Public school children in grades K-12 are being assigned textbooks that misrepresent and, in some cases, glorify Islamic beliefs and history – often at the expense of other religions and cultures. The apologetics and indoctrination common in university Middle East studies programs is being carried into public schools by contentious, ahistorical, and inaccurate textbooks written by those same Middle East studies professors.
History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond, a textbook published by the Teachers' Curriculum Institute, was removed from the Scottsdale, Arizona school district in 2005 for this very reason. The textbook is now causing controversy in California and at the center of the storm is Cal State University-Sacramento sociology professor Ayad Al-Qazzaz.
An Iraqi native who specializes in Middle East studies, Al-Qazzaz, is both a contributor to History Alive and one of the gatekeepers who approved it for use in California's public middle schools. And, according to an American Textbook Council review cited by World Net Daily (WND):
Al-Qazzaz is a Muslim apologist, a frequent speaker in Northern California school districts promoting Islam and Arab causes…[He] also co-wrote AWAIR's 'Arab World Notebook.' AWAIR stands for Arab World and Islamic Resources, an opaque, proselytizing 'non-profit organization' that conducts teacher workshops and sells supplementary materials to schools.
A parent and former student in one of Al-Qazzaz's Middle East studies courses wrote to WND expressing her own reservations:
That was a big flag for me…after seeing Al-Qazzaz as one of the main contributors I began to put two and two together … about the extra book coming home only in this class and I questioned where this book's money source came from – I still do not know.
Hence, as noted by WND, the text presents jihad as "an effort by Muslims to convince 'others to take up worthy causes, such as funding medical research'" and that "even at its most violent, 'jihad' is simply Muslims fighting 'to protect themselves from those who would do them harm.'"
In a 2003 KXTV, Sacramento, story on "Islamic War Ethics," he elaborated:
Al-Qazzaz says there are two levels of jihad. The greater jihad is every Muslim's quest to live out their faith in their daily lives, to improve themselves and to become a better Muslim. The lesser jihad means to protect one's people and fight against enemies, he says. So the greater jihad prompts devout Muslims to remember their religious guidelines while fighting, which would cause them to treat war prisoners well.
One suspects the victims of beheadings and torture would beg to differ. Moreover, that Islamists (otherwise known as jihadists) worldwide repeatedly cite jihad as a motivating factor belies Al-Qazzaz's contention that war is the "lesser jihad."
In a 2002 interview with Peace Magazine, Al-Qazzaz rejected the association of "jihad" with "fundamentalism" and advocated what's come to be known as the "root causes" approach to combating Islamic terrorism:
You are not going to get rid of suicide bombers by killing them. You have to know the causes. It is like a disease. You can treat the symptoms but if you don't know the causes, the symptoms keep coming up.
Yet, when the interview turned to the study of Islam and its connection to terrorism, Al-Qazzaz skirted the issue by blaming others. After first accusing Islam scholar Bernard Lewis of "becoming progressively anti-Islam and Zionist," he continued:
There are two schools of thought about Islam in the US. One school is headed by Bernard Lewis and Daniel Pipes, who equate Islam to terrorism. The other school, headed by John Esposito, argues that there are bad apples everywhere. You have terrorists in Islam, terrorists in Judaism, terrorists in Hindu-ism. But the majority of the people, though they may be backward, do not have a terrorist attitude.
Al-Qazzaz's characterization of both Bernard Lewis and Daniel Pipes is demonstrably false. Neither equates Islam with terrorism, but, rather, seeks to examine the undeniable connection between the two. John Esposito, who heads the Saudi-funded Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown, is a leading Wahhabi apologist who consistently seeks to muddle what is in fact an Islam-specific issue.
Considering Al-Qazzaz's troubling viewpoints on these matters, his involvement with History Alive and other Middle East studies textbooks is cause for alarm. Not only do California education officials need to undertake a rigorous and unbiased reexamination of such textbooks, but also the gatekeepers approving their use. Otherwise, it's simply a case of the fox guarding the hen house.
Cinnamon Stillwell is the Northern California Representative for Campus Watch. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.