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'Pro-Islam' textbook stirs debate in Florida -- again

The book has ACT for America, a self-described 'national security organization,' and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, feuding over a chapter on Islam.

<p>The Pearson World History textbook used in 2013. Inaccuracies in the book prompted the school board at the time to task a committee to put together a supplement for the chapter on Islam. A new edition of the textbook has once again stirred debate.</p>

MELBOURNE, FL (Florida Today) -- A textbook is once again under fire in Florida's Brevard County.

It has ACT for America, a self-described “national security organization,” and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, feuding over a chapter on Islam.

The ACT for America Space Coast chapter says the Pearson World History textbook paints Islam in an inaccurate, positive light. CAIR-Florida says the allegations are part of ACT’s Islamaphobic agenda. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently designated ACT as a hate group, classifying it alongside organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan.

At this point, Superintendent Desmond Blackburn does not foresee revising the materials.

“I do believe that we take ourselves down a slippery road, perhaps a slippery road backwards when we censor or manipulate the materials,” he said.

The debate started when two Brevard residents signed up for public comment at a school board meeting on March 14. Doug Murphy and Lee Boyland said although the Pearson World History textbook is “much improved” from the last edition, there are still some areas that ignore the “true history” of Islam.

They pointed to passages about women’s rights and Mohammed’s life that they claim inaccurately portray Islam.

Murphy cited passages from the Quran that state a man can have four wives, but a woman can only have one husband, and that a man can divorce his wife by making a declaration, but a woman must have his consent, among other excerpts. The textbook, however, says “Islam extended rights and protection to women by affirming the spiritual equality of all Muslims,” he read at the meeting.

“Does this sound like social justice?” he asked the board. “This is political correctness. Not at the expense of the truth, please, our young adults deserve the truth.”

Boyland, who sat on the committee to review this textbook in 2013, took issue with the positive portrayal of Mohammed.

More residents — as well as the local chapters of ACT and CAIR — came ready to speak at the next meeting.

Muslim students who attend Brevard high schools said the sentences in question had been taken out of context and that “an alteration in the history textbook would not be for historical purposes, but for alternate reasons.”

One student, a freshman from Melbourne High, said Murphy’s claims were “patently false.”

“Take me as an example,” she said. “I’m an IB student, I’m on two soccer teams, I play viola for my high school’s orchestra, and guess what, I’m a Muslim woman. Does that sound like I practice a religion that oppresses women or degrades them from the rest of society? Of course not, and for anyone to say that it does is simply out of ignorance.”

ACT Space Coast chapter president Roger Gangitano argued that by omitting details about the “horrific acts” Mohammed committed, and only presenting positive aspects from his life, students are getting a flawed education.

“If we change history and we omit the facts that are insulting to some people, then we wouldn’t have described Hitler the way that we did,” he said. “We would have only have addressed the issue and his life prior to the Third Reich and that, of course, would be wrong.”

Rasha Mubarak, Orlando Regional Coordinator of CAIR-Florida, said ACT’s only mission in this textbook battle is to spread anti-Islamic rhetoric.

“They are not concerned with how well Brevard County’s students perform nor about their futures,” said Mubarak. “They are using our students for their one intention and that is to push their anti-Islamic agenda.”

She called ACT a “hate group” with zero credibility whose purpose is to discriminate. Mubarak’s fiery speech elicited a loud “boo” from the board room audience.

Gangitano countered, “I can’t tell you how infuriating it is to have someone from an organization that was founded by terrorists call me a hate group.” He has recently disputed the Southern Poverty Law Center’s classification.

One speaker questioned the legitimacy of Islam completely and said it was “preposterous” to call Mohammed a prophet, as he is identified in the textbook, because parts of the Quran conflict with the teachings of the Bible.

“Islam is not a religion, so if you discriminate against quote-unquote Islam, you’re not discriminating against a religion, you’re discriminating against a secular group who claims to be a religion,” said Mike Bizzaro.

The Brevard School Board was caught in the middle of an identical debate in 2013. It drew the attention of national media, including FOX News and the Huffington Post, and prompted the board to task a committee with putting together a supplement to the chapters on Islam.

Board member Andy Ziegler, who sat on the board in 2013, was happy to hear the book had improved since the 2007 edition. When he spoke to FLORIDA TODAY, he wasn’t sure whether ACT’s problems with the text needed to be addressed.

“I’ve got to imagine that every history book has some omissions in them or the books would be so thick you couldn’t carry them around,” he said. “We could probably find problems with every textbook, so how big a magnifying glass do we use to try to find problems and fix them?”

Board members assured speakers concerned about the textbook that it is simply one resource available to students.

“I will tell you that a teacher who teaches out of a book in our county is not a very good teacher. They use it as a resource,” said Matt Susin, who taught World History before being elected to the board in November.

Because the board voted to move forward with the book as is, parents now have until April 29 to file a petition. The board will make its final decision May 9.

Contact Caroline Glenn at caglenn@floridatoday.com or 321-576-5933, or follow her on Twitter @bycarolineglenn and like "Education at Florida Today" on Facebook.

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