An Honest Critic
The University of Chicago's Fred M. Donner was a more honest critic of "Islam and the Textbooks" than Houghton Mifflin. Donner is a scholar whose writing on Islamic history overall has balance and merit, and whose models on Islam the review quoted at length. Donner said in a private letter that he wanted to disassociate himself from a report that he called a "smear" of the entire religion. Donner condemned the review's "preconceived notion of Islam as 'religion of violence.'" He added: "The report is posited on the assumption that ‘Islam is the problem.' Your report represents nothing less than yet another polemic in Christianity's long onslaught against what it has chosen to see as its enemy."
These are dramatic charges, but they are overstated. The report barely considers the relationship between violence and Islam except to clarify the meaning of Jihad. Repeatedly, it quotes scholars and literati who deplore Islam's capture and corruption by militant true believers. The review never equates terror and Islam, nor does it even come close, even though the critics keep saying it does. Donner speculates without foundation that the Christian Right or perhaps Zionists fund the American Textbook Council. By this outlook, a covert religious agenda presumably lurks behind any objection to Islamist apologetics and lyricism.
Donner asserts that the report misappropriated his language. This was not the intention, nor was it the effect. At least Donner takes the trouble to clarify his views in some detail. But when he writes, "I have no desire to ‘apologize' for ‘Islam' or for the excesses of Muslims. Bad Muslims, intolerant Muslims, hostile Muslims, yes, these exist in some numbers, and they are a big problem for everyone [my italics]," isn't he conceding one of the report's major points? Donner acknowledges that aspects of Islam present "a big problem" for the West. He does not seem to know (or care) that textbooks turn a blind eye to the historical and theological sources of these problems.
The report's question, "Why do Muslims so often have difficulty living with their neighbors?" especially triggered Donner's criticism. This question and concept came directly from the writing of Harvard University political scientist Samuel Huntington ("along the perimeter of Islam, Muslims have problems living peaceably with their neighbors"). Looking at Algeria, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines, for example, where religious wars are being conducted today against infidels, this proposition is more than plausible.
Donner's response strongly suggests that "Islam and the Textbooks" should have made it far clearer than it did that Muslims do not have a monopoly on the neighbor problem. As several critics have pointed out, correctly, the same can be said for Israelis, North Koreans, and Americans. Islamic Iraq could not co-exist peacefully with its Arab neighbors, Iran or Kuwait, internecine conflicts that go beyond that of rival sects. Donner declares:
That you can cite favorably the work of someone like Daniel Pipes, who is widely known as an extremist bent on defaming Islam and Muslims, suggests either that you are in his camp, or that you are so out of touch with the realities of this issue that you are unaware of his standing as leading polemicist in the debate. Of course Daniel Pipes endorses your report; it is doing his work of defaming "Islam" for him. . . . It does not help us solve the problem to smear the whole religious tradition, which is mind-boggling in its diversity.
In numerous well-documented essays Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes has made trenchant propositions about domestic Islamic pressure groups. Pipes is lucid and unequivocal in explicating Islam's totalitarian streak and its use of domestic multiculturalism to undermine resistance to its agenda. In February 2002, he reviewed a seventh-grade Houghton Mifflin world history textbook used in California called "Across the Centuries." He concluded that the text's lessons on Islam are full of "apologetics" and "distortion." They add up to "the privileging of Islam in the United States," he warned, and "the stakes go well beyond seventh-grade textbooks." The Council's subsequent review confirmed Pipes' assertions, not just in this one world history textbook but throughout the field.
Pipes is an outspoken and opinionated scholar who is committed to Israel and its preservation. He knows Middle Eastern and Islamic history as do few academics in this country or elsewhere. What he has said about domestic Muslims and their allies who deliberately obscure the meaning of Jihad in speech and writing directed at students deserves careful study – and a reasonable and convincing rebuttal. The report merely cited Pipes in a footnote alongside a dozen or more other specialists and scholars in the field. It devoted pages to Donner's thoughts and curriculum paradigms. Still, Donner concludes that I am "in [Pipes'] camp" or "out of touch with the realities of this issue." Islamic regimes that are capable of tolerance? Perhaps. Quite the opposite is the historical rule in modern times, and American children by the time they reach the age of 12 or 15 deserve to learn why this is so.
To call "Islam and the Textbooks" "an anti-Islamic polemic" is to do it an injustice. The worst one could say is that some lines in "Islam and the Textbooks" are intemperate. The targets are the censors, whitewashers, and most of all, their willing accomplices, educational publishers who refuse to open to teachers or students a full range of scholarship and views on the subject.
It is dismaying to watch educational publishers and their paid consultants embrace Islamist activists, accepting as authoritative their biased educational materials. What is even more distressing, these educational publishers bear a public trust as government suppliers and profit from tax-generated revenues. These publishers have ignored some of the report's most troubling questions: Where is the Council on Islamic Education's money and funding coming from? Who are its benefactors and why do they fail to operate under 501(c)(3) status? What indeed is the Council's legal status? Where can anyone obtain public reporting and a clear picture of the Council's past, present and future? (I have requested this information repeatedly for four years, without any success.) Publishers fail to explain why they ignore fundamental questions of motives, funding, legal status and strong-arm tactics in the Islamic organizations that they listen to, appease, and defend.
If our nation's cultural underpinnings are in conflict with religious dogma and values that are intent on replacing or even eradicating them, should not children and their teachers be made aware? Just as pro-Soviet enthusiasms, Mao worship, and Cold War evisionism seem naïve today, currently prescribed views of Islam may also some day seem like dangerous nonsense. And what key points might replace the obvious flaws in the current generation of textbooks? That militant Islam is a real force in the world today, an insurgency that is a real threat to the nation's democratic way of life and freedoms that its citizens often take for granted.
"We live in a time when great efforts are being made to falsify the record of the past and to make history a tool of propaganda; when governments, religious movements, political parties, and sectional groups of every kind are busy rewriting history as they would wish it to have been," observed the historian Bernard Lewis a dozen years ago. Since he wrote this, Islamists have succeeded in doing the very thing. Publishers – not only Houghton Mifflin – have some explaining and work to do.
Textbooks that are used in U.S. classrooms should explain the historically potent strain of Islam that promotes separatism and theocracy. Instead, they are trying to trim history to please Islamist pressure groups and allied ideologues. The implications for U.S. civic education are immense, especially if students are unaware of or even accept the idea that for politically esthetic reasons they are being lied to or emotionally manipulated. To become discerning and self-preserving citizens, U.S. students must learn how consensual government, individual freedom and rights, and religious toleration based on separation of church and state are their unusual birthrights. But history textbook publishers adhere to a "multiple perspectives" ideology and bow to Muslim pressure. There is no easy or quick solution to the problem since the imperatives of selling history textbooks put educational publishers in a commercial dilemma.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Gilbert T. Sewall is Director of the American Textbook Council, a former history instructor at Phillips Academy and an education editor at Newsweek. The American Textbook Council is an independent New York-based research organization established in 1989. The Council reviews history textbooks and other educational materials. It is dedicated to improving the social studies curriculum and civic education in the nation's elementary and high schools.