The youth vote is rockin’ if not rollin’. Young voters who blog — and there are lots of them — boast they’re the voting bloc that’s hot. “Young voters are the New Pink,” a Rock the Vote blogger shouts. “Or the new orange? The new indigo?” They’re like that little black dress, always poised to save the moment.
The Obama campaign boasts that it registered thousands of new young voters. Hillary had her “Hillblazers,” cheered on by daughter Chelsea, and John McCain says he’ll contest every youth vote in November. Why else would he joke and spar with David Letterman and Jon Stewart? He wants to show that he’s not an old dog with new tricks, but a hipster with a maverick’s reputation and a biography of heroism to appeal to the young voters. He’s a rebel with causes.
That all sounds good, but we’ve got to hope these younger voters know enough to understand what the debate is about. The young have been short-changed by the educationists for decades, not learning very much. The millenials, the under 30s, grew up reprising the lyrics of “Don’t Know Much About History.”
How much they don’t know about Middle Eastern politics is especially worrisome. Are they even prepared to understand what President Bush was talking about last week, when he told the Israeli Knesset, “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along”?
They might even be incapable of identifying the terrorists, or understanding the radical theology driving them to kill innocents in the name of Allah. The American Textbook Council, an independent research organization, examined the errors and political biases in American history textbooks for public junior-high and high schools, and published a report called “Islam in the Classroom.” The results are terrifying. They demonstrate how editors and teachers are duped by Islamist organizations that persuaded publishers to weave misinformation — and disinformation — into the textbooks, exploiting ignorance, naivete and bias in the name of diversity and political correctness. Many of these texts spin an uncritical view of radical Islam, spiced with anti-Western criticism.
“In the case of Islamic activism, theological aims are often concealed in familiar, appealing civic language,” the council reports. “Few publishers or editors understand history textbooks for what they are: instruments of civic education that have among their responsibilities the obligation to alert the young to threats to American ideals and security.” Editors instead depend on highly biased sources for writing about subjects the authors know little or nothing about. Islamist propaganda, often not very sophisticated, is accepted as fact.
The textbooks make no distinctions between societies with law founded on separation of church and state and Muslim governments founded on primitive theology. There’s no understanding of the differences between Shariah (religious code) and Western law derived from the consent of the governed. Distinctions between democracy and the totalitarian regimes of most Islamic countries go unremarked upon and unappreciated. Prentice-Hall’s high-school world history textbook, “The Modern World,” for example, presents the events of September 11 with such flatness and brevity that the student learns nothing about who the “teams of terrorists” were, why they did what they did and what their political ends were. The rabidly radical Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia, which produced the 19 September 11 hijackers, is merely described as “strict.”
In many texts “jihad” is cleansed of belligerence. Readers couldn’t understand why jihadists should not be “appeased,” nor understand an informed debate about the Israel-Palestine dispute. They get no understanding of how the only democracy in the Middle East is surrounded by powerful enemies like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who calls Israel a “stinking corpse” and promises to destroy it. They learn nothing about the state-sanctioned abuse of women. Poverty and ignorance are presented as the roots of extremism, with no acknowledgment that the September 11 bombers were wealthy and educated.
Reform of such textbooks requires the strong resolve of school boards, administrators, elected officials and parents to pressure the textbook publishers to tell it like it actually is. Mr. Bush told a small group of Jewish, Palestinians and Israeli Arab students in Israel that they must be alert to the “poisonous” propaganda from state-owned radio and television stations in the Middle East that obstruct true peacemakers. He’s right, of course. If we’re serious about the pursuit of authentic peace, we must be aware of the “sweet euphemisms” about radical Islam in American textbooks.
Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist. Her column appears on Thursdays.