith (saying of Muhammad):

    The time is near in which nothing will remain of Islam but its name, and of the Qur’an but its mere appearance, and the mosques of Muslims will be destitute of knowledge and worship; and the learned men will be the worst people under the heavens; and contention and strife will issue from them, and it will return upon themselves.

  • http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk Iftikhar

    Muslim parents teach their children to respect their teachers. From a very young age, we are taught that Islam teaches us that after our parents, our teachers are most deserving of respect.
    It must be an extremely confusing time for the Muslim parent in Leytonstone, London. For up to 30 parents may face prosecution for withdrawing their children from school, disobeying the teachers in the school, simply to secure a decent moral upbringing for their children. The school had decided to have a week of lessons about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history. Part of this was a special adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet retitled Romeo and Julian as well as fairytales and stories changed to show men falling in love with men. Rather than filling the heads of impressionable boys and girls with fatuous drivel about gay penguins, schools should be ashamed of the fact that they are sending children out into the world barely able to read, write and add up properly. Muslim children are leaving schools without learning their cultural roots and linguistic skills.

    The action was being taken against the parents as part of a policy of ‘ promoting tolerance’. So why not tolerate parents, who, for sincerely-held reasons, consider their children too young to be taught about gay relationships? This isn’t education, its cultural fascism. A record numbers of pupils persistently played truant in 2006-07, with around 272,950 pupils persistently absent in 2007, missing more than 20% of school. We rarely see councils prosecute the parents of these persistent truants. Yet, the parents who removed their children as a one-off to protect their morality may be prosecuted!

    If the local council does decide to go through with a prosecution, it would be in line with the government’s approach to the Muslim community. Muslims who believe homosexuality is a sin would be labelled as extremists. Liberal totalitarianism is a growing phenomenon in Britain and the west in general but many people will be shocked that the school can override a parent’s view of what’s appropriate or inappropriate to teach their children.

    This latest episode should be a wakeup call for Muslim parents. Muslim parents MUST explain our moral standards to schools and be prepared to take steps to protect our children’s morals and values from a growing agenda to impose liberal values upon them. This is an eye opening for those Muslim parents who keep on sending their children to state schools to be mis-educated and de-educated by non-Muslim monolingual teachers.

    The solution of all the problems facing Muslim children is state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers. Those state schools where Muslim children are in majority may be designated as Muslim community schools. Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods.
    Iftikhar Ahmad

  • Mari

    It is NOT the obligation of the state to fund religious schools, Iftikhar, nor is there any right for anyone to come to a country and preach the slaughter of the citizens of that country, or any others. If Muslims wish to live under the laws of the “Kingdom”, the place for them to live is in the Kingdom. Otherwise you are demanding the right to violate our rights and freedoms, something you do not have the right to do.

  • Ira Rifkin

    I’m always confused by the term mainstream media – particularly its use as pejorative stand-in for media perceived as being too liberal.

    I used to think the term referenced a media outlet’s influence. If so, Rush, Drudge and Fox are today as MSM as can be.

    And, oh, I wonder if they do not also have “memory” lapses?

    MSM is a mushy cliche – albeit one with barbs.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    We don’t consider mainstream media a pejorative term. Far from it, in fact. We just use it to distinguish from the partisan or ideological press.

  • Jerry

    We don’t consider mainstream media a pejorative term. Far from it, in fact. We just use it to distinguish from the partisan or ideological press.

    That’s an interesting comment, Mollie, because the basic premise of this blog is that the “MSM” does not get religion. So I’ve thought that you all consider most reporters/editors to fall short albeit with a few exceptions. Maybe it’s that you consider the MSM the worst except for all the others, echoing Winston Churchill’s quote about democracy?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Well, just because many reporters struggle with reporting religion doesn’t mean that “mainstream” is pejorative. I don’t think that “partisan” or “ideological” are pejorative either — just descriptors for the approach used.

    But I will take the opportunity to say that it’s a shame we don’t get to highlight more frequently the amazing work done by so many reporters. There are some gems out there and many of them are on the religion beat. Most of the worst problems we see come from reporters who don’t focus on religion but write on it as part of their other duties . . .

  • Jerry

    But I will take the opportunity to say that it’s a shame we don’t get to highlight more frequently the amazing work done by so many reporters.

    Amen. Based on the kudo to complaint ratio here, an independent observer would conclude that things are very dark indeed.