Press Release

Educational Reform to Tackle Extremism Making Progress in the Middle East

New York, NY, September 9, 2021 ... Educational reform in the Middle East is providing hope for continued progress in tackling extremism, according to a new report published today by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The new report Peace and Tolerance Education in the Arab World Two Decades after 9/11 authored by David Andrew Weinberg, ADL’s Washington Director for International Affairs, is a pioneering joint study looking at what impact educational reforms in the region since 9/11 are having on the continued threat posed by radical extremists, with a particular focus on reviewing state published textbooks in the Arab world.

It documents best and worst practices from contemporary textbooks in the Arab world, across five crucial issue areas:

  • teaching comparative religion,
  • directives about how to treat the adherents of other faiths,
  • clash of civilizations narratives,
  • lessons about peace, war, and jihad, and
  • lessons about civics and human rights

The report finds there is some positive and innovative content in most countries’ textbooks today, yet in many subject areas essential for peace and tolerance, there is still vast room for improvement.

In their joint foreword, Tony Blair, Executive Chairman of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of ADL say that:

“There is an assumption in the West that Middle Eastern governments have done little to endorse the principle of stemming violent extremism, but “Peace and Tolerance Education in the Arab World Two Decades after 9/11” shows that this is untrue and unfair. Beginning with the first Arab Human Development Report in 2002, the need for educational reform was recognized by Arab thought leaders as a critical step for boosting development, stability, and inclusion, all of which can help combat the extremism that has destabilized the Muslim world and cost thousands of Muslim and non-Muslim lives.

“While there has been commendable progress, there is much room for improvement in what regional youth are exposed to. In nearly every country of the Middle East, government-published textbooks include some inaccurate and hateful messages about non-Islamic faiths and minority Muslim traditions. Some of this content is unambiguously and unacceptably antisemitic. Other problematic educational content includes the continuation of antagonistic and harmful “clash of civilisations” narratives, conspiracy theories, polemical imagery, and in some cases content that may encourage terrorism, especially but not exclusively against Israelis. These materials often sit uncomfortably alongside and contradict the more progressive inclusions above.

“One year on from the Abraham Accords and the historic warm peace between Israel and four additional Arab nations, this is surely the time to underpin people-to-people engagement with informed and tolerant education, heralding a new generation of Jewish-Muslim collaboration in themspirit of, for example, medieval Andalusia. The nurturing of a new generation liberated from the hateful thinking of the past can give rise to our strongest champions for prosperity and region-wide peace.

“No country’s system of education is perfect and working together we can continue the progress made over the past two decades. Our report recommends constructive steps forward, such as including accurate information about minority Muslim and global faith traditions, replacing civilisational antagonism with international cooperation, condemning and counteracting non-state actors from disseminating incitement to violence, and entrenching pluralistic thinking and human rights education.”

Mr Greenblatt added:

"Textbooks in much of the Arab world now teach that tolerance is a fundamental Islamic value.  And yet many Arab states are still publishing textbooks today with lessons that are antisemitic, plain and simple. At ADL we believe education is among the initial steps towards fostering tolerance, and we hope this new joint report can help further that goal."

Dr. Weinberg said:

“The 9/11 Commission concluded that peace and tolerance education needs to be part of our long-term fight against terrorism.  So did Arab and European governments, as well as civil society leaders after 9/11.  Our report documents five key areas where the results of that work are still incomplete, and offers clear action steps for helping educators and officials in the region to address problematic educational materials and foster a new generation of global citizens.”