In 1816, Thomas Jefferson proclaimed in a letter to a friend an adage that we should be heeding today: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
Never was this advice more desperately needed — or more consciously avoided — than it is today. American's educational system has seemed unwilling to enlighten our children to the nature, history, and implications of the war that has been declared on us and on free people in general by Islamist theocratic totalitarians. At best, the subject is entirely avoided in America's classrooms; at worst, it is ascribed to causes that facts prove are untrue — such as poverty or American foreign policy.
Last August 2007, I was invited by a Phoenix-area high school teacher to address the entire student body on the anniversary of 9/11. I was to discuss the impact of 9/11 from the perspective of a devotional and activist anti-Islamist Muslim. But sadly, just a few days before the event, the principal canceled it. He cited his belief to the teacher that it is inappropriate to discuss matters of faith in public schools.
The teacher had scheduled a few other speakers that week including an American serviceman who had served in Iraq. To cover his bases, the principal cancelled all 9/11-related activities for the entire week. Once the word "Islam" entered a discussion on 9/11, this educator and the system he represented felt it better to sweep the entire discussion under the rug rather than expose his students to the real world issues. Fearing professional repercussions, the high school teacher asked that this story remain anonymous.
We have come the seventh anniversary of 9/11, and sadly, our educational system is still in a collective paralysis over "the Islamist threat." No issue better encapsulates the long overdue battle of ideas domestically and globally against the Islamists than the woeful coverage our schools give 9/11 and the theology of political Islam.
In short, "political Islam" is a belief that Muslims have both a duty and obligation to promote the public application of their interpretation of sharia, and where possible, establish Islamic states. Terrorists do this by any means necessary; non-violent Islamists do it through patient advocacy and slow societal change.
Few would deny that our nation faces a clear and present danger physically and ideologically. Over 30 attacks against American citizens from radical Islamists have been prevented by our security forces since 9/11. This is not to mention all of the attacks which have been carried out from Bali to Spain to London since 9/11.
And yet, our schools are entirely avoiding the core reasons why these attacks occur. The curricula on 9/11 and the threat of Islamism are all but nonexistent.
When 9/11 is covered it is done so in platitudes with no critical inquiry into the role of radical Islamists or from where their ideology emanates. The fomenters of these attacks themselves have clearly and repeatedly stated the source of their beliefs and actions: they believe that it is their moral duty to conquer the world for Islam. Would it not stand to reason that students should be provided with a solid grounding on the recent history of the Middle East, discussing the ascendancy of both military secular dictatorships and political Islam, as two heads of a snake that has declared war on us?
Our Department of Homeland Security recently prohibited the internal use of terms like Islam, Islamism, salafism and jihad, all but stifling any discourse on or analysis of the influence of radical Islamism upon the very terrorists we are fighting. How can our government do any effective counterterrorism work if it can't even identify the enemy or its ideologies? Multiply this willful blindness of our government by an order of magnitude, and you have an understanding of how thoroughly 9/11 is ignored by our schools.
Many have said that the primary solution to this conflict lies within the Muslim consciousness. This is true. The only antidote to the cultivation and corruption of theocratic pre-modern Islam is a liberal post-modern Islam. How will today's students ever be able to address this challenge to our existence in the next few decades if they never even had an opportunity to understand it?
This blindness is not limited to 9/11 or Islam. It stands to reasons that an educational system that cannot effectively teach its students fundamental American principles like liberty, the Bill of Rights, freedom of the press, or freedom of religion, will also miss the ideological underpinnings of this global conflict. For the battle of ideas is not between faiths but rather between western liberal democracy and the theocratic oligarchy of Islamism. How many high school teachers get this, let alone their students? When up to 68 percent of college students are "unable to identify freedom of religion and of the press as rights that are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights," is it any wonder that Islamism is ignored as a threat to the free world?
Terrorism is just a tactic. We are fighting an ideology that exploits the faith of Islam to advance the transnational agenda of Islamists. One of the driving forces of Islamism is the various permutations of the Muslim Brotherhood. How many students study them? Virtually none. Just as a high-school textbook should discuss Communist history in order to teach about the Cold War, so too should a discussion of 9/11 teach the roots of Islamist history in the Middle East: from the origins of Wahhabism t and its promotion by the House of Saud to the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood and its terrorist splinter groups. How can it not be relevant for students to learn about an organization with a manifesto or "Project" to take over the West? With no inquiry there can be no learning. With no inquiry we cannot defeat the ideology of Islamism.
Our nation has not faced such an unconventional enemy in our entire history. Certainly, students graduating believing that our enemies are just "terrorists" who happen to be radical will become liabilities as leaders in the development of a real "battle of ideas."
Our schools are basically misapplying America's separation of church and state to a prohibition of the study of political Islam and its terrorist offshoots. The principal of the Phoenix area school gave Islamists exactly what they wanted. For what better way for Islamists to avoid any intellectual deconstruction of political Islam in the west than to use our culture of respect for religions as a mechanism to avoid any critique while they thrive from our freedoms.
And the few times that some schools actually do venture into the study of Islam, they avoid discussion of political Islam while often employing self-serving representatives of the Muslim community who are apologists for Islamism — who exaggerate victimology, and minimize radicalism and the need for reform.
Ask a high school student, "why did 9/11 happen, and why were 15 of the 19 hijackers of Saudi Wahhabi origin?" and you are apt to get a blank stare.
The Denver Post reported September 11, 2007 on the stifled discussion of 9/11 in public schools,
No mandatory assemblies. No guest speakers or dedicated lesson plans. Most teachers in Colorado won't teach any special curriculum today, the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States…
A study of national curricula also printed last 9/11 by the National Council for the Social Studies pointed out the avoidance of any substantive discussion in American classrooms of the details of the events of 9/11 or their causes. The report stated, "Overall, however, none of the texts or materials we examined challenged students to critically examine the roots of the attacks. . . . "
If public education wasn't problem enough, there exist charter schools and parochial Islamic schools that are aggressively and openly Islamist. The Tarek Ibn Ziyad Academy in Minneapolis, as Katherine Kersten has reported, is a glaring example of what can happen when Islamists run charter schools. The Islamic Saudi Academy of Virginia, a Saudi embassy-run school has been exposed by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as an institution teaching hate on our soil. It may be wise to look at all Islamic parochial schools on American soil and review what they are teaching with regards to sharia, American law, American history, and the cause of 9/11. Our American Islamic Forum for Democracy has outlined a nine-point guide as a starting point to discern non-Islamist from Islamist Islamic schools.
Many of us have been suffocated by the political correctness of the mainstream media. They have shielded any genuine exposure or criticism of the ideology of Islamism. The American people are capable of making the distinction between the faith of Islam and the transnational goals of political Islam as long as they are presented the facts on the subject. Without that education, we will be incapable of winning the contest of ideas which we have yet to begin.
This year there were no invitations for me to speak to any high school student bodies about the impact of 9/11 upon our world. It seems that fewer and fewer students are learning much nowadays about the theocratic ideologies which fuel our enemies.
The only thing worse than some high school students not understanding the real causes of Islamist terror is knowing that my tax dollars are going towards programming them to neglect the entire threat, if not absurdly teaching them that the cause is somehow rooted in American policies or Muslim poverty.
Students entering high school today were barely seven years old on 9/11. Soon students in high school will only know 9/11 through their history texts and video libraries. We stand poorly prepared to counter the clear and present danger of Islamism.
It is time to heed Thomas Jefferson's advice. We must begin the process of addressing and teaching our children the real causes of Islamist terrorism, so that by the time they become adults, they will not only be capable, but morally empowered to defend America and our freedoms against the Islamist ideology, which is bent on their destruction.
— M. Zuhdi Jasser is the founder and chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix Arizona. He is a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, a physician in private practice, and a community activist.