At the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum discusses last week's Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom report on Saudi textbooks. The report also provides a glimpse into the multiple choice tests given to Saudi school children based on those textbooks.
A fourth-grade Saudi textbook titled "Monotheism and Jurisprudence" includes gems like:
Q. "Is belief true in the following instances:
(a) A man prays but hates those who are virtuous.
(b) A man professes that there is no deity other than God but loves the unbelievers.
(c) A man worships God alone, loves the believers, and hates the unbelievers."
Applebaum notes that the correct answer is, of course, (c), and that the radical Wahhabi imams who wrote this textbook wanted to emphasize that it's not enough to simply worship the one true God and love other believers — no, "true belief" includes hating unbelievers as well. In their twisted formulation, one cannot be a true Muslim if he or she "loves the unbelievers."
"Unbelievers," in this context, are Christians and Jews. In fact, any child who attends Saudi schools until ninth grade will eventually be taught outright that "Jews and Christians are enemies of believers." They will also be taught that Jews conspire to "gain sole control over the world," that the Christian crusades never ended, and that on Judgment Day "the rocks or the trees" will call out to Muslims to kill Jews.
"So what?" some readers might say. "It's common knowledge that Saudi textbooks preach hatred against Christians and Jews."
Ah, but the above question and passages are actually from the "revised" editions of these textbooks, which U.S. diplomats asked the Saudi government to change after public outcry emerged in 2006 over similar content found in earlier textbooks.
The Saudi government promised a "comprehensive revision . . . to weed out disparaging remarks toward religious groups."
Looks like there's still a bit of work to do.
So why should Americans care about the content of textbooks in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi schoolbooks, however, are a special case. They are written and produced by the Saudi government and are distributed, free, to Saudi-sponsored Muslim schools as far afield as Lagos and Buenos Aires. This doesn't mean every child who reads them will hate non-Muslims, but Americans are not the only ones who worry about the influence of these books: In Britain, a small political storm broke out last year when Saudi books calling on Muslims to kill all apostates were found in mosques there.
It's a bit closer to home, too — just last month, Fairfax County officials in Virginia asked the State Department to determine whether the textbooks being used at the Islamic Saudi Academy of Virginia (which has campuses in Alexandria and Fairfax) included hateful or violent material. Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf also wrote a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressing his concern.
At issue are recent reviews of teaching materials concluding that some textbooks used by the Islamic school in Fairfax contain language intolerant of Jews and other groups as well as passages that could be construed as advocating violence.
One review of academy textbooks was undertaken for the congressionally appointed U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which recommended in October that the State Department close the school until it proves that it is not teaching a type of religious intolerance potentially dangerous to the United States.
[…]Rahima Abdullah, of the academy's Education Department, reiterated the academy's position that criticisms of its teachings have relied on out-of-context interpretations. She noted that the academy has revised a number of passages and will do so again if given direction from the State Department.
Somehow, that's not reassuring.
A summary of what exactly was found in those ISA textbooks can be seen here.
Saudi Arabia, while containing only 1 percent of the world's Muslim population, accounts for 90 percent of expenditures on Islamic religious education worldwide. Just a taste of the magnitude of Saudi influence: In 2005, the Saudi royal family announced they planned to build 4,500 additional religious schools in South Asia alone, at a cost of $35 million. In Pakistan, over 1,000 madrassas, many founded and financed by Saudi Arabia, have been linked to recruitment for militant groups. You can check out some of my recent posts to see how that's turned out.
CFR's Vali Nasr:
"Saudi Arabia has been the single biggest source of funding for fanatical interpretations of Islam, and the embodiment of that interpretation in organizations and schools has created a self-perpetuating institutional basis for promoting fanaticism across the Muslim world. … There is no other state who spends as much money at ensuring conservatism and fanaticism among Muslims."
This Saudi-funded global educational system results in the indoctrination of so-called "true Muslims" like this three-and-a-half year old girl, interviewed on Saudi IQRAA TV. The original video clip (with translated subtitles) is here, if you can handle it. Getting through all three minutes is difficult. It's worse if you understand Arabic.
Applebaum's conclusion is spot-on, if a bit understated:
Still, even if U.S. diplomacy is a legitimate response to this peculiarly insidious form of propaganda, it clearly isn't a sufficient response. Far more significant, and surely more effective, would be a unified response from the rest of the world's Muslims, the vast majority of whom do not share Saudi views and occasionally say so. It would be useful, for us but especially for them, if they would say so more often and more loudly.
The United States, of course, is not a Muslim nation, and Americans cannot by themselves orchestrate a meaningful Muslim response to Saudi extremism. But we do have a large Muslim population, we do have friends in the moderate Muslim world and we do have some money — mostly wasted — to spend on public diplomacy.
…Make sure that children in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and in Islamic schools all around the world have decent fourth-grade textbooks. Help persuade the Muslim world to write and distribute them. It might save a lot of trouble a few years later on.