Reform in Saudi Arabia: New Textbooks, Old Ideas
About This Event

A victory for moderate Islam over extremism has been a key foreign policy goal for the United States since the events of September 11. The reform and modernizing of education throughout the Muslim world is a crucial building block in the battle against extremism. Teaching hatred has bolstered groups like al Qaeda, a fact that Osama bin Laden himself recognizes; in an April 23, 2006, audiotape, he railed against “interfere[nce] with school curricula.”

Saudi Arabia, a major source of funding for education and schools throughout the Islamic world, has expressed an eagerness to help promote religious tolerance and has promised a comprehensive reform of its own educational system, long acknowledged to be under the influence of the Wahhabi establishment. On March 7, 2005, Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesman Adel al-Jubeir held a press conference in Washington, D.C., to announce, “We have reviewed our educational curriculums. We have removed materials that are inciteful or intolerant towards people of other faiths.” This assurance was reiterated two months ago at a town hall meeting in Los Angeles by the new Saudi ambassador, Prince Turki al-Faisal.

But evidence of these reforms has been slow in coming. Redrafted Saudi textbooks preach hatred of Jews and Christians, and these books are used not only in Saudi Arabia, but throughout the Saudi-funded education network, including in the United States. Is real reform on the way? What does the new “reformed curriculum” instruct students about “the other,” and what are the global implications of the instruction toward violence? And is educational reform in Saudi Arabia really a priority for the United States government?

Please join AEI for a panel discussion to address these and other questions. Speakers include Nina Shea, director of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom, and Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs and a graduate of Saudi public schools. Shea and al-Ahmed are the authors of a new Freedom House report, to be released on May 24, which reviews the teaching of tolerance in Saudi public school texts.

Agenda
3:15 p.m.
Registration
3:30
Presenters:
Nina Shea, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom
Ali al-Ahmed, Institute for Gulf Affairs
Moderator:
Danielle Pletka, AEI
5:00 Adjournment
Event Summary

May 2006

Reform in Saudi Arabia: New Textbooks, Old Ideas

A victory for moderate Islam over extremism has been a key foreign policy goal for the United States since the events of September 11. The reform and modernizing of education throughout the Muslim world is a crucial building block in the battle against extremism. Teaching hatred has bolstered groups like al Qaeda, a fact that Osama bin Laden himself recognizes; in an April 23, 2006, audiotape, he railed against “interference with school curricula.” Saudi Arabia, a major source of funding for education and schools throughout the Islamic world, has expressed an eagerness to help promote religious tolerance and has promised a comprehensive reform of its own educational system, long acknowledged to be under the influence of the Wahhabi establishment. On March 7, 2005, Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesman Adel al-Jubeir held a press conference in Washington, D.C., to announce, “We have reviewed our educational curriculums. We have removed materials that are inciteful or intolerant towards people of other faiths.” This assurance was reiterated two months ago at a town hall meeting in Los Angeles by the new Saudi ambassador, Prince Turki al-Faisal. But evidence of these reforms has been slow in coming. Redrafted Saudi textbooks preach hatred of Jews and Christians, and these books are used not only in Saudi Arabia, but throughout the Saudi-funded education network, including in the United States. Is real reform on the way? What does the new “reformed curriculum” instruct students about “the other,” and what are the global implications of the instruction toward violence? Is educational reform in Saudi Arabia really a priority for the U.S. government? On May 24, AEI hosted a panel discussion to address these and other questions. The speakers co-authored a new Freedom House report, released May 24, which reviews the teaching of tolerance in Saudi public school texts.

Nina Shea
Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom

 
This new Freedom House study, conducted in coordination with the Institute for Gulf Affairs, examines Saudi textbooks in terms of the treatment of others, and tolerance of those outside of Islam or those who practice other forms of Islam. The study reveals that, despite the Saudi government’s assertions that textbooks have been purged of hate, students are still taught a curriculum of intolerance and violence. Saudi textbooks are ideological assaults against all those the Saudi government terms “unbelievers”--explicitly Jews, Christians, and non-Wahhabi Muslims.

In the first grade, Saudi textbooks teach students that Jews and Christians are condemned to fire and brimstone. Sixth grade texts denounce Shiites as unbelievers. Blatant anti-Semitism abounds in ninth grade textbooks. Each year builds on these themes until the culmination of religious teachings in the twelfth grade, which asserts that a good Muslim must be engaged in battle against “infidels,” and proclaims jihad as religious obligation. Such teachings lay an intellectual foundation for terrorism.

Ali al-Ahmed
Institute for Gulf Affairs

The Saudis have spent $1 million on a campaign of deception instead of using the money to effectively reform their textbooks. The Saudi government and its ambassadors call their textbooks tolerant and world-class; however, they fall direly short of this claim. The textbooks are nothing close to tolerant and, as a result, the Saudi government also falls short of credibility.

The ideology found in Saudi textbooks is fundamentally a deluge of terrorist thought. With so many students under the teaching of the Saudi curriculum, the potential for breeding terrorist action is alarming. If only 1 percent of the 5 million students heeded the teachings, 50,000 would be added to the ranks of terrorists. The authors of these textbooks do not teach religion; they plant seeds of toxic hatred. This hatred must be removed. The Saudi Arabian government must teach more than tolerance; it must teach peace and harmony.

AEI intern Stacy Jer prepared this summary.

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