Were you aware that Christian parents are in the grip of fear over Islamic indoctrination in public schools? Neither was I, and I live at ground zero of a raging controversy over the manner in which public schools teach Islam, Christianity, and other world religions. My home county, Maury County, Tenn., made headlines when parents objected to an assignment, to middle-school kids, to write the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith.
Other parents objected to apparent bias in the curriculum, noting that instruction about Christianity was both delayed and skewed, with an emphasis on Christians persecuting other Christians and no explanation of the basic story of Jesus. In other words, students learned about the beliefs of Muslims and the flaws of Christians. For parents and students raised in a public-school environment so paranoid about Christian religious expression that singing a religious song at a Christmas program is deemed problematic and fraught with legal peril, a whitewashed presentation of Islam was too much to take.
At a time when jihadists number in the hundreds of thousands and their supporters and sympathizers in the hundreds of millions, where was the explanation of the historic jihadist influence in Islam? As one middle-schooler in Williamson County, Tenn., said, “I am being taught in class that Islam is a peaceful religion, yet there are many historical and modern-day examples of violent killings and persecution in the name of Allah and Islam.” If Christian persecution is on the table as a topic, what of the spread of Islam at the tip of the sword? By focusing on Islam in its (by Western standards) ideal form, were schools educating, or indoctrinating?
These are fair questions — worthy of debate.
It’s a fascinating question: How has Islamic indoctrination become a point of controversy in a county that’s chock full of churches? On one level, the concerns are about substance, such as whether Islam is being taught accurately and in proportion to lessons about other religions. But these questions seem to hint at something deeper and darker: fear. Perhaps that fear is all the more powerful in a place like Williamson County because the religion is largely an abstraction. In the absence of Muslim neighbors, it’s easier to see those who practice Islam as fundamentally foreign, and to elide their faith with violence.
The cultural condescension is palpable. But here’s a news flash: In virtually every corner of America — even if you have “Muslim neighbors” — Islam is “largely an abstraction.” I don’t care how many Muslim neighbors, classmates, or cab drivers you encounter, life in America is fundamentally different from those nations where Islam truly reigns.
Parents are savvy enough to understand that requiring Muslim students to copy or recite the Apostle’s Creed or to memorize the Lord’s Prayer would be met with not just a storm of outrage but likely litigation. They also understand that lesson plans portraying Jesus as the “Prince of Peace” and Muhammad as a Middle Eastern warlord would draw similar elite condemnation. My friends and neighbors aren’t afraid of Islam. They’re weary of a public-school system so captured by political correctness that it traffics in bias and misinformation.
Some students don’t wait for curricular reform. Instead, they choose their own methods of resistance. I especially like this bit of commentary on a local shahada assignment:
As I’ve said before, there is value in teaching children the history of the Islamic faith and its basic beliefs. There is value in teaching children not just the historical but also theological roots of a religious war that is costing the lives of hundreds of thousands and driving millions from their homes. There is no value, however, in exalting Islam while denigrating Christianity. There is no value in a blatant double standard.
To be politically correct is to lie, and political correctness about Islam can be dangerous. Parents are tired of the lies, and they’re tired of double standards. Protesting parents aren’t phobic. They want truth and fairness. A true education requires nothing less.
— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.