You may have read about the proposed ethnic studies curriculum developed for California public high schools, which caused an uproar because of its biased treatment of Jews and Israel, support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, and fear that it fomented anti-Semitism. That is one of many battles over curricula as Islamists attempt to rewrite history and erase any mention of Islamic extremism.
The “Islamophobia” industry is engaged in a systemic effort to whitewash the history of Islam and perpetuate the myth that Islam has always been nothing but peaceful toward non-adherents. These propagandists seek to silence and smear their critics as “Islamophobic.”
We have seen this effort across college campuses, which have received nearly $3 billion since 2012 from Arab/Muslim states and individuals who hope to influence the next generation of Americans to adopt their view of Middle East geopolitics. These investments have paid off via the hiring of apologists for Islamist terror who teach, write textbooks, and serve as sources for the media.
Historian Martin Kramer has noted how American scholars have made “a deliberate effort to … turn Islam into a pacifist faith — a kind of oriental Quakerism.”
Equally disturbing, as I wrote in my book The Arab Lobby, is an increasing effort to shape the views of children from kindergarten through high school. The 9/11 terror attacks provoked fear and misunderstanding about Muslims and Islam, while political correctness allowed the lobby to present its sanitized version of events aimed at downplaying Arab/Muslim distinctions, ignoring differences in values and interests, and dismissing links between radical Islam and terror.
U.S. taxpayers underwrite some of these efforts through government-funded Title VI Middle East Studies centers at major universities. Today’s “Islamophobia” lobby has an exponential impact through these centers, whose mandate is to educate teachers about the region. As I’ve documented, as part of their obligation to engage in outreach, these Title VI-affiliated centers often produce materials that reflect the lobby’s views. Teachers then pass on these views to their students.
Advancing the same politicized agenda that rules academia, Islamist organizations have allied with left-wing interest groups and pressured publishers to revise textbooks to better reflect multicultural ideologies. The result is a reluctance to discuss negative aspects of sharia law (such as the discriminatory treatment of non-believers, women, and gays), the role of radical Islam in pervading terrorism, and the Islamist animus toward the United States, Israel, and the West. A 2008 study by Gary Tobin and Dennis Ybarra concluded:
Discovering in our schools a pervasive set of erroneous beliefs about such a vital topic should alarm every taxpayer, every parent, and every school official. To allow biased textbooks and outright propaganda in supplemental materials into the schools is to pervert the very purpose of public education and a misuse of our democratic system.
One such battle occurring in Virginia’s Loudoun County centers around the misrepresentation of the meaning of jihad. Loudoun’s presentation of jihad and Islamic terrorism were criticized for bias. While it is understandable that American Muslims would not want their religion associated with radicalism, teaching that jihad is a wholly benign concept related to a believer’s internal struggle distorts the term’s meaning by ignoring its relationship to extremism, even as terrorist organizations — such as Palestine Islamic Jihad — use the very word itself to convey their malignant mission.
As Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis once explained: “Conventionally translated ‘holy war,’ [jihad] has the literal meaning of … ‘striving in the path of God’ (fi sabil Allah). Some Muslim theologians … have interpreted the duty of ‘striving in the path of God’ in a spiritual and moral sense. The overwhelming majority of early authorities … discuss jihad in military terms.”
The “Islamophobia” lobby could veto Lewis, a Jew smeared by critics as a Western-oriented propagandist. But textbook authors could also cite the medieval Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, who wrote: “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the (Muslim) mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.”
Students can find a more contemporary definition in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, where Emile Tyan wrote: “Jihad consists of military action with the object of the expansion of Islam.”
Learning the meaning of jihad is also key for students to understand the Middle East today, where the commitment to jihad by terrorist organizations such as Palestine Islamic Jihad and Hamas perpetuates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Students should learn, for example, that Palestine Islamic Jihad considers jihad the only way to liberate Palestine. A Tel Aviv University analysis explains how the group believes that a “Muslim victory and the elimination of Israel are foreordained by God’s words in the Quran.”
By reading primary documents, students can see for themselves the true meaning of jihad. To understand the ideology of Hamas, teachers can direct them to the group’s charter, which states that “[t]here is no solution for the Palestine question except through jihad” and calls on Muslims to “raise the banner of jihad” to “rid the land and the people of their uncleanliness, vileness and evils.”
American public schools could also use material taught about Islam in Muslim schools. A study of Saudi textbooks, for example, found that many “encourage both violent and non-violent jihad against non-believers.”
A Palestinian textbook for eleventh graders offered a definition of jihad very different from the one proposed for Loudoun school children: “Jihad is an Islamic term that equates to the term war in other nations. The difference is that jihad has noble goals and lofty aims and is carried out only for the sake of Allah and for His glory.”
Unquestionably, students should learn more about Islam. But they should learn it from unbiased sources, not from apologists for Islamism. It is a disservice, and intellectually dishonest, to teach them a sanitized version of history that whitewashes the extremist elements of the religion. If the “Islamophobia” lobby has its way, the next generation will grow up unaware and unprepared to face the danger from Islamists who threaten American lives, values, and interests.
Mitchell Bard, a Campus Watch Fellow with the Middle East Forum, is the author/editor of 22 books, including the 2017 edition of Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, The Arab Lobby, and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.