HOLMBERG: Augusta County flap over Islam assignment needlessly overblown

Posted at 12:19 AM, Dec 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-19 08:26:22-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Welcome to our latest outrage of the week, brought to you by our hunger for division and and fueled by social media. Hence we hear of anger and threats of violence as well as opposing accusations of ignorance and Islamophobia in Virginia.

This as the entire Augusta County school system shut down Friday, a day early for the holiday break, because of the furor over a high school geography teacher's assignment to practice Arabic calligraphy.

Controversy flared because of nature of that calligraphy.

The worksheet says, "Here is the shahada, the Islamic statement of faith written in Arabic. In the space below try copying it by hand This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy."

The students apparently were not told the exact translation of the shahada, which is, "There is no God but God. Mohammed is the messenger of Allah."

A few parents accused the school system of trying to indoctrinate students. Social media, talk shows and then the mainstream news spread and amplified the dustup like a virus.

Then of course the opposite reaction: these were ignorant Islamophobes, refusing to allow their children to have a decent worldly education.

Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, told the Washington Post the controversy in Augusta County is "symptomatic of the hysterical anti-Muslim bigotry that we're seeing in America at this current time."

I certainly hope he's not referring to all of America. That's sort of like blaming all Muslims for the acts of a few jihadists. The resulting threats from all over led to the prudent reaction; just close the schools down until the outrage of the week blows over during the holidays.

You know, most of us are reasonable people.

It is not unreasonable to agree with the school system's decision that the next Arabic calligraphy practice will be less overtly religious.

Imagine. if you will, if the Greek lesson about Christianity in that class had the students practice writing Greek with the John 14:6 Bible passage quoting Jesus: "No one comes to the father except through me."

Measure all this against the push In our society and our schools,to separate church and state, even to the point of not mentioning Christmas.

Yes, students should be taught about the religions of the world. Carefully, with balance.

No, I don't think this was indoctrination. Nor was the immediate local reaction hysterical Islamophobia.

But now it's all those things. And once again we're at each other's throats. We seem to want to see the worst in each other, as we see with the vitriol that accompanies these weekly outrages.

I worry one of these days it will just boil over and lots of people will get burned.

Mark Holmberg's commentaries appear on CBS 6 News at 11 and