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from The Textbook Letter, March-April 2000

Reviewing a high-school book in social studies

World Cultures: A Global Mosaic
2001. 828 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-13-050191-3. Prentice Hall.
(Prentice Hall is an operating unit of Pearson Education, 1 Lake Street,
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458. Pearson Education is a division
of Pearson PLC, a British corporation headquartered in London.)

Promoting Islam in American Schoolrooms

William J. Bennetta

Viva il grande Kaimakan,
Protettor dei Mussulman.
Colla forza dei leoni,
Coll'astuzia dei serpenti, . . . .
Protettor dei Mussulman,
Viva il gran Kaimakan.
(Long live the Grand Kaimakan,
Protector of the Muslims.
With the strength of the lion,
With the guile of the serpent, . . . .
Protector of the Muslims,
Long live the Grand Kaimakan!)
            chorus of Muslims in Rossini's comedic opera
            L'Italiana in Algeri (libretto by Angelo Anelli)

Although the Grand Kaimakan who appears in L'Italiana in Algeri is greeted with adulation, he isn't much of a Protector of the Muslims. He is a foolish and ineffectual fellow, infatuated by the Italian girl Isabella, and he amuses us with his antics.

The Grand Kaimakan who helps Prentice Hall to produce phony schoolbooks is nothing like the Grand Kaimakan in Rossini's opera. Prentice Hall's resident Grand Kaimakan is a diligent, dedicated liar, and the service that he renders to Muslims extends beyond mere protection: He strives to promote Islam in American schoolrooms, to make American students embrace Islamic religious beliefs, and to win converts for Allah -- and his antics aren't amusing at all.

Some of this Grand Kaimakan's work can be seen in the 2001 version of Prentice Hall's World Cultures: A Global Mosaic. In his effort to dupe students, he has disguised Muslim myths and woo-woo as history, and he has cloaked both the origin and the content of Islam in seductive lies.

The major exposition of Islam in World Cultures comes in chapter 26, and the first section of that chapter bears two substantial passages in which Muslim myths involving Muhammad and the angel Gabriel are presented as matters of historical fact. Both of those passages have been contrived to serve as instruments of religious indoctrination.

From the first passage -- on page 569 -- students learn such "facts" as these:

The second passage in which Muhammad meets Gabriel appears on the very next page of World Cultures. It is a shortened version of the first passage. Prentice Hall's Grand Kaimakan evidently recognizes the value of repetition in making religious indoctrination stick.

Now consider some of the tricks that Prentice Hall's Grand Kaimakan has used for making Islam seem benign, palatable and comfy:

Meet King Fahd

You're probably wondering what World Cultures says about the Muslim states that exist today -- Saudi Arabia, for example. Do students find out that Saudi Arabia is a rigid Islamic theocracy? Do students learn that all citizens of Saudi Arabia must be Muslims, and that all religions but Islam are rigorously suppressed? Do students learn that if a citizen of Saudi Arabia embraces some other religion, he commits a crime which is punishable by death? Do students learn that foreign visitors to Saudi Arabia, unless they be Muslims, cannot conduct religious activities in public? Do students learn that foreign Jews and Christians -- "people of the Book" -- risk arrest, lashing, and deportation if they openly practice or profess their respective religions on Saudi Arabian soil? Does World Cultures tell about Saudi Arabia's religious police?

The answer to every question is no. This book tells nothing about life in Saudi Arabia, and it contains only two fleeting references to the Saudi government. On page 592 students read that "Saudi Arabia has a king who has absolute power," and then they see a photograph of King Fahd. The caption beside the photo says: "The king, at left, holds majlis, or audiences, where his subjects can ask for assistance. . . ." Nice guy, that king -- and so much for Saudi Arabia [note 8].

Prentice Hall has been promoting Islam for some time, and all the earlier versions of World Cultures have displayed the same vices that we now see in the 2001 version -- the depiction of Muslim superstitions as history, the sanitizing of Muhammad and Islam, and the dissemination of Muslim propaganda. Prentice Hall's religious-indoctrination material is old and familiar.

So is nearly everything else in this 2001 book: Prentice Hall has made few changes in World Cultures over the years, and the 2001 version is hardly distinguishable from the 1993 version [note 9], the 1996 version [note 10], or the 1999 version [note 11]. World Cultures is still what it always has been: It is still a mindless jumble of stuff that fails to reflect any awareness of what the word culture means or any awareness of how cultures can be described or analyzed -- and it is still loaded, from cover to cover, with "information" that is false, misleading, ludicrously obsolete, or utterly inane. The Grand Kaimakan's Koran-thumping just makes it worse.

When I wrote about the 1999 version, I said that World Cultures was junk. Now, after reading the 2001 version, I affirm that appraisal. World Cultures is a book that can appeal only to the most ignorant and incompetent teachers -- teachers who know nothing about cultural studies, teachers who are unable to recognize nonsense when they see it, teachers who will swallow any woo-woo that comes their way, and teachers who will help Prentice Hall's Grand Kaimakan to recruit true believers for Islam.

I thank the historian Bat Ye'or for directing my attention to Muhammad's letter to the Jews of Maqna. Teachers who must give lessons about Islam will profit from reading Bat Ye'or's book The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, issued in 1996 by the Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

Notes

  1. See The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on Islam's Holy Book, edited by Ibn Warraq and published in 1998 by Prometheus Books (Amherst, New York). This is one of two recent books -- both edited by Warraq and issued by Prometheus -- that deserve the attention of every teacher who must give lessons about Islam. The second book is The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, issued in 2000. [return to text]

  2. See the Koran 5:51 (i.e., sura 5, verse 51). [return to text]

  3. See the Koran 9:29. [return to text]

  4. See the Koran 48:13. [return to text]

  5. In the Koran (9:30), we read that Muhammad wanted Christians to be damned by Allah because the Christians said that Jesus Christ was the son of God. [return to text]

  6. See, for example, Elaine Pagels's book The Gnostic Gospels, published in 1979 by Random House, Inc. (New York City). Pagels did a magnificent job of writing history for the general reader, and The Gnostic Gospels is still a superb resource for all middle-school and high-school educators who teach about the origins and early history of Christianity. [return to text]

  7. The translation appears in A History of Palestine, 634-1099, issued in 1992 by Cambridge University Press. [return to text]

  8. Teachers who want solid information about the culture of Saudi Arabia should consult the section "Saudi Arabia" in 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, issued in February 2000 by the Department of State of the United States. [return to text]

  9. Three reviews of the 1993 version ran in The Textbook Letter for March-April 1994, with these headlines: "A Trivial, Ill-Conceived Book Telling Little About Cultures," "This Confused Book Lacks Any Clear Idea of Culture" and "It's Phony and Vicious, but It's Funny Anyway." [return to text]

  10. See "Like the 1993 Version, This Book Is Worthless" in The Textbook Letter for May-June 1995. [return to text]

  11. See "Same Junk, Different Peddlers" in The Textbook Letter, September-October 1999. [return to text]


William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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