In the name of God, the merciful, the almighty, I concur with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in wishing peace upon all in my audience during this solstice season, and in offering various other benedictions, except for the kooky Shia heresies that alarmed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s constituents much more than they ever bothered me. Peace be upon you, until we are all erased from the pages of time.
This Category 5 horseshit hurricane tore through the Shenandoah the other day. Some foolish teacher in Staunton, Virginia decided to teach a high school class about Islam and the Arabic language by having her students copy calligraphy of the Islamic declaration of faith, known in Arabic as the Shahada, and all hell broke loose. The public anger, some of it from places far from Staunton, was so over-the-top that school officials shut down the entire district on Friday.
First, a few words are in order about the Shahada. #TeshTips: Sudanese immigration officers have been known to grant on-the-spot residency at passport control to foreigners who recite it three times in a row. That’s a lot easier than getting a positive labour market opinion from HRSDC, if you don’t mind living in a country that’s a bit short on Mountie detachments. In Iraq, the Shahada is fondly remembered as the videotaped farewell address that Saddam Hussein gave to his people, an address that was violently cut short, along with the blood supply to his head, the brain supply to his heart and lungs, and the duration of his prison sentence. Although Saddam was not traditionally known for his piety, his last words were a much more credible exposition of Islam than the counterpoint chanted by one of his executioners, “Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!”, also known as the Muqtahada. That’s probably gibberish, but I like it.
The public carrying-on about this stunt has been absurd. One parent went on the record with a local CNN affiliate to say, “I will not have my children sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion when I am a Christian.” Other grievances focused on beheading, either as already administered and photographed by ISIS or as a just extrajudicial punishment soon to be administered to the teacher for apostasy in the classroom. One might expect the staunchest, loudest opponents of ISIS to be somewhere to the left of center socially, pluralists of some sort or other who aren’t down with the live reenactments of the Prague defenestrations, the swordplay on civilians, or the immolation of caged prisoners of war. Instead, it comes from precisely the parts of American society that are religiously and politically closest to ISIS. Their objection to ISIS is not that it butchers innocent civilians, but that it butchers the wrong innocent civilians. Their objection is certainly not that it’s a client government of US, Turkish, and Saudi intelligence services, possibly among other international shitbird friends.
William Tecumseh Sherman, pray for us. No, Woodrow, I was NOT talking to you, you racist, subservive gobshite.
Gee, one gets the feeling that maybe there’s something enduringly wrong with Staunton. The locals are amazingly hospitable, at least when they aren’t threatening to behead dissidents or resegregating the District of Columbia.
The WaPo article linked above includes some of the derpiest shit mine eyes have ever seen. Wisdom, let us attend:
“To be an educated person, to be a citizen, to be part of the global conversation, to be engaged in our world, religious literacy is essential,” said Charles C. Haynes, vice president of the Newseum Institute and founding director of the Religious Freedom Center. “More important than that is how are we going to live with one another in one of the most religiously diverse societies in the world without understanding one another?”
This guy gives the news industry blowjobs for a living, and a living many times better than I’ve ever made doing my part to feed our country. But that isn’t the derpy part. The same wanker went on to offer this sage advice:
“As far as the calligraphy, I don’t think it was a good choice to have students write out the shahada,” Haynes said, referring to the Augusta County lesson. “That’s really not appropriate. That’s like having students learn about Christianity by learning the Lord’s Prayer.”
As the agnosto-atheists like to say, Sweet Jesus. This dude Haynes “led the effort to formulate federal guidelines on how to teach about religion in public schools in 2000,” and that’s his understanding of the Lord’s Prayer, that it’s an inappropriate way to learn about Christianity. Flog me with a sheath of palm branches in the middle of Gethsemane at high noon, that’s fucking crazy. If any prayer is the foundational prayer of Christianity, it’s the Lord’s Prayer. It’s just about the only common Christian prayer that doesn’t provoke a four-way bum fight among the various schismatic and counterschismatic branches of the church, broadly defined, while Christianity’s opponents look on with barely concealed glee. What a terrible way to learn about Christianity. It’s like starting a lesson about the District of Columbia with a photograph of the US Capitol. What sort of cuckoo-bananas instructional scheme will they think up next?
The problem here is obvious but unmentionable. The schools want to teach their students about Islam, but they also don’t want to teach them about Islam. A similar psychotic ambivalence affects the instruction of other religions in the public schools, but it’s muted by comparison because #NeverForget. Islam specifically brings out the worst wackos. It’s the Red Menace of our age. The same world relgions curriculum that included the Shahada transcription included a dress-up session for students to try on Muslim headscarves. It’s staycation tourism in the worst sense of tourism, ugly Americans superficially playing around with the practices of other cultures for abuse as passing fads.
It’s all embarrassingly shallow. The nominal purpose of the scarf modeling was to get a sense of what it’s like for Muslims to dress modestly. It probably didn’t occur to anyone that many Christians dress no less modestly, often with very similar or identical scarves. The Arabic language lesson in question is no less thoughtful. I have basic literacy in Arabic, and I saw no reason to even try to read the calligraphy in that link because it’s obviously a bunch of letters crossing other letters in different crazy directions, making up for the considerate inclusion of diacritical marks (because, thank God and the Reading Rainbow, it wasn’t published by Egyptians). The students in that class had no fucking idea what any of it meant. For all they knew, it could have been the title to a Berenstain Bears story. If I’d seen it out of context and tried hard to read it, I might have been able to figure out that it had something to do with Allah, but I wouldn’t count on it, and again, I know the Arabic alphabet.
Nobody in that class was actually being taught anything. The real education scandal here isn’t the half-assed simulacrum of Islamic indoctrination in a majority-Christian public school. The real scandal is that Virginia’s state education standards encourage teachers to have non-Arabic-speaking students copy a Koranic passage written in barely legible calligraphy without an English translation, and that this is considered adequate instruction in world religions. It’s like having students copy the lettering on the cover of a Soviet physics textbook for the fulfillment of their physics and 20th century history requirements. It’s garbage-ass education. Science: you’d better fucking love it, kid. Or, more accurately, Nauka: vam nuzhno eyo lyubit’, molodoy chelovek, no kak skazat’ “faking” po-russki? (You’re responsible for providing your own transliteration into Cyrillic because I don’t entirely know how to internet.)
Our tax dollars pay for this shit. The idiots and charlatans who write these garbage curricula have a direct line into our state and federal treasuries. They’re mainlining our public funds, and no one can figure out how to stop them from wasting (or deliberately looting) these funds for the concoction and publication of this sort of useless, provocative nonsense for instruction in the public schools. The specifics of this Shahada transcription for illiterates case are unusual, but the gist is not. The waste and fraud are systemic. That assignment, as idiotic as it is, is not at all out of the mainstream for US high school textbooks.
The administrative and electoral oversight of our public schools is no better. Many of our school administrators are tyrannical psychopaths, and many of our school boards are made up of authoritarian religious lunatics and busybodies. It’s no exaggeration to say that many public schools in the United States are run by people who would have been capable of operating Auschwitz-Birkenau. These are some of the very worst people in the country. They’re less directly violent than the rougher sorts of prisoners, but they’re higher-functioning, and hence more dangerous. Unlike prisoners, they increasingly have school police explicitly on their side and at their bidding. The oversight structure is not inherently designed to harbor and aggrandize them, but again and again they’re the ones who are elected or appointed to operate it.
Look at Staunton again. No one came out in force to demand that the school district give its students a world-class education, purged of all the juvenile idiocy suggested by sinecure holders at various education departments and textbook publishers. The outrage didn’t erupt until there was a viral moral panic about Islamic indoctrination, and the outrage was not about the manifestly deficient educational value of what the district was allowing to be taught to its high school students, in their last few years before college or the job market. Maybe the concerned citizens here have become inured to substandard education and apathetic about it. Maybe they don’t actually value education. They certainly don’t recognize it.
This is the same hysterical mindset that inspires moral panics over students coming to school in baggy pants or whorish outfits. It’s the same mindset that causes creeps in high school administrations and on school boards to nitpickingly how much midriff, breast cleavage, butt cleavage, shoulder, and thigh the coeds are allowed to bear in the interest of public morality. These officials bring themselves to orgasm reading the Book of Leviticus, and we entrust them with the moral formation and supervision of our teenagers.
Until school boards either 1) require their members and all administrators to bring a prostitute’s note giving them permission to attend board meetings, or 2) are composed of prostitutes who can’t be bothered to put salacious bellyaching about not-quite-legal chicks showing too much skin on the agenda because they offer group-fare train service to the boys’ sports teams and hence are too well sexed to care about young amateur girls pretending to dress like whores, parents who can’t afford private schooling have only one viable option: