In recent House hearings dedicated to examining Islamic extremism, I stressed that the fundamental stumbling block to effective policy-making is educational and epistemological. What people are taught about Islam needs a serious overhaul before we can expect to formulate strategies that make sense.
Worth heeding is former top Pentagon official William Gawthrop’s 2006 lament that “the senior service colleges of the Department of Defense had not incorporated into their curriculum a systematic study of Muhammad as a military or political leader. As a consequence, we still do not have an in-depth understanding of the war-fighting doctrine laid down by Muhammad, how it might be applied today by an increasing number of Islamic groups, or how it might be countered.”
Three years later, the situation appears worse. After the War College published something of an apologia for the terrorist organization Hamas, defense analyst Mark Perry concluded, “It’s worse than you think. They have curtailed the curriculum so that their students are not exposed to radical Islam. Akin to denying students access to Marx during the Cold War.”
Why, at a time of war, are students at top U.S. military schools denied an objective treatment of Islam’s war doctrines? A report by the American Textbook Council sheds light by showing how these academic failures have much deeper roots.
After reviewing a number of popular textbooks used by American junior and senior high schools, the report found that, due to political correctness and/or fear of Muslim activists, “key subjects like jihad, Islamic law, [and] the status of women are whitewashed.” Regarding the strikes of 9/11, one textbook never mentions Islamic ideologies, referring to the 19 al-Qaeda hijackers as “teams of terrorists” — this despite the fact that al-Qaeda has repeatedly articulated its hostile worldview through an Islamist paradigm, with a stress on hating “infidels” and waging holy war (see The Al Qaeda Reader).
Speaking of jihad, one seventh-grade textbook explains, “Jihad represents the human struggle to overcome difficulties and do things that are pleasing to God. Muslims strive to respond positively to personal difficulties as well as worldly challenges. For instance, they might work to be better people, reform society, or correct injustice.” By not informing students that all these aspects mean something different for Muslims — killing an apostate is considered “correcting injustice” and spreading Islamic law is “reforming society” — the textbook misleads by projecting Western interpretations onto Islam.