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Fox16.com in Arkansas reported that the Sheridan School District in Sheridan, Ark., withdrew the invitation extended to a Muslim man to speak at the district’s middle school on Sept. 11 due to parental outrage.
The news story quotes a woman identified as Kathy Wallace. “Since that nationality was responsible for 9/11,” she said, “we just didn’t feel like it was right for him to come speak on 9/11 to the American children.”

I have written about the need for religious literacy before, and this is a perfect example. There are two things I would like to point out about Wallace’s statement that expose her need to improve her religious literacy.

In the first part of her statement, she mistakenly identifies Islam as a nationality, not a religion. This would be like saying Christianity is a nationality.

Moreover, her statement reveals the continued efforts on the part of some to refuse to see that the majority of Muslims find the events of Sept. 11 to be horrifying.

Because the terrorists who committed these horrible acts of violence claimed to be Muslim, many still want to lump all Muslims into the category of terrorist. Wallace appears to be one who does this.

The second part of her statement is just as revealing. If Wallace is quoted correctly, she is reported to have said that it is not right for him to “speak on 9/11 to the American children” (emphasis added).

This seems to imply that the man who was scheduled to speak is somehow less American, or, if he has children, they are also less American.

This is another common sentiment among those who believe that Muslims living in this country are not really Americans.

However, what we find from the vast majority of American Muslims is that they love this country as much as the rest of us. Indeed, one of my Muslim friends told me once that America is the greatest country in the world to be a Muslim

Muslims, like many of us, are peace-loving, compassionate and responsible citizens of this country who value the freedom to practice their religion just like all of us.

But I also find the statement by the school district’s superintendent very telling as well.

She is quoted as stating, “The purpose of the invitation was to have a member of that faith inform our students that Muslims are not identical in their beliefs with regard to the use of terror.”

Her comment seems to suggest that there are only degrees of disagreement among Muslims regarding the use of terror. I may be misinterpreting what she said, but would not a clearer statement make what I assume to be her point better?

Perhaps she should have said, “The purpose of the invitation was to have a member of that faith inform our students that the majority of Muslims are not terrorists.” Or perhaps even better, “Muslims are normal people just like the rest of us.”

I realize the sensitivity of having this man speak on 9/11 brought about the outrage and the protest. But let’s remember that there were many Muslims lost on that day as well, and Muslims in this country have been facing bigotry and persecution ever since.

Perhaps we should not only continue to remember those who tragically died on that day, but maybe we should use each Sept. 11 to bring understanding and healing.

The bottom line is that the school district showed its cowardice in the face of loud voices, and the parents who voiced their protest missed out on an opportunity to have their children not be as uninformed as they are.

Drew Smith, an ordained Baptist minister, is director of international programs at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, Wilderness Preacher, and is used with permission.

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