Security concerns over white Christians cause Virginia school district to shut down following Arabic lesson

The entire Augusta County, Virginia school district shut down today over safety concerns following outrage over a lesson involving Arabic words. Athletic events, along with a weekend holiday concert, are also canceled.

At issue is a high school World Geography lesson on the Middle East, in which students were asked to transcribe an Islamic statement of faith written in Arabic calligraphy. The goal of the lesson was, according to superintendent Eric Bond, “to give the students an idea of the artistic complexity of the calligraphy.”

You say artistic complexity, parents say indoctrination.

Despite the fact that students were only asked to copy the letters, and were not asked to translate, recite or otherwise accept the statement as a matter of personal faith, a flurry of parental outrage over the lesson led the district to hold a forum on Tuesday — at a church, with no guns allowed — that saw over 100 attendees. However, the forum didn’t put concerns over the lesson to bed. As one parent said, she didn’t care if students weren’t translating the specific words; the real issue was that Islamic doctrine was being presented in class while Christian doctrine wasn’t. As she said, quoted by the Staunton News-Leader:

If my truth can not be spoken in schools, I don’t want false doctrine spoken in schools. That’s what keeps it even across the board…She (the teacher who assigned the lesson) gave up the Lord’s time. She gave it up and gave it to Mohammed.

Muslim man via Shutterstock

Muslim man via Shutterstock

Another parent noted that while this episode was not a good reason to be afraid, “This is the perfect opportunity to pray for [the teacher]. This is an opportunity to pray for all Muslims.”

As the News-Leader noted, the lesson was “found to be in line with Virginia Standards of Learning for the study of monotheistic religions.” In other words, there was nothing odd or controversial about this lesson, save for the fact that it happened to coincide with a bout of anti-Islamic paranoia.

Since the forum, Augusta County has received so many calls and emails that the county sheriff advised them to close down, citing security concerns. Apparently, the school district had reason to believe that anti-Islamic radicals could have been inspired to take violent action against the school district over their state-approved curriculum.

That’s right: A lesson involving an Islamic statement of faith led to reasonable concerns over terror attacks…from white Christian men.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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