(RNS) Students in Muslim-run schools in the US and Canada are taught a very distinct view of Israel and Western culture, a new report claims.
Most school textbooks encourage tolerance among Christians, Muslims and Jews and take a positive view of Western democracy. But Israel is presented in an oversimplified manner, said Marcus Sheff, CEO of the group behind the report.
It was released by the Israel-based nonprofit, IMPACT-SE, originally known as the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace. The group assesses texts using UNESCO-defined standards on peace and tolerance. IMPACT-SE concentrates on examining how texts and curricula are used in schools in the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran teach about Israel.
The new report, “Between Sharia and Democracy: Islamic Education in North America,” looked at textbooks from four North American publishers and one Saudi-publisher. The books are used in 244 U.S. schools and 28 in Canada.
“I was intrigued by the teaching of Shariah law and Islam in an open society like the United States,” said Sheff. But with the exception of the Saudi-published text, he said they found ” a great deal of tolerance toward Christianity and toward Judaism, with their religions and customs discussed.”
However, Sheff was disturbed by two findings:
- Jihad was explained as military action, not simply a personal spiritual challenge. “I think that needs to be discussed in an open fashion,” he said.
- Israeli history was oversimplified and the narrative was exclusively from a Palestinian or Arab perspective. “It doesn’t do a service to Muslims or Jews in the United States who need to live together. There is a responsibility to teach (Israel’s history) fairly and openly,” said Sheff.
The report points out , “While Israel is presented at times as a usurper or referred to as ‘Palestine,’ no options are presented to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. The books simply do not deal with peace processes.”
(Cathy Lynn Grossman is senior national reporter for RNS)