WASHINGTON - The U.S. State Department expects the Saudi government to purge intolerant passages from its educational curricula by the beginning of next school year, a spokesman said Thursday, a day after a federal commission drew attention to texts condoning violence and martyrdom at a Fairfax County Saudi prep school.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Wednesday issued a highly critical review of textbooks used by the Islamic Saudi Academy, which has two campuses in Fairfax, citing materials that demonized other religions and excused the killing of non-believers and adulterers. The school is tied to the Saudi government.
The report comes two weeks after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors' unanimous vote to extend the academy's lease for a year, and eight months after the commission first recommended closing the school if it didn't prove it wasn't inciting religious hatred.
State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos, in response to a question on Wednesday's report at a daily press briefing, said the Saudi government first acknowledged the need to revise the textbooks used at its schools in July 2006 "to remove all intolerant passages that disparage or promote hatred toward other religious groups or religions," and agreed to cut them by the 2008 school year.
Dwight Bashir, senior policy analyst for the commission, said the State Department has been looking at the school's texts for years and has yet to publicly issue its views.
He said the Saudi government uses the same curriculum at the 19 schools it runs abroad, including the Islamic Saudi Academy, as it uses for schools within the country.
While Bashir said the State Department has repeatedly cited progress on removing the offending passages, many remain "peppered" within the Islamic Saudi Academy's texts the commission reviewed.
"The incitement to violence, that stuff is still there," Bashir said. "And the real demonizing stuff about other groups is also still there. And this is just a little sample."
Fairfax County supervisors said Wednesday's report has not made them rethink their decision to renew the lease.
"We are not in a position to determine what is going to go on in a classroom there," said Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross. "What we were asked to do was consider leasing the land and school to the Islamic Saudi Academy, and that's what we did."
No one who could speak for the academy could be reached Thursday.