While Arab leaders warn that an international stalemate on Palestinian statehood threatens regional stability, it should be pointed out that some among them lay a foundation for such instability by, among other things, teaching students it is their obligation to commit violence against the religious “other.”
The prime example is Saudi Arabia’s national curriculum. Despite assurances in the State Department human rights report that the Saudi government has in the past year introduced “revised and newly written textbooks across the curriculum for most school grades,” these texts continue to promote violence against apostates and “infidels” of all stripes. Militant jihad is justified to “spread Islam” and exalted as “a profitable trade,” which “saves from painful punishment.”
Posted on the Internet and shipped worldwide, these texts are linked to growing extremism. Top U.S. Treasury counterterrorism officials have called the Wahhabi teachings of these textbooks “kindling for Bin Laden’s match,” and warned that, without education reform, “we will forever be faced with the challenge of disrupting the next group of terrorist facilitators and supporters.”
Dogmatic lessons in Saudi middle and high school textbooks instruct that many Muslims should be killed for their beliefs, including blasphemers, Christian converts, and those who merely “doubt” the Prophet’s truth, as well as Shiites and Sufis, who are condemned as “polytheists” for praying at gravesites. Christians, Hindus and those “practicing witchcraft” are also to be fought and killed.
No group, however, is more vilified than Jews.
The problem is far deeper than that conveyed by the State Department characterization of it as simply “stereotypical” or “anti-Semitic” language. Repeatedly, Jews are demonized, dehumanized, and targeted for violence. A 9th grade textbook, for example, states: “It is part of God’s wisdom that the struggle between the Muslims and the Jews should continue until the hour [of judgment] … The good news for Muslims is that God will help them against the Jews in the end.”
History lessons blame Jews for all perceived problems, even the theory of evolution because, as an 11th grade text asserts, “Darwin was a Jew.”
A 10th grade history lesson, in invoking the “leading astray” language of the Koran’s opening verse, implies that that verse refers to Jews, teaching that “God Almighty impugned them and pitched upon them humiliation and wretchedness and led them astray.”
In elaborating Jews’ “condemnable qualities,” a 12th grade textbook appears to sanctify both the Holocaust and the Inquisition:
“For since the Jews were scattered sundries they never knew peace with a single nation because of their proclivity for deceit, lying and conspiracy. Nothing proves this more than the Muslims’ experience with them in Medina as the Prophet (PBUH) deported them and recommended that they be driven out from the Arabian Peninsula and as happened with them in other countries such as Germany, Poland, Spain and others.”
The textbooks instruct that the Zionist aim is “Jewish domination of the world and controlling its destiny.” The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, fabricated in Europe before the Russian revolution, is taught as historical fact in the religion textbook. The Saudi Justice Minister explained to me that the Protocols is part of Islamic culture because it is “a very old book here,” and that his father had it around the house when he was growing up.
Blood libel is used to advance Saudi politics. Israel is described as having “no benefit in the human world except sucking its (Arab countries) blood, bringing to life a parasitic perverted structure, giving from its waste, so that it retains in its veins some blood to suck and live on.”
Israel’s existence is de-legitimized and students are mentally prepared for eventual war with the Jews. Lessons stir belligerence with a mix of politics and religion: “Palestine belongs to … all generations of the Muslim nation until the hour [of judgment] comes,” and “[Zionists] do not acquiesce to the power of logic but to the logic of power. Thus was their way of dealing even with God Almighty, for they rebelled against his teachings …”
All of Israel is called “occupied Islamic territory” (as are Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, much of Spain and the Balkans.) They justify a general jihad against it, such as in this 8th grade history text: “The whole [Muslim] nation lives in a Jihad against international Zionism manifested by the State of Jewish gangs’ called Israel established on the land of Palestine wrongfully and in transgression.”
The State Department’s some 1,000-page reports on human rights and religious freedom contain a mere few lines each year on the Saudi textbooks and typically include assurances of reform. State’s latest religious freedom report, for example, emphasizes that the math, science and English textbooks in 1st, 4th and 7th grades have been revised – but these texts have hardly been the focus of concern.
The Saudis have dropped their 2006 pledge “to expunge any remaining intolerant references about any religion or religious groups” from the textbooks within two years. In Riyadh this year, I was told by the Saudi Education Minister about a new “five-year plan.” Reform is always right around the corner.
In his address on the need to work for a lasting Middle East peace before the UN General Assembly this week, President Obama rightly observed: “Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them.”
Saudi textbooks are a threat to American security and Middle East peace. We ignore them at our peril.