by Raymond Ibrahim
In recent House hearings dedicated to examining Islamic extremism, I stressed that the fundamental stumbling block to effective policy-making is educational and epistemological. What people are taught about Islam needs a serious overhaul before we can expect to formulate strategies that make sense.
Worth heeding is former top Pentagon official  William Gawthrop’s 2006 lament that “the senior service colleges of the Department of Defense had not incorporated into their curriculum a systematic study of Muhammad as a military or political leader. As a consequence, we still do not have an in-depth understanding of the war-fighting doctrine laid down by Muhammad, how it might be applied today by an increasing number of Islamic groups, or how it might be countered.”
Three years later, the situation appears worse. After the War College published something of  an apologia for the terrorist organization Hamas, defense analyst  Mark Perry concluded, “It’s worse than you think. They have curtailed the curriculum so that their students are not exposed to radical Islam. Akin to denying students access to Marx during the Cold War.”
Why, at a time of war, are students at top U.S. military schools denied an objective treatment of  Islam’s war doctrines? A report by the  American Textbook Council sheds light by showing how these academic failures have much deeper roots.
After reviewing a number of popular textbooks used by American junior and senior high schools, the report found that, due to political correctness and/or fear of Muslim activists, “key subjects like jihad, Islamic law, [and] the status of women are whitewashed.” Regarding the strikes of 9/11, one textbook never mentions Islamic ideologies, referring to the 19 al Qaeda hijackers as “teams of terrorists” — this despite the fact that al Qaeda has repeatedly articulated its hostile worldview through an Islamist paradigm, with a stress on hating “infidels” and waging holy war (see  The Al Qaeda Reader).
Speaking of jihad, one seventh-grade textbook explains, “Jihad represents the human struggle to overcome difficulties and do things that are pleasing to God. Muslims strive to respond positively to personal difficulties as well as worldly challenges. For instance, they might work to be better people, reform society, or correct injustice.” By not informing students that all these aspects mean something different for Muslims — killing an apostate is considered “correcting injustice” and spreading Islamic law is “reforming society” — the textbook misleads by projecting Western interpretations onto Islam.
Compare this textbook’s definition of jihad with that of an early (non-PC) edition of the venerable  Encyclopaedia of Islam. Its opening sentence simply states, “The spread of Islam by arms is a religious duty upon Muslims in general. … Jihad must continue to be done until the whole world is under the rule of Islam. … Islam must completely be made over before the doctrine of jihad [warfare to spread Islam] can be eliminated.” Muslim legal manuals written in Arabic are even more explicit.
The report finds other disturbing aspects regarding Islam’s whitewashing in textbooks: the well-documented Muslim military conquests demarcating most of what is now known as the “Islamic world” are glossed over or distorted; Islam ambiguously “spread” or was “brought.” Well-defined aspects of Islamic law — the subordinate status of women and non-Muslims, execution of the apostate and homosexual, and other issues that appear almost any given day in headlines — are either ignored or obfuscated. History is distorted to portray Muslims as tolerant and progressive, Christians as intolerant and backwards.
In my  testimony to the House, I wrote: “It should be acknowledged that educational failures exacerbate epistemological ones, and vice versa, leading to a perpetual cycle where necessary knowledge is not merely ignored, but not even acknowledged as real in the first place. When American universities [or high schools] fail to teach Islamic doctrine and history accurately, a flawed epistemology permeates society at large. And since new students and new professors come from this already conditioned-towards-Islam society, not only do they not question the lack of accurate knowledge and education; they perpetuate it.”
This report demonstrates the validity of this vicious cycle. In fact, every last one of those flagrant textbook errors indoctrinating America’s youth is an indisputable “fact” for many of America’s Islam “experts,” particularly those advising the government. The effects are dramatic. For instance, far from objectively examining Islam, the government is now pushing to  ban Arabic words connotative of Islamic ideology from formal analysis — such as “mujahid,” “umma,” “Sharia,” “caliphate” — asking personnel to rely primarily on generic terms, such as “terrorists.”
The greater irony is that not only do children’s textbooks in Muslim countries openly  teach hatred and hostility for non-Muslims, or “infidels” — those same people fervently trying to whitewash Islam — but so do Muslim schools  operating on American soil.
At any rate, from American junior high texts obfuscating the motivation of 9/11 to censored intelligence analysts who cannot prefix more meaningful adjectives to the word “terrorist,” until Islamic ideologies are addressed forthrightly, the U.S. — leadership and lay alike — will remain philosophically unprepared against the threat of radical Islam. Objective knowledge — properly taught and disseminated — is the first step to formulating any long-term strategy. When knowledge is unshackled from the bonds of political correctness and wishful thinking, strategies will naturally present themselves as common sense.
Bottom line: if children are sheltered from ugly truths today, how can they ever be expected to confront them as adults tomorrow?
Raymond Ibrahim is the associate director of the Middle East Forum and the author of The Al Qaeda Reader, translations of religious texts and propaganda.