The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is the leading Islamic extremist organization in North America. CAIR pretends to be a civil liberties group but has a long record of promoting radical ideology and of flimsy complaints of discrimination against Muslims. On March 17, CAIR unveiled a new effort--not its first--to interfere with educational publishing. At a press conference in Philadelphia, CAIR accused the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), which is located in that city, of fostering “incorrect information and fear-mongering” by publishing a 10-book series, “World of Islam.”
CAIR’s attack is hardly a surprise. Its agenda has always focused on gaining control over how Islam is discussed and taught in American society. It published An Educator’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices on the pretext of “help[ing] to create a culturally-sensitive academic environment.” It has called on public school administrators to adopt a list of separate facilities and provisions for Muslim students. These include adding Muslim holidays to school calendars; accommodating Muslim prayer; separating out pork products, which are forbidden to Muslims, on school menus; protecting girl students who affect the head covering or hijab, and refraining from offering handshakes when meeting Muslim women and girls. Further reflecting its fundamentalist outlook, CAIR is particularly concerned with co-ed physical education, especially swimming classes, from which it asks that Muslim students be excused; it calls for full-body covering of girls, and separate shower facilities, in gym classes. CAIR also demands that Muslim children to be exempted from sex education and family life classes, “strenuous physical activity” during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, and school dances.
CAIR has blamed U.S. public school textbooks for “incidents of harassment and violence against Muslim children,” though it says that “availability of more accurate and balanced instructional material is increasing”--i.e., that politically correct depictions of Islam had gained currency in public school textbooks before the events of September 11, 2001.
The FPRI “World of Islam” series is issued by Mason Crest, a Pennsylvania educational publisher with a wide scope. Indeed, Mason Crest publishes another series called “Introducing Islam” that is favored by CAIR. The works under CAIR attack are not textbooks, but brief supplemental manuals that may be used to enhance student reading. None of the “World of Islam” booklets can fairly be described as biased against Islam. Rather, the volumes seek to balance the uncritical, pro-Islam bias of numerous public school textbooks with a fairer assessment of the problems facing Americans and other Westerners in understanding Islam.
One of its titles, The History of Islam, by Middle East scholar Barry Rubin, evaluates Muslim achievements in science, navigation, and architecture, while indicating the difference between conservative-traditionalist Islam, which favors recognition of Islamic law (sharia) as a source of legislation, and Islamist ideology that seeks to make it the sole basis of legislation. Muslim fundamentalists and radicals may resent such comments, but they are simply descriptive of reality, and, if anything, express notable sympathy for those Muslims who, according to Rubin, comprise “the great majority [that] reject the Islamist interpretation of their religion and are horrified by the idea of living under an extremist Muslim society.”
Other titles in the “World of Islam” series include Islam in Europe, which ends with the warning that given high immigrant Muslim birthrates, “many Europeans are afraid that they may become a minority in their own countries. The fear, more often than not, has been exaggerated and used by populist parties as an argument against immigration.” A companion booklet, The Muslim World: An Overview, offers a positive assessment of the U.S.-led interventions to protect Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. At the same time, it describes the major Islamist terrorist attacks in Spain in 2004 and Britain in 2005 and the agitation for sharia as public law in the latter country. Yet another in the series, Islamic-Jewish Relations Before 1947, includes recognition that Muslim history is mixed: Jews lived well and were unmolested in some Muslim countries, but faced restrictions and violence in others.
These texts are neither prejudicial nor ideological; they represent established historical opinion and accurate reporting on present-day challenges affecting Muslims and non-Muslims alike. CAIR is attempting, as often in the past, to reinforce its claim to be a privileged interpreter of Islam in the United States. At the press conference CAIR called to condemn the series, its Philadelphia regional “civil rights director,” Moein Khawaja, admitted “he was not aware of any discrimination against Muslim children due to the books.” As so often before, CAIR engages in deliberate distortion and incitement against legitimate authors and educators. Its latest offensive in the educational field should be firmly rejected.
Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor.