- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

World history textbooks in U.S. classrooms sanitize the problems of Islam when compared to how they often treat Western civilization, a review of seven widely used texts reported yesterday.
The study, released by the American Textbook Council, said a rosy treatment of Islam may arise from the lobbying of the Council on Islamic Education on national publishers.
"When any dark side [of Islam] surfaces, textbooks run and hide," said the report, "Islam and the Textbooks," by Gilbert Sewall, a former professor who directs the council.
"Subjects such as jihad and the advocacy of violence among militant Islamists to attain worldly ends, the imposition of [Shariah] law, the record of Muslim enslavement, and the brutal subjection of women are glossed over," the 35-page study says.
This contrasts, the report suggested, with the candor in textbooks over such events of Western history as the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, imperialism, Christian fundamentalism and women's suffrage.
Without solid facts about Islam, the study said, "instructors fall back on themes of tolerance and apology [and] skirt the reality of international affairs and threats to world peace."
Many topics in history textbooks are reduced to a few paragraphs and require elaboration by teachers or supplementary materials. But Islam is so exotic that a few textbook sentences can have an inordinate impact, Mr. Sewall said in an interview.
"Few teachers are comfortable with the subject," he said. "They are generally ignorant of Islam, so they depend on the textbooks for guidance."
The textbook council, formed in 1988 in New York as an independent group researching social studies and history texts, advocates factual knowledge and appreciation of Western values.
It began a review of world history textbooks in 2001, but issued this "preliminary report" on Islam's treatment because of its importance for students in an age of terrorism and new global tensions.
Shabbir Mansuri, founding director of the Council on Islamic Education, yesterday was sent a portion of the report. Other than describing the textbook council as "a conservative group," he had no comment.
The Council on Islamic Education, formed in Orange County, Calif., in 1989, has sent publishers guidelines and definitions for words for the textbook treatments and protests if texts offend Muslim sensibilities, the new report said.
"For more than a decade, history-textbook editors have done the Council's bidding, and as a result, history textbooks accommodate Islam on terms that Islamists demand," the report said.
It noted that the Council on Islamic Education, which influences California public schools with materials and classroom speakers, is not listed as a nonprofit group and is funded by private donors. "My efforts to find out where the money comes from have met a stone wall," Mr. Gilbert said.
Textbook publishers said yesterday that consulting with the public and with interest groups is routine.
"There's no secret to that," said Richard Blake, spokesman for Holt, Rinehart and Winston, which publishes the high school text "Continuity and Change," which is reviewed in the new report. "Where publishers get in trouble is when the public thinks they are not fair or accurate."
Collin Earnst, spokesman for Houghton Mifflin in Boston, agreed with other publishers that consulting is essential, but then a publisher makes independent decisions with its own scholarly editorial board.
"We have mentioned those topics about Islam in our book," Mr. Earnst said of Houghton Mifflin's "Across the Centuries," which is used for the seventh grade in California and elsewhere. "It's not as if there's a rosy-colored view of Islam."
He said a text for that age group must be simplified. Texts that cover Judaism and Christianity are used in the sixth grade. "None of these books are designed to delve into the dark side of any of these topics," he said.
He rejected an assertion in the report that, although conservative Christian protests about textbook content are not heeded, Islamic protests are heeded to the point of censoring publishers.
"Neither of the groups are censors," Mr. Earnst said. "They obviously want the textbook written the way that they like. It's common to have groups review things. Then we walk a careful line."
Mr. Gilbert said the main concern of his report are the high school texts, some of which avoid Islam's poor record on violence, treatment of women, slavery and intolerance toward other religions.
Since about 1987, teachers and historians have agreed that world history was worth more attention for students, a goal that the American Textbook Council has applauded.
"This expansion of studying non-Western history is praiseworthy," Mr. Gilbert said. But since it began, many of the cultural interest groups, particularly Muslims and blacks, have pressured publishers to sanitize the history of their native lands.
"I hope the publishers will take a second look at this," Mr. Gilbert said.

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