Saturday, December 19, 2015

Trump's Damage has Already been Done

It would appear that, regardless of whether Donald Trump becomes the Republican candidate for President next year, his divisive rhetoric has taken hold of the general population of the United States in more ways than we might imagine. His latest victim is Riverheads High School in Augusta County in the state of Virgina, a state that tends to be sympathetic to Republicans and seems to translating that sympathy into enthusiasm for Trump. Riverheads' mistake was to encourage an appreciation of cultural differences by exploring the role of calligraphy in sacred Islamic texts. This included an assignment to reproduce the calligraphy of the Islamic declaration of faith, known as the Shahada.

Copying is often a valuable pedagogical tool. An excellent example can be found in Bernard Greenhouse's description of his cello lessons with Pablo Casals, which began with a prolonged exercise during which Casals instructed Greenhouse to produce "an absolute copy" of his way of performing Johann Sebastian Bach's BWV 1008 solo cello suite in D minor. Similarly, there used to be a counterpoint teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music whose only student assignments involved copying out the music of Giovanni Pierlugi da Palestrina.

However, as far as the good citizens of Augusta County are concerned (perhaps only the Republicans among them) there is a big difference between reproducing music, written or heard, a reproducing an Islamic declaration of faith. As a result of the hysteria stirred up by Trump, one by think that citizens were afraid that mere exposure to a significant element of that faith (one might compare it to the representation of the cross in Christianity) might turn their children into terrorists. Sober-minded students of the life and practices of Adolf Hitler know that creating a mass feeling of fear is often the key to winning popular support; and Augusta County seems to provided a powerful data point in support of this proposition. Indeed, according to the report on the Al Jazeera Web site, the school decided to close early for the Christmas break after receiving threats of violence.

Perhaps we should credit Trump for knowing more about Islamic terrorist strategies than we might have guessed, since there seems to be a clear parallel in his strategy for winning the American public to his cause.

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