A high school textbook that teaches Victorian VCE students that the United States and Israel have been linked to "state terrorism" has sparked outrage and a demand from the Federal Government that it be immediately withdrawn from classrooms. The book, used by about half of Victoria's 700 politics students, is being criticised for playing down the threat of terrorism and containing flawed thinking and ideology.
A furious federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, has called on the Victorian Government to withdraw the book. "It is inconceivable that information is being taught in schools which claims Australia is 'reaping the harvest' of our foreign policies and our 'Western imperialism'," she said. "Of greatest concern is the claim in the textbook that the Howard Government is deliberately using the threat of terrorism to keep Australians fearful and thus supportive of Government policies and actions. "The person who wrote this text should talk to the families of those killed in Bali and explain to them that there is no need to be fearful of terrorism."
But the Bracks Government said the book was not a set text or officially endorsed by the Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority (VCAA) or the Education Department. "You can't withdraw a text that is not compulsory to start with, so the Bishop thing is a furphy," said Tim Mitchell, a spokesman for Education Minister Lynne Kosky. "The decision about the use of textbooks in classrooms, and the treatment of issues in classrooms, is a matter best left to teachers and school principals, not politicians," he said.
The textbook, Power and National Politics, published by the Victorian Association of Social Studies Teachers, is one of two texts being used in schools for the new national politics subject. The author is Northcote High School teacher Paul Gilby, 35, who says he is "very concerned and distressed" at the furore surrounding his work. He said he had written the book quickly last year for a new course, but that he had tried to present all viewpoints in good faith and felt the book was being subjected to "a very decontextualised attack". He rejected the claim he played down terrorism, but acknowledged that the terrorism section was "problematic" and said it was being revised, along with other parts of the book, for the second edition for next year. Mr Gilby, who is not teaching national politics this year, was a member of the VCAA review panel that developed the international politics course.
The 166-page book contains a one-page sub-section headed "Fear of terrorism" in the section dealing with Australian foreign policy. It adopts as its definition of terrorism: "Any action taken with the aim of achieving a political or military purpose through the use of violence against civilians can be considered terrorism." This definition is challenged by the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council's analyst, Ted Lapkin, who says it crucially lacks the element of "intention" to harm civilians. The book says terrorism is not new "and is not necessarily increasing" and that students need a historical perspective "to gain insight into the current media response to the terrorist situation".
The book asserts that "throughout history, most terrorist acts have been carried out by nation states. "The United States itself was accused of committing acts of state terrorism in Nicaragua in the 1980s. "Other examples of state-run terrorist campaigns have taken place in Russia (in Chechnya most recently), Turkey (in Kurdistan), Israel (in Palestine), Indonesia (in Aceh, West Papua and East Timor most recently)."
Seeking to address the context of terrorism, the book acknowledges there is no simple solution. But it then goes on to elaborate only one theory - that the US and its allies are "reaping the harvest" of their foreign policies and Western imperialism. The book directs students' attention to critics of the Howard Government who accuse it of using anti-terrorism policies to keep people in fear of terrorism and therefore supportive of Government actions and policies.
The executive director of the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council, Colin Rubenstein, said the section was "rife with partisan bias and errors of fact". "The claim made about the greater danger of 'state terrorism' is the product of ideology, not scholarship," he said. State Opposition shadow education spokesman Martin Dixon backed calls for the book to be withdrawn.
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