Controversy was sparked when Indianapolis Democratic Rep. Andre Carson spoke about the merits of faith-based schools at an Islamic conference in Hartford, Connecticut. Right-wing sites such as Fox News, The Blaze, Right Side News and the usual blog suspects ripped four sentences from a 19 minute speech that Carson gave in which he briefly touched on the subject of public vs. faith-based schools.
If you view the totality of Rep. Carson’s speech you see that there isn’t really much in it that is controversial from a purely objective point of view. He praises President Obama, condemns terrorism and couches much of his speech in the language of American exceptionalism with the only difference being that he ties it to the Muslim American experience:
How is this any different from a speech by Christian or Jewish congressmen to audiences that share their faith? Clearly such a speech doesn’t do much to alleviate Islamophobic hostility towards Muslims, since Islamophobes want Muslims to be treated as second class citizens. Heck, a significant chunk of the right doesn’t even believe Islam should be afforded the recognition of “religion.”
Can a Muslim American even hope/dream to be mayor, representative, senator…and, hold your breath–president of the USA? If you’re in the anti-Muslim right the answer is definitely no.
Rep. Carson’s sly remark about imagining a future female Muslim president who wears hijab got quite a few laughs, as it was meant to, but likely sent shivers down the spine of Islamophobes. Don’t fret, there have been Muslim female heads of state who have worn the hijab, in one form or another.
All in all, Carson’s speech really should be viewed as a sign of mainstream Muslim integration, and not one of a threatening Islamization effort. In fact, many might view his glossing over of the issue of drone strikes as the most problematic aspect of his speech.
On the topic that most disturbed the Right, Carson’s brief discussion about the merits of faith-based schools: it seems they got tripped up by Carson’s usage of the word madrassah, which is Arabic for “schools,” and his belief that America must tap into why these schools are excelling.
Clearly Rep. Carson could have chosen his words more carefully, considering how Islamophobes will look for anything to capitalize on and further the myth of “Islamization” and “stealth jihad.” Even though a public speech, in front a large crowd that is being recorded doesn’t fit into the whole “stealthy” narrative.
In any case, Rep. Carson cleared up any lingering doubts about what he meant in the speech in follow up questioning by news reporters. Will the websites and blogs that claimed he wants the Quran to be taught in public schools update their articles? I highly doubt it, they assuredly will use his decontextualized quote any time they want to prove the stealth, Islamic takeover myth:
U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, an Indianapolis Democrat who is one of only two Muslims in Congress, is coming under attack for a speech he gave to the Islamic Circle of North America.
The headline on one blog read: “Rep. Andre Carson: American schools won’t excel until the foundation is the Koran.”
Really? Well, no, Carson didn’t say that. What Carson did say was that schools could learn something about innovation from madrassas, the Islamic religious schools. It is about four sentences in a 19-minute speech, given May 26 in Hartford, Conn., as the group held its annual gathering.
“America will never tap into educational innovation and ingenuity without looking at the model that we have in our madrassas, where innovation is encouraged, where the foundation is the Koran, and that model we are pushing in our schools meets the needs of our students,” he said. “Most of us are visual learners. Some of us are auditory learners, learn by hearing. Many of us are kinetic learners, learn by doing, touching, feeling. I have found, as my wife is a (public school) principal, and we have a five-year-old daughter, Salima, that we need an educational model that is current, that meets the needs of our students. America must understand that she needs Muslims.”
The full speechis about being proud to be a Muslim-American and notes that Muslims have been part of the nation from its inception and have much to offer. The conference’s theme was on addressing Islamophobia.
In an interview, Carson said he has said the same thing talking about faith-based schools to Catholic, Jewish and Christian audiences, noting that something is happening in those schools that could help all schools excel.
“This is a message that I’ve given consistently to Christian groups, Jewish groups,” Carson said. “The question becomes for me, ‘Why are the graduation rates higher at faith-based institutions? What are they doing that we might be able to extract from that?’ That is not an argument saying that we should remove separation of church and state, because I think that is important in the public sector.”
He said he believed faith-based schools, with smaller class sizes, are able to be more experimental and address different kinds of learners.
“They’re given a different kind of freedom to tap into these young American minds,” Carson said.
Asked if he was saying that the Koran should be in the public school classroom, Carson said: “No, no, no.”
But, he added, one reason he mentioned education in a conference about Islamophobia is because “people across the country came to me because they were saying there are folks who want to shut down us building a school in the community. They’re having to fight back against Islamophobia, and they don’t want us to teach things from our holy book. That statement was made in reference to the faith-based schools that they have where they are allowed to teach from their book of choice.”
Carson said that whether a religious school teaches the Bible, the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita or the Koran, “there’s something to be said about the success rates of faith-based learning institutions that we might be able to extract some principles or some methodology from.”
This isn’t the first time Carson has stirred controversy at an out-of-state speech. Last August, while speaking at a Congressional Black Caucus event in Miami, Carson criticized the tea party movement, saying “some of these folks … would love to see you and me hanging on a tree.”
He later dismissed calls for an apology, saying: “I stand on the truth of what I spoke.” Still, he conceded then that his word choice wasn’t the best.