I recently received a call from a parent in northeast Oklahoma concerned about a History Channel video titled Conspiracy: Oklahoma City Bombing that was shown in her child’s Oklahoma history classroom at Jenks Freshman Academy.
One would assume that materials used to supplement our children’s education in the classroom are intended to increase understanding of the subject matter, aid in broadening worldview and develop an understanding of our increasingly diverse society. Unfortunately, the film that is an approved selection in Jenks schools’ media library was little more than a hate-filled video that goes to extreme lengths to drag the blame for one of the most tragic events in Oklahoma history onto Islam and Muslims.
The video in question is currently being reviewed by Jenks’ school officials, however, by not immediately pulling the video from their shelves, the school administration is missing the point.
Terrorism is a reality of the world we live in today and something that Oklahomans know the effects of all too well. Terrorist attacks in the United States have completely changed the way we live our lives, impacted our foreign policies and altered our sense of security. We are reminded of the precious gift of life when we visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and remember the 168 lives lost on that morning. We were reminded of the tragedies of 2001 when we received the official announcement of the opening of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York just last month. In the words of Michael Bloomberg, “We made a solemn vow that we would never forget those we lost and that we would forever share their stories with the world.”
Remembering terrorism’s heartbreaking impact on our society is not only necessary, but for those young enough not to have lived through them, it’s an essential lesson from historical, sociological and political standpoints. Our society, and educators in particular, have a responsibility when it comes to how they frame the understanding of terrorism and its social impact.
By placing the unconditional blame for all terrorist attacks on Islam and Muslims, we have conditioned our society to have a generally negative view and perception of the religion and its adherents. For more than two decades, we have gotten it radically wrong; terrorism isn’t a Muslim problem.
According to an FBI report, the “Muslim threat” has been greatly exaggerated. Between 1980 and 2005, only 6 percent of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil were carried out by “Islamic extremists.” Turn on Fox News and one would get the impression that eradicating Islam would solve all our problems. Listen to Oklahoma’s Rep. John Bennett or Rep. Sally Kern and you would be convinced that Oklahoma is under threat of impending takeover by Muslims that have been “identified as front organizations for terrorist groups,” which seems really implausible given that Oklahoma Muslims make up 1 percent of our state’s population.
We should not forget that terrorism is a human problem, not a label to be irresponsibly applied to religious or ethnic groups. In 1995, we got it wrong when we rushed to judgment and made attempts to blame the tragic events of April 19 on an Oklahoma Muslim. Let’s hope Jenks Public Schools gets it right and stops utilizing hate-filled propaganda as an improper means of influencing our young people.
Soltani is executive director of the Oklahoma Council on American-Islamic Relations.