Published April 27, 2013
A rhetorical question on terrorism posed by a high school textbook used in Tennessee has upset some parents, who are calling for the book's removal.
In "The Cultural Landscape: An Introduction to Human Geography," author James Rubenstein asks, "…if a Palestinian suicide bomber kills several dozen Israeli teenagers in a Jerusalem restaurant, is that an act of terrorism or wartime retaliation against Israeli government policies and army actions?"
Julie West, whose 15-year-old son uses the book at Franklin High School, in Franklin, Tenn.,believes the question implies a bias against Israel.
"We're living in a time where people are saying, 'How could anyone put a bomb outside a restaurant or on a street intending to kill innocent people?'" West said. "And we ask ourselves that, when at the same time our children are being taught from a curriculum that says that might be okay, or at least it might be okay if those kids are Jewish."
Textbook author Rubenstein says his question needs to be read within the context of an entire paragraph, which goes on to explain conflicting Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints on the issue. The paragraph reads:
"Distinguishing acts of terrorism from other acts of political violence can be difficult. For example, if a Palestinian suicide bomber kills several dozen Israeli teenagers in a Jerusalem restaurant, is that an act of terrorism or wartime retaliation against Israeli government policies and army actions? Competing arguments are made: Israeli sympathizers denounce the act as a terrorist threat to the country's existence, whereas advocates of the Palestinian cause argue that long-standing injustices and Israeli army attacks on ordinary Palestinian civilians provoked the act."
In an email to Fox News, Rubenstein explains this paragraph is intended to help the reader understand why terrorists attack, which is different from justifying such attacks.
"For example, we want to know why the Tsarnaev brothers bombed the Boston Marathon," Rubenstein writes in the email. "Understanding why they did it doesn't mean we are justifying what they did. It's the same thing with other world conflicts and terrorist acts."
Bill Nigut, Southeast regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said while he does not believe the paragraph in question is anti-Semitic, it does create a false equivalency.
"To ask whether a bombing that kills Israeli children is a proper response to acts of war is absurd," Nigut said. "Children are not legitimate targets in a war."
Despite his concerns, Nigut said his organization is not about censorship and is not advocating that schools ban the textbook.
The book is used in a college-level Human Geography course, offered as an elective at public high schools in Williamson County, which also offer an elective course on the Bible.
"I think it's a slippery slope to go down if we start banning books because people take opposing views," said Mike Looney, superintendent of Williamson County Schools. "I think the critical question to answer is: Does the book create an opportunity for students to engage in deep dialogue about important issues in the world? And I think that it does that in the context of geography."
Nevertheless, Looney said his school system has a formal process in place where parents can submit a written request to initiate a review of any textbook by a committee representing parents, teachers, administrators and curriculum experts. While school officials continue to hold informal meetings with concerned parents, they have yet to receive any written requests to initiate a formal review of this particular book.