In the fall of 2017, ADL examined Saudi Arabia’s government-published textbooks and found that considerable incitement to hatred or violence remained, despite a longstanding pledge from the Saudis to eliminate such language. This led ADL to endorse the bipartisan Saudi Educational Transparency and Reform Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.1 Now, the 2018–19 school year also marks ten years since the expiration of an important Saudi commitment to end such incitement. Further, it takes place amidst considerable debate over U.S. interests and priorities in Saudi Arabia.
In 2006, Saudi Arabia received its first U.S. waiver from penalties under the International Religious Freedom Act.2 This was due in part to the kingdom’s explicit commitment to revise its textbooks to eliminate all incitement, removing “remaining intolerant references that disparage Muslims or non-Muslims or that promote hatred toward other religions or other religious groups.”3 According to the U.S. government, Riyadh stated that this process was “scheduled to be completed in time for the start of the 2008 school year.”4
A decade has passed since that deadline expired, and today ADL is disappointed to report that intolerant language of all kinds still abounds in Saudi Arabia’s government-published textbooks for schoolchildren. The incitement is particularly egregious at the high school level.
This is at odds with a September 2018 statement by the Saudi foreign minister that incitement in Saudi textbooks is not “still continuing” because the curriculum has been completely “revamped” numerous times. He contended that any allegations about incitement in the books are merely an outdated “legacy issue” raised by ill-informed critics of the kingdom.5 It is also at odds with assurances Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Education made in October 2017 to U.S. officials in which he stated his intent to fully revise all textbooks by the 2018–19 school year.6
This report demonstrates that the new Saudi state textbooks for the 2018–19 academic year still contain passages that encourage bigotry or violence against numerous categories of people, including Jews, Christians, Shi'ite or Sufi Muslims, women, people who engage in anal sex and anyone who mocks or converts away from Islam. Derogatory language against “infidels” — which is used in this context to refer to non-Muslims such as Christians and Jews — remains especially pervasive.
This is not to suggest that the Saudis have made absolutely no positive changes to their state curriculum over the past decade. Stridently intolerant material against Jews and Christians is now less common in books at the elementary and middle school levels.7 According to Human Rights Watch, recently some intolerant language regarding Shi’ite and Sufi Muslim rituals has also been toned down at these grade levels.8 In our review of the latest edition of the Saudi textbooks, ADL has not seen a recurrence of some of the many anti-Semitic passages identified in a previous review of Saudi high school textbooks from the 2010–11 school year, including assertions that God transformed the Jews into apes and pigs, and that the hateful hoax known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is historical fact.9
However, as this report demonstrates, such incidental improvements should not alter the final analysis. Intolerance against all such people remains inexcusably abundant in the kingdom’s current high school textbooks. In fact, much of the incitement evident in today’s textbooks is still alarmingly similar to what was included in the kingdom’s curriculum around the time of the 9/11 attacks.10
1. David Andrew Weinberg, “Congress Must Act to End Incitement in Saudi Textbooks,” Huffington Post, December 5, 2017 (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/congress-must-act-to-end-incitement-in-saudi-textbooks_us_5a26b5bbe4b0e383e63c3cae); Rep. Ted Poe, “Saudi Educational Transparency and Reform Act, H.R. 4549, introduced December 5, 2017 (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/4549/text)
2. State Department, “Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Briefs Congress on U.S.-Saudi Discussions on Religious Practice and Tolerance,” July 19, 2006 (https://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2006/69197.htm)
3. Ibid.; “Appendix C: Saudi Reform Pledge Publicly Distributed in July 2006 by U.S. State Department Officials,” in Nina Shea and Samuel Tadros, Ten Years On: Saudi Arabia’s Textbooks Still Promote Religious Violence, Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom, September 16, 2001, p. 47 (https://www.hudson.org/content/researchattachments/attachment/931/sauditextbooks2011final.pdf)
4. “Appendix B: Letter to Senator John Kyl from Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Jeffrey Bergner,” in ibid., pp. 45-46. (https://www.hudson.org/content/researchattachments/attachment/931/sauditextbooks2011final.pdf)
5. “A Conversation with Adel al-Jubeir,” Council on Foreign Relations website, September 26, 2018 (https://www.cfr.org/event/conversation-adel-al-jubeir)
6. U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, “Saudi Arabia,” 2018 Annual Report, April 2018,p. 87 (https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2018USCIRFAR.pdf)
7. International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, The State of Tolerance in the Curriculum of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, completed in 2012 for U.S. government use only, released under Freedom of Information Act in 2016 (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/17/international-home/document-state-dept-study-on-saudi-textbooks.html)
8. Adam Coogle, “Saudi Arabia’s ‘Reforms’ Don’t Include Tolerance of Shia Community,” Human Rights Watch, September 21, 2018 (https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/21/saudi-arabias-reforms-dont-include-tolerance-shia-community)
9. International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, The State of Tolerance in the Curriculum of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, completed in 2012 for U.S. government use only, released under Freedom of Information Act in 2016, pp. v & 38 (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/17/international-home/document-state-dept-study-on-saudi-textbooks.html)
10. See, for example, Arnon Gross, The West, Christians, and Jews in Saudi Arabian Schoolbooks, Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace & American Jewish Committee, 2003 (http://www.impact-se.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/SA2003.pdf)