Posted: 6/9/2008 9:21:00 PM
Author: Leah Fabel
Textbook Council Accuses Publisher of Being Politically Correct...
by Leah Fabel
A new report issued by the American Textbook Council says books approved for use in local school districts for teaching middle and high school students about Islam caved in to political correctness and dumbed down the topic at a critical moment in its history.
"Textbook editors try to avoid any subject that could turn into a political grenade," wrote Gilbert Sewall, director of the council, who railed against five popular history texts for "adjust[ing] the definition of jihad or sharia or remov[ing] these words from lessons to avoid inconvenient truths."
Sewall complains the word jihad has gone through an "amazing cultural reorchestration" in textbooks, losing any connotation of violence. He cites Houghton Mifflin's popular middle school text, "Across the Centuries," which has been approved for use in Montgomery County Schools. It defines "jihad" as a struggle "to do one's best to resist temptation and overcome evil."
"But that is, literally, the translation of jihad," said Reza Aslan, a religion scholar and acclaimed author of "No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam." Aslan explained that the definition does not preclude a militant interpretation.
"How you interpret [jihad] is based on whatever your particular ideology, or world viewpoint, or even prejudice is," Aslan said. "But how you define jihad is set in stone."
A statement from Montgomery County Public Schools said that all text used by teachers had been properly vetted and were appropriate for classroom uses.
Aslan said groups like Sewall's are often more concerned about advancing their own interpretation of Islam than they are about defining its parts and then allowing interpretation to happen at the classroom level.
Sewall's report blames publishing companies for allowing the influence of groups like the California-based Council on Islamic Education to serve throughout the editorial process as "screeners" for textbooks, softening or deleting potentially unflattering topics within the faith.
"Fundamentally I'm worried about dumbing down textbooks," he said, "by groups that come to state education officials saying we want this and that - and publishers need to find a happy medium."
Maryland state delegate Saqib Ali refrained from joining the fray. "The job of assigning curriculum is best left to educators and the school board, and I trust their judgment," he said.
The new American Textbook Council report may be viewed online at: http://www.historytextbooks.org/islamreport.pdf