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[casi] rewriting textbooks for Iraq

I got this from I leave some portions out to
reduce length.


(7) Curricular and extra-curricular battles

By Joseph Massad

Al-Ahram Weekly
14-20 August 2003

One of the bitter ironies of the last few years is the
continuous calls issued from the United States, by
official and unofficial channels, that school curricula
across the Arab (and Muslim) worlds should be changed in
order to reflect the American (and Israeli) view of the
world.  America's extra-curricular Arab targets for such
change are the occupied Palestinian Authority, occupied
Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.  While few in the Arab world would
question the need to overhaul school curricula across Arab
countries to eliminate the biases that each regime injects
them against myriad national and international causes,
including historical inaccuracies, the position of
religion in civic life, sectarian biases, gender biases,
ethnic biases, and the like, most are astonished that such
calls would be issued by the United States and its local
subsidiary in the Middle East, Israel.  The amazement is
due to the fact that the school curricula and textbooks
which the United States and Israel both use are in need of
equally, if not more, major overhauling, to come close to
objective, or at least more inclusive, representations of

In the case of the United States, its official history
remains taught in school and university curricula, is
propagated throughout media venues, and reiterated ad
absurdum by government representatives and ideologues.
The main claim of such uncritical self-view is that the
United States has been a democracy for well over 200
years.  This claim is paraded time and again across the

[...   says only white men with property could vote, there was apartheid
system for balcks even after slavery, mentions Chinese (immigration)
Exclusion Act, late women suffrage, Red Scare, government troops in
strike breaking, Vietnam, etc. -- all undemocratic]

One wonders if Arab curricular and pedagogy experts should
be dispatched to the United States to rewrite its
curricula for it, as it is indeed shameful that most
American school pupils are encouraged to learn by heart
the names of all US presidents since 1776 without ever
knowing what their policies actually were towards
different populations in the country; or that such pupils
are called upon to learn by heart the names of all state
capitals without ever learning the manner in which these
states were conquered and governed.  That Native Americans
or African Americans are forced to think that the racist
founders of the United States who enforced their
dispossession and slavery are "our founding fathers" adds
insult to injury.  Instead of embarking on a fresh
self-critical view of US history that is inclusive of the
entire population, these curricula remain committed to the
notion that America has been a 200-year old democracy, and
that anyone who questions this "fact" is a Communist (or
now perhaps an Al-Qa'eda) sympathiser!

Not to be outdone, Israel follows a similar model of
curricular planning.  It is not that ideologically driven
and/or poor European Jews came to colonise Palestine with
the financial assistance of Jewish philanthropist bankers
and later with the support of the British Empire, and that
their evicting Palestinian peasants off their lands led to
resistance against their colonisation efforts.  Rather, it
is oppressed European Jews who were seeking to "return" to
their "ancestral land" fleeing anti-Semitic oppression who
were faced by "Arabs" who fought them out of "anti-
Semitic" motives.  The history of the Palestinians is
obliterated from the picture except as primitive savage
folks who refused the peaceful civilising call of the Jews
and decided to kill them instead.  While colonisation is
rendered "redemption of the land" in Israeli school

[...   more about Israel]

One could go on about the unself-critical views that such
accounts of history constitute and the pedagogical uses to
which they are put.  The point, however, is that these two
societies claim a measure of democratic process (in the
case of Israel, the process only applies to Jews by law),
yet their school textbooks are so full of bias and
self-glorification that they can only be compared to Iraqi
school textbooks under Saddam's rule.  Indeed, in the
United States, moves to change the curricula spring, not
from those who think it too conservative, but from
Christian fundamentalists who think it too radical and
call for censoring, among other things, science,
especially, evolution, and infuse curricula instead with
"creationism".  Indeed, attempts to introduce
"multicultural" concerns into US curricula precipitated a
strong national backlash by religious and secular

[important point below]

conservatives alike.  Yet, and herein lies the irony, the
American consultancy firm Creative Associates
International Incorporated (CAII) recently won the USAID
bid to revamp Iraqi education, including the rewriting of
textbooks, to the tune of $65 million.  CAII had already
rewritten the textbooks for post-Taliban Afghanistan.
Should not the United States expend some of that money on
rewriting its own school textbooks instead?  Many Arab
experts would immediately flock to help, as, I am certain,
would many critical American intellectuals and experts.

Indeed this situation in America, as it is in the Arab
world, is contrasted with the availability of numerous
books in bookstores and university libraries that question
the official versions of history.  In the Arab world, such
books may be banned in one country or another but can be
found in neighbouring Arab countries by those who seek
them.  In the United States, except for experts and a
minority of self-critical leftists and academics, as well
as members of downtrodden ethnic minorities, few read such
books, and their impact on curricular history texts is
negligible at best.  In the Arab world, the situation is
comparable except that the lack of effect of these books
on curricula is engineered by regime censorship.  In such
light, the US situation looks much, much worse than that
of the Arab world, as critical thinkers in the Arab world
are not allowed access to power by dictatorial means,
while in America, they are denied such access by
"democratic" ones.

When Arab neo-liberal intellectuals, who accept America's
self-representations at face value, join the Western
chorus and sing the praises of "self-critical" Western
intellectuals and teachers in order to shame Arabs whom
they represent as unself-critical, they should exercise
some critical thinking themselves and examine the evidence
first.  After all, as grandiose as their claims have been,
few Arab regimes have represented their rule as
"democratic", although most do represent their eras as
epochs of "freedom".  Such bold claims, however, pale in
comparison with US curricular (and extra-curricular)
claims that its system of slavery and apartheid spanning
two centuries was in fact "democracy", or Israeli
curricular (and extra-curricular) claims that a modern
European colonial-settler movement set on colonising an
Asian land was in fact a "liberation" movement intent on
civilising an ungrateful primitive "Arab" population and
on "liberating" European Jews by arranging for their self-
expulsion from Europe!

What the US and Israel object to most in Arab school
textbooks is not necessarily the false self-
representation of each regime and its religious, ethnic,
and gender biases, but rather the representation of Israel
as the enemy and of Zionism as a European colonial settler
movement allied with European imperialism.  Aside from the
fact that these two claims are fully justified by
historical evidence and actual reality, the US and Israel
insist that until and unless the Arab world begins to view
the world from the US and Israeli perspectives, their
demand for changing Arab school textbooks will not abate.
Indeed, the capitulationist Palestinian Authority (as
attested to by a number of studies, including the March
2003 study commissioned by the US Congress and carried out
by the Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and
Information), heeded such calls and transformed
Palestinian textbooks to agree with US and Israeli
demands.  As occupied Iraq and possibly Saudi Arabia are
following suit, it might be time for others to embark on
similar changes.  Indeed, in light of the actual
situation, if rewriting school textbooks is a necessity,
then the US and Israeli cases beg for more immediate
emergency intervention than do Arab countries.  The
question then becomes, can USAID funds be set aside to aid
US society rather than the rest of the world?

* The writer is assistant professor of modern Arab
politics and intellectual history at Columbia University
in New York.


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