Of Pedagogy & Propaganda

, Mary Grabar, Leave a comment

Your column “As the Third World Turns” did a good job of pointing out the even larger entanglement between the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and organizations putting on workshops about Islam for teachers. However, I feel that your (largest) section about Barbara Petzen’s presentation left out some very important points.

When I wrote that Petzen offered a “defense for Muslims who rioted and killed over the publication of cartoons about Muhammad” I meant that as an assessment in the context of her presentation. I took into account her tone and the overall tenor of her presentation.

Petzen did not have anything negative to say about Islam or such violent tactics. Her silence on violence says a lot, and I would ask her whether she would offer a similar “explanation” for violence by other groups.

Murders and rioting over cartoons call for condemnation, not the “explanation” Petzen gives. Furthermore, to compare what Muslims did to how Christians might feel is an insult and goes against reality.

Christians have seen their tax dollars used to fund art which depicted a crucifix in urine (National Endowment for the Arts funding of Andres Serrano). One artist presented the Virgin smeared with dung.

But Christians did not riot and murder over such blasphemy. They protested, but they did it in a civilized manner.

Of course, the high school students that Petzen hopes to reach through pliable social studies teachers would not likely have such context. The teacher would certainly not get it through Petzen’s workshop, nor in any of the workshops at the NCSS conference. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find anything positive there about Western civilization or the American system, including such aspects as reasoned debate, the separation of church and state, and respect for the rule of law.

I emphasized the propagandistic nature of the film Allah Made Me Funny in my report. This was a film Petzen was offering to teachers for free.

While Petzen attempted moral equivalency by claiming that Christians would get upset about blasphemy towards their religion, this film DID insult Christianity through ridicule. As I noted, the black convert in the film mocked his mother for trying to put on an “intervention” for him at her church.

The comedians in the film were depicted as hip; they were intended to appeal to teenagers. I would like to ask Ms. Petzen what Muslims would do were a similar film showing Christianity in a favorable light, one worth rejecting their parents’ religion for, shown to Muslim students at a public school? We do know about death threats and murders of Muslim children who convert or become Westernized. Does Ms. Petzen offer an “explanation” for those too?

Petzen did nothing more than proselytize through a film that was produced by a convert to Islam. And she did at a forum supported mostly by taxpayers. The American people need to know about the work she does behind classroom walls.

Mary Grabar, Ph.D., is a professor of English, commentator, fiction writer, and poet.