Congress Must Act to End Incitement in Saudi Textbooks

By David Weinberg | Washington Representative for International Affairs
  • December 5, 2017

Saudi Arabia is undergoing seismic changes under its new leadership, most recently carrying out mass arrests under the banner of fighting corruption. It has also ordered significant reforms, most notably declaring its intention to finally let women drive cars. It has constrained its repressive religious police and launched extensive efforts to diversify its extractive economy.

However, Saudi Arabia still continues to indoctrinate its youth with retrograde ideas that are intolerant, traffic in conspiracy theories, and promote violence toward the other.

This is particularly acute with regard to official Saudi teachings about the Jewish people and Israel. Important new legislation, scheduled to be introduced in Congress today, gives this issue the overdue attention it deserves.

“The Saudi Educational Transparency and Reform Act,” co-sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe and Rep. Bill Keating, Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, would direct the U.S. government to publicly identify “full quotations of all passages” each year in official Saudi textbooks “that could be seen as encouraging violence or intolerance towards adherents of religions other than Islam or towards Muslims who hold dissenting views.”

ADL calls upon other Members of Congress to cosponsor this much-needed legislation and for Congressional leaders to help ensure that it comes up for a vote.

The legislation also directs the U.S. administration to track and report on the exportation of Saudi textbooks and to evaluate whether Riyadh should continue to enjoy impunity from even minor statutory penalties under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Nearly a decade has passed since the kingdom assured the George W. Bush administration that all such incitement would be completely removed from its books.

Several recent studies have examined incitement in government-published Saudi textbooks, but not one of them has reviewed the kingdom’s newest textbooks, which are for the 2017-2018 schoolyear that began this past September.

An initial examination by the Anti-Defamation League, however, has found that this year’s official Saudi textbooks continue to spread intolerant judgments about the adherents of other religions.

A high school textbook on Islamic culture and the Hadith – the traditional literature on actions attributed to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad – teaches that “Christianity in its current state is an invalid, perverted religion.”

A 12th-grade textbook on Monotheism teaches that infidels are enemies of Muslims, Allah, and Islam; to explain this point, in part it cites a Quranic verse saying broadly that Muslims should not ally with Jews or Christians. A Monotheism textbook for fourth-graders calls polytheists and People of the Book (meaning Jews and Christians) “who disbelieved… the worst of creatures.”

New Saudi textbooks also spread misinformation about the activities and intentions of the other, including Israel and the Jewish people. Saudi Arabia’s leaders have reportedly toldAmerican visitors that they do not view Israel as a threat and have even ceased military contingency planning against it. But the Saudi government’s social studies curriculum still says Zionism is an “octopus” and a “danger to the Islamic Arab homeland.”

There is a current Saudi textbook on the Hadith and Islamic Culture that features anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, falsely accusing modern-day, mainstream Zionism of seeking to establish an Israeli state from the Nile River to the Euphrates, which it says is to be followed by world domination through a “global Jewish government.” Another textbook on the subject falsely accuses Zionism and the vast majority of Jewish organizations today of seeking to demolish the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, while a high school social studies book asserts that Zionism aims to destroy the entire “Islamic creed.”

Sometimes, the Saudi curriculum even engages in direct incitement.

The same high school Monotheism textbook which portrays Christians and Jews as enemies of Allah also teaches that Muslims must “abhor the enemies of Allah,” literally teaching children to hate. It adds that unless non-Muslims are diplomats, are granted a non-aggression treaty from the Muslim world, or pay a protection tax associated with second-class citizenship, then they are to be considered “combatants,” whom its says Allah has commanded Muslims to fight.

Another high school textbook on Monotheism teaches that the salvation of judgment day will not come “until the Muslims fight the Jews and the Muslims will kill them.” A high school Islamic Law textbook calls for the execution of gay men, people who commit adultery, people who convert away from Islam, and even for certain perceived acts of sorcery.

Sadly, all of these are examples from current, government-published textbooks of a major U.S. ally. These messages undermine Saudi Arabia’s own stated aspiration of being a “tolerant country with Islam as its constitution and moderation as its method.” Further, they undermine the call for combating extremism and terrorism that President Trump delivered to over 50 leaders of Arab and Islamic nations in Riyadh, on his first official visit to a foreign capital.

Saudi Arabia itself has been the victim of dozens of terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, so swiftly addressing such incitement is in the kingdom’s own interest. But it is in America’s interest, too, both to stem extremism and hate, and to hold our ally accountable.

Our government should make clear to the Saudis that ending such indoctrination is an urgent American concern.

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