WASHINGTON, Feb.16 (AP)--Abdul Wahab Alkebsi was taken aback when his 12-year-old daughter brought home a novel titled ``The Terrorist.''
When he read the book written for middle schoolers that describes an American student's attempt to avenge her young brother's murder at the hands of a Muslim girl,he became angry. Now an Islamic advocacy group has demanded Scholastic Inc., stop distributing the book, maintaining that it contains inaccurate, offensive and stereotypical references to Muslims.
In the book, Laura, an American student at a private school in London, seeks to avenge her 11-year-old brother's murder by 15-year-old Jehran, a Muslim girl who is trying to escape from a forced marriage to a 54-year-old man with three other wives. She had sought the American boy's U.S. passport as a means of escape.
``You get really skeptical when you see a title like that,'' said Alkebsi, who oversees international affairs for the Islamic Institute, a Washington think tank.
Alkebsi of Potomac, Md., said the book was extremely stressful for his seventh-grade daughter, Zainab.
``It hurt my feelings and I was upset and scared what people will think after reading about these stereotypes,'' said the seventh-grader, who read the book based on a reading list provided by her teacher at the Earle B. Wood Middle School, in suburban Rockville, Md.
The Montgomery County, Md., Public Schools did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.
Her father sent a copy of the book to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which argues that the novel gives children an unfair picture of Muslim culture, particularly marriage customs. And the group said it contains inaccurate, offensive and stereotypical references to Muslims.
The group asked the book's publisher, Scholastic Inc.,--a company known for many successful books for young people such as the highly acclaimed ``The Magic School Bus''--to stop distributing the 198-page novel, which was first released in 1997. It is aimed at children 12 and older.
Judy Corman, senior vice president of the New York-based publishing company, defended the novel as an award-winning ``work of fiction'' and said the publisher would not stop distribution to schools around the country.
She said the book by Caroline B. Cooney, who has written more than 60 novels for Scholastic, does not stereotype Muslims and that they knew of only one complaint - the one from the Washington group.
``We do not believe in censorship,'' Corman said. ``We believe a parent has the right to say what their children read. We do not believe that one parent has the right to tell other people what to read.''
Corman said objections have been raised about a variety of children's books from them and other publishers, ranging from the popular ``Harry Potter'' series about a boy who is learning to become a wizard to the science fiction book ``The Adventures of Captain Underpants.''
The Council on American-Islamic Relations on Tuesday issued a statement urging Muslim parents to monitor their children's reading lists and suggest alternative titles.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the American-Islamic council said the group was concerned because the book is intended as a teaching aid. ``What we have here is a situation where impressionable students are assigned this book,'' he said, adding that the group is not asking book stores to remove the novel from shelves.
Corman could not immediately say how many of the books have been distributed or how many schools have placed it on reading lists.
Schools have a special responsibility to address group stereotypes, said Helen Samhan, executive vice president of the Arab American Institute, an educational foundation based in Washington.
``The way Muslims are portrayed in schools can in a sense undo some of these stereotypes that are so prevalent in our popular culture,'' said Samhan, who has helped write educational texts about Muslim and Christian Arabs.
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