I’ve been getting a lot of email about this putatively Islamic public school in Minnesota, Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy. It’s a wretched situation — this is a school associated with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, and clearly all the students and families involved are Muslims who want a little bit of cultural isolation, and I suspect there is a lot of religious indoctrination going on behind closed doors — and I think it’s a bad thing that this school is receiving state tax dollars.
I’ve been reluctant to jump on this story, though, for a couple of reasons. The main person fanning the hysteria is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Katherine Kersten, who is a far right-wing kook with a history of hypocrisy, and this is just another example. I am actually quite happy to see her and her fellow Christianists tearing their hair out in anxiety over the existence of a culturally Islamic school in our midst — maybe (but I doubt this a bit) they are actually getting a vague idea of what it feels like to be non-Christian in America, and watch as the schools are blithely used as organs of theological propaganda while the administrators claim they are not.
For instance, Kersten is outraged at this report:
Afterward, Getz said, “teachers led the kids into the gym, where a man dressed in white with a white cap, who had been at the school all day,” was preparing to lead prayer. Beside him, another man “was prostrating himself in prayer on a carpet as the students entered.”
We are about to go through the various graduation ceremonies out here in Morris. There will probably be a student speaker who will be trotted out to tell everyone how much he or she loves Jesus. We will witness a man dressed all in black with a funny collar who will be given a place of honor in the event, and who will close his eyes, bow his head, clasp his hands, and lead everyone in attendance in prayer to the Christian deity. What’s the difference? One chooses white, the other black? I don’t think Kersten will be going on a rampage to get baccalaureate ceremonies shut down all across the state.
Our local high school had Youth for Christ assemblies on campus, during school hours. This is just as insane and distasteful to non-Christians (as well as many Christians who didn’t care much for an airhead braying about abstinence-only education and how wicked gay people are) as having an imam preach during school hours, but of course it was welcomed by our fundie community. Where was Katherine Kersten then?
Andy Birkey points out more Kersten hypocrisy: she has nothing but praise for a “classical curriculum” that contains Christian nonsense and was implemented in a school run on the grounds of a Catholic church in Minneapolis. You could argue, of course, that you can teach religion from a secular perspective and just exposing kids to their historical roots is not in itself a forbidden act by a public school, but the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy may be doing exactly the same thing … just from a minority Islamic perspective rather than a majority Catholic one. Their website is carefully non-sectarian and secular, at any rate, not that I wouldn’t put it past the liars for Jesus or Mohammed to scrub the crazy talk from their public face.
So, yeah, I don’t like any of it, but I find it hard to get irate at a school of 300 students which may be subverting the secular mission of the public school system, when we’ve got over 800,000 students in this same system who take Christianity for granted. Let’s get it all out. The main virtue of this little episode is that we’ll be able to use it to our advantage next time some school administrator tries to infuse Christian values into our schools — we’ll be able to point out that if it’s not OK to peddle Islam in school, then Christianity should be getting equal treatment.
The other good outcome here is that the ACLU is on the case, and has sent a letter demanding explanations and accountability. I like the ACLU; I’ll abide by their findings. What will the wingnuts say, I wonder?