This title was carefully selected and I hope readers will get the point from what follows.
Barack Obama didn’t release his birth certificate in 2008 to prove he was not born in Kenya; he released it to counter the equally silly claim that his middle name was Mohammed amid stories that he was Muslim. Since that time and up to the present video from Wayne Allyn Root, the claim has been leveled against Barack Obama that he is Muslim and not Christian.
While Obama doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve, it’s no secret that he attended a Christian church. At an Easter prayer breakfast in 2011 [link to entire remarks]:
I wanted to host this breakfast for a simple reason — because as busy as we are, as many tasks as pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there’s something about the resurrection — something about the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ, that puts everything else in perspective
I know about the text because it was quoted by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America presiding bishop Mark Hanson. That, and what accompanied it, did not sound like it came from a Muslim. To Muslims, Jesus was a prophet, not divine.
I used to argue religion on USENET, and what I learned is that you can pile up examples on one side of an issue and get a different perception of something than if you pile up examples on the other side of the issue. There were arguments against Christianity based on its excesses and abuses, and those for it based on laudable activities. The same thing is playing out today about Islam, some tying to paint Islam in the best possible way, and others the worst. There are some who are trying to portray Islam as a venerable religion with lofty ideals, and some as an oppressive religion that is violent at its core.
One of the professionals promoting Islam negatively is Lebanese-born Brigitte Gabriel, author of the books: Because They Hate and They Must Be Stopped. Gabriel characterized the soft pedaling of Islamic atrocities as “political correctness.” In an interview with CNN, Gabriel was quoted as saying “America has been infiltrated on all levels by radicals who wish to harm America. They have infiltrated us at the CIA, at the FBI, at the Pentagon, at the State Department. They’re being radicalized in radical mosques, in our cities and communities within the United States.” CNN pundit Eliot Spitzer pointed out how much this sounds like Joe McCarthy and his Congressional war against Communists in the government. To me it sounded as much like the anti-Semitism directed against Jews.
Some of that is being played out in the arena of school textbooks. A search for keywords like “Islam, textbook, controversy” returns results largely from right-wing sources who make the claim that the country is being infiltrated by Muslim agents who are trying to indoctrinate our children to be Muslims and take over the government. Mainstream sources treat the textbook topic infrequently, although I found a few articles. The Muslim bogeyman is the Council on Islamic Education.
Florida representative Ritch Workman expressed the views of his side, saying:
[The textbook is] remarkably offensive to me. This book very much sugar-coats the rise of Islam to be this wonderful new world order while teaching Christianity as dogmatic.
There are two essential issues with textbooks: the relative amount of treatment given Islam and Christianity (two groups look at the same book, and see a different side getting more coverage) and the definition of certain terms, specifically “jihad” and “sharia.”
Jihad literally means “struggle” in Arabic. I think most people know the term as “holy war.” We use the word war in many ways, both as a violent military confrontation (Iraq war) or as a struggle (“war on poverty”). A textbook, then, that uses the more generic meaning of jihad displeases those who want to portray Islam as an essentially violent religion. In the same way, sharia can be described as a moral code, or a fundamentalist theocratic rule where women are property, and things get cut off a lot.
A complicating factor is that world history texts treat topics less harshly in junior high school texts than in high school texts, and this plays out in the coverage of Islam, to the disapproval of some who would want harsh treatment in all texts.
Ironically, there is a companion controversy over textbooks used in Saudi Arabia, with the US pressuring them to “remove material perceived as spreading intolerance and hatred.” [Wikipedia]
My own view is that extremism, intolerance and fundamentalism is the real thing to be worried about. This where the atrocities come from.1
Articles relating to the controversy over Islam in textbooks:
- Controversy over textbook “biased in favor of Islam” continues in Volusia County Schools – Orlando Sentinel (2013)
- Florida Rep. Ritch Workman Claims High School Textbook has Pro-Islam Bias – Huffington Post (2013)
- Public School History Textbook Generates Controversy Over Alleged Pro-Muslim Bias – Christian News Network (2013)
- A Claim of Pro-Islam Bias in Textbooks – The New York Times (2010)
1I read a really great book called Fundamentalisms Observed edited by Martin Marty and Scott Appleby from the Fundamentalism Project at the University of Chicago. It has an eye-opening chapter about where Islamic fundamentalism originated. Christian fundamentalism is also covered as well as fundamentalist movements in other world religions.