Still teaching hate

June 01, 2006

The Center for Religious Freedom in Washington has put to the test Saudi Arabia's claims that it has reformed its educational system of teachings that demonize the West and non-Muslims. If the Saudi textbooks reviewed by the center represent the kingdom's reforms, the Saudi government shouldn't get a passing grade.

The survey of a dozen textbooks of Islamic studies found ample examples of intolerance and hatred for Christians, Jews and other Muslims who don't practice the fundamentalist form of Islam, Wahhabism, that is supported by the Saudi government.

The center, an arm of the human rights group Freedom House, examined the Saudi texts with the Institute for Gulf Affairs, led by a Saudi national. It asked prominent Islamic scholars to review its work. And the bottom line is the center's findings discredit repeated statements by Saudi officials that reform initiatives begun after the 9/11 attacks had been completed. The Saudis defend their efforts, explaining that "overhauling an educational system is a massive undertaking." That's true, but the offensive textbook passages cited in the Freedom House study illustrate the depth of the problem and the need for stronger action.

The Saudis say the objective of their educational reform is to "fight intolerance" and prepare their youths to compete in a global market. Then how can a 10th-grade textbook sanctioned by the government for its 25,000 schools give any credence to The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic tract proved long ago to be a fraud? How do Saudis explain the imperative to hate Christians and other "unbelievers" found in a revised fourth-grade text? Does glorifying the path of jihad prepare Saudi 12th-graders to compete in today's world?

Saudi Arabia, as the home of Islam's two holiest shrines, promotes itself as a leading protector of the faith. Its influence extends beyond the kingdom. But the extremist ideology reflected in the sample of Saudi textbooks can't be left untouched. Such a curriculum "encourages violence toward others" and mistakenly leads students to believe that "they must violently repress and even physically eliminate `the other'" to protect their religion.

That's the assessment not of the Center for Religious Freedom but of a Saudi royal study group issued 18 months ago.

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