Analysis: After terror, attitudes change

By STEVE SAILER, National Correspondent  |  Dec. 11, 2001 at 7:36 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Three months to the day after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, it's become a truism that everything in politics has changed. But the full extent of the transformation remains unclear.

Domestic issues seemingly remote from the World Trade Center and Pentagon terror attacks may eventually be affected by the reappraisals unleashed by the atrocities. For example, have the attacks cast new doubts on bilingual education, school vouchers and faith-based initiatives?

Ron Unz is a Stephen Hawking-trained physicist turned software and public policy entrepreneur. He masterminded the California and Arizona initiatives that banned bilingual education in those states. He recently mused on the diverging fate of the two educational issues since Sept. 11: "There are obvious reasons that a national drive toward social cohesion and unity would support requiring the teaching of English in public schools and weaken any support for the socially disintegrative impact of vouchers."

As for the President Bush-endorsed faith-based initiatives law, government funding of Islamic institutions had already been less popular among Americans before Islamic terrorists struck. A Pew Research Center poll had found that around 60 percent favored giving taxpayer money to Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, but only 38 percent felt the same way about Muslim mosques.

Press reports of some Islamic holy men preaching jihad are unlikely to have bolstered support for giving money to religious institutions.

These three policies are not normally seen as having much in common. Each is backed by a different segment of the political spectrum. Bush strongly endorsed giving federal money to religious organizations for charitable projects (although his program has gotten bogged down in Congress).

Bilingual education is supported by teachers' unions and the multiculturalist left, and is tolerated by most politicians, including the president.

Vouchers are a favorite cause of free-market conservatives to the right of Bush.

Yet Sept. 11's eruption of Islamic extremism has cast a new and potentially unwelcome light on each.

Now that the value of national unity seems clearer than before Sept. 11, and worries about the loyalty of some immigrants are rampant, the 30-year-old experiment with public schools educating immigrants in their native languages could come in for second thoughts.

Similarly, with the Western world alarmed by revelations of the global reach and powerful impact of fundamentalist Muslim schools, the possibility that a voucher system could funnel taxpayer dollars into mullah-run schools may make vouchers an even tougher sell.

Finally, Osama bin Laden's fanaticism may be undermining the optimistic assumption behind the faith-based initiatives effort: that all religious faiths are equally benign. This poses a problem for backers of the scheme, because for the government to fund some religious groups but not others would open it up to lawsuits alleging discrimination.

Britain may be a leading indicator of the political re-evaluations in store for America. It has no tradition of the separation of church and state. Nor did it ever follow the old American policy of aggressively assimilating newcomers into the native culture. Therefore, the British state has been even more enthusiastic than the American government in subsidizing immigrants' religion, language and culture.

Current British policies are not exactly the same as these three American ideas, but they are close enough to make the comparison valuable.

Even before Sept. 11, Britain had begun to reassess its policy of government-funded multiculturalism. Earlier this year a wave of civil unrest washed across several decayed northern English mill towns. The trouble caused a spotlight to be focused on local communities of British-born Muslims, the children and grandchildren of Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants. The estrangement and hostility of the Muslim youth were widely noted.

The rioting was particularly severe in Bradford, long celebrated as the shining model of state-subsidized multiculturalism. Ray Honeyford, a former headmaster of a middle school in Bradford and controversial critic of multicultural education, described the educational philosophy of the local government when he worked there in 1980s. He believes these polices contributed to the rioters' alienation.

"Children from different ethnic backgrounds would be given an education that suited their own particular background," Honeyford recalled. "There would be no attempt to persuade immigrants to adopt British ways. Schools for Pakistanis, for example, would emphasize their own languages and culture, and the religion of Islam. English history and traditions would not be emphasized. Even the English language was, in this brave new world of multiculturalism, to be downgraded."

Then Sept. 11 happened. Perhaps even more shocking to Britons, however, were the Oct. 29 reports that three native British subjects of extremist Muslim faith had died in Kabul treasonously fighting against the Anglo-American alliance.

This has caused a backlash against Prime Minister Tony Blair's plan to greatly increase the number of state-funded "faith schools" run by religious groups. While Westminster has paid for supplementary religious education for some time, the Labor government had become enthusiastic about fully subsidizing new religious schools, especially for the fast-growing non-Christian denominations. Yusuf Islam, the former pop singer known as Cat Stevens, set up one of the first such academies, the Islamia Primary School of Brent.

But on Nov. 21, Labor member of Parliament and leading Blair ally Tony Wright said the events of Sept. 11 made it imperative to end the expansion of faith schools because Britain didn't need more segregation by religion. "Before Sept. 11 it looked like a bad idea; it now looks like a mad idea," Wright said.

Lord Alli, a South Asian TV mogul and Labor-appointed peer, commented, "Anything which encourages isolation and segregation in communities through education -- where people usually have the chance to learn about co-existence -- is a recipe for disaster."

Even the blind Home Secretary David Blunkett, who had been Blair's point man in creating the new "faith-based" schools, admitted he was now uncertain. "Should we have ethnically divided schools, can we have faith schools for Islamic and Sikh communities and Hindus when we gave them for Jewish and Christian denominations? I plead guilty to the contradictions and schizophrenias ... that we're all faced with."

American defenders of school vouchers deride fears that extremists could hijack taxpayer-supported schools.

Lance T. Izumi, Director of the Center for School Reform at the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, responded, "Just as there are Christian and Jewish schools, there is no reason why American Muslim parents shouldn't have the choice to send their children to Muslim schools."

He did not find this worrisome. "Muslim schools in America, however, could not resemble the radical fundamentalist Muslim schools in Pakistan and other countries. In the foreign schools, the entire focus is on studying the Koran, to the exclusion of other subjects. U.S. requirements for a balanced education that include the major core academic subjects would help prevent the establishment of radical fundamentalist schools."

Unz is a Republican millionaire, yet he is sometimes impatient with libertarianism. He strongly supports mass immigration, but believes it's crucial to assimilate newcomers into the American culture by making them fluent in English as soon after they enter school as possible. He also favors the revival of the old-fashioned methods used to Americanize immigrant children, such as New York City public schools served up successfully in the early 20th century.

Unz said that even before Sept. 11, the public has already largely made up its mind on vouchers and bilingual education.

He noted ironically, "My national polling on 'English' showed a significant strengthening following Sept. 11. For years, the support/oppose margin for English (vs. bilingualism) has held almost absolutely steady at 77 percent-17 percent, but after Sept. 11, it 'jumped' to 82 percent-14 percent."

In contrast, Unz was disdainful of the hold that vouchers maintain on the imaginations of free-market intellectuals and activists. "Over the last decade or so, voucher advocates have spent approaching a billion dollars promoting vouchers, and have lost nearly always nearly everywhere, usually by 40-point margins when such measures are put to a popular vote. For example, in November 2000, voucher advocates spent around $35 million in California and lost by 42 points, while voucher advocates spent close to $15 million in Michigan (twice the union dollars on the other side) and lost by 39 points."

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