Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Remembering September 11th, Or Not

For eight years, I’ve started the school year asking my eighth graders where they were when they first heard about the tragic events of September 11, 2001, but I didn’t do that when school started last week for two reasons:

First, this year’s students were pre-schoolers when the twin towers were hit - they were four years old. Some may have noticed the adults around them becoming upset, but it’s not likely they would have had much understanding of why. For them, September 11, 2001 isn’t the burned-in emotional experience it has been for students who are now college age. For most in kindergarten through twelfth grade, September 11th isn’t that big a deal. Unless they sat through my class, or had a teacher like me somewhere else, my guess is that few would be able to identify who our enemies are and why they want to kill us.

Second, media coverage of September 11th has diminished each year to the point where it doesn’t make sense to continue. We no longer have saturation coverage in the weeks leading up to the anniversary. Last year there was so little so I decided to abandon my ritual. Later this year, I’ll still deliver my lessons about our enemies being followers of Radical Islam, but not in September unless something else happens to capture the media’s attention.

This year will be different in one other very important way: what I teach will be in direct conflict with what our commander-in-chief - our president - apparently believes, or says he does at least, about who we’re fighting. I’m quite mindful of this and it greatly disturbs me. I’ve had to question myself because I’m an ordinary public school history teacher and he’s the leader of the free world who hears daily intelligence briefings from expert advisors. However, according to Raymond Ibrahim, writing in The Middle East Forum on April 9th of this year:

The Obama administration has just announced its intent to ban all words that allude to Islam from important national security documents. Put differently, the Obama administration has just announced its intent to ban all knowledge and context necessary to confront and defeat radical Islam.
I’ll have to point this out to my students. I’ll have to explain to them that the experts now running our war do not see our enemies as I do. Last month, the Pentagon issued it’s report on the Fort Hood massacre in which Major Nidal Hasan murdered thirteen fellow American soldiers and wounded thirty-one others while shouting “Allahu Akbar!” which is what our enemies do just before they destroy themselves to kill infidels like us. There was no mention, however, of his radical Islamist beliefs in the report. The massacre was described as “workplace violence” and not motivated by his infection with the wacky jihadist ideas of our enemies, though it clearly was.

For more than nine years, I’ve been helping my students understand that their fathers, brothers, uncles, and friends who have served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fighting Radical Islam. When my principal poked his head into my classroom at about 9:15 AM on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I had just written “jihad” on the blackboard and was explaining how it was understood by two Radical Islamists who had just killed or wounded dozens of Israelis by blowing themselves up on September 9th. When he told me what happened that morning in New York City, I knew right away who was behind it.One of the reasons I became a teacher was that I wanted to do a better job than my teachers had done for me and my peers back in the 1960s. I went to high school between 1965 and 1969 when graduates who didn’t go to college were drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam. None of my teachers, however, were covering the war in class. Graduates (and dropouts) were heading to southeast Asia with very little idea of what that war was about. I was determined to do a better job.

As a US History teacher with responsibility to teach current events, it’s been my job to understand the conflicts in which our country is engaged - and I’ve studied them intensely. That my teaching is now at odds with both the president and the Pentagon makes me very uneasy, but I’ll continue to teach what I believe to be the truth until someone can show me how President Obama and his Pentagon advisors are right and I am wrong.


Anonymous said...

Haven't you written this column about 4 times already?

Anyway, it seems your big beef is in what terminology is used. The language was recommended to be changed because:

"The terminology that senior government officials use must accurately identify the nature of the challenges that face our generation….At the same time, the terminology should also be strategic – it should avoid helping the terrorists by inflating the religious bases and glamorous appeal of their ideology…If senior government officials carefully select strategic terminology, the government’s public statements will encourage vigilance without unintentionally undermining security objectives.

That is, the terminology we use must be accurate with respect to the very real threat we face. At the same time, our terminology must be properly calibrated to diminish the recruitment efforts of extremists who argue that the West is at war with Islam."

Sounds reasonable to me, but if it is a big deal to you, so be it.

Brian said...

Making the leap from the Obama administration using more strategic language to them "banning all knowledge and context necessary to confront and defeat radical Islam" is absolutely rediculous. Trying to get your students to believe this is absolutely horrible "teaching".

I had hoped that your kept your heavily biased, non-factual opinions to your columns and stuck to teaching reality to the kids.


Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

So Anonymous, we pretend we don't know who they are, or call them by their correct names, or identify them properly because they might get mad at us??? Wow, that sounds really logical. They've been recruiting and will continue to recruit and train killers no matter what we do or what we call them. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance gets us attacked. Purposely turning away your head seems idiotic.

They're liars, plain and simple. THEY started the war. THEY continue the war. THEY probably laugh their heads off at our government's statements like the one you posted here.

And why do you hide behind the term "anonymous"?

Anonymous said...

Kimberly, nobody is turning their heads or otherwise avoiding the issue. Did you see the reaction to an American church that plans to burn Korans on September 11? That surely riled up some muslims who may have otherwise avoided radical actions against us. And for what purpose? What exactly is accomplished by burning books? The same goes for language. When schools try to counter bullying they don't go around calling the children little creeps. Because that doesn't work.

Even Tom states that our war is against RADICAL muslims, not ALL muslims. Using language that infers that ALL Muslims are evil does NO good at all, but has the potential to aid in terrorist recruiting. Yes, they will recruit no matter what, but why add to those numbers?

Hopefully the "THEY" that you refer to means radicals

Ignorance is not what gets us attacked. We were not ignorant about the dangers of these terrorists before 9/11. The Clinton administrarion left Bush with explicit warnings about what could happen, but still it happened.

Please explain to me just how using inflammatory language helps our cause against the evil radical terrorists? I'll be waiting.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot. Kimberly wanted to know my name - Greg Blair Fleming, at your service.

Doug said...

There has been an incredible amount of horrible things done over the centuries, by radicals, in the name of Christianity. But using language that infers that all christians are evil is nonsense.

Ditto for Islam.

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Yes, I'm referring to RADICAL JIHADISTS not law-abiding Muslims. I do not condone burning Koran's on the 11th either. I am not saying we should use inflammatory language, either, just saying we should call a spade a spade and not tiptoe around who they are and what they're doing because we're afraid of what they might do. It's too late for that. They've been around, organized, recruiting, and planning and carrying out attacks for several decades. And continue to do so - no matter what we or the rest of the world call them.

Anonymous said...

I see your point, Kimberly, but I still also believe that taking precautions to not spur any Muslims, who may be on the fence as to becoming actively radical terrorists or going about their normal lives, to make the wrong choice. I think the Koran burning has potential to shove a few over the fence, and to a lesser degree wording official documents so as to make it appear that we think they are all evil could do the same. As I see it, the fewer recruits they get the better so why take chances.


Tom McLaughlin said...

Yes. Our enemies are Radical Muslims, and certainly not all Muslims. I make that point early and often in every lesson I teach. We could not win this war without the cooperation of other Muslims who are themselves the most numerous victims of the Radicals, even more than infidels.

The Koran burning scheduled for Saturday is needless provocation. Agreed.

It's absurd to suggest that the Obama Administration's extirpation of any references to jihad or radical Islam from its literature on our current war is reasonable.

Tony Blair is right with he identifies radical Islam as "the world's biggest threat."

The Obama Administration is in La-La Land.

Diane in Kearsarge said...

Tom wrote:

"The Koran burning scheduled for Saturday is needless provocation. Agreed."

General Petraeus agrees with Tom.

I'm fearful about the potential blow-back which might accrue to this. Remember the reaction of those who (incorrectly) thought a Koran had been flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo?

Here's General Petraeus:

Unknown said...

Anonymous said...

What are we fighting for in Afghanistan Tom? We certainly will not convert them to Catholicism or any form of Christianity. I would have hoped that History has taught you that we don't win Holy Wars. Ask the Crusaders. Stop the fighting tomorrow and in a year no one will care.

Kevin said...

Tom, could you direct me to your source that states that Obama is banning "any references to jihad or radical Islam from its literature on our current war".

From what I have found this all stems from a re-wording of one single document outlining the US national security strategy.

I also read that the inspiration for this was taken "from an unlikely source: former President Ronald Reagan. Visiting communist China in 1984, Reagan spoke to Fudan University in Shanghai about education, space exploration and scientific research. He discussed freedom and liberty. He never mentioned communism"

That, and the following, came from The Jerusalum Post

"Obama did not invent Muslim outreach. President George W. Bush gave the White House its first Quran, hosted its first Iftar dinner to celebrate Ramadan, and loudly stated support for Muslim democracies like Turkey."

"But the Bush administration struggled with its rhetoric. Muslims criticized him for describing the war against terror as a "crusade" and labeling the invasion of Afghanistan "Operation Infinite Justice" — words that were seen as religious. He regularly identified America's enemy as "Islamic extremists" and "radical jihadists."

Karen Hughes, a Bush confidant who served as his top diplomat to the Muslim world in his second term, urged the White House to stop.

"I did recommend that, in my judgment, it's unfortunate because of the way it's heard. We ought to avoid the language of religion," Hughes said. "Whenever they hear 'Islamic extremism, Islamic jihad, Islamic fundamentalism,' they perceive it as a sort of an attack on their faith. That's the world view Osama bin Laden wants them to have."

Gaffer said...

A quick Google scan finds many references to the Obama policy. The Obama administration has made it official policy to silence any reference to "jihad," "radical Islam" or any related term by officials in its justice, defense, intelligence and counterterrorism branches.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Kevin: I said the Obama Administration, not Obama himself.

The conscious decision by high-level Pentagon advisors to separate terrorist acts perpetrated by Radical Islamists against the west and against other Muslims actually began during the Bush Administration. Major Stephen Coughlin, the Pentagon's foremost advisor on Islamic Law and jihad, was fired for his views in January of 2008 after pressure from CAIR. See here:

This trend continued and accelerated under Obama here:

Anonymous said...

Ha ha, using jihadwatch and washington times as "sources". What's next, Worldnutdaily? LOL.

Tom McLaughlin said...

So, if it's not in the New York Times or The Boston Globe, it didn't happen, right?

Anonymous said...

Mr. McLaughlin, thank you for teaching the truth and facts in your classes. Your students therefore learn from history and the current world situation, not "hopeful thinking."
Best of luck in the teaching effort - all our students need teachers like you.

Greg said...

It does sound reasonable to avoid doing anything that may provoke terrorists UNLESS the benefits of doing so outweigh the risks.

It is undeniable that maybe, just maybe, US statements that appear to degrade the Muslim religion can spur a potential terrorist into action.

I guess my question is then, what are the benefits of including the potentially offending language? We are currently at war with the could we fight them better by including such language in our documents?

Anyone up for answering this?

Tom McLaughlin said...

I'll try. Radical Muslims are determined to make everyone in the world Muslim or kill them.

How many of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims are radicals? Hard to say. Some estimate 10%. If that's accurate, it's 130 million radicals.

Most of the other 90% are mostly afraid to confront the radicals and remain silent. We are ill-advised to antagonize them, true. But if present trends continue, they'll have to take a stand eventually. After all - they comprise the biggest number of victims of radical violence.

So, what do do? We must, I think, begin a massive propaganda campaign to isolate and expose the radicals for the demons they are.

One danger in that, however, is that they interpret the Koran literally. A disinterested reader would have to conclude that the radicals are correct in their understanding of jihad as written. That is close to the point made in Geert Wilders film "Fitna," which compares the Koran to "Mein Kampf." The Koran does advocate killing Jews, for example, as does Hitler's racist screed.

To maintain American support for the war against radical Muslims, we must name our enemy: radical Islam. If challenged about what the Koran literally says, we must be forthright and say that parts of it conflict with what we believe to be our god-given right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" as outlined in the Declaration of Independence - and our right to the free exercise of religion other than Islam as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Just as radical Muslims are willing to fight to the death to achieve their aims, we must be willing to fight to preserve our ideals and our liberty as well.

If we're not willing, we won't have them very much longer.

Greg said...

Tom, thank you for your thoughtful answer. I have hassled you before about avoiding some questions - good to see you writing without wild exagerations and goofy, unsubstantiated information.

You make some sense in your answer but I guess my biggest difference is in the idea that the US government can come in as foreigners and be successful in a propaganda campaign. The peaceful 90% of Muslims know what's up...they live amongst the radicals and can see the craziness themselves. I think that coming to one's own conclusion creates a much stronger feeling than having outsiders come in and try to convince you of something. I think your winning them over with propaganda is a "pie in the sky" dream that sounds almost, gasp, "liberal".

As a so called liberal myself I am still quite un-PC in many areas. For example I think these radicals are akin to a pack of rabid dogs and are recognized as such by even their peaceful countrymen. Why poke a rabid dog with a stick? Just fight it to the best of your ability until the danger is gone.

Regardless of what language we use in our war, the fact remains that we are still fighting them in order to preserve our ideals and our liberty.


Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is it almost 10 years and there still isn't anything there. Meaning, how long does it take to build a building?


Anonymous said...

Greg: "good to see you writing without wild exagerations and goofy, unsubstantiated information."

I find it more amusing that you post yourself as someone with higher intelligence than Mr. McLaughlin.

If anything, Greg, you are the goof.