Phi Beta Cons

On “Islam and the Textbooks”

Gilbert Sewall’s two-part answer to the critics of his study, “Islam and the Textbooks,” available at the Family Security Matters website, shows how completely textbook publishers and their paid consultants, as well as the educational establishment in general, have put themselves at the service of Muslim propaganda.  The descriptions of Islam in the textbooks present the Muslim world in vague, glowing terms, completely obscuring its problematic aspects, as Sewall’s study illustrates.  For example the textbooks will speak of how Muslims respect law and how the Muslim world is united and ordered by respect for the law.  But they don’t describe what that law, sharia, really entails and how opposed to Western ideals of freedom it is.   In his two-part answer, Sewall shows how his critics fail for the most part to make specific arguments against his study but engage in ad hominem attacks instead. 
We are supposed to be defined by ideas.  But to let yourself be defined by ideas rather than by the cultural substantiveness that conveys the ideas is to be easy prey for people who make the ideas serve their own ends.  The Islamic propagandists are able to speak of peace, freedom, law, democracy, civil society, equality, etc., and because our own grasp of these concepts has become so weak and abstract, we don’t even notice the dodge. 
For example, when President Bush says that all people desire freedom, that they want their children to live in peace and prosperity, he in effect makes ”desire” the basis for democracy.  But as Charles Kesler points out in the Claremont Review, here (“Democracy and the Bush Doctrine”) and here (“Iraq and the Neoconservatives”), people may desire things for their own children that they don’t necessarily desire for other children.  Even more, it is not so much desire, or the longing for freedom, as reason, the reasoned understanding of freedom and what it entails, upon which democracies are built   Meanwhile, the vague idea that everyone longs for freedom can be useful to propagandists.
Sewall calls attention to the website of the Council on Islamic Education, which uses both the universal (equality, for example) and multicultural (diversity, for example) buzz words to  push the teaching of Islam in the public schools through curricula that they have prepared and speakers that they recommend.  Granted, they mean for it to be taught informationally, not evangelically, but it of course must be presented entirely positively.   
Sewall mentions a “strange, some would say crackpot, 5,000-word diatribe denouncing” his textbook study

that appeared on the Council on Islamic Education website.  He goes on to “urge educators, parents and voters one and all to take a look at this document, located at www.cie.org, and ask themselves whether they really want such zealots as gatekeepers of their children’s textbook content.”  But I could not find this document at the CIE website.  Perhaps they have pulled it out of embarrassment.  If anyone can find a copy, it would be interesting to see it.  
See the Middle East Forum’s “Exposing the Council on Islamic Education.”

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