The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) features some pretty lovable characters like Big Bird, Clifford the Big Red Dog and a variety of other cherished programs. PBS has added a new set of characters to its lineup. The new feature is targeted at teenaged high school children. PBS has come under fire for this shocking video series of “educational materials” that invite students to explore life through the eyes of a suicide bomber.
PBS has packaged a set of videos and lesson plans for classroom use under the title, “Dying to be a Martyr.” These materials are made available free of charge to classrooms across the country due to funding from local and federal sources. They are a tax-payer funded nonprofit as well.
If you have ever seen one of the PBS fundraising events on TV, they are always sure to remind everyone that their “…programming made possible by viewers like you.”
When supporting PBS, viewers are not just making sure Big Bird still lives on Sesame Street. They are also helping high schools all over America sympathize with terrorists. They do this by explaining the religious beliefs behind terrorist acts.
According to the PBS website, the basic premise of the educational materials is:
“The Middle East conflict and terrorism are issues we hear about almost daily in the news. This lesson will use video segments from Wide Angle‘s “Suicide Bombers” (2004), Internet sites, and primary sources to examine the roots of the Middle East conflict. The video contains interviews with young Palestinians who participated — or intended to participate — in suicide bombings. These young Palestinians share the personal, religious, political and emotional reasons behind their participation in these suicide operations.
This lesson could be used to review information about the three major monotheistic religions and their connections to Israel, to relate post-World War II policies to the current political state of the Middle East, and/or to get students to understand the roots of the terrorism that threatens the world we live in.”
The students are encouraged to connect to suicide bombers that are close to their age by hearing their stories about the religious activities, conflict and political climate of the region. There is no mention of ways to combat terrorism or the actual carnage these lovable terrorists cause. They young Palestinians are people just like the students sitting in the classrooms watching.
The series is divided into three parts. Part one asks the teacher to share video clips and virtual tours of important religious sites in Israel. This includes a church, the Western Wall, and the Dome of Rock. Students are guided through the significance of each location in an attempt to explain why many groups defend and fight over them. The discussion during this part is focused on understanding the importance of different religions.
Part two of the unit is an exercise to show students how the boundaries of Israel were drawn and the beginning of the conflict. They walk through the United Nations efforts that ended in the U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181. The students also explore the history of the war in the country. After the U.N. Information, students are even guided to experience the emotions of the two warring groups.
In a guided activity, the learners are asked to:
“…draw two faces that show emotions — one face for a Palestinian Muslim after seeing these documents, and one face for an Israeli Jew — after seeing these documents on the bottom of the Document Probing Student Organizer. (For example, a student may draw a happy face for an Israeli Jew and an angry face for a Palestinian Muslim).”
In a simple happy face/sad face example, the students are beginning to see why the anger via the Palestinian Muslims might be justified. This is preparing them to get to know the suicide bombers in part three of the materials.
Part three is where the students get to put a face to the bombers now that they know the Muslims were wronged by the Israeli Jews. The first video the students watch is about a failed bombing. The students are given the following introduction to the video:
“…explain that this segment is taken from an interview with an 18-year-old Palestinian named Mohanned Abu Tayyoun, who entered Israel carrying a bag of explosives with the intention of carrying out a suicide bombing. He wavered, however, and returned home without carrying out the mission. He was arrested several days later and this interview was conducted within an Israeli jail. Provide your students with a focus for media interaction by asking them to identify how Mohanned views his life and how he feels it differs from the lives of Israelis (Jews).”
The introduction clues the students to listen for Tayyoun to explain why they should blame the Israelis for his desire to die as a martyr. The focus is again not on stopping terrorism but instead identifying with the cause it furthers.
After the video students are guided through an activity to check for their learning:
“Check for understanding by asking students to respond to the focus question. (Mohanned feels he would rather die and by a martyr than live his life, sees his life as hollow — in contrast he sees Israelis as happy, going out, having fun, traveling.) Ask your students why Mohanned may feel that way (Answers may include: Palestinians have less land, fewer privileges, cannot come and go as they please.)”
A second video featuring Tayyoun is also played for students. It addresses the reason why he did not blow up the bomb, which was:
“…Mohanned felt that not all Jews were guilty of being against him, and that God wanted him to continue to live.”
With an understanding of the feelings and emotions behind the failed efforts of Tayyoun, the suicide bomber becomes someone each student can identify in themselves. With the empathetic view of a failed suicide bombing fresh on their mind, the students then watch a video about an actual bomber.
Majdi Amer built a bomb that killed 17 and hurt 50. He made the bomb for someone else to wear. The video the student watch explains his justifications for the bombing. It expresses some similar thoughts to Tayyoun. The students complete this part of the unit with a talk about Amer’s feelings. The lesson plan guides the students by prompting the teacher:
“Ask the students how Majdi and Mohanned’s opinions differ from one another, even though they are both Palestinians involved in suicide bombing plots. (Majdi feels that Islam calls for him to defend his land any way he can, he does not recognize the Jewish state, he will kill an Israeli for every Palestinian killed. Mohanned did not see every Jew as an enemy, did not want to kill innocent people, felt that God wanted him to live.)”
After getting to know the suicide bombers on a personal level, students tie up the unit by learning about expressive art in the area. This again is to connect and “understand” the terrorists. The materials put a face to the terror and let high school students love Muslims one terrorist at a time. These bombers aren’t scary people who kill others; they are young adults just like you; that kill others.