Jenny McKeigue’s youngest child enters seventh grade this fall, and she plans to excuse him from a world history class requirement to recite a Muslim conversion prayer called the shahada. McKeigue spent four years attempting to convince her school board in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, to alter some lessons and replace history textbooks after her oldest son in 2012 showed her a reality TV episode his teacher had played in class.
In “30 Days: Muslims and America,” an imam tells a Christian man attempting to live as a Muslim for 30 days that Muslims and Christians worship the same god. The Christian struggles with that idea but ultimately accepts it.
Independent reviewers McKeigue requested also found errors in the district’s textbooks such as listing eleven biblical commandments and stating Muslims historically “practiced religious tolerance” by requiring Christians and Jews to pay extra taxes—not mentioning the alternative was often death. McKeigue said comparative class time and materials were not devoted to other major world religions such as Judaism and Christianity.
The district recently did buy new textbooks—a newer version of the one McKeigue had objected to, which contains many of the same errors.
Take and Read
Textbook errors are so common that several independent organizations review textbooks full-time. The Florida-based Citizens for National Security has issued the most comprehensive reviews about how textbooks treat Islam, and Chairman William Saxton says he fields about six related inquiries per day.
CFNS reports chronicle sins of omission and commission—such as saying “war broke out” between Palestinians and Israelis although one side was the aggressor, glossing over historical realities such as Muslims holding slaves and proselytizing by the sword, and inaccuracies such as stating Jesus was a Palestinian when Palestine did not exist during his recorded earthly life.
One of CFNS’s YouTube videos points out that the high school history textbook used in the Boston bombers’ public school, Cambridge Latin School, makes straightforward religious claims about Islam no textbook would mimic in a description of any other religion: “Muhammad’s teachings, which are the revealed word of God…” An unbiased textbook would say something like “Muslims believe Muhammad’s teachings are the revealed word of God.”
Saxton is a retired U.S. intelligence officer with a Harvard University doctorate who volunteers for CFNS. He won’t say which agencies he’s worked for besides the Department of Defense, but will say he has investigated jihadist propaganda professionally. He began going through all the textbooks he could find after visiting a grandson in California in 2009 and looking up the sections on Middle Eastern history.
“That’s when the light lit,” he said. “I said ‘Whoa, we have a problem.’ This is a cultural jihad. It’s a dangerous form because no one is going to know about this.”
He quotes Shabir Mansuri, the founder of the Muslim-Brotherhood-connected Council on Islamic Education, who said their work reviewing textbooks for major publishers is intended to produce a “bloodless” cultural revolution. Reaction to such statements prompted CIE to change its name to the Institute for Religion and Civic Values, where Mansuri continues to review history textbooks for major publishers, write lesson plans, and give seminars to teachers.
Follow the Money
Taxpayers often fund these activities through government grants and contracts, and IRCV claims a “significant working partnership” with the U.S. State Department. It reviewed the textbook McKeigue objected to in her kids’ schools (Holt 2006).
Former CIE senior researcher Susan Douglass now runs a education outreach program for an influential Georgetown University center endowed in 2005 by a $20 million gift from Saudi prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. Recently declassified documents suggest links between the Saudi Arabian government, al-Qaeda, and the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.
Talal, one of the world’s richest men, has suggested America’s foreign policy deserved some blame for 9/11 and donated to the terrorist-linked Council for American-Islamic Relations. John Esposito, the founding director of Talal’s Georgetown center, has raised money for CAIR and publicly promoted organizations the U.S. government later designated terrorist organizations.
The center also receives federal Title VI funds for developing K-12 curriculum materials. Like Mansuri, Douglass travels the country giving seminars at museums, school districts, and conferences. Teacher resources she has written read like Muslim apologetics, including claims such as: “Customs such as honor killing are not part of Islam”; “Of the many current misperceptions about Islam, perhaps the most widespread is that women in Islamic law and Muslim society are oppressed and lack rights”; and “Jihad may not be conducted either to force people to convert or to annihilate or subdue people of other faiths.”
Talal also gave $20 million in 2005 to Harvard University for a similar, federally funded center of resources for K-12 teachers. Many U.S. campuses host such centers, whose employees present themselves as experts to textbook publishers, school teachers, and the media, said Winfield Myers, the director of academic affairs at the Middle Eastern Forum.
“You can see the actual genocide carried against the Christians in the Middle East with very little protest from these departments, because of so many years of Arab supremacism,” Myers said. “In the main, the Middle East studies departments are anti-Western and anti-Israel.”
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
The prevalence of Saudi money in American higher education “gives incentives for not asking critical questions,” Myers said. Exacerbating this tendency is that asking questions about Islam quickly sparks accusations of racism, said Shireen Qudosi, an American Sufi Muslim who lives in California.
“Because we’re limited our ability to have these conversations it leads to this entitled attitude of ‘Because I’m Muslim I deserve something extra,’” she said from her cell phone in the car as her five-year-old son, Reagan, fussed in the back seat. She excused herself to hand him a snack.
Her frustrations with Islam in American schools are largely social: “Arabs see themselves as superior and their culture as the only authentic Islamic culture. And since they’re the ones with the money, what they say gets put into play.” Since they fear losing jobs and reputation if accused of racism, school administrators and social workers often sideline Muslim-related conflicts, leaving families to fend for themselves.
This also affects curriculum, because it motivates curriculum companies to similarly downplay religious and racial conflict, at the expense of accuracy and substance. High school teacher Elizabeth Altman, for example, spent eight weeks last summer with materials all over her dining room table, “tearing my hair out” to rewrite her Advanced Placement European history class to fit new guidelines: “I tried to take Sundays off. Tried.”
College Board’s AP tests can earn students college credit in high school. In 2015, 110,000 students took the AP European history exam, and for most it will be their last world history class.
“I was thinking ‘I hope I die before graduation so I don’t have to do this’” because the new material is so tedious and vague, said Altman, who is also the assistant principal at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Academy in Rockford, Illinois, before diving into a detailed explanation of what the College Board left out of its new, 237-page course description.
Islam is almost completely absent, but it’s not just Islam. Religion, period, has been relegated to a few glancing mentions, notes an extensive review of the curriculum changes from the National Association of Scholars. For example, it treats the Holocaust as a political and racial episode, leaving aside the religious elements.
“To leave religion out as a motivation for war or for domestic policy decisions is to leave out half of the human character,” Altham said. “To treat religious belief as simply a convenient belief of the ruling class is to ignore that the ruling class generally has genuine belief.”
So while ISIS is destroying Roman ruins in Syria because they consider them pagan works of infidels not worth preserving, Western intellectuals are performing an analogous intellectual exercise by erasing major human motivations and pivotal historic events in ways that hamper young Americans’ ability to understand historic and current world affairs, said David Randall, the author of the NAS report.
“Islam is the great inheritor and great rival” to Christian civilization throughout European history, Randall said. “You need to know that.” Since “the war-torn edges between Islam and Christianity depend on the rivalry of religious claims,” it’s impossible to understand European history without understanding exactly what motivated people then—and today.
An earlier version of this article stated Palestine did not exist until 100 years after Jesus’s death, but that can be misleading as the modern political-cultural Palestine comprised largely of Muslim Arabs did not exist until the twentieth century. This article has been changed to reflect that. Until then it was largely a geographical term, not political or ethnic.