Continuing yesterday's discussion on the role of Saudi funding in British mosques, Nina Shea of the Center for Religious Freedom sets Saudi Arabia's program of Wahhabi indoctrination into a global context following the Center's pioneering work examining the Kingdom's textbooks. Among the tens of thousands of schools using these textbooks worldwide is the Islamic Saudi Academy, run by the Saudi Embassy, in Fairfax, VA.
By Nina Shea
The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education publishes and disseminates teachings that Muslims are to hate and treat as "enemies" other religious believers, including other, non-Wahhabi Muslims. Those were our findings in a 2006 study of Saudi government textbooks. And despite the media outcry that followed, our most recent investigation shows that Saudi textbooks, now available on the Saudi Ministry of Education website, have not been cleaned up. The same violent and intolerant lessons remain.
These textbooks assert that it is permissible for a Muslim to kill an "apostate," an "adulterer," those practicing "major polytheism," and homosexuals. They promote global jihad as an "effort to wage war against the unbelievers," including for the purpose of "calling [infidels] to the faith." They continue to teach that "the hour [of judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them," that Shiite practices amount to "polytheism" (see above), that the Christian Crusades never ended, and that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are historical fact.
In these lessons, the Saudi government discounts or ignores passages in the Qur'an and in the accounts of the life of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad that support tolerance.
After the 9/11 attacks at the hands of largely Saudi terrorists, the King convened a panel of Saudi professionals who concluded that the religious textbooks "legitimiz[e] the violent repression of the 'other' and even his physical elimination because of his views on disputed issues...." Now noxious Saudi texts are being spread to Muslim communities on every continent.
Saudi Arabia has long sought to be the leading Islamic power and the protector of the faith, a claim asserted in the Saudi Basic Law. With its vast oil wealth and the religious legitimacy derived from its custodianship of the two Islamic holy shrines and control of the pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia's long-term ambitions are now within reach. Even as its official doctrine and school books remain rooted in Wahhabism, the blend of the harsh desert traditions and severe Islamic interpretations of its past, Saudi Arabia is positioning itself to be the authoritative voice of world Islam, with the King as a type of Islamic pope.
Since 1979, the year when Islamic terrorists laid siege to Mecca and threatened Saudi rule, and when a Shi'a regime seized control of Iran, Saudi Arabia has poured enormous sums into foreign evangelism, funding mosques, schools, libraries, and academic centers in the United States and many other countries. Some analysts estimate that over the past quarter century, Saudi Arabia has expended over $75 billion for spreading Wahhabism, roughly three times more a year than what the Soviet Union spent annually in exporting its ruling ideology during the height of the Cold War. The Congressional Research Service states that Wahhabism is now "arguably the most pervasive revivalist movement in the Islamic world." According to Lawrence Wright in his book Looming Tower, the Saudis, constituting one per cent of the world's Muslims, support through the Wahhabis "90 per cent of the expenses of the entire faith, overriding other traditions of Islam."
The Saudi ideological export is having an effect. Saudi Wahhabi extremism threatens to become a mainstream or even the dominant expression of Islam among the world's 1.3 billion Muslims. Wahhabi thought and customs are taking root in Muslim communities from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, to Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan, India and elsewhere. As Abdurrahman Wahid, the former President of Indonesia and ex-director of the world's largest Muslim organization lamented, it is making "inroads" even in his famously tolerant part of the world.
The beginning of the school year marks the deadline for Saudi Arabia to demonstrate it has removed intolerant teachings from all Saudi textbooks. This Saudi commitment resulted from extensive bilateral negotiations with the U.S., concluded and hailed by the United States State Department in July 2006. Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the State Department has annually designated Saudi Arabia as one of the world's most intolerant states but it has forestalled imposing the sanctions specified in the Act. It resists Congressional and other appeals even to translate for review the textbooks used at Islamic Saudi Academy, a Washington metropolitan area academy run by the Saudi Embassy.
It is time to hold Riyadh to its promises to reform its educational materials. Western security depends on it.
Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom and a Commissioner on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. She is the author of 2008 Update: Saudi Arabia's Curriculum of Intolerance.