While the right fearmongers on Islam, the left condescends

tags: Islam

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at New York University. He is the author of “Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education.”

Last week, officials in rural Augusta County, Va., closed schools a day early for the holiday break after receiving violent threats over a geography teacher’s lesson. The teacher had asked students to practice calligraphy by copying an Arabic version of the Muslim statement of faith, which begins with “There is no God but Allah.”

Angry parents said the teacher was trying to indoctrinate their children into Islam, even though the students were never asked to translate or recite the phrase. The teacher had conducted the same exercise for several years without any complaint. But the Paris and San Bernardino attacks have sparked new anxieties about Islam, especially in red states. If the lesson had asked students to copy, say, the Lord’s Prayer, it’s hard to imagine conservative parents objecting to it.

But many blue-state liberals would object, which speaks to their own double standard. Whereas conservatives stoke fear over Islam, liberals condescend to it. The right says that we should keep close tabs on Muslims, while the left says Muslims should be treated with kid gloves. And they’re both wrong.

Consider liberal reactions to reports that the same 10th-grade geography class in Virginia had tried on headscarves, to learn about the “modest” dress that many Muslim women adopt. To conservative critics, this was just another effort to foist Islam on unwitting youngsters. But to liberals, it reflects an assault upon a minority culture by a bigger, more powerful one.

“Isn’t this like putting on Indian headdress — cultural appropriation?” one blogger asked, decrying the headscarves exercise. That’s a big no-no on the left, especially in the wake of the Halloween costume controversies this fall at Yale and elsewhere. A non-Muslim wearing a headscarf is like, say, an Anglo putting on a sombrero to look “Mexican”: it simultaneously ridicules and robs a minority culture, making it the property of the majority. ...

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