Then there's Islam. As 9/11 has receded year by year into history, kids who weren't even born at the time, or who were just infants, have grown into young adults. And during all these years, while America has fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Muslim terrorists have created chaos and taken lives in major cities around the world, what have these kids learned about Islam? With relatively few exceptions, they've been told over and over, by teachers and the media and our presidents (first Bush, then Obama), that Islam is a Religion of Peace, that Muslims who commit acts of terrorism in the name of Allah have misunderstood the faith, and that the overwhelming majority of Muslims love peace and freedom and entirely acts of terror.
They don't know that Islam means submission. They don't see the hijab as a symbol of female oppression. They either don't know the word jihad or have been told that it's a benign concept, referring to inner moral struggle. They don't know about the caliphate. If they've ever read anything from the Koran in school, they've read one or two of the innocuous-sounding tidbits, pulled entirely out of context; they've never read any of the hateful stuff that makes up most of the book. They don't know about the more than a million Europeans who were taken into slavery by Muslims from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. They don't understand that Islam has, from its very birth, been a religion of conquest; that its followers had to be beaten back again and again in their ruthless attempts to take over Europe, attempts which, if successful, had resulted in the slaughter, enslavement, or forcible conversion of everyone on the continent; that the Crusades were attempts to regain conquered Christian lands, not wars of unprovoked aggression.
You might expect there to be some admirable exceptions to this mass ignorance. Perhaps students at the nation's very best high schools have been taught more about Islam than their counterparts at crummier schools?
Perhaps teachers at an elite school in the very shadow of the Freedom Tower in New York, where the Twin Towers once stood, would feel especially obliged to give their students a proper education about Islam?
On November 2, the website of Seventeen ran a piece by one of my niece's friends, a Stuyvesant student named Grace Goldstein, in which she recounted the terror attack from her perspective. She'd been in Jewish History class watching Fiddler on the Roof. (What, I wonder, has she been taught about Jews under Islam?) She mentioned Islam exactly once, telling of a hijab-wearing Muslim classmate who was worried about “being stereotyped and painted as a bad person.” Grace had learned her PC lessons well: she summed up the experience by saying that she and 3,000 other kids had been huddled in the school “scared and worried — not about a political figure or movement...but about one man who was terrorizing our community.” And she expressed the hope that instead of using this event to “divide to perspectives” (sic), people will focus on the victims.
So it stands, sixteen years after 9/11: a girl attending an elite high school down the street from what was once the World Trade Center has learned nothing about Islam except that it's verboten to examine it too closely, to criticize it at all, or – above all – to draw a link between it and the terrorist acts committed in its name. Needless to say, I'm not blaming her or any of those 3,000 other kids. I'm blaming their teachers, all up and down the line, who have failed in their duty to enlighten them about a topic that is, yes, very touchy but from which our society cannot afford to turn away in silence. A free nation whose adult generation regards Islam with a combination of self-censorship, self-deception, and sheer ignorance will not be free for long.