The University of Houston student newspaper reported last week that a customer confronted a husband and wife who wanted to dine at a Houston restaurant recently, calling them “terrorists” and demanding that management not serve them. The couple had committed no crime. They were simply Arab-Americans. Sadly, the newspaper reports, neither customers nor management came to their defense.
On the heels of the controversy over a proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero in New York City, there has been a notable growing surge of anti-Muslim bigotry (including reports of violence and vandalism) around the country. Muslim community leaders have pleaded that fellow Americans learn true information about Islam rather than rely on stereotypes and smears promoted by irresponsible politicians and pressure groups that use faith as a weapon to divide us.
At the very least, this is a worthwhile suggestion in a global society and economy. According to Pew study last year, there were nearly 1.6 billion Muslims around the world in 2009 — almost a quarter of the world’s population. Estimates of the Muslim population in the United States vary greatly. The Pew report put the number at 2.5 million. (See other estimates of the U.S. Muslim population here.) It would seem helpful, then, if Americans knew more about Islam.
But apparently many Americans have even more basic religious homework to do. Another recent Pew study reports that many Americans are remarkably uninformed about religion generally, including the teachings of their own faith. (You can take a Pew quiz about your religious knowledge here.)
This widespread ignorance of the basic traditions and beliefs of major religions certainly may contribute to religious intolerance in many forms. Unfortunately, the Texas State Board of Education isn’t helping here. Last month’s state board resolution attacking Islam is a case in point.
The resolution charged, despite ample evidence to the contrary, that social studies textbooks have an anti-Christian/pro-Islamic bias. In addition, the measure claimed that wealthy Muslim investors are buying into publishing companies in an attempt to spread pro-Muslim propaganda to American students. The resolution’s backers offered an appendix of supporting materials that claimed the Dubai royal family was a major shareholder in one textbook publishing company.
Yet about an hour after passing the resolution, embarrassed board members (or are they really capable of embarrassment?) had to pass an amended version of it. A San Antonio Express-News editorial reports that “the board had to vote later on a revised resolution when it became clear that a Dubai-based investment firm, not the royal family, no longer had a stake in the controlling group of the publisher.”
Board member Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, had argued against the resolution’s passage in the first place, explaining that it included a variety of inaccurate information. He asked: shouldn’t a resolution calling on textbooks to be accurate actually be accurate itself? Seems reasonable, to say the least. Yet the board’s far-right faction insisted on passing it anyway. Why? Because far-right board members were more interested in promoting fear, ignorance and religious bigotry than in educating Texas schoolchildren — par for the course with that gang.