Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It's The Jihadists, Stupid

My fourteen-year-old students understand better who our enemies are than most elite journalists in our mainstream media. They know we’re not just fighting Osama Bin Laden and al Qaida, but a radical brand of Islam being spread around the world. It’s not a “War on Terror” as our president calls it; it’s a war on jihadists whose prime tactic is terror.

Televised reminiscences of September 11th proliferate as the school year begins so I go with the theme in class. Together, we watch planes hit the twin towers and Americans jumping to their deaths to avoid being burned alive. We watch buildings collapse and panicked civilians running for their lives through the streets. I tell my students that others who sat at their desks a few years ago are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq now to defend America and western civilization itself and that they may choose to don a uniform themselves in a few years. Therefore, they should know why our enemies want to kill us. I can think of no greater responsibility as their US History teacher.

After the TV specials we do some background. We examine the 1979 US embassy takeover in Iran and the numerous attacks against Americans since - in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia. We study hijackings of ships and planes before 9-11. We study a map of the Middle East to locate relevant countries and cities. We study the Holocaust, the re-creation of Israel as a country, our alliance with Israel, and numerous Arab-Muslim attempts to destroy Israel. We compare and contrast Judaism, Christianity and Islam historically and in the present. We examine the economics and politics of oil in the region. We study the rise and fall of Islam over fourteen centuries and Muslim desire to reclaim past glories. Last fall, we examined Muslim immigration to Europe in light of French riots and the orchestrated Muslim riots protesting Danish publication of Mohammed cartoons.

On its web site, the National Association of School Psychologists warns teachers like me that: “watching replays of the [September 11th] attacks, predictions of future attacks, assessment of Homeland Security, or even stories about the history and whereabouts of the terrorists can raise anxiety levels.” Hmm. Radical Muslims are trying to kill us because we’re Americans. Relatives and friends of my students are fighting them in the Middle East. Former students are fighting over there too, and I should worry that teaching the causes of these things might raise students’ anxiety levels? Obviously, I don’t follow the advice of the NASP. What would they have me do in the face of all this? Teach complacency?

After Christmas break, a former student who had just finished a tour in Iraq as an Army intelligence officer visited and spoke to all five of my classes about what we’re fighting. When seventeen terrorist wannabes were arrested last week in Toronto, I used the occasion to review what we’d been learning all year. Three or four hundred miles away, students their age were learning jihad, purchasing tons of ammonium nitrate to blow up the Toronto stock exchange and Parliament, then cut off the prime minister’s head.

Nearly five years after September 11th, we should realize we’re fighting a radical offshoot of Islam - “holy” warriors who call themselves jihadists. Our enemies think their “purified” Islam will bring back the glory days of Islamic civilization in decline for centuries. We are their biggest obstacle. We didn’t declare this war on them; they declared it on us. In class, we watch a PBS Frontline video of Bin Laden declaring war in 1996. He instructs his jihadists to kill Americans wherever they can, whenever they can.

If all this should raise student anxiety levels as the National Association of School Psychologists warns, then I assure my students that our country has the finest military the world has ever seen or even imagined - as the Taliban discovered. The British empire, the most powerful on earth in the 19th century, tried twice to take over Afghanistan and couldn’t. The Russian Army tried for ten years and failed. It took the United States a few weeks and we did it from halfway around the world. Saddam twice discovered what the United States could do once we made up our minds. Zarqawi discovered it last week. But unlike the British or the Soviets, the United States goes in to take out the bad guys, rebuild the country, turn it back over to its citizens, and then encourage them to avoid dictators and run their government democratically. During World War II we did this in Germany, in Italy and in Japan and we’re doing it again today in the Middle East.

Though it’s out of fashion in academia these days, I teach my students that they live in the greatest country in history - one well worth fighting for. Elite, mainstream media journalists don’t seem to have learned this wherever they went to school, so they’re welcome to visit my class in September if they wish.

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