Thursday, August 14, 2014

Explainer Videos: History, Religion, And Conflict

Source: PHD Comics
In light of the world events, sometimes it is difficult for our students to comprehend just how deep-rooted in history conflicts reach. Many of them don’t have the background in history to understand the dispute over the control of Jerusalem or the origins of the caliphate in Islamic history. Even fewer realize that the region of the Middle East has been wrought with turmoil over land ownership dating back to the days of Mesopotamia.

Jerusalem Explained, produced by Ph.D. Comics, is one of the best videos that we’ve come across to illustrate the 3000-year-old history of The Temple Mount as one of the most important religious sites in the world. It describes the constant battle to dominate it. We’ve used this in the classroom with our students, and its clear, uncluttered narration of historical facts lays out this extraordinary fight for power of this piece of land in the name of religion.

The most recent conflict involving the militant group ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) began with the civil war in Syria and has now spilled over into Iraq, with the fear that it might incite further instability in other areas of the Middle East. One resource that is helpful here is the motion graphic entitled Iraq Explained: ISIS, Syria, and War, which provides an overview of the history of the conflict. It is a bit simplistic, for which it apologizes, but it's a good resource to use with upper elementary and middle school students.

Pair this with the video from The Wall Street Journal called Iraq: ISIS Sparks A Middle East Crisis, Explained to hear a different approach about the topic. Using multiple sources helps students see different points of view in delivering information. Students can look for similarities and discrepancies or take note of what types of facts were omitted. Various resources can clarify or call into question the accuracy of content, reinforcing news literacy and the role of journalism in reporting events.

Much has been documented regarding ISIS belonging to the Sunni sect of Islam with a mission to reestablish the Islamic caliphate of the medieval era. Both Sunnis and Shiites (Shia) belong to the Islamic faith. The struggle between these two groups occurred after the death of Muhammad in the sixth century in a dispute over who should be his successor. It’s about power, not religion. The difference is that Shiites believe the leader of the religion should be in the bloodline of Muhammad. A good resource to help clarify the difference between these two groups is What's the Difference Between Sunni and Shia Muslims?

Unfortunately, the media's use of the word "medieval" implies a return to the Dark Ages of violence and fear that characterized most of Christian Europe in the Middle Ages rather than the Islamic Empire. It is taken out of context. Ironically, the Islamic Empire of the medieval world was extremely advanced in trade, science, and medicine, and it was dedicated to the preservation of knowledge, with Golden Ages under both the Umayyads and the Abbasids in Spain and Iraq. Women and children had rights, and science was separate from religion, unlike the Christians in Europe who imprisoned Copernicus and Galileo for going against church doctrine. The Muslims showed tolerance to Christians and Jews, because they were considered “people of the book,” meaning the Bible. This in not what ISIS wants.

The context for content makes a difference, and we want our learners to know that. The deep-rooted conflicts of today are about gaining power, using religion for justification. We need learners to see the difference.


  1. Thanks for the great resources!

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