Friday, March 31, 2017

Restoring a Christian influence in the schools

Although it is true religious Republicans have panted to make public education a theocratic endeavor for a few decades, it is probably true their efforts became paramount after a long-term study’s results last year confirmed their worst nightmare.

Just about the time the presidential primaries were heating up last year, results reported by San Diego State University News Center verified what many other, shorter-termed surveys, polls and general observations had been recording for a decade. The results contradict assertions by evangelical conservatives that Americans are highly religious and detest secularism on general principles, but that is not necessarily why religious Republicans demand that god, Christianity, and bible ascend to a dominant role in public life, including public schools.

The “General Special Survey” between 1972 and 2014 found that there is “a sharp decline in religious observance” among Americans. The report noted Americans were five times less likely to pray, and roughly half as likely to believe in god, or say the Christian bible was “divinely inspired.” In fact, of the nearly 59,000 respondents queried, most say they don’t even “privately practice religion or describe themselves as spiritual.” It is, in any universe, an acutely depressing downward trend for the religious right and confirmation that Americans support secularism in government precisely as the Founding Fathers intended in creating the U.S. Constitution.

That kind of news is likely what is driving the religious Republican efforts to force god-bible into public schools because they believe their godly mandate is “to make the United States a godly Christian nation.” In December there were reports of a policy manifesto from an influential Christian conservative group with ties to Trump and Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos calling for  dismantling of the Education Department to facilitate putting god and bible in public classrooms.

The manifesto calls for all K-12 public schools to teach bible classes, post the Ten Commandments in plain sight, recognize and celebrate holidays “from a Judeo-Christian” perspective and abolish secular-based sex education materials from public schools facilities. The manifesto, “Education Reform Report” is the product of the Center for National Policy, a “front for radical conservative Christians” with close ties to DeVos and several “top White House officials,” including Trump’s fascist master Steve Bannon. The report’s demands can be summed up thus; ”the restoration of education in America that promotes religious schools and enshrine historic Judeo-Christian principles as the basis for instruction.”

The radical Christian group laid down some “assumptions” to base the Department of Education’s theocratic agenda such as:

“All knowledge and facts have a source, a Creator; they are not self-existent.” And that “Religious neutrality is a myth perpetrated by secularists,” and schools will “develop training on philosophy of education for K-12 faculty based on historical Judeo-Christian philosophy of education.”

Trump’s choice to dismantle public education and replace it with theocratic indoctrination, Betsy DeVos said her goal is to use the full force of the Trump government to “Confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance god’s kingdom.”

Over the past few years any number of pundits and commentators have claimed the religious right, like the Republican Party, is either suffering its death throes or already dead. Of course that may be every decent Americans’ wet dream, but it is not remotely true. What is true is that Americans are less religious, less Christian, and less likely to believe in an air-fairy controlling the universe. It is that “truth” that is driving the conservative Christian effort to make America more Christian and more godly by indoctrinating the next generation into accepting the idea that American education must proceed in accordance with historic Judeo-Christian principles without question and without choice.

Based on the study revealing that Americans are fleeing religion in droves, one can only assume that the radical Christian conservatives are thrilled that while the nation is mesmerized by the Trump’s espionage problems, their effort to theocratize the public education system is going unnoticed.


Georgetown University and Radical Islamists: It's a Family Affair

Georgetown University's Qatar campus is set to host Sami Al-Arian for a lecture tonight in Doha. According to a news release from the school's Middle Eastern Studies Student Association, Al-Arian is a "civil rights activist" who hopes to challenge students to "make it a better, and more equitable and peaceful world."

Those are charitable descriptions for Al-Arian, a documented member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's Majlis Shura, or board of directors. According to the Islamic Jihad's bylaws, which law enforcement agents found during searches of Al-Arian's home and offices, there can be "No Peace without Islam." The group's objective is to create "a state of terror, instability and panic in the souls of Zionists and especially the groups of settlers, and force them to leave their houses."

It's an agenda Al-Arian took to heart. Following a double suicide bombing in 1995 that killed 19 Israelis, Al-Arian solicited money from a Kuwaiti legislator. "The latest operation, carried out by the two mujahideen who were martyred for the sake of God, is the best guide and witness to what they believing few can do in the face of Arab and Islamic collapse at the heels of the Zionist enemy..." he wrote.

"I call upon you to try to extend true support of the jihad effort in Palestine so that operations such as these can continue, so that the people do not lose faith in Islam and its representatives..." he wrote. Four years earlier, he spoke at a fundraiser in Cleveland, introduced as the head of the "active arm of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine."

Why, then, is a Jesuit university, albeit at a campus in Qatar, hosting a leader of a designated terrorist group's "active arm"?

There's a family bond between Georgetown University and the Al-Arians. Son Abdullah is an assistant professor at Georgetown's Qatar campus, teaching history in its School of Foreign Service. He earned his Ph.D. at Georgetown, writing his dissertation about the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood during the 1970s, a time his father acknowledges being part of the global Islamist movement.

Jonathan Brown, Al-Arian's son-in-law, also works at Georgetown, as the [Saudi] Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization. Brown recently drew criticism for a lecture in which he argued that slavery isn't inherently "morally evil" if the slave is treated well. He also minimized sexual consent as a recent social more, arguing no one is really free enough to grant consent anyway.

Property records show Brown and his wife Laila Al-Arian bought a modest house just outside Tampa in 2015. Brown also owns a $1.1 million house in Mclean, Va.

Brown's boss, Georgetown University Professor John Esposito, has been a staunch Al-Arian defender. Al-Arian is "an extraordinarily bright, articulate scholar and intellectual-activist, a man of conscience with a strong commitment to peace and social justice," Esposito wrote in a letter to a federal judge.

Brown's slavery and sexual consent lecture was hosted by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Herndon, Va. The IIIT was a prime financial supporter of a think tank Al-Arian founded in Tampa called the World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE). It provided cover for at least three other members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's Shura Council, including his brother-in-law Mazen Al-Najjar, an academic named Basheer Nafi and Ramadan Abdullah Shallah - the Islamic Jihad's secretary general since late 1995.

Federal prosecutors wanted Al-Arian to tell a grand jury what he knew about the IIIT's financial support for terrorists. He refused. Al-Arian was charged with criminal contempt after maintaining that stance even after a judge granted him immunity for his truthful testimony.

The case never went to trial. Al-Arian was deported to Turkey in 2015, pursuant to terms in his 2006 guilty plea connected to his Palestinian Islamic Jihad support. He now works as "director of the Center for Regional Politics at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University," the Georgetown Middle East students group's news release said.

The federal judge who saw all the evidence against Al-Arian, who watched him lie about his true identity and violent ambitions, called him a "master manipulator." Old habits die hard, apparently. The question in this case is whether Georgetown and its student groups are being duped or are witting accomplices in whitewashing a terrorist into a "human rights advocate."


Trigger warnings' come to Australia

Monash University has become the first in Australia to introduce a policy of trigger warnings.

But critics have blasted the move as a bid to implement a politically correct agenda under the pretence of protecting the wellbeing of students.

In the Melbourne university's pilot program, 15 course outlines contain warnings that the content could cause emotional distress to students, the ABC reports.

It involves academics reviewing the course's content and highlight any 'emotionally confronting material' related to sexual assault, violence, domestic abuse, child abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, suicide, pornography, abortion, kidnapping, hate speech, animal cruelty and animal deaths, including abbatoirs.

The university insists political correctness was not a factor in the introduction of the policy, which was the culmination of years of campaigning by the Student Association.

But critics insist it is conceding to the demands of students who want to avoid ideas they do not agree with – and is a reflection of what is happening on campuses across the United States.

Student Association president Matilda Grey insists the warnings are not there so students can withdraw themselves from challenging situations – but so they can prepare themselves for the material they will study.

She added the current generation of students are simply more aware of the traumatising experiences their classmates may have endured, such as sexual assault.

'We're not suggesting that they should be faced with difficult, discomforting topics at all,' she said.

Rather, it will allow those who may suffer anxiety or panic attacks from distressing content to prepare themselves and manage their response, she said.

Chris Berg, from the Institute of Public Affairs, is critical of the move and says it is harmful to education.

'We've seen how this has played out in the US and it can turn into a censorious, highly politically correct [culture] and highly harmful to the mission of education that universities exist for,' he told the ABC.

And Marguerite Johnson, an associate professor at Newcastle University, considers herself progressive and regularly warns her students ahead of explicit material.

However, she disagrees with the idea of university officials deciding when warnings are to be issued – and thinks Monash sets the bar far too low.

'The world is emotionally distressing and I find it quite absurd that the universities may see themselves as the guardians of emotionally distressing situations,' she added.

She also believes the warnings are a stepping stone to censorship and could lead to the application of warnings on specific works.

For example, the works of Roman poet Ovid, Virginia Woolf and F. Scott Fitzgerald have often been objected to by American students for their depiction of sexual violence.

Professor Johnson also noted that analysing texts that might disturb students can be for the betterment of society, citing the example of Australia's reform of sexual assault laws.

She said it was only because young feminist students in the 1970s saw the way women were represented in rape cases that they went on to become lawyers and advocated for the change in legislation.

'If they hadn't experienced the horrors of reading the materials as students, how would they know what to fight against, how would they know what to kick against?'


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